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Issue #1814      March 14, 2018

Survivors of institutional child abuse blocked from justice

Unnecessarily strict eligibility requirements mean that many of the most vulnerable survivors of institutional child abuse in New South Wales and Victoria will miss out on accessing the Commonwealth’s Redress Scheme, says the Australian Lawyers Alliance (ALA).

Last week New South Wales and Victoria announced that they would be the first states to join the Commonwealth’s Redress Scheme for survivors of institutional child sexual abuse. This means that thousands of people in those two states will finally have access to redress for abuse facilitated by institutions.

“New South Wales and Victoria are to be congratulated for joining the national Redress Scheme,” ALA spokesperson Dr Andrew Morrison said. “This is a major step forward in providing justice for survivors of institutional child abuse.

“It is unfortunate that eligibility exclusions in the Commonwealth’s Scheme will prevent genuine applicants from seeking justice, and will only lead to further litigation and likely increase compliance costs for institutions,” Dr Morrison said.

The Commonwealth’s draft law currently excludes non-citizens and non-permanent residents from accessing the Scheme, regardless of how compelling their claim might be, with the option of creating rules to exclude others, such as people convicted of crimes.

Excluding any groups will mean that the promise of finally affording justice for some of the most vulnerable members of our community – children who suffered institutional abuse – will not be realised, Morrison said.

“Any exclusion will only compound the trauma that survivors of institutional abuse experienced as children.

“The only eligibility requirement for accessing the Scheme should be having experienced child abuse that a participating institution is responsible for.”

Morrison said the Scheme should allow an external appeals process and also compel participation by linking it with an institution’s charitable status and that there is a need for access to independent legal advice throughout the claims process, not just after the offer is made. This will ensure the Scheme runs efficiently, and that survivors’ full stories are assessed when they make applications.

Dr Morrison added that the Commonwealth’s Scheme also fell short by capping payments at $150,000, rather than the $200,000 cap recommended by the Royal Commission.

“The Royal Commission engaged in extensive work prior to making its recommendations for a Redress Scheme, including speaking to thousands of survivors, in-depth research and actuarial modelling.

“This is the Scheme that should be established – anything less will merely perpetuate injustice for survivors.”

Next article – Timor Leste’s oil and gas – Origins of a dirty dispute

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