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In an important and historic step forward, the Hodgman Liberal Government will opt in to the National Redress Scheme, a key recommendation of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.
Our decision to opt in to the National Redress Scheme builds on Tasmania’s proud record of supporting victims, including through our $54 million Abuse in State Care compensation scheme that operated between 2003 and 2013, that assisted more than 1,800 survivors who were the subject of sexual, physical or emotional abuse whilst in State care as children.
But we recognise more needs to be done, which is why the Tasmanian Government will join with the Commonwealth, and other states and territories to sign up to the estimated $3.8 billion National Redress Scheme.
With an estimated cost of around $70 million over the life of the Scheme, Tasmania’s participation will be provided for in the upcoming State Budget.
Survivors will be eligible for payments of up to $150,000 as well as a substantial contribution toward counselling, plus other associated support services.
With a decision now made to join the National Redress Scheme, and consistent with my commitment in the past, I have also instructed my Department to take the necessary steps to commence the Limitation Amendment Act from the 1 July 2018, being the date that the National Redress Scheme will commence.
The decision to opt in to the National Redress Scheme has come after months of complex discussions with the Commonwealth, and in the context of an extensive and significant body of work produced by the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Childhood Sexual Abuse.
The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse was established by the Australian Government on 11 January 2013.
The Royal Commission was tasked, amongst other things, to consider the effectiveness of redress for survivors of institutional child sexual abuse consistent with paragraph (d) of the terms of reference as follows:
What institutions and governments should do to address, or alleviate the impact of child sexual abuse and related matters in institutional contexts, including, in particular, in ensuring justice for victims through the provision of redress by institutions, processes for referral for investigation and prosecution and support services.
To inform its work in relation to ‘ensuring justice for victims through the provision of redress by institutions’ the Royal Commission considered relevant state and territory government and non-government institutions redress schemes, including Towards Healing (Catholic Church), Redress WA and the Tasmanian Abuse in State Care Ex Gratia scheme.
Over the life of the Royal Commission they conduced 8,013 private sessions, received 25,964 letters and emails, and handled 42,041 calls.
They held 57 public hearings to examine the various institutional responses to child sexual abuse, involving such organisations as the Salvation Army, Catholic Church, YMCA, Scouts Australia, Swimming Australia, schools, residential homes and health care providers.
In November 2014 the Royal Commission also sat in Hobart to examine allegations of child sexual abuse locally.
In addition to enquiring into specific institutions, the Royal Commission also held hearings to explore specific issues, including the operation of out of home care provides, the provision of redress and the need for civil law reform, as well as how the criminal justice system responds to such cases of sexual abuse.
The Royal Commission also conducted roundtable discussions with various experts, government and non-government officials, service providers, churches, victims and survivor advocates to consider what institutions and governments should do to better protect children against sexual abuse.
This was an extensive, important body of work and in September 2015, the Royal Commission released its Redress and Civil Litigation Report containing the Royal Commission’s final recommendations on redress and civil litigation.
The Royal Commission recommended, amongst other things, that the provision of effective redress for survivors be achieved through the establishment, funding and operation of a single national redress scheme established by the Australian Government.
The work of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse made plain to all Australians not just the scale of abuse that occurred in institutional settings, but through the evidence of brave survivors we gained a greater understanding of the lifelong and often catastrophic impacts of such abuse.
To quote the Chair of the Royal Commission, the Hon Justice Peter McClellan AM:
What many may consider to be low levels of abuse of boys and girls can have catastrophic consequences for them, leading to a life which is seriously compromised from what might otherwise have been. Both boys and girls are left with a distrust of adults and difficulties with intimacy. Inappropriate touching of boys may leave them with confusion as to their sexual identity. This can result in life long difficulty in relationships which can cause problems in other aspects of their lives. Although the impact on the lives of abused persons has been reported within the academic literature I have no doubt that it is not well understood by the general community. In my role as a judge I have been called upon to review many of the sentences imposed upon people convicted of the sexual abuse of children but I readily acknowledge that, until I began my work with the Commission, I did not adequately appreciate the devastating and long lasting effect which sexual abuse however inflicted can have on an individual’s life.
In an interim Report the Royal Commission also noted that:
Indeed, in a 2016 report the Australian Institute of Family Studies released a report that outlined the ways child sexual abuse can negatively impact on victims and their relationships with others, finding that it impacts:
On the 15 December 2017 the Royal Commission presented a final report to the Governor-General, detailing the culmination of a five year inquiry into institutional responses to child sexual abuse and related matters.
