NSW is the first state to pass legislation for a national redress scheme for survivors of institutional child sex abuse which is due to be formally established on July 1 by federal legislation.
But NSW Greens justice spokesman David Shoebridge, who played a lead role in the campaign for the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, criticised the scheme for “harsh exemptions” including preventing compensation to people convicted of crimes with sentences of more than five years’ jail.
It followed evidence to the royal commission about the serious impacts of sexual abuse on children, including an increased risk of drug, alcohol and gambling problems. The royal commission also heard evidence from survivors who had served jail sentences for serious crimes.
The royal commission recommended compensation of up to $200,000 to survivors and did not recommend exempting people because of serious crimes and jail terms.
The national redress scheme supported by the Federal Government will give survivors access to up to $150,000 compensation.
NSW Attorney-General Mark Speakman declared the passage of the bill on Wednesday night “a milestone for those who suffered sexual abuse as children in institutional settings”.
“This continues NSW’s leadership in establishing the scheme, including being one of the first two states to announce its participation,” Mr Speakman said on Thursday.
The national scheme relies on states passing individual legislation to join. So far NSW, Victoria, the ACT and Queensland have committed to the scheme after agreeing with the Federal Government’s proposed $150,000 compensation cap.
Mr Speakman defended the lower cap and said it would result in an average payment to survivors of $76,000.
He said the $76,000 was $11,000 more than the average of $65,000 recommended by the royal commission.
Mr Shoebridge said the scheme as passed by NSW and backed by the Federal Government was “far from perfect”, but Federal Social Services Minister Dan Tehan warned in March that any alteration of the scheme’s key elements by the Senate “may place the whole national redress scheme at risk”.
Mr Shoebridge said it was “a tragic fact that almost a quarter of the victims and survivors of abuse who approached the royal commission had come into contact with the criminal justice system due to the impact of their abuse”.
“If a victim has suffered childhood sexual abuse, seen their life spiral downwards and been jailed for committing offences, to then deny them compensation is a heartless act,” he said.
But despite the limits imposed by governments the national redress scheme was “a real victory” for survivors, he said.
“For the first time we have seen the NSW Parliament clearly put the needs and interests of survivors ahead of the institutions that abused them. I wasn’t sure we would ever see this happen,” Mr Shoebridge said.
Mr Speakman called on remaining states, territories and institutions to join the scheme “to ensure survivors can apply and be provided support at the earliest possible time”.
“If a victim has suffered childhood sexual abuse, seen their life spiral downwards and been jailed for committing offences, to then deny them compensation is a heartless act.
“This is just the beginning of the work Parliaments need to do to implement the Royal Commission’s recommendations, from removing the Ellis defence, ending special protections for religious confessions and reforming the criminal justice system.
“I look forward to working with MPs from across the political spectrum to deliver a full measure of justice for victims.“