Fri, 08 Dec 2023

SYDNEY, Australia - In a first, Australian government has announced that survivors of institutional child abuse would be eligible for compensation up to $150,000 as part of a national redress scheme announced by the federal government. 

The scheme will be available by 2018 to provide survivors psychological counselling as well as money.

On Friday, Social Services Minister Christian Porter announced the national opt-in scheme which has been a key recommendation from the child sex abuse royal commission and a long-held demand of victims and advocates. 

Although advocacy groups have welcomed the announcement, they have slammed the 'opt-in' element.

The federal government claimed it to be a fair and generous scheme to acknowledge the wrongdoing inflicted upon survivors. Porter said the cost of supporting 3000 victims from commonwealth facilities would be between $570 million to $770 million over ten years.

"The central thing we are trying to avoid in all of this is to re-traumatise victims who have already been through an enormous amount," Porter said.

"The unequivocal legal advice is that it is very, very unlikely we have the power to establish a single scheme by compulsion. The Commonwealth cannot compel a state to join this scheme. We will continue to encourage all states and territories to opt into the scheme as we will be churches and charities and those discussions and negotiations have been ongoing and they have been fruitful," he added.

Leonie Sheedy, Care Leavers Australia Network Chief Executive said that states must be compelled to contribute and churches and charities should be penalised if they try to avoid their obligations.

"The redress scheme sounds wonderful until you read the fine print. Allowing the states to opt-in is a cop out. It should be mandatory for all the states to contribute. The states cannot wash their hands of this. As for the institutions, many of them have a poor track record of supporting people who were abused. What if they say no, they're not going to contribute? It's not good enough to say we can't put pressure on the states or the churches and charities. If any charity or religious organisation refuses to contribute to the scheme they should lose their tax exempt status," she said.

While South Australia has indicated that it would opt out of the scheme, the government earlier received support from New South Wales and Victoria. 

Western Australia hasn't clarified its stance on the matter.

The Catholic Church's Truth Justice and Healing Council has although claimed the system to be fair, simple and generous. 

Chief Executive Francis Sullivan said, "This is by far the best chance we as a community and particularly the institutions responsible for the abuse will have to do the right thing. It will mean the scheme will determine redress payments and that payment will be met by the institution responsible for the abuse. An extra benefit would be institutions such as the Catholic Church would now no longer be in the business of investigating and determining claims against themselves."

Last year in September, the royal commission into institutional responses to child sexual abuse recommended a cap of $200,000 for payouts to victims in the national redress scheme. 

While the federal government previously said it would work with states and territories to develop a nationally consistent redress scheme, it has failed to compel all with its 'opt-in' proposal.

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