The Final Report comprised an executive summary and 17 volumes, and contained a total of 409 recommendations covering a broad range of areas.
This report brought together all of the Royal Commission’s work which included their previous recommendation that a nationally consistent redress scheme be developed.
Tasmania’s Previous Redress Scheme
Tasmania has long recognised the need to make redress to those who had been abused in Tasmanian institutions.
Tasmania’s Abuse in State Care compensation scheme operated between July 2003 and February 2013, and assisted more than 1,800 survivors who were the subject of sexual, physical or emotional abuse whilst in State care as children.
In total, the State made ex gratia payments worth over $54 million. Those payments were wholly funded by the State regardless of whether the claimants were abused in wholly State run institutions or institutions operated by non-government organisations on behalf of the State. In doing so, the Tasmanian Government provided equal access for claimants irrespective of the institution or type of abuse.
Although applications to the Abuse in State Care scheme closed in 2013, the Tasmanian Government established the Abuse in State Care Support Service that provides an ongoing scheme for eligible survivors of abuse in State care. The Service is aimed at assisting survivors overcome the impacts of the abuse and improve their lives.
The Service is administered by the Tasmanian Department of Health and Human Services. Claimants may be awarded up to $2,500 for goods and services to assist with education, employment, counselling, family connection, and medical and dental services.
This Scheme played an important role in redressing the abuse that so many vulnerable Tasmanians had experienced. However, it was clear from the scope of the Royal Commission’s findings that more needed to be done.
In line with the work being done by the Royal Commission, and the harrowing details of sexual offences being revealed, the Tasmanian Government is undertaking or has undertaken a range reforms including:
Development of the National Redress Scheme
A key factor among the findings of the Royal Commission was the need for a nationally consistent redress scheme.
The nature and impact of historical child sexual abuse means that many survivors have not had the opportunity to seek compensation for the injuries through other legal processes.
It is not feasible for many of those who have experienced institutional child sexual abuse to seek common law damages because of issues such as the passage of time, high threshold of proof, availability of records and identification of responsible parties.
Redress schemes provide an alternative avenue for the provision of redress to civil law claims recognising the problems many survivors of historical child sexual abuse face to bring successful civil actions.
Redress schemes have been historically established to provide an alternative to getting compensation through the courts. They provide particular cohorts of victims access to some form of redress for wrongs suffered, such as the Stolen Generations, Child Migrants and Asbestos Injuries.
The rationale for redress is not to compensate for damages for the abuse suffered, but to make a monetary payment to acknowledge the harm done. Redress has a restorative focus and includes services that may not otherwise be accessed in a civil settlement, such as counselling supports, institutional responses and apologies.
In November 2016, in response to the Royal Commission’s 2015 report on Civil Litigation and Redress, the Australian Government announced a Commonwealth Redress Scheme and indicated their intention to invite states, territories and other non-government institutions to opt-in to the Scheme to deliver redress to survivors of institutional child sexual abuse.
The Commonwealth Government also announced an independent advisory council bringing together a broad group of specialists, including survivor groups, legal and psychological experts, to provide advice on the implementation of the scheme.
Tasmania has worked closely with the Commonwealth, as well as other Australian jurisdictions, on the design of the Scheme. Tasmania’s experience, having previously run our own Redress Scheme, meant that as a State we were well placed to inform these discussions.
The Commonwealth has estimated that overall the Scheme will cost $3.8 billion. Ensuring the details of a Scheme of such magnitude are workable has been a mammoth task, however it has never for us been simply a matter of dollars and cents.
The need to ensure that the Scheme is best able to achieve its stated purpose has always been at the forefront of my mind – it is to provide support to people who were sexually abused as children whilst in the care of an institution.
The design of the Commonwealth’s Scheme will provide eligible claimants with a maximum monetary payment of $150,000, provide emotional and mental support through counselling, and allow for personal and direct contact by claimants with responsible institutions where available and sought by the claimant.
The Scheme will operate for 10 years.
As the Hon Dan Tehan MP, Minister for Social Services, has told the Commonwealth Parliament:
The scheme will adopt a survivor-focused and trauma-informed approach; access to redress will be simple, and support will be available throughout the application and acceptance processes.
The scheme is not intended to replace legal avenues to seek justice. It is intended to provide a survivor with a means to access a sense of justice, through monetary redress and through restorative supports.
It is intended to be faster, simpler and less distressing for survivors and to provide governments and institutions with the means to deliver justice to their survivors.
It is designed to enable survivors to engage with the process at their own pace.
