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Published: 29 March 2018
Author: Penny Savidis

Senate Report of Commonwealth Redress Bill out

The Senate Standing Committee on Community Affairs has delivered its 152-page report on the federal government’s proposed redress scheme for survivors of institutional child sexual abuse, meaning survivors are one step closer to a redress scheme.

Ryan Carlisle Thomas made a submission to the Senate Committee and appeared at its recent public hearing in Melbourne in March 2018. RCT is referenced a number of times throughout the Committee’s report.

The Committee’s report contains 11 recommendations made the majority, together with 10 additional recommendations by Labor Party Senators and a dissenting report from the Australian Greens.

Whilst the Greens strongly support the establishment of a national redress scheme for child sexual abuse survivors, they do not recommend the redress Bills (the main Bill and the consequential Bill) be passed in their current form due to various concerns. In contrast, the Senate Committee majority recommends that the redress Bills be passed but make certain recommendations. The Labor Party Senators state they do not believe the majority report goes far enough and make more specific recommendations.

What are the recommendations?

Amongst the majority recommendations is a recommendation that the government consider reducing the proposed two-year deadline for institutions to opt in to the redress scheme and consider options to encourage greater participation by institutions in the scheme.

Under the proposed redress scheme, survivors can only submit one application during the life of the scheme. In circumstances where most institutions and Australian States have not yet opted in to the scheme, this means some survivors could be forced to make an application that does not cover all institutions where they suffered abuse, or else wait to see if all relevant institutions opt in. The “one application” rule is not supported by the Labor Party Senators or the Greens.

Reducing the proposed two-year deadline would at least provide greater certainty to survivors sooner.

The majority report also recommends clear communication for survivors, the community and the media about how decisions will be made under redress and states that communication should reference the average payment amount ($76,000) rather than the maximum proposed redress payment ($150,000).  The Committee noted concerns that debate about the proposed scheme has focused on the maximum rather than the average payment, which it stated may inflate expectations amongst survivors as to the monetary payments they may receive via redress. Disappointingly, the committee majority have not recommended increasing the maximum cap to the $200,000 recommended by the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, instead noting that the government has raised the average payment to $76,000, being $11,000 more than the $65,000 average payment recommended by the Royal Commission.

The majority of the Committee has also recommended the government consider extending the period for accepting an offer of redress from 3 months to 6 months to take into account the needs of those in remote communities, those with functional communication barriers and those experiencing trauma or mental health episodes related to their abuse. In contrast, the Labor Party Senators and Greens have recommended a one-year timeframe to decide whether to accept a redress payment offer or not, which is what the Royal Commission recommended.

Criticism of the federal, state and territory governments

Whilst not in the proposed redress legislation, the government has also attracted heavy criticism for its proposal to enact rules to exclude survivors from redress if they have been convicted of any sexual offence or other serious crimes for which they received a custodial sentence of more than five years.

The Committee majority has noted such criticism and stated that the Australian, state and territory governments should consider the value of the redress scheme as a mechanism for rehabilitating offenders, together with the unintended consequence that institutions who were sometimes responsible for the child sexual abuse that led to criminal offending by survivors would not be held to account for that abuse by an exclusion for those with serious criminal convictions. The Labor Senators and the Greens in their dissenting report state that all survivors should be eligible for redress irrespective of their criminal convictions.

What does the report mean for redress?

The federal government still plans to implement the redress scheme by 1 July 2018. To date, the Victorian, New South Wales and ACT governments have announced they will opt into a national redress scheme for survivors of institutional child sexual abuse (see the RCT Blog: Victoria opts into national redress scheme but devil still in the detail and The Riot Act: ACT to join national Redress Scheme for child abuse survivors). However, none of the major religious and secular institutions like the Catholic Church, Salvation Army, Anglican Church, Uniting Church, Scouts and YMCA have opted into the scheme to date.

It is not clear whether the government will adopt any of the recommendations made by the Senate Standing Committee on Community Affairs. In the meantime, thousands of survivors remain in limbo.