COMMONWEALTH GOVERNMENT REFUSES TO COMMIT TO NATIONAL REDRESS SCHEME BUT VICTORIAN GOVERNMENT COMMITS TO REDRESS.
The Royal Commission into Child Abuse (the Commission) has already published a number of the submissions it has received in response to its Consultation Paper on Redress and Civil Litigation.
The Commonwealth Government chose to submit a 4 page document (http://www.childabuseroyalcommission.gov.au/policy-and-research/redress/submissions-on-redress-and-civil-litigation) in which it essentially abdicated all responsibility for the issue of child sex abuse in Australian society. The Commonwealth Government also chose not to appear before the Commission which further demonstrated the Abbot Government’s lack of commitment to the important work being done on behalf of victims of abuse. (http://www.abc.net.au/news/2015-03-25/child-abuse-royal-commissioners-disappointed-in/6348350)
Firstly, the Commonwealth’s position was that it was essentially too complex and too costly to establish a national scheme. It suggested that the Commonwealth did not have the powers to establish a national scheme and that any national scheme would be duplicating schemes that already exist in some states. None of these arguments are particularly convincing. No doubt there would be complexity and cost involved in establishing a national redress scheme. However child sex abuse is already costing our society in both financial and emotional terms. Complexity in Government frankly goes with the turf. In terms of legislative powers, (if indeed the Commonwealth does not have power to establish a national scheme) the states could cede power to the Commonwealth and there are many examples of this occurring in the past. The Council of Australian Governments (COAG) could easily provide the forum for these discussions to occur.
The Commonwealth also did not commit on extending counselling services to victims of abuse. It simply referred to the services already in existence under the Medicare scheme and invited the Commission to express its views on whether “lack of awareness or confidence presented a barrier to full utilisation of existing services.” The Commonwealth well knows that the biggest barrier to utilisation of existing services is the limited nature of the funding provided by the Commonwealth through the Medicare scheme.
In addition, the Commonwealth refused to accept responsibility as “funder of last resort” so that victims of abuse could still be compensated under a redress scheme even if the institution responsible for the abuse was no longer in existence or was impecunious.
The Commonwealth made the point that the responsibility for providing redress should lie with the institution responsible and invited the Commission to make recommendations that institutions must accept the legal, financial and moral responsibility for failing to protect children. This proposition is difficult to argue with but it begs the question of what is to be done when the institution no longer exists or where it has no money which is the whole point of suggesting that the Commonwealth should be the funder of last resort.
The Victorian Government also made a short submission but in doing so committed to establishing a redress scheme and indicated that it was progressing work on options for a Victorian scheme based on the Betrayal of Trust report’s (the Report) recommendations and indicated that it would shortly be releasing its own consultation paper on this issue. Indeed the Victorian Government again confirmed its commitment to implementing all of the Report’s recommendations, this commitment having been recently demonstrated by the bill presented to Parliament abolishing limitation periods in child abuse cases and the changes to legislation which introduced new grooming offences and the new child safety standards which are to be introduced.
The Victorian Government also indicated that before issuing its consultation paper it will await the Commission’s finding on Redress and Civil Litigation which are due to be handed down in July of this year. This is entirely appropriate.
Angela Sdrinis Legal will be following these developments closely and will be reporting progress on this website.