The Commonwealth has committed to providing support services for the life of the Scheme. These are broad based services that will include support for financial and legal needs as well as timely access to trauma-informed and culturally appropriate support for people during the application process.
These support services are to enable applicants to engage effectively in the process and to assist them to make their applications in a way that minimises the trauma that recounting these experiences can cause.
In addition to states and territories, the Commonwealth consulted with a broad range of stakeholders in developing the National Redress Scheme, and the Bill that underpins it.
The Scheme Operator is the Secretary of the Commonwealth Department of Social Services.
A national Ministers’ Redress Scheme Governance Board, chaired by the Commonwealth, will have oversight of the scheme and decision-making powers in relation to amendments to legislation, rules and other matters as defined within the Terms of Reference.
It is also proposed to establish a Redress Scheme which will bring together representatives from participating government and non-government institutions.
The Scheme operates on an opt-in basis, meaning that non-government institutions will be required to opt in before those that experienced abuse in their care are able to have their applications assessed.
Applications will be triaged to enable priority applications to be assessed first, for example where the survivor is elderly or is suffering from life threatening health problems or other factors considered appropriate on a case by case basis.
There was the need to strike a balance between making the Scheme accessible, and ensuring there was public confidence in its integrity. Where the design of the Scheme has landed avoids the risk of bringing the Scheme into disrepute or adversely affecting public confidence in it.
There has been some criticism that the maximum payment is $50,000 less than what was recommended by the Royal Commission, however it is important to note that under the National Scheme the average payment is expected to be $76,000, some $11,000 higher than what was estimated by the Royal Commission.
The Scheme Operator will be responsible for receiving applications and assessing claims, as well as requesting relevant information from participating institutions.
However, the ultimate decision on each application will be made by independent decision makers, engaged by the Department of Social Services but not answerable to the Operator or the Government in relation to the assessment decisions they make in relation to individual applications.
Participating state governments will be invited to nominate independent decision makers.
The test to be applied by these independent decision makers is the standard of ‘reasonable likelihood’.
As I have mentioned, in addition to a redress payment, successful applicants will also have access to counselling services, as well as a direct personal response from responsible institutions if they wish.
This reflects that redressing past wrongs is more than the payment of monies, but about also providing assistance with the ongoing effects of such abuse, as well the acceptance of blame by an institution.
As a condition of accepting redress, eligible survivors will be required to sign a deed of release, releasing the responsible Participating Institution(s) from further civil liability in relation to the sexual and related non-sexual abuse within the scope of the Scheme.
No confidentiality requirements will be imposed on the survivor as a condition of signing the deed of release.
Importantly, the Scheme will not release alleged perpetrators from any criminal or civil liability which may exist for their wrongdoing.
And the Scheme will provide survivors with the opportunity to obtain legal advice from a legal support service funded by the Scheme, prior to signing the deed of release and accepting redress.
Whilst we can never undo the suffering experienced by so many, Tasmania’s involvement in this Scheme acknowledges the wrong that was done to Tasmanian survivors, and is a significant step towards organisations taking responsibility for the sexual abuse that happened to the children for which they had a duty to care.
Clearly the National Redress Scheme is open not just to government institutions, but also non-government institutions. We have given close consideration for what non-government institutions in Tasmania may be liable, and I have already been in contact with a number of them.
Given the sensitivity of this issue I am not going to go into any detail on this point, but what I will do is call on the leaders of Tasmania’s non-government institutions that may be liable to recognise the significance of this issue, and the opportunity this Scheme provides their organisations to address damage caused to those they once had a duty to protect.
I would urge organisations not to fail these victims a second time and I note a number have already made public comments to this effect.
The Commonwealth’s National Redress Scheme is to commence from 1 July 2018, subject to the successful passage of legislation through the Commonwealth Parliament.
I will table legislation to bring Tasmania into the Scheme in the coming months, however the structure of the Scheme provides that Tasmanians will be able to commence the application process once the Scheme commences, and access the available support services for this process.
Today’s historic announcement is one of which all Tasmanian’s should be proud. It is one that should be above politics - it is the result of long and detailed discussions between Governments of all persuasions who together recognise the importance of doing what needs to be done to seek to redress the wrongs of the past.
At this point I would like to sincerely thank all those that have worked so hard to bring us to this point, particularly my Department. Make no mistake, these are complex discussions that needed considerable care and attention to ensure an open, transparent and fair process in the best interests of survivors.
This is truly an historic day for Tasmanian survivors.
We acknowledge your deep suffering, we have learned from the past, and we sincerely hope that through the National Redress Scheme, we can better support you now and into the future.