Tuesday, 29 May 2018
I am very pleased to have the opportunity to speak in this debate, as this issue about the effect that child sexual abuse in institutions around this country has had has been something that I have worked with survivors in my own electorate to address, discuss and shed light upon. I was incredibly proud to stand as part of the Gillard government in 2013 when we announced the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. Many people had been calling for this for some time. Quite frankly, once we saw the outcome of that royal commission, as the evidence and information provided started to snowball, it galvanised everyone’s view that this was so important, timely and critical. Over five years the commission held 57 public hearings over 44 days, and heard evidence from more than 1,300 witnesses.
I need to place on record here thanks to all of those that shared their personal stories. It is really hard to talk about yourself. As politicians we come in here and advocate on behalf of others; it is much more confronting to talk about your own personal experiences, especially when they are such private experiences that have been associated with such difficulties, personal shame and a whole range of other emotions. It is so difficult to talk about those, and I need to acknowledge here in this place those survivors that got up and were able to share their stories. When I spoke to a number of those survivors, I found that their motivation wasn’t for themselves; it was to make sure that this never happened again, that no other child had to endure what they had to endure. I think that needs to be placed on the record—that this was for many a very brave and difficult moment, motivated by not only telling their story and seeking justice for themselves but also trying to make sure that this never happened again. I would like to thank on record all of those that were brave enough to tell their story.
I would also like to thank all those advocates who, even before the royal commission, had been advocating so powerfully for these stories to come out, for government to do something to address the wrongs of the past. Many organisations have been part of that. CLAN, led by Leonie Sheedy, has been one of those. They have done an amazing job at ensuring that governments dealt with this issue instead of forgetting it, ignoring it or pushing it under the carpet. I place on record my great thanks to them because, as a result of their bravery and advocacy, we now have these important pieces of legislation before the House today.
The National Redress Scheme for Institutional Child Sexual Abuse Bill 2018 and the National Redress Scheme for Institutional Child Sexual Abuse (Consequential Amendments) Bill 2018 are critically important, and I am very pleased to be supporting them today. I am pleased that the majority of states and territories have come on board. It does need to be a national redress scheme, so I would absolutely urge that the government continues to negotiate with those states that have not signed up and that it continues to pursue this. We need a truly national redress scheme. We also need a redress scheme that is in line with the recommendation of the royal commission. Labor were very clear once the recommendation came out from the royal commission that we supported a national redress scheme. We were very clear about it, and that is why we want to work constructively with the government to make sure that it comes to fruition.
Labor has some concerns, and I certainly have some concerns, with the current bill. In particular, most of us are concerned about the limitation on access to counselling for the survivors. I think anyone who listened to the stories that were presented to the royal commission and who spoke with any of those individuals would have to acknowledge that this abuse has had lifelong consequences. It has affected many, many aspects of those individuals’ lives. There is grief that comes with it about ‘what could have been’. ‘What could my life have been like without this terrible situation that happened to me?’ ‘What have I lost as a result?’ It is a deeply difficult issue to deal with. I don’t think it’s too much to ask that those individuals get proper access to counselling in a way that actually helps them address the issues that they face. Therefore, I absolutely understand that the royal commission did recommend that recipients of redress be able to access counselling for the rest of their life. However, this bill only provides access to state-provided services for the length of the scheme or a payment of up to $5,000 to be put towards counselling.
As I have said, these circumstances are woefully inadequate. I certainly join with the shadow minister and the rest of Labor to call on the government to give assurances that this will be addressed. I think survivors often consider that government is responsible for their abuse and do not wish to use state or institution-run services, and this does need to be taken into account by the states when delivering services. This is something which we do need to work on with our state colleagues to address. For survivors who receive the $5,000 payment, this amount of money will not provide adequate access to services. So I call on the government and urge the government, as previous speakers have done, to seriously address this issue. We need to seriously look at the upper limit that we place on the amount of redress. The upper limit set by this bill is $150,000. The royal commission recommends that the maximum payment be $200,000. I guess we need to understand the logic that the government has made for not implementing the full recommendation. Why aren’t we seeing the royal commission’s recommendation in full and why aren’t we seeing the maximum payment of $200,000?
Also, we have concerns that the bill gives applicants only six months to make this decision, while the royal commission recommends a year. Once again, it is unclear as to why the government has chosen this limit. I think we do need to acknowledge that, for many people, this is a deeply distressing process. It is difficult to take that first step, to take the second step or to take the third step in the redress process. So, limiting this time does put, I think, a large amount of pressure on individuals that is just not necessary. Why will the government not just accept the royal commission’s 12-month period? There are a number of other issues that have been raised, and certainly I support Labor’s concerns in this regard. We want to see the government work in way in which we can actually achieve a really good step towards a truly national redress scheme.
In conclusion, I want to draw the House’s attention to an area that was a direct result of the Commonwealth’s mismanagement. A lot of the institutionalised sexual abuse that we saw was in churches and other religious institutions, as well as in state-run institutions. But, of course, the royal commission also looked into and examined the Department of Defence, and the ADF’s responses to allegations of child sexual abuse at some of the institutions that were directly operated by the Commonwealth and the ADF. They concluded that from the 1960s to 1972 the system of management at HMAS Leeuwin was ineffective in preventing and responding to child sexual abuse. The Royal Navy failed in its duty to care for junior recruits who were children.
It was also found that there was a failure to adequately address harmful bullying conduct and that the culture of intimidation by older apprentices and staff represented a failure in duty of care by the Army to provide a safe environment for junior apprentices at the Australian Army Apprentices School at Balcombe. Further, during the 1970s and 1980s the system of management at Balcombe was ineffective in preventing and responding to abuse, a failure in management which allowed sexual abuse to occur.
At the time of the public hearing of the royal commission, the approach taken by DVA in assessing claims for child abuse at these two locations was incorrect in requiring assessors to reject any claim that was not supported by independently corroborated evidence. Following the hearing, Defence confirmed that DVA had put into effect a new policy for determining claims for child abuse. So we can see that evidence that occurred in the royal commission about abuse that happened directly as a result of the Commonwealth’s mismanagement has now led to a change in process, and that is critically important in moving forward.
The royal commission also found that the impact of abuse on these individuals has been lifelong and severe, and include physical injury, mental illness, suicide attempts, alcohol abuse and broken relationships. It found that, since at least 2000, policy guidelines and training manuals of the ADF cadets were incomplete and misleading in regard to the legal age of consent and the effect of special care provisions.
We have seen, really, that not only was it the states and territories in their responsibilities, and also that of private institutions, but, indeed, that the Commonwealth itself did let those under its care down. They let those under its care down, and this royal commission and the redress scheme are critically important to setting those wrongs right. It is incumbent, I think, on all of us to continue to ensure that this is not a set-and-forget policy, that we continue to recognise the impact of what past behaviour has had on individuals—the continuing lifelong impact that has had. We must continue as a parliament and as a nation to recognise this and to ensure that we do everything in our power to say sorry and also, importantly, to bring in a national redress scheme that actually goes some way in this. We can never change the past and we can never make up for all the damage that has been done, but if we get this redress scheme right—if we make sure that it’s truly national and that it’s in line with the royal commission’s recommendations—then we can go some way in saying that we got it wrong but we’re trying to make amends. I commend the bill to the House.