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National Redress Scheme for Institutional Child Sexual Abuse (Commonwealth Powers) Bill 2018

Cassy O'Connor MP  -  Tuesday, 28 August 2018

Tags: National Redress Scheme, Child Abuse, Catholic Church

Ms O'CONNOR (Denison - Leader of the Greens) - Mr Deputy Speaker, it has been a long, traumatic and painful journey to this point where we are debating the National Redress Scheme for Institutional Child Sexual Abuse (Commonwealth Powers) Bill 2018.  No-one has felt this more than the survivors of child sexual abuse, their families and the people who love them.  I also acknowledge what a painful journey it has been to this point to acknowledge that for decades survivors could not tell their story.  If they could, they were not sure they would be heard or listened to but they were quite sure there would be no measure of justice for them. 

We have come to this place today where the Tasmanian Parliament is debating redress legislation because in 2013 we had a prime minister who listened to the survivors.  Julia Gillard established the royal commission when it became very clear that revelations of a massive cover-up on the part of numerous churches and charitable institutions had not been resolved or explored. 

I also acknowledge the courage of the survivors of child sexual abuse and to acknowledge that for decades they have suffered in silence.  I acknowledge that there are people who did not survive to this point to see a measure of justice being passed through Australian parliaments.  For some people who experienced traumatic sexual abuse as children, the pain was too much, and we need to acknowledge that. 

We are here at this point today because of an appalling failure of institutions that were entrusted with children to deliver on that trust and the generations of harm that has been caused as a result, because childhood trauma, like when you throw a stone into a pond, has intergenerational consequences.  It is not just the people who survive the abuse who have suffered.  It is their families, their children, their loved ones, their partners.  While this legislation will not heal all the wounds it does provide a measure of justice.

One of the most important things that the royal commission achieved was to give survivors a voice, a safe space to tell their stories knowing that they would be heard, they would be listened to and that a measure of justice would be delivered.  What Australia allowed to happen for decades was a massive cover-up of criminal activity inflicted on children by churches and charitable institutions including state run institutions.  A massive cover-up. 

We do not know exactly how many survivors of child sexual abuse will be eligible for this scheme.  There are some people who to this day will not have told their story, for whom the shame that they carry is too much; they cannot tell their story.  On behalf of the Tasmanian Greens, it is my hope that all survivors find a measure of justice in this.  For those survivors who have not felt safe to tell their stories or to seek compensation through civil means it is our hope that this legislation and the redress scheme will bring them some relief at last.

The royal commission undertook its hearings over a four-year time span in Australian states and territories.  It heard evidence from survivors, from people who worked in the institutions and from perpetrators.  In December last year it handed down the final recommendations, 409 recommendations in all, of which this redress scheme is a most significant part. 

The Tasmanian report of case study number 20, the response of the Hutchins School and the Anglican Diocese of Tasmania to allegations of child sexual abuse at the school, is a telling example of why so little action was taken for survivors for so long.  There is a case study in here of abuse that was perpetrated at that school between 1964 and 1965 by teachers, a principal, by people to whom parents had entrusted their boys.  It took 50 years for the school to apologise to that one victim - 50 years.  The apology came through in 2014 and these events happened in 1964.  When you read this case study you will see a cover-up at the time.  People being moved on or fleeing the country, perpetrators, and then when a survivor went to the school seeking acknowledgement and an apology over the course of about 15 years he was fobbed off, he was ignored, he was denied and he was shut out.  His suffering was not acknowledged until 50 years after that harm had been inflicted and he was just one example of a young person who had suffered in that school during that period of time. 

When communities understandably express concern about the loss of their churches, places of worship, places they love that are of value to their parish, their congregation, I say to them I understand why a place that is so significant to you, to your faith, is something that you want to hold on to.  I also understand that the Anglican Church has a profound moral responsibility to step up, to take responsibility for the harm that was caused and to take whatever steps are necessary to look out for the survivors in acknowledgement of the wrong and the harm that they suffered.

As we know, the Anglican Church quite rightly was the first institution in Tasmania to step up and take responsibility and say it would participate in the redress scheme.  Not long after, the Catholic Diocese of Tasmania said it too would acknowledge that children had suffered in institutions that ran in the past and that it would participate in the redress scheme. 

Could the Attorney-General please update the House in your second reading response on other institutions in Tasmania, whether they be church or charitable institutions, and the progress of their agreement to participate in the scheme? 

Given Ms Haddad's very nuanced and insightful contribution on this legislation, the House should understand whether or not the Salvation Army has agreed to participate in the redress scheme.  We know that there were children placed with Salvation Army institutions right around the country who still bear the scars of what happened to them to this day.

I acknowledge the persistence and the compassion of CLAN, the Care Leaders Action Network of Australia, which for years and years gave survivors a voice, heard them, listened to them, believed in them and pushed for change.  It is in significant part because of the courage of survivors and the CLAN that a royal commission was established in Australia.  That has delivered a package of reforms that should ensure we never have this debate in this House again where we are seeking to provide a measure of justice for harm that was inflicted on children when they were placed in the care of adults that they should have been able to trust.

I have some concerns about the narrowing of eligibility that excludes people who have served time in correctional facilities.  Ms Haddad is right.  If a person has experienced brutalisation; had their dignity taken away from them; had their trust not just abused but destroyed, and leave an institution a bundle of trauma without support, there is a reasonable likelihood that they will go on to commit crimes.  We heard the story of 'Tony' from the Salvation Army Institution in New South Wales. 

Could the Attorney-General please explain what justification there is for excluding that cohort of survivors from eligibility for the scheme?  I do not believe that is what the royal commission intended.  Survivors are survivors are survivors, whatever their life's journey after they escaped the abuses.  It strikes me that there is something harsh, punitive and wholly unjustified about a redress scheme that excludes people who experienced huge trauma and then went on to create further chaos in their lives.  All they knew was pain and chaos and that winds them up in correctional institutions.  It does not pass the fairness test.

Could the Attorney-General detail to the House some of the terms of the intergovernmental agreement signed by the Premier on 31 May 2018?  We need some clarity for Tasmanian survivors who may have received some compensation through the program for compensation for people who were abused in state care.  My understanding is that they will still be eligible for redress if they received compensation under the state scheme, which will be taken into account in determining what compensation might be available.  That would be important, Attorney-General, to clarify to those Tasmanian survivors.

Is the Attorney-General confident that the funds allocated through the state Budget for redress sufficient, given we are talking about a scheme which will span a decade?

Ms Archer - I have already said, if they were not, there is no way we would not fund this.  I said that at Estimates.

Ms O'CONNOR - That is good.  The royal commission estimated somewhere in the vicinity of 1700 to 2000 Tasmanian survivors may be eligible for redress under this scheme.  Can the Attorney-General provide clarity on the number of Tasmanian survivors who may be eligible? 

It is important this House understands which institutions have accepted responsibility in the way the Anglican Church and Catholic Church have.  It is the very least they could do. 

I acknowledge this bill confers powers to the Commonwealth.  Section 51 of the Australian Constitution enables state parliaments to refer matters to the Commonwealth Parliament and operates to refer matters in relation to institutional child sexual abuses as follows:  the adoption of the National Redress Scheme for Institutional Child Sexual Abuse Act 2018 of the Commonwealth. 

Some survivors who have followed this debate will now be seeking to access therapeutic services, counselling and support services.  I have spoken to survivors who have never received professional help or support.  It will be a most welcome development to be able to access those services.

I acknowledge this legislation provides the mechanism for compensation.  It is important the House acknowledges that no amount of money will heal these wounds, that the compensation is an acknowledgement and only a measure of justice.  For survivors a life of pain cannot be quantified into a dollar figure.  We need to acknowledge that.

I acknowledge that for some survivors it will be particularly significant and meaningful to be able to obtain a personal response from the institution under whose dubious care they suffered.  For some survivors the notion of having any contact with the place of their childhood horrors will be too much to bear but it is important those institutions which still exist and are able to make the personal response, apologise.  Do not let it take 50 years, as it did in the case of the Tasmanian example.  As was clear when you study the Tasmanian case study 20, more than anything else, what the survivor wanted was for the school to say, 'Yes, we believe you; yes, it happened; yes, our response at the time was appalling and it compounded your suffering; yes, we failed you miserably; we did not just fail you, we failed other students in our care; we accept responsibility for that and we are so sorry'.

For some survivors it is those words that will matter the most because it will mean these people have been heard for the first time in decades, that their suffering is acknowledged by the institution that harmed them.  I urge all Tasmanian churches and charitable organisations that know that in the past children suffered in their care, if a survivor approaches you and seeks a personal acknowledgement make it unreservedly, make it with heart and know that in doing so it will be the first time for survivors that their suffering really has been acknowledged.  That will be of more value to many survivors than the compensation, which is regrettably capped.  It is regrettable that it is being capped and it will never be enough to repair the damage that was caused.  It will never compensate for in some cases decades of suffering and internalising trauma, but it is something. 

This House today will pass legislation that at last provides a real mechanism for redress and compensation for people whose suffering we can only begin to imagine.  I urge those members who have not read any of the royal commission's work, or the transcripts of evidence, or the case study from Tasmania to do so.  By doing that we will have some understanding of what these children experienced.

The Greens will be supporting this legislation.