Yesterday (26 October 2017), the Federal Government introduced two bills that together establish the Commonwealth Redress Scheme for Institutional Child Sexual Abuse (“the Scheme”). The Scheme will cover survivors of child sexual abuse from Commonwealth institutional settings, and may later be extended to also cover the Australian Capital Territory and the Northern Territory.
The Scheme has been introduced in response to recommendations made in the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. The Commission released its report on redress and civil litigation in September 2015.
Introducing the Commonwealth Redress Scheme for Institutional Child Sexual Abuse Bill 2017 (Cth) into the House of Representatives, Minister for Social Services Christian Porter said:
“The establishment of the scheme is an acknowledgement by the Commonwealth government that sexual abuse suffered by children in institutional settings; operated by a number of governments state, territory and federal and by a number of non-government institutions was wrong, a shocking betrayal of trust; and simply should never have happened.
The Redress Scheme in this bill is designed to recognise the suffering survivors have experienced, to unequivocally accept that these events occurred and to ensure that each institution that has been responsible for abuse in their institutional settings must take responsibility for that abuse.”
The Minister outlined three elements of the Scheme:
The Scheme will operate for 10 years, beginning on 1 July 2018. In order to be eligible for the scheme, survivors will need to have suffered sexual abuse as a child that was the responsibility of a participating institution, and that occurred prior to the scheme’s commencement on 1 July 2018. According to the second reading speech, the test used for eligibility will determine if “there is a reasonable likelihood that the survivor is eligible”, which is described as being “a lower evidentiary threshold than a balance of probabilities test which is generally applied in civil legal processes.
Survivors will only be able to make one application, regardless of how many institutions they may have attended. Families will not be able to make applications on behalf of deceased family members.
Accepting a monetary payment of redress will mean the survivor releases the participating institution deemed responsible from civil liability in relation to abuse within the scope of the scheme. While survivors who have already accessed redress through another scheme or through a court judgment will not be excluded from the Scheme, the amounts received may be deducted from the amount that would be payable under the Scheme.
The Commonwealth Redress Scheme for Institutional Child Sexual Abuse (Consequential Amendments) Bill 2017 (Cth) (“the Consequential Amendments Bill”) amends the Social Security Act 1991 and the Veterans’ Entitlements Act 1986 to ensure the payments are not income tested, and will not affect any current support payments being made to survivors. It also amends the Bankruptcy Act 1966 to quarantine payments from the divisible property of a bankrupt.
The Consequential Amendments Bill also exempts decisions made under the Scheme from judicial review under the Administrative Decisions (Judicial Review) Act 1977. According to the Bill’s Explanatory Memorandum:
“This amendment will ensure the Scheme remains survivor focused and trauma informed by maintaining the principles that the Scheme be a low threshold and non-legalistic process for survivors who have already suffered so much. These amendments are essential to implement the Scheme’s policies and to ensure timely and appropriate decision making.”
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Commonwealth Redress Scheme for Institutional Child Sexual Abuse Bill 2017 (Cth), Explanatory Memorandum, Second Reading Speech - available from TimeBase's LawOne service
Commonwealth Redress Scheme for Institutional Child Sexual Abuse (Consequential Amendments) Bill 2017 (Cth), Explanatory Memorandum, Second Reading Speech - available from TimeBase's LawOne service
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