HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES, 3 FEBRUARY 2021
In speaking here it is an honour to follow the member for Lingiari, who has followed this issue deeply during his long career in this place. The member for Lingiari is, as members know, the only person serving in this place who gave his first speech in the Old Parliament House. And, during his time in this parliament, he has worked to serve the most disadvantaged. His powerful speech today, telling some of the stories of those who were abused, is just another of his many contributions towards serving the people he represents and addressing the issues of deep disadvantage. He will be sorely missed when he leaves this place at the next election.
I spoke in December about some of the institutional abuse stories, about the accounts of Lars and his brother Willem, about Imelda and about the institutions here in the ACT. I did so aware of the risk of retraumatisation that always occurs with these stories, and I acknowledge those who had the bravery to share their stories with the royal commission and allow the royal commission to include those accounts of what had happened to them in its final report.
Those accounts are heartbreaking. It is shocking, mind-numbing almost, to imagine this being done to young children. Perhaps one of the most shocking things past the stories are the statistics reported in the royal commission's report on the percentage of church figures behind alleged abuse over the period 1950 to 2010. There were four orders which had allegations of abuse against more than a fifth of their members—the Brothers of St John of God, 40 per cent; Christian Brothers, 22 per cent; Salesians of Don Bosco, 22 per cent; Marist Brothers, 20 per cent. The incidents ranged from Jehovah's Witnesses to Knox Grammar and included those from advantaged and disadvantaged backgrounds. The abuse ranged across Australia, as survivors knew when they began calling for a royal commission as early as the 1990s.
There were voices speaking out about the dangers of abuse and challenging the government of the day to do something about it by setting up a royal commission but it was slow to take effect. The survivors simply weren't believed as they should have been. It took the Gillard government to establish the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. Nobody now, I think, imagines that the establishment of the royal commission was a mistake.
It's been 19 months since the commencement of the redress scheme and only a small fraction of the projected number of survivors have received redress. Too many are waiting, many are ill, many are dying and some have missed out altogether. As of 15 January 2021, there were 9,232 applications lodged, 5,487 decisions made and 4,660 applications finalised. At the current rate, according to the member for Barton, it would take 32 years for the estimated 60,000 people eligible for redress to receive a payment, and those delays are just another form of trauma. The Joint Select Committee on Implementation of the National Redress Scheme heard that for one survivor it took 17 months to finalise their application. The Department of Social Services said in the first half of 2019 the average processing time was eight months. In October, the department advised the average processing time was between 12 and 13 months. That's just not good enough given we are dealing with some of the most vulnerable people in Australia.
Therefore, Labor will be moving a number of substantive amendments, as the member for Barton has foreshadowed. We'll be moving to institute a levy on organisations that do not join the scheme. As I noted in my speech last year, Labor supports the changes the government made to charities law to prevent organisations getting government grants and removing charitable tax deductibility status for organisations that refuse to join the scheme within six months of an application being received. If institutions continue their recalcitrance, if they deliberately restructure their affairs to avoid the obligation to join by hiding assets, then we believe the government should consider placing a levy on institutions to cover the cost of redress and collect funds for those institutions through the tax system. There are only a handful of organisations that were named in the royal commission report but have not indicated they intend to join the scheme—the Australian Air League, Boys Brigade New South Wales, Jehovah's Witnesses, Lakes Entrance Pony Club Incorporated, Kendra Communication, Fairbridge Restored Limited.
Labor will also be moving amendments to ensure that the government steps up and acts as a funder of last resort—for instance, in the case of Retta Dixon Home in the Northern Territory that was referred to by the member for Lingiari—to ensure that no-one misses out because institutions are defunct or because they don't have the capacity to join the scheme. Labor is calling on the government to put in place an advance payment scheme for people who are elderly or ill, as has been put in place in Scotland. We are calling on the government to increase the cap on redress payments from $150,000 to $200,000, as recommended by the royal commission. The royal commission listened to the survivors; we the parliament should listen to the royal commission. The cap should be $200,000 and payments not related to institutional child abuse, such as payments to the members of the Stolen Generation, should not be deducted from redress payments. Labor's amendments will also cover the necessity for ongoing psychological counselling and support for survivors. As anyone who has worked with people experiencing deep trauma knows, one-off payments are often insufficient; counselling frequently needs to continue for decades if not for a lifetime.
I thank the hard work of the royal commission and acknowledge the important advocacy of the member for Barton and others on this side of the House. We need to make sure that the royal commission's report is fully implemented and that survivors get the assistance they need in a timely fashion.
Authorised by Paul Erickson, ALP, Canberra.