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National Redress Scheme gains momentum

14 June 2018

The Law Council has long supported a National Redress Scheme for survivors of institutional child sexual abuse and has acknowledged survivors often experience long-lasting trauma, and in many cases, are not able to receive appropriate redress, compensation or counselling.

The Law Council recently finalised a submission to the National Redress Scheme for Institutional Child Sexual Abuse Bill 2018 and while there have been significant improvements since a previous version of the Bill was introduced last year, there are still some areas that require further detail or that the Law Council would like to see amended.

The Law Council would like to ensure the Bill gives effect to the recommendations of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sex Abuse, where it departs from these recommendations there must be clear and reasonable justification for doing so.

For example, some areas which are still of concern include the cap at which the maximum redress has been set, currently that is slated to be $150,000 – whereas the Royal Commission recommended that upper limit be set at $200,000, the Law Council would like to see an upper limit of $200,000 in line with the Royal Commission’s recommendation.

There also is a timeframe by which survivors can accept an offer made under the proposed redress scheme. That has been increased from three to six months, however the Law Council believes 12 months would be appropriate.

While there is greater clarity as to the extent of counselling and psychological services offered under the scheme, the Law Council has concerns with the proposed treatment of survivors located in regional, rural and remote Australia, where access to services is made more difficult.

There is currently a $5,000 capped payment for counselling and psychological services for survivors in jurisdictions that are not declared providers of such services under the scheme. The Law Council has raised a concern as to the adequacy of this $5,000 payment, as this amount will almost certainly be inadequate to cover such services over a prolonged period.

Also in relation to access to counselling services, the Law Council would like to see further consideration given to family members of a deceased survivor to access the counselling services which would have been available to the survivor.

The Law Council has previously raised a number of concerns with the suggestion that the Scheme will be inaccessible to survivors with serious criminal records. While there are some avenues by which a person with a serious criminal conviction may be able to appeal and access the scheme the Law Council continues to hold the view that access to the Scheme should not be restricted on the basis of criminal record.

The proposal to exclude survivors with a serious criminal record particularly affects Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples who are disproportionately represented in the criminal justice system.

A national redress scheme, whereby states and territories participate as recommended by the Royal Commission, is the most effective way of ensuring that Australian survivors can equally access redress.

It is the Law Council’s view that the Scheme be guided by certain principles, namely it must:

- provide a fair, expeditious and transparent process for responding to claims;

The Law Council is also very supportive of the Prime Minister’s commitment to deliver an apology to the survivors of institutional child sexual abuse in October this year.

An apology is a very meaningful act, which can often be the first step in the healing process.

It is an acknowledgment that Australia, and its institutions, failed to protect many children from child sexual abuse.

The Law Council was also pleased to hear recently the Catholic Church announced it will support and participate in the scheme as has the Anglican Church, the Uniting Church, the Salvation Army, the Scouts and the YMCA.

All states and territories have now made a commitment to the National Redress Scheme with Western Australia the latest to announce their involvement.

The 2018 Bill is yet to be finalised in Parliament, however with all states and territories now joining the Commonwealth, alongside institutions which must ‘opt-in’ to the scheme, the government is expecting the scheme to commence on July 1 2018.

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