Federal Politics

NSW, Victoria sign up to child abuse redress scheme, with bill to reach hundreds of millions of dollars

Victims of child sexual abuse are a step closer to a national scheme that could help them gain justice for past wrongs, as the NSW and Victorian governments sign up to new laws that offer practical services as well as compensation up to a $150,000 cap.

The new pact intensifies pressure on churches and other groups to submit to the scheme and help victims recover from abuse that dates back decades, putting the primary responsibility on the institutions to fund the payments and support services.

NSW, Victoria join child abuse redress scheme

Malcolm Turnbull will reveal the agreement with Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews and NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian on Friday, in an agreement that puts each state on the line for costs that will run to hundreds of millions of dollars over a decade.

But the fine print of the agreement is yet to be finalised and some victims appear certain to fall between the gaps, with nobody offering to pay for their help if the institution responsible for their abuse no longer exists.

Justices Peter McClellan and Jennifer Coates at the final sitting of the royal commission into child abuse. Photo: Jeremy Piper

Fairfax Media understands there is no agreement on a “funder of last resort” to pay for help when those responsible do not or cannot do so, with Canberra and the states in an “ongoing discussion” about the costs.

Those involved in the new agreement expect Tasmania, Western Australia and Queensland to follow the two biggest states over time, while federal powers will also ensure the Northern Territory and the ACT are covered.

South Australia has its own redress policy and appears unlikely to submit to the federal program, although it could refer some powers to the commonwealth to help the smooth operation of the national scheme.

“Redress isn’t compensation. The process is about healing and moving forward while accepting the system failed every single person in Australia who suffered sexual abuse in an institution that was meant to protect them,” Mr Turnbull says in a joint statement with Mr Andrews and Ms Berejiklian.

The Catholic Church, the Anglican Church, the Salvation Army, the Baptist Church and others are being asked to opt-in to the scheme so that victims can be helped with counselling and financial payments rather than having to seek redress through the courts with those institutions.

The chief executive of the Catholic Church’s Truth Justice and Healing Council, Francis Sullivan, has urged the states to sign up and noted that Catholic leaders are on the record saying they will join the national scheme.

The NSW and Victorian governments will incur costs that run to hundreds of millions of dollars for each jurisdiction over the decade from July 1 under the agreement, given they will be responsible for helping victims of abuse who were state wards, public school students or in other state institutions.

Payments to victims will be capped at $150,000 but Labor's social services spokeswoman Jenny Macklin and legal affairs spokesman Mark Dreyfus are calling for this to be raised to $200,000 as recommended by the royal commission into child sexual abuse.

While the federal government is coordinating the scheme, it is likely to have a lower financial burden given it is responsibility for some children in migrant hostels and other institutions.

The redress scheme is meant to operate as a “low documentation” program with lower barriers for victims so they can receive counselling services and other help, to be funded by the institution or state that is responsible.

While the federal government raised the idea of lump sum payments of up to $5000 for each victim to pay for services, NSW is proposing “unlimited” counselling by victim services agencies rather than cash payments. The institution responsible would contribute toward the counselling.

The stated aim is to offer therapy and recognition rather than cash only.

The state that holds ultimate responsibility will be the state where the abuse occurred, not where the victim resides.

The royal commission held 8013 private sessions with individuals over child sexual abuse as well as reading 1344 personal written accounts, an indicator of the number of people who may seek redress.

A key area of dispute is the help to be offered for victims who were or are in prison.

Social Services Minister Dan Tehan said last month that the outcome would depend on the severity of the crime committed.

“The most commonsense way is to look at this on a case-by-case basis, because then an assessment can be made,” he said.