Lawyers for abuse survivors have welcomed a parliamentary committee report released overnight, with the report a scathing indictment of the national redress scheme that calls for major amendments to ensure the scheme puts survivors first and is consistent with the recommendations of the Royal Commission.
Maurice Blackburn Abuse Law Principal Michelle James said the Joint Select Committee report had done what the Federal Government had failed to do in outlining urgently needed changes to the scheme to ensure it provides genuine access to justice for survivors.
"The recommendations of this report align with what many advocates, including our firm, have consistently called for to ensure that the national redress scheme genuinely puts the needs of survivors first," Ms James said.
"The Federal Government have ignored the many concerns raised by advocates and by survivors themselves, instead delivering a scheme that has tipped the balance towards institutions and is so deficient in meeting key recommendations of the Royal Commission that advocates overwhelmingly cannot in good conscience recommend it as a reasonable mechanism for survivors to seek access to justice," she said.
Ms James said the firm welcomed all of the recommendations made in the report, but in particular:
- That the Federal Government consider penalising relevant institutions that fail to join the scheme, including through the suspension of all tax concessions for, and for the suppression of charitable status;
- Expanded provisions for funder of last resort, to ensure a genuine funder of last resort is available to survivors;
- Allowing all non-citizens and non-permanent residents access to redress if they meet the eligibility criteria as well as amendments to ensure survivors in gaol or who have been sentenced to five years' imprisonment can apply for and receive redress
- To refer an inquiry to a Parliamentary Committee into the adequacy of state and territory responses to abuse survivors – a critical measure to ensure all states act on the recommendations of the Royal Commission and noting these responses have been inconsistent across states to date;
- The development of a new assessment framework that more closely reflects the assessment matrix for redress recommended by the Royal Commission;
- For the Federal Government to clearly and openly explain how maximum payments for redress were set at $150,000 instead of $200,000 as recommended by the Royal Commission and the rationale for this;
- That the Federal Government, States and Territories agree to lift the maximum payment to $200,000; and
- That in line with recommendations made by the Royal Commission, that all survivors receive an adequate amount of counselling and psychological services, noting that what is offered under the current scheme is wholly inadequate.
Ms James called on all sides of politics to act with urgency in committing to implement the recommendations of the Joint Select Committee report.
"This report cannot be allowed to sit on a shelf gathering dust and ignored, simply because an election is imminent," Ms James said.
"It is too important for that – survivors have waited long enough and they deserve a scheme that stands true to the recommendations of the Royal Commission in putting their needs first.
"We do not have anything close to that with the current redress scheme, and all sides of politics must recognise this and act with urgency to deliver a fair national redress scheme for survivors," she said.