C'wealth chooses its balance sheet over compensation for abuse survivo
29th Mar 2018
The Department of Home Affairs has pushed to exclude non-citizens from any eligibility for redress for institutional child abuse as it says its ‘financial exposure to liability under the Redress Scheme is likely to increase significantly’, the Australian Lawyers Alliance said today.
A Senate Committee has today published its final report on the proposed redress scheme for survivors of institutional child abuse, noting that excluding people convicted of crimes might give rise to the ‘unintended perception that institutions are not being held to account for the sexual abuse of certain children in their care’.
However, ALA spokesperson Dr Andrew Morrison RFD SC said no such statement was made in relation to the other group excluded, non-citizens and non-permanent residents.
“The Department has revealed the true reason why particular groups are being excluded from redress,” Dr Morrison said.
“It has nothing to do with the risk of fraud, which was the reason put forward when the bill was introduced. While the government appears to be saying all the right things about wanting to ensure justice for survivors of institutional child abuse, in fact it is only concerned about justice that it won’t have to pay for.”
On page 37 of the report, the Department says in paragraph 2.127:
If the Rules were to expand the eligibility for redress under the Redress Scheme beyond Australian citizens and permanent residents to all temporary visa holders or certain temporary visa holders, the Department's financial exposure to liability under the Redress Scheme is likely to increase significantly. This is because the institutional settings for which the Department is likely to be responsible will generally involve unlawful non-citizens, who may or may not have become permanent residents or Australian citizens by the time they make their applications. Extending the Redress Scheme to such people would possibly mean the Department (on behalf of the Commonwealth) would be exposed to making a larger number of redress payments under the Redress Scheme.
“It is incredible that the government thinks that it is appropriate to design a scheme that will protect its own finances, while other institutions are figuring out how they will meet the expected millions of dollars they will be liable for under the scheme. No child in immigration detention has committed any crime, and suggestions by the Department that they are ‘unlawful’ is wrong in law” Dr Morrison said.
“Imagine the outrage if any church made a similar statement, that it didn’t think that children abused in its institutions should be eligible for redress under the proposed scheme, because it would cost too much.”
“If the redress scheme design starts to factor in the need to minimise costs to liable institutions, it becomes about protecting those institutions again, rather than providing justice for child abuse that those institutions facilitated. This is effectively entrenching the injustice that the Royal Commission spent so long examining,” Dr Morrison said.
“Every child who has been abused in an institutional context must be eligible for redress. Why should children abused in immigration detention be denied redress that children abused in schools, churches and other institutions so clearly deserve?”
The Royal Commission identified immigration detention, both onshore and offshore, as places where children are at heightened risk of being sexually abused. Compounding this risk are the challenges children held in offshore detention centres in particular face in reporting abuse they have suffered, which are often greater than for children abused in Australia. In recommending the establishment of the redress scheme, the Royal Commission expressly noted that ‘citizenship, residency or other requirements’ should not be a barrier to eligibility.
“In light of the Department’s comments, s16(1)(c) of the bill must be removed, so non-citizens can apply for redress under the scheme,” Dr Morrison said.