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The National Redress Scheme for Institutional Child Sexual Abuse Amendment Bill 2021

1 Sep | '2021

It is with deep sadness and sympathy for all victims of child sexual abuse that I stand in this place and dare to speak of the unspeakable that has been forced upon the innocents of our nation. I put my name forward to speak on this National Redress Scheme for Institutional Child Sexual Abuse Amendment Bill 2021 because I want to see child sexual abuse addressed, victims given justice and a safer upbringing for all Australian children. We know that it can take up to 50 years for some to bravely come forward, and many take as long as 30 years to tell their harrowing stories. For some, their very personal and painful truths remain untold and, often, their secrets go with them and their perpetrators to their graves.

I speak today for those victims who have passed, and for those who have found their voice and will find justice in their lifetime through the government’s Redress Scheme. I stand also for those victims who have not yet found their voice; for those victims who have not yet seen justice or, indeed, have had justice denied; and for those who have been brave enough to stand before the law, to stand before their perpetrator, and yet have still been denied justice for the gross and callous theft of their childhood by evil, selfish and deranged sexual predators. Often this is because of the time it takes victims to muster the courage to face their perpetrator through the arduous court system.

I stand here for those women and men across our nation who struggle every day to come to terms with how and why their lives were destroyed by adults who were entrusted with protecting their personal safety in childhood. Many of those trusted individuals who failed in that, who abused them, were representing, through their employment, church organisations; they were in the state school system; and they were in charge of the pastoral care of children in many other institutional environments. Many remain in those positions of trust and remain abusers today. All of these institutions are listed on the national redress website, and, for the public’s information, those institutions who have not signed up to this scheme are also listed on the website.

We know there are victims who have been and continue to be sexually abused in non-institutional settings—for example, in the home, by a relative or in extracurricular environments. This must stop. It must stop. The harm that is caused to children, and society more broadly, must stop.

There is no greater cause of pain than to be abused by someone who is supposed to protect you. How, as a human being, could you ever fully trust again? This affects the ability to create what are considered normal, functioning relationships across lifetimes. I believe that many of the harms that we see in society today, such as domestic violence, mental health problems, violence, anger and rage, can often be attributed to childhood sexual abuse—the damage that it causes and the pain that it inflicts.

The National Redress Scheme was established in 2018 in response to the Royal Commission. It’s a light at the end of a very dark tunnel for victims. It rightly turns the spotlight on to justice and financial support for victims. It can never fix or replace bad memories with good ones, but it can assist with counselling and often improve the poor health of many survivors. This government is focused on delivering outcomes for victims of child sexual abuse, and that is a great relief for so many across our nation who have just cause to seek redress.

The National Redress Scheme for Institutional Child Sexual Abuse Amendment Bill 2021 introduces the first tranche of legislative amendments to the National Redress Scheme for Institutional Child Sexual Abuse Act 2018 as part of the initial response to the final report of the second year review of the National Redress Scheme, undertaken by Ms Robyn Kruk AO. The bill gives effect to several key recommendations from the second year review. This initial action reflects measures that are relatively straightforward to implement and have agreement from states and territories to ensure the scheme is rightly more survivor-focused. The review makes 38 recommendations to increase access to redress, to improve the scheme’s operation and ultimately to make it easier for victims of these abhorrent crimes to obtain redress. In undertaking the review, Ms Kruk consulted with key stakeholders, including survivors, advocacy groups, support services, institutions and the Commonwealth, state and territory governments. The government is prioritising initial action on 25 of the 38 review recommendations, in full or in part, and is investing over $80 million over four years in the 2021-22 budget to support implementation of these recommendations. This bill will establish a $10,000 advance payment for applicants who are elderly or terminally ill. Remember that I outlined earlier that many victims take up to 50 years to come forward, and therefore many are in their sunset years or sadly in ill health by the time they come to a redress process. This measure assists them to move forward with their lives.

Technically, the bill changes the date for which indexation of a prior payment is calculated to be when a survivor submits an application to the scheme, rather than when their application is determined. The bill enables flexibility to extend the period during which an applicant can accept their redress offer and allows the period for seeking a review to be extended in order to be consistent with the acceptance period. It removes the requirement for a statutory declaration in the application form. It introduces the ability for the scheme operator to make redress payments in instalments, giving survivors choice and control over how they receive their payment. The government is committed to the continuous improvement of the scheme and recognises that people who have experienced institutional child sexual abuse have waited too long. I congratulate the Prime Minister and the Minister for Families and Social Services, Senator Ruston, for their work to improve outcomes for survivors.

I conclude my remarks by again condemning those who perpetrated these crimes against defenceless children and abused their positions of trust in what can only be described as a national shame. I send love and light to you, the innocent children—now adults—who are struggling to come to terms with the heavy burden and toll of the sexual abuse you endured that has impacted you and your families and your relationships for the rest of your lives.

I say to you that this is your way forward. I’m proud to stand as a member of this government, which continues to improve this scheme for Australian children. I encourage you to apply to the National Redress Scheme for your own benefit, your compensation and your healing journey. If you experienced sexual abuse when you were a child under 18, the abuse happened before 1 July 2018, an institution was responsible for bringing you into contact with the person who abused you, you were born before 30 June 2010, at the time you applied you were an Australian citizen or permanent resident and the institution you attended has joined the National Redress Scheme, then you may be eligible for redress. You can call 1800737377 or you can go to nationalredress.gov.au to apply.

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