Govt plans to deny compensation to children abused in immigration dete

7th Feb 2018

The federal government’s proposed redress scheme for survivors of institutional child sexual abuse will exclude the most vulnerable victims of abuse, conflicting with the recommendations of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse and saving the government money, the Australian Lawyers Alliance (ALA) said today.

The redress scheme proposed by the federal government is designed to provide justice for survivors of child abuse and, according to the draft law, should have appropriate regard to the needs of particularly vulnerable survivors.

However, ALA spokesperson Dr Andrew Morrison SC said the Commonwealth’s proposal to limit access to the scheme based on citizenship, residency or criminal record, means that the scheme will fall short of these aims , and effectively deny justice to many of the most vulnerable.

“The redress scheme as proposed by the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse has the potential to give meaningful recognition to survivors of abuse and assist them in much-needed healing, and as such has the full support of the Australian Lawyers Alliance.”

“However, the Commonwealth’s proposed eligibility requirements for the scheme will exclude some of the most vulnerable survivors of abuse,” Dr Morrison said.

“The proposal to limit the scheme to Australian citizens and permanent residents will exclude many children who were abused in Australian-run detention centres both offshore and in Australia.”

Dr Morrison said that as the Royal Commission did not recommend excluding anyone from the redress scheme, the question arises as to why the government would seek to do so. He said the only requirement for eligibility to the scheme should be that a child suffered abuse in an institutional context.

“The government has forced these children to live in unsafe places where they were abused. As the Royal Commission revealed in Volume 15 of its final report, it did not implement procedures that would protect children from abuse, or support them in reporting abusive practices,” Dr Morrison said.

“Many refugee and asylum seeker children are prevented from becoming citizens or permanent residents because of government policy. That is, the same government that put children in harm’s way is preventing them from accessing the redress that they deserve,” Dr Morrison said.

“The Royal Commission expressly stated that it saw no need to impose citizenship or residency requirements on people wanting to participate in the scheme.”

Dr Morrison added that the Commonwealth would be denying justice by seeking to block legitimate redress claims by people who had subsequently been convicted of crimes.

“Excluding people who have been convicted of crimes, as the Minister has said would happen, is also unjust,” Dr Morrison said.

“More than 10 per cent of the people who gave evidence to the Royal Commission were incarcerated at the time. There would be many more who had been released from prison. Many of those survivors reported a direct link between the abuse that they suffered and their subsequent criminal activity.”

“Many of these people were first abused in the care of the government. Again, the same government that put children in harm’s way is now trying to prevent them from accessing redress,” Dr Morrison said.

“These will be some of the most vulnerable survivors, some of the most in need of the psychological support and redress payments on offer. They are also likely to be the least likely to pursue traditional compensation payments by suing the institutions in question. Excluding these specific groups will save the government a lot of money.”

Dr Morrison said the government’s proposed law needed to reflect the inclusionary nature of the redress scheme as envisioned by the Royal Commission.

“The redress scheme is being implemented to ‘recognise and alleviate the impact of past institutional child sexual abuse… and … provide justice for the survivors of that abuse’, according to the draft law” Dr Morrison said.

“The scheme promises to be survivor-focused, and is required to consider the cultural needs of survivors and the needs of particularly vulnerable survivors. Excluding these groups directly conflicts with these objects and principles of the law.”

“The Bill will fail to meet the standards it sets for itself if these exclusions remain in the law.”

Once published by the Committee, ALA’s submission will be available here.