HUNTER survivors of institutional child sexual abuse have welcomed the federal government’s plan to compensate victims with payments of up to $150,000.
While some say the “opt-in” nature of the plan could be used by organisations to dodge their obligations, the fact that major churches have already welcomed the announcement is expected to ease some concerns.
The Catholic Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle declined to comment on Friday, but the head of the church’s Truth, Healing and Justice Council, Francis Sullivan, said the Catholic Church supported the scheme.
The Anglican Bishop of Newcastle, Greg Thompson, also welcomed the announcement, saying it was “an enormously positive decision at a time when many survivors and their families are wondering what lies ahead in terms of just and compassionate support”.
The plan was announced in Perth on Friday by Social Services Minister Christian Porter, and is expected to help as many as 60,000 abuse victims from around Australia, many of them victims of the Catholic Church.
In a report on redress issued last year, the Royal Commission recommended a maximum payment of $200,000 and an average payment of $65,000. The commission estimated a total cost of $4.3 billion.
Child abuse survivor and advocate Peter Gogarty said a national scheme that was “the same for everybody" was vitally important.
"As for the amount, it is hard to put a dollar figure on it, of lost employment opportunities, of ill-health,” Mr Gogarty said. “So $150,000 is not much, but it is better than what was being proposed.”
Bob O’Toole, of the Clergy Abused Network, was similarly positive, saying it levelled the playing field for claimants.
Mr O’Toole said there had been a lot of difference over the years in the way that people were compensated, if at all, and this scheme should provide more fairness.
Asked why money was important, Mr O’Toole said it was “the only mechanism for redress, really”.
“You can get the peripheral issues, like counselling, psychology and medical help, but some of these people have had their lives disturbed by abuse to such an extent that they have never had the opportunity to become successful in their lives,” Mr O’Toole said.
Leonie Sheedy, of Care Leavers Australasia Network or CLAN, said that on one level she was happy, but on another she was worried that the “opt-in” nature of the scheme would allow institutions to evade their responsibilities.
“Every premier and chief minister signed the letters patent of the Royal Commission and they knew redress was a component,” Ms Sheedy said. “We represent victims of state-run institutions and we want those state and territory governments to meet their obligations. Are we going to have situations like in Ireland, where some religious orders did not pay up and have never paid contributions to their scheme?”
Announcing the scheme in Perth, Mr Porter said his pre-parliamentary career as a crown prosecutor prosecuting sexual offenders meant he knew a “a fair, simple and generous process for redress is the most significant thing” the government could do for survivors of institutional abuse.
“The central thing that we are trying to avoid in all of this is to re-traumatise victims who have already been through an enormous amount,” Mr Porter said.
Mr Porter said the scheme would run for 10 years from 2018 and may be extended. He said the scheme was based on four principles: the first was counselling as well as financial redress; the second was that the government would ensure people were compensated “no matter where they suffered abuse”; the third was that the Commonwealth would ensure all institutions obeyed the scheme rules; and, the fourth was that the final details would be worked out “in strict consultation with an independent advisory council”.
These final details included how any compensation that had already been paid to people would be factored into any new payments granted under the federal scheme.
The Commonwealth would run the scheme but it expected all participating organisations to “fund the cost of their own eligible redress claims” in an “entity-pays scheme”.
Bishop Thompson said he was waiting for more detail but “the Anglican Church welcomes an independent redress system and I think it’s the best way forward for the Newcastle diocese”.