Limitation of Actions Amendment (Child Abuse) Bill 2015

Written on the 16 April 2015


14 April 2015

COUNCIL 

Second reading 

GEORGIE CROZIER (Southern Metropolitan)

 

It is a great pleasure for me to be in the chamber this evening to hear the debate and speak to this very important piece of legislation, the Limitation of Actions Amendment (Child Abuse) Bill 2015. Speakers in this house and in the other place have acknowledged the work of the members of the Family and Community Development Committee, and I also place on record acknowledgement of the committee's work. I also recognise the bipartisan approach the Parliament took to this difficult task. The Parliament was absolutely magnificent in assisting with the Betrayal of Trust report. Not a week goes by in which I do not get some form of acknowledgement of the work we did. I am incredibly proud of that piece of work.

I am also proud that the former government undertook the initiative and led the way in implementing the recommendations contained in the Betrayal of Trust report. During this debate it is important to remind members of what has been undertaken since I tabled the report on 13 November 2013.

Reforms previously introduced into the Parliament include new criminal offences for grooming, failure to protect and failure to disclose; legislating for a course of conduct charge to make it easier for repeated and systematic sexual offending to be prosecuted; removing inappropriate time limits on the prosecution of a range of sexual offences against children committed prior to 1991; minimum child-safe standards for organisations that have direct and regular contact with children; allowing the Commission for Children and Young People to scrutinise organisations' systems for keeping children safe; and requiring ministers of religion to hold a current working with children check if they have contact with children as part of their duties.

This piece of legislation is another step in the implementation of the recommendations. I am pleased that the government is undertaking this step, because at a public forum in August of last year the then shadow Minister for Community Services, Ms Mikakos, confirmed that a Daniel Andrews Labor government would wait for the commonwealth royal commission to report before deciding whether to implement the Betrayal of Trust recommendations on civil claims and redress.

I am very pleased that the government is not waiting for the royal commission. It is my understanding that there are significant numbers of people who want to come before the royal commission, and that will take some time. As other members have said, it is very important that we have this legislation in the house today. I take up the comments of those who have said we are leading the way. Victoria is leading the way in this.

Just a few weeks ago there were people in the Parliament listening to the debate in the other place. They came up to me and proudly spoke of where our report has been. I note that one of our former parliamentary colleagues in this place, David O'Brien, presented this report to the Vatican. Some fabulous victims who came before the committee and put so much effort into giving important evidence came up to me in Queen's Hall to tell me that our report was with the United Nations. This is an incredible achievement for this Parliament.

I want to again place on record my acknowledgement of the enormous contribution made by so many victims who came before the committee to tell their stories. From those stories we heard that the average length of time it took to come before the inquiry and tell of abuse was 22 years on average, and sometimes 30 years.

An 80-year-old woman gave evidence.

She had not told anyone about her abuse, which happened when she was seven years old. It took seven and a half decades before she told anyone about her abuse. The people who came forward highlighted to the community the extensive impact of their abuse. That is why this bill is so important; because the reporting of cases of criminal child abuse is typically delayed for several decades.

The committee found it necessary to suggest an amendment to the Limitation of Actions Act 1958 Victoria to allow victims of criminal child abuse sufficient time to initiate civil legal action. That was the committee's finding. Recommendation 26.3 of the report suggested that the Victorian government consider amending the Limitation of Actions Act 1958 to exclude criminal child abuse from the operation of the limitations period under the act. As has already been said, the judiciary retains discretion in applying the statute of limitations.

Some comments have also been made in relation to the legal principle of finality in relation to the statute of limitations. These are all important elements of this bill. The bill fundamentally implements recommendation 26.3, as highlighted by the explanatory memorandum.

Clause 1 provides that the purpose of the bill is to amend the Limitation of Actions Act 1958 to remove limitation periods that apply to actions in respect of causes of action that relate to death or personal injury resulting from child abuse. As I have said, this is important.

Clause 4 inserts a new division 5 into part IIA of the Limitations of Actions Act 1958 which applies to actions resulting from child abuse. New section 27O provides that division 5 applies to an action if the action is an action to which part IIA of the Limitations of Actions Act 1958 applies and if the action is founded on the death or personal injury of a person resulting from an act or omission in relation to a person when the person is a minor that is physical abuse or sexual abuse; and psychological abuse, if any, that arises out of that act or omission. This section allows a court to determine what is physical abuse or sexual abuse by reference to the ordinary meaning of those words. That is an important element to note. I know other members have raised concerns in relation to it.

The meaning of psychological abuse is also to be determined by the court in the same manner. As I have said, the court can apply discretion to the issues that come before it. Psychological abuse is included in the section to avoid doubt.

When victims of abuse came before our committee, it was very evident that the abuse they had suffered and the time frames it took for them to come before us had been extensive. Again it is worth noting that our inquiry had 578 submissions and held 162 hearings. As I said at the outset of my contribution, in many instances there were life-altering implications for those individuals who made submissions, and I commend them on coming before us. It is very important that we hear firsthand from victims and others who have been subject to abuse in order to fully appreciate and understand the extent of what occurred.

Mr Rich-Phillips mentioned the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. I expressed my wish that as many people who come forward to give evidence at our inquiry would come forward to give their evidence to the royal commission. The experience I had as chair of the Victorian inquiry has furthered my understanding of the depth of abuse suffered by those people who came before us. I do not think this would be fully understood through written submissions alone. I am pleased that there are people who want to be heard, and I hope they will be heard.

As I have said, this is an important piece of legislation. There is no doubt that our inquiry led the way in Australia. This issue is being further investigated by the royal commission. I am pleased that the royal commission is looking at the Betrayal of Trust report's findings and recommendations. I look forward to the conclusion of the royal commission.

This is an important day for this piece of legislation because of the impact the removal of the limitation period will have on the number of victims coming forward. Many people's memories of their abuse would no doubt have faded as the decades passed. Any number of circumstances could have arisen due to the limitation period imposed by the act. These arbitrary time frames no longer apply. That is a very significant move.

Finally, I place on record my appreciation of the former Attorney-General, Robert Clark, who did an extraordinary amount of work in relation to assisting those victims who had been subject to criminal child abuse. He acted in his capacity as Attorney-General to push through various reforms and legislation in the last Parliament, alongside other members of the previous government. We can all be very proud of our work.

As the former chair of the Family and Community Development Committee that conducted the inquiry and made these recommendations, I am very pleased to be able to speak on this legislation this evening. This is a significant piece of legislation, and I wish it a very speedy passage.

 


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