National Redress Scheme for Institutional Child Sexual Abuse (Commonwealth Powers) Bill 2018
Written on the 7 June 20187 June 2018
GEORGIE CROZIER (LIB - Southern Metropolitan)
Debate resumed from 24 May; motion of Mr JENNINGS (Special Minister of State).
I am very pleased to rise to speak to the National Redress Scheme for Institutional Child Sexual Abuse (Commonwealth Powers) Bill 2018. I do so because again we are debating in the Parliament issues that were raised through the parliamentary inquiry that I had the privilege to chair and that came about after then Minister Wooldridge commissioned the Cummins report, which identified issues within organisations relating to sexual abuse. One of the recommendations of the Cummins report was to look into this issue further. It was the then Premier, Ted Baillieu, who had the courage to do so, along with Minister Wooldridge and then Minister Clark. This really put this issue on the national agenda.
The parliamentary committee undertook a significant inquiry and members have heard me speak about this before that looked at a range of things including a redress scheme, and I will talk a bit about that later. That process obviously led to the federal royal commission that made recommendations about redress.We understand the impact of those that failed children who were sexually and physically abused and who were neglected and traumatised under the care of trusted organisations. It was a betrayal of trust, and that is why we named our report Betrayal of Trust, because it was people in positions of authority who betrayed the trust of so many innocent little children. I am reminded again of the number of people who came before us and gave their heartbreaking stories about what had actually happened to them when they were innocent little children.
Again, I am reminded of some of the impacts of that abuse, and I have read some of the second-reading speeches from the Assembly debate. I know there were many people in the gallery watching that debate, and many of them appeared before the inquiry and gave their heartfelt testimonies to our committee. I think it was very satisfying for them to see the Parliament again join together in supporting this bill.One of the contributions was from my colleague who sat on the committee, Mr Wakeling. I want to pay tribute to all my colleagues who sat on the committee: former members Andrea Coote and David O'Brien; and current members, the member for Ferntree Gully, Nick Wakeling; the member for Broadmeadows, Frank McGuire; and the member for Thomastown, Bronwyn Halfpenny. We all worked collectively, along with the Parliament and along with everybody in this place, to deliver that report.
But Mr Wakeling's second-reading speech actually highlights one of the issues in the report we tabled, on which he made such a huge contribution. He spoke about the effects on his own family. I will quote from his second-reading speech because it touches us all in various ways, and I know it touched me. There were people I knew sitting across the committee table, including people who had worked for my family, giving evidence, and it was very difficult. I think this is what encapsulates so many of those victims that were affected. Mr Wakeling said:I was reminded recently of my own grandfather who, upon the death of his mother in Sydney at the very young age of five over a century ago was put on a boat with his siblings to Perth and, I am told, was picked up by his aunty, who then put him in the Clontarf Boys Orphanage, so the story goes.
And he never spoke of his time of being in that orphanage.The PRESIDENT (10:09:31) I am sorry to interrupt, Ms Crozier, but I do want to bring to the notice of the house that we have in the gallery today a former Treasurer of the state of Queensland and indeed now the Speaker of the Parliament in Queensland, the Honourable Curtis Pitt. We welcome you to the gallery today.
Ms CROZIER As I was saying, in Mr Wakeling's second-reading speech he said that as an older adult, his uncle or his relative, I should say did make it known that he would never set foot inside a Roman Catholic Church. It did not matter the denomination; there was abuse amongst a whole range of organisations. I am very pleased that in recent days we have seen so many of those organisations come on board and support the national redress scheme.I will talk a little bit more about the details of the bill, but can I say that the committee itself looked at this very issue and at a redress scheme. We did get evidence, and there are a number of jurisdictions around the country that have got redress schemes in place already. When we looked at these proposed models of alternative justice, one of them was a government-funded redress scheme. Another one was a compensation scheme funded by non-government organisations or a government compensation fund. We looked in detail at all of these models through the course of the inquiry. We received evidence, and we got information from international jurisdictions that had some government-operated compensation processes as well as non-government organisation processes. One of those two areas that we looked at was in Canada, and I will quote from the Betrayal of Trust report again:
In Canada, two government redress schemes, the helpline agreement and the Indian residential schools settlement agreement, involved co-contributions by religious organisations.We actually got evidence that there was discrepancy and quite a level of dissatisfaction among some of the people involved in coming forward about those schemes, so it was an interesting element to understand. We also looked at how:
The experience of the Irish Residential Institutions Redress Board (the redress board) highlights the potential pitfall of failing to source sufficient financial contributions for a government-operated redress scheme from non-government organisations.My point is that it was and is a very complex area. I think this bill deals with the complexities of what we are really dealing with here. The purpose of the National Redress Scheme for Institutional Child Sexual Abuse (Commonwealth Powers) Bill 2018 is:
to refer certain matters relating to the National Redress Scheme for Institutional Child Sexual Abuse to the Parliament of the Commonwealth for the purposes of section 51 (xxxvii) of the Constitution of the CommonwealthIt is referring those powers to make laws concerning the national redress scheme. I want to put on record my acknowledgement of work done by Minister Dan Tehan, the federal Minister for Social Services, and others before him in relation to looking at this issue because the national redress scheme does act to establish a mechanism to provide redress for those past survivors of institutional child sexual abuse.
It is very difficult, and the national redress scheme, as the title says, needs all of the states to come on board. It needs them all to come on board, and I am very pleased that the Victorian government has signed on to do that. It is important that we did. I know New South Wales and others have signed on, and I would urge the remaining state, which I think is Western Australia, to do so because it is important. If we are to acknowledge what has happened in organisations for all of those people affected, all of those survivors and victims of child sexual abuse, then it needs to be a national redress scheme and everyone needs to be on board.As I said, it is a complex scheme and it takes into consideration a number of things. There are going to have to be eligibility requirements and an ability to understand or define what the abuse was, and that is difficult. As we found with many of the victims that came before us, some are very strong with their recollections. Some, understandably, had blocked out the horrors that had occurred to them as children and could not really articulate very well the extent of the abuse, but it was clear that there were lifelong impacts of that abuse and that they had greatly suffered from the damage and trauma for their entire lives.
Part of what is going to be required in looking at the eligibility is looking at what the abuse was and defining that. We know what the definition of abuse is, whether it is sexual abuse or physical abuse or psychological abuse and sometimes it could be all three. Sexual abuse is physical and psychological as well as sexual. Psychological abuse or physical abuse can be just pure brutality. The stories told during our inquiry were absolutely heart-wrenching, and it was inconceivable that people in trusted positions would inflict such horrific abuse on innocent little children.I am pleased that it was this Parliament that actually accepted the responsibility and highlighted that the systems failed and that organisations failed these children and their families. From that we have had a number of pieces of legislation that have dealt with the criminality aspects, the cover-ups, the passing on of information or hiding the information all of those things that I think we have addressed. I am reminded again of the grooming that took place, and I am pleased that this Parliament, within a month of me tabling that report in this very chamber, put into place grooming laws.
That was the extent of what we heard. It was not just about the primary victim; it was also the secondary victim and the ripple effect of that abuse not just on that individual but on their families and their communities. Of course we have seen that with communities around Victoria who were very brave and embraced what we found, because it was raw and it was confronting. It horrified members of the community, and it horrified members of some very good organisations who bravely spoke out about their organisations. I am again reminded of some of those people. Father Kevin Dillon spoke about the trauma and about his dealings with some of those victims, to whom he has given incredible support. He acknowledged the failures of his church and gave extraordinarily profound evidence and details of the system's failure, as I spoke about just a few minutes ago.There are a number of aspects to this bill. As I said, it is a big bill; it is a complex bill. Clause 4 deals with the reference of matters to the commonwealth Parliament. It refers the power to make laws necessary for the making of the National Redress Scheme for Institutional Child Sexual Abuse Act, but it is only to the extent of amending the National Redress Act or the amendment reference as I referred to. Clause 5 provides that the reference does not prevent Victoria from making any laws to establish or operate any state redress scheme themselves. It does define a state redress mechanism to mean a scheme established by the state Parliament or state government or by any governmental or non-governmental entity in respect of survivors of institutional child abuse in the state, and also to mean the jurisdiction of a court or tribunal to grant compensation or support for or in respect of victims of crime, including crime relating to institutional child sexual abuse. I think that is an important aspect of the bill.
Clause 6 provides that any amendment made under the amendment reference in the previous clause that I mentioned, clause 4:would substantively remove or override a provision of the National Redress Act that requires the agreement of the State.
Clause 7 basically clarifies that the Governor in Council may terminate any reference under the act at any time by way of proclamation. Clause 9 provides that the means by which agreement may be given on behalf of Victoria may be prescribed by regulations or ministerial directions.They are the aspects of the bill. Certainly in the second-reading speech of Mr Pesutto in the Assembly, he was very strong and again I say we are all in support of this important bill; it is important that it is passed today so that the start date of 1 July can be taken into account on understanding the technicalities of the bill. He did mention some of the areas around the insurance claims or the compensation elements that might need to be taken into consideration. It was made very clear that if there were any issues for this state Parliament then the government would look at that. I would like to quote from his speech because of the area surrounding the complications for insurers that may be involved in this. Of course the larger organisations do have insurers. They have agencies involved to deal with any insurance claims that relate to any matter that comes before them, just like most businesses or individuals will have some form of insurance to protect themselves or their businesses or organisations. Mr Pesutto, in his second-reading speech, goes on to again highlight this very well:
From the insurer's point of view many of them have concerns about the level of rigour in the assessment of claims.He makes the point that many people involved in the insurance industry are concerned about the compensation component and whether for this redress scheme, or any redress scheme for that matter, the standards of proof for testing of evidence, cross-examination and the like are not present, or if there is some kind of exacting assessment of the weight to be attached to evidence. I make that point because it goes to the earlier points around complexity that I mentioned.
Everyone is very supportive of the intent of what is going on. I am really pleased that in recent times, since the passing of this bill in the lower house, there have been a range of organisations that have joined the scheme. I note on 7 June that it was the Anglican Church that was among a range of organisations that have now joined the scheme. Following that announcement, there are other organisations that have joined the scheme such as the Salvation Army, Scouts Australia and the YMCA.Again I go to the point that it is not just religious organisations that our inquiry looked at. It was non-government organisations such as the Salvation Army, such as Scouts Australia, such as the YMCA as well as a range of religious bodies that we heard evidence from. including the Catholic Church, the Anglican Church, the Jehovah's Witnesses, the Jewish community, the Islamic Council of Victoria. We heard a range of evidence, and all those bodies were very willing to come before us and provide their evidence, and we were able to establish what went on, what actually happened. And from that, our report, which so many times I have spoken on because of the recommendations that have come from that inquiry and from the national Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, is bringing to light all of these issues.
I really am very delighted that these organisations do understand that they have a responsibility to be part of that national redress scheme. If this is going to work, if it is going to give some closure and an ability for victims and survivors of sexual abuse to come forward, then this is what these organisations need to do. They need to take their obligations and responsibilities seriously, and they have. I would like to congratulate them on doing that, and I am very pleased that they have done so.I want to again put on record my acknowledgement and appreciation of the work that has been done at a federal level in bringing the state attorneys-general together. I know that the Attorney-General, Mr Pakula, has been leading the charge for Victoria, and I thank him for that, because that is what we needed. We needed this issue to be led, as was done by the former Attorney-General, Robert Clark, who led the way on this very issue when we were in government. Taking this to the national level is incredibly important. All those individuals coming together to acknowledge that and then speaking about the very important element of this redress scheme also needs to be acknowledged.
I just want to also make the point about the scheme's complexity, as I have mentioned and which was also raised by Mr Pesutto in his contribution to the second-reading speech, where he said it is complex. As he said, we do not do this often. We are doing something that we do not do often. We are actually referring our constitutional powers to the commonwealth. That in itself, as I said, acknowledges the importance of what we are all trying to do here of states and jurisdictions understanding the importance of referring that power to the commonwealth and doing so in a spirit of cooperation. As Mr Pesutto pointed out, it is so that we can get some finalisation of this.Whilst there might be debate and different points of view in relation to what that redress scheme looks like in terms of the financial elements, if you like, of what victims are entitled to receive, it is very important that we are going to get the states on board to allow the redress scheme to occur. The financial implications or amounts that victims will receive have been determined at a national level. That is not what we are doing here in this debate. But I make that point about the reference of our powers to the commonwealth in this instance, as has been highlighted, because we are a state, we have our own laws and we are here in the Parliament today making those laws on a whole range of issues and debating very important matters. We have that right as the state of Victoria, and it is very important that we hold onto that right. I certainly do not want to be giving over all powers to Canberra. I think that would be to the detriment of us all. One of the reasons I stand in this state Parliament is the importance of those state laws that this Parliament makes.
I, together with my other colleagues I am sure, wish this bill a speedy passage. It is important that all the work that has been acknowledged for all those victims who have come before the Victorian parliamentary inquiry and the royal commission does lead to part closure for them. This is why we undertook that parliamentary inquiry to understand the issues and this was one of the very big issues. I am very pleased to be able to make a contribution in relation to this bill, and as I said, I do wish it a speedy passage.