Resumed from an earlier stage of the sitting.
HON ALISON XAMON (North Metropolitan) [5.09 pm]: As I said before question time, it is important that we provide appropriate counselling and mental health support services for adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse. The royal commission recommended that counselling and psychological services be available to survivors for the duration of their lives. A lump sum of $150 000, which is the maximum payment, is not likely to be able to pay for that.
An apology is part of this legislation. If wanted, the scheme provides for a direct personal response. It can be in writing, a combination of writing and face-to-face or just face-to-face. This is a really important aspect of the scheme! Of course, many survivors will not be interested in a direct apology and that is absolutely fine. The commonwealth act provides guiding principles. If a face-to-face meeting is agreed upon, a survivor must be given the opportunity to choose from representatives of different genders, cultural backgrounds or other relevant characteristics. It is also good and important that people who live outside the metropolitan area will be appropriately catered for and supported.
The scheme is available only to Australian citizens and permanent residents. I think this is problematic and unfair. To receive criminal injuries compensation, people need to demonstrate only that the crime occurred within Western Australia, yet non-citizens have been excluded from the National Redress Scheme. Why is this the case? What was the policy reason behind the decision to exclude non-citizens from the National Redress Scheme if they have been sexually abused in institutions within Western Australia?
The commonwealth’s original intention was that the scheme not be available to people in prison or to those with serious criminal convictions. My understanding is that the commonwealth was concerned that if redress was provided for offenders, it would run the risk of scandalising the scheme, which was a highly inappropriate position. It completely ignored the role that child abuse plays in later offending behaviour. We know that child sexual abuse is a cycle and that some imprisoned perpetrators of child sexual abuse are also victims of institutional child sexual abuse. The lack of understanding of that was appalling! The Greens unequivocally believe that redress should be available to all survivors of institutional child sexual abuse. I will give credit where credit is due and acknowledge the role the Western Australian Attorney General played in arguing for amendments to the scheme to ensure that this gross injustice received some sort of amendment. It is not quite as we wanted it, which was that it would not be an exclusionary process for people to be able to access the National Redress Scheme, but at least the national scheme operator—that is, the secretary of the Department of Social Services—has the discretion to allow the application to be made. My understanding is that advice will be sought from the state Attorney General about whether the operator should determine that the person be prevented from being entitled to redress by reason of the National Redress Scheme being brought into disrepute or adversely affecting public confidence or support for the scheme. I am interested in hearing whether the government feels that this meets the honourable aims of the state Attorney General in trying to have this issue addressed. I am pleased that prisoners will no longer be prevented from applying, but I would prefer that they be permitted to apply like any other applicant. I reaffirm that it was not the decision of this state to do this; it was due to positions taken by other states. I think that these provisions diminish the scheme’s national consistency. Furthermore, I can