Child abuse redress scheme is welcome, but needs improvement
26th Oct 2017
The Federal government’s proposed redress scheme for survivors of institutional child abuse will be welcomed by the community, however it needs improvement to provide justice for all people affected, the Australian Lawyers Alliance (ALA) said today.
The Turnbull government’s $4 billion redress scheme, introduced to parliament today, will offer survivors of institutional child sex abuse personal apologies and up to $150,000 compensation.
ALA National President Laura Neil applauded the establishment of the scheme but said in its current form it would not provide much-needed justice to all child abuse survivors.
“The Australian Lawyers Alliance applauds the introduction of this redress scheme, which the Royal Commission said was an essential part of any national response to the issue,” Mrs Neil said.
“This scheme will provide recognition, apologies and justice for many people who suffered the consequences of being subject to child abuse while in institutional care, which in many cases occurred decades ago.”
“However elements of the proposal need to be clarified. For example, it is unclear who will be able to access much-needed legal advice under the scheme,” Mrs Neil said. “While some reports say that vouchers will be available for legal advice for those making a claim, this is not actually mentioned in the Bill.”
“The Bill itself only references access to legal advice after an offer is made. This arrangement is not sufficient and will mean that applicants will be under-compensated if they are deprived access to support in making their claims,” Mrs Neil said. “It will also lead to inefficiencies in the scheme, if applicants are submitting claims without having the benefit of legal advice, then withdrawing and resubmitting.”
“Applicants need a guarantee that they will have access to the lawyer of their choice prior to lodging the application, especially as they will only be allowed to lodge one application,” Mrs Neil said. “The right to appeal will also need to be clearly provided for.”
Mrs Neil said the proposal to exclude sex offenders and those convicted of serious crimes from accessing the scheme was worrying.
“The reported plan to exclude sex offenders and people convicted of serious crimes from the scheme, even if they are survivors of child sexual abuse, is a cause for serious concern,” Mrs Neil said.
“For many of these people, the sexual abuse they suffered as children will have contributed to the criminal activity they later embarked on, especially for those sentenced for drug offences. Time and again the Royal Commission heard evidence from survivors of child abuse who said that they were driven to drug and alcohol misuse as a means to block out the abuse that they suffered.”
“A blanket ban on sex offenders will also exclude people who have engaged in low level offending,” Mrs Neil said. “For example, a relationship between a 15 and 17 year old, which becomes a crime once the older party turns 18, will exclude the offender even if they had previously experienced institutional child abuse.”
Mrs Neil also said the scheme in its current form would ignore survivors of physical or psychological abuse and neglect if their abuse did not include a sexual element. It would also exclude survivors who were abused after the scheme commenced.
“We have consistently argued for the inclusion of physical abuse in any redress scheme on the grounds of fairness,” Mrs Neil said. “There will be many survivors of horrific physical abuse who are excluded from justice, while others who have suffered less severe sexual abuse will be included in the scheme.”
“The proposal to only provide redress for survivors who were abused prior to commencement of the scheme is also problematic,” Mrs Neil said.
“In addition, the scheme proposes to stop accepting claims 10 years after it begins operation. The Royal Commission found that the average time that it takes for survivors to be in a position to make a claim is about 22 years after the abuse occurred. This will unfairly exclude many from redress,” Mrs Neil said.
Mrs Neil also said the maximum payout figure for the scheme was way too low. She said the scheme should consider a maximum figure nearer to that featured in the Irish model, which had a maximum payout of €300,000, which could be exceeded in some circumstances (equivalent to approximately $465,210).