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Published: 09 February 2018
Author: Clara Harper* with Penny Savidis

National apology to survivors welcomed, but redress the key

The Prime Minister has announced that he will make a national apology to survivors of child abuse to be given by the end of this parliamentary year.

Mr. Turnbull promised to appoint a survivor-focused reference group to ensure that that apology to survivors “affords them the dignity to which they were entitled as children but which was denied to them by the very people who were tasked with their care”. Leonie Sheedy, co-founder of the Care Leavers Australasia Network (CLAN) – a support network for survivors, welcomes the apology but stated that the most important issue for survivors was the implementation of the national redress scheme.

Churches and charities yet to opt in to redress scheme

A national redress scheme was one of the major recommendations of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. The scheme is offering counselling and compensation up to $150,000 for survivors of institutional abuse and is planned to begin on 1 July 2018. The proposed legislation will also require individual institutions to directly respond to the allegations if the survivor requests this.

There are concerns that non-state institutions such as churches and charities, states and territories have not yet joined the national redress scheme. This means some survivors may not be able to access compensation under the scheme. CLAN is currently campaigning to have these bodies join the scheme before 1 April, with Ms. Sheedy stating that “any church or charity who refused to sign up should lose its tax-free status”.

The parliamentary committee responsible for organising the scheme has received multiple submissions from survivor support organisations on this issue. These submissions are concerned that not enough is being done to ensure all organisations responsible for the abuse join the scheme. The scheme also limits which people can access compensation, denying anybody with a 5-year criminal record from receiving any money. A client of Ryan Carlisle Thomas has written a compelling open letter to Mr. Turnbull on this issue, describing how survivors have been left feeling angry and frustrated after “they have been punished, first by institutions of so-called ‘care’, then by institutions of incarceration”, and are now denied access to any compensation.

PM urges non-state bodies to sign up

Mr. Turnbull used today’s announcement to urge non-state organisations, and state and territories to join the national scheme. The issue will further be discussed with State and Territory leaders at this week’s Council of Australian Governments (COAG) meeting. Mr Shorten, Leader of the Opposition has echoed the Prime Ministers sentiments, asking both states and non-state organisations to focus on providing justice to survivors.

The national apology may be a welcome step, but survivors have made it clear that the institutions themselves must be held responsible for their abuse. This is the way they wish to seek justice for the past failures to protect them, and to hold these institutions accountable.

*Clara Harper is is currently undertaking a seasonal clerkship with RCT.