Victims of institutional child sex abuse will each be able to access $150,000 in compensation, under a federal government redress scheme announced on Friday, but not all states are keen to opt into the scheme.
Social Services Minister Christian Porter detailed the initiative in an afternoon press conference, announcing victims of abuse could apply for up to $150,000 from the government as redress for their experiences. The initiative also includes access to counselling and other support services. The scheme will begin in 2018, and run for 10 years.
"A fair, simple and generous process for redress is the most significant thing that we can do for the survivors of sexual abuse in any setting where it may have happened," Porter said.
"The Commonwealth redress scheme will not just be about facilitating individual monetary redress payments. Of equal importance to that important thing, which is individualised monetary redress payments, is ensuring that the scheme provides emotional, mental and other supports to people who have been survivors of institutional abuse."
Cost to Commonwealth ranges from $500m - $700m.— Shalailah Medhora (@shalailah) November 4, 2016
Porter outlined that "culturally adapted counselling over the entire life of the scheme" would be available. He said the scheme would be a "a low-hurdle scheme", but that while the Commonwealth government would administer the scheme, each state would have to opt in individually. He said South Australia had already said it would not opt in, that Western Australia's position was "unclear", while NSW and Victoria had not announced their position.
"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 said.
"The unequivocal legal advice is that it is very, very unlikely that we have the power to establish a single scheme by compulsion."
Porter said the government would "do everything within our power" to encourage states to opt in to the scheme, but would "[reserve] its right to legislate to compel that joining of the scheme."
Government announcement on Commonwealth redress scheme for survivors of institutional child sexual abuse. States, churches etc can opt-in. pic.twitter.com/6TkGfuptrx— Brihony Speed (@brihonyspeed) November 4, 2016
Dr Cathy Kezelman, president of abuse survivors organisation Blue Knot Foundation, welcomed the announcement, but called for all states and territories to sign up.
"Survivors of institutional child sexual abuse have waited a long time to hear that a fair and equitable scheme will be established - one which does not depend on the institution or State in which they were abused," she said.
"The only way this will be achieved is through a single national redress scheme to which all State and Territories sign up, and to which institutions contribute."
"Today we call on all States and Territories to also show leadership by joining with the Commonwealth to develop a single national redress scheme."
A national redress scheme was among the recommendations of the Royal Commission into institutional child sexual abuse, which outlined the reasons why victims of abuse should be granted compensation.
"In some cases, their injuries are severe and long lasting. People can be affected by these injuries for the rest of their lives," a report on redress stated.
"Because of the nature and impact of the abuse they suffered, many victims of child sexual abuse have not had the opportunity to seek compensation for their injuries that many Australians generally can take for granted. While it cannot now be made feasible for many of those who have experienced institutional child sexual abuse to seek common law damages, there is a clear need to provide avenues for survivors to obtain effective redress for this past abuse."
As part of the royal commission, Justice Peter McClellan said it was estimated that "the number of survivors who may be entitled to some level of redress nationally to be 65,000".
The cost of the redress scheme is expected to exceed $500 million.
More to come.