Commonwealth is failing victims of institutional child abuse

25th Mar 2015

The federal government is abdicating its responsibility to victims of institutional child abuse by failing to support a national redress scheme, the Australian Lawyers Alliance said today.

In its submission to the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, the government criticised the Royal Commission’s proposed $4.3 billion national redress scheme and argued that “the institutions in which child sexual abuse occurred should bear responsibility for providing redress”.

Australian Lawyers Alliance spokesperson Dr Andrew Morrison SC said that instead of trying to avoid responsibility, the government should be looking to set the standard in helping victims of institutional child abuse achieve justice.

“The federal government’s failure to recommend a national redress scheme for victims of child abuse is very troubling and extremely disappointing,” Dr Morrison said.

“By failing to support the Royal Commission’s proposed national redress scheme, the federal government seems to be abdicating its responsibility in regards to victims of institutional child abuse.”

“The federal government should be assuming responsibility for at least part of the solution to this problem, particularly in circumstances where the government was directly responsible for placing the children in the care of these institutions,” Dr Morrison said.

“The federal government’s position is directly opposed to the position taken by the Irish government, which sought to promote healing by taking responsibility for facilitating a redress scheme for victims who find themselves in an identical situation.”

“The federal government took the responsibility for setting up a Royal Commission to investigate this issue of institutional child sexual abuse, yet it won’t support the provisional recommendations of its own inquiry.”

“The federal government should be setting the standard for helping victims of institutional child abuse find justice, not looking to avoid responsibility,” Dr Morrison said.

Dr Morrison said that while the federal government, had expressed a view that institutions should bear responsibility for providing redress to survivors of abuse, it had not offered a solution to how this could be achieved.

One of the key complexities is the difference in law between jurisdictions, with some states already having an institutional abuse scheme in place, while others support a national scheme. However, two key mechanisms which could secure consistency nation-wide have not been addressed by the federal government in their submission – limitation periods, and incorporation of entities at law.

Dr Morrison said that one way the federal government could assist victims of institutional child abuse take a first step towards justice would be to negotiate with the states to harmonise these limitation periods.

“The Commonwealth does not proffer any real solutions as to how institutions should shoulder their responsibility to provide redress to survivors of abuse,” Dr Morrison said. “It also has not addressed limitation periods in its submission.”

“The federal government outlines that a national scheme would require ‘protracted and complex negotiations’ with state and territory governments and other stakeholders.”

“One step that the Commonwealth could take is in negotiating a harmonisation of retrospective abolition of limitation periods for survivors of abuse across the country,” Dr Morrison said.

“This would be an important first step in securing justice for victims, enabling access to sue at common law.”

Dr Morrison said the NSW and Victorian governments should be applauded, as they have already begun the process of addressing the injustice of limitation periods that block survivors from seeking compensation.

He said said the federal government could recommend a single standard for all states to adopt in respect to a limitation period and redress scheme

“The federal government could also secure agreement by all jurisdictions that all major institutions that are unincorporated associations at law should be incorporated,” Dr Morrison said.

Tags: Compensation Access to justice Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse