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States weigh up cash compensation for victims of child sexual abuse

francis sullivan

Responding: Francis Sullivan is chief executive officer of the Truth, Justice and Healing Council.

AUSTRALIAN state governments are under pressure to support a new national scheme to compensate victims of child sexual abuse with payments of up to $150,000.

The scheme, announced by the Federal Government on November 4, has the potential to benefit tens of thousands of people who have suffered institutional child sexual abuse.

However the Federal Government can’t legally compel the states, churches or institutions to sign up.

The Truth, Justice and Healing Council said the Catholic Church supported the scheme.

However, they said the new scheme would only be effective if all institutions and governments accepted their responsibilities and got on board.

“This is by far the best chance we, as a community, and particularly the institutions responsible for the abuse will have to do the right thing to give abuse survivors the financial support they need to have a crack at a half decent life,” TJHC chief executive officer Francis Sullivan said.

The Commonwealth-led scheme runs the risk of stalling if the state governments don’t opt in and pay compensation for sexual abuse that happened in state-run institutions and where a non-government institution no longer exists.

A spokesman for Queensland Attorney General Yvette D’Ath said the State Government was “interested” in the redress scheme, but more detail was needed before committing.

NSW and Victoria have given in-principle support but no commitment, while Western Australia is still considering.

The Commonwealth Government has powers over the Northern Territory and the Australian Capital Territory, and could enforce both jurisdictions to opt in to the scheme.

South Australia is the lone state to reject any participation in the scheme and this has drawn sharp criticism.

Care Leavers Australia Network chief executive Leonie Sheedy said states must be compelled to contribute and churches and charities should be penalised if they tried to dodge their obligations.

“Allowing the states to opt-in is a cop-out. It should be mandatory for all the states to contribute,” she said.

“The states cannot wash their hands of this.”

Mr Sullivan said estimates of more than 60,000 children abused in hundreds of different institutions across Australia for many decades were jaw-dropping.

“The Catholic Church has a lot to answer for. For decades up to the 1990s and in some cases beyond, we systematically covered up child sex abuse by members of our clergy,” he said.

“We consistently put the interests of the Church as an institution ahead of the welfare and safety of children.

“Their suffering has been compounded and, for many, their lives shattered.

“It is now vitally important that all institutions in which abuse occurred, as well as all the State and Territory governments, get on board.”

An independent advisory council would be set up to oversee the scheme’s rollout.

It would begin in early 2018 and last 10 years, when it would be subjected to a review.

The cost for just the Federal Government over the 10-year period was estimated to be between $570 million and $770 million.

In announcing the scheme, Social Services Minister Christian Porter said the Federal Government would continue to encourage entities to join the scheme, but had been advised that it was “very, very unlikely that (it has) the power to establish a single scheme by compulsion”.

“A fair, simple and generous process for redress is the most significant thing that we can do for survivors of sexual abuse,” he said.

“The central thing that we are trying to avoid in all of this is to re-traumatise victims.”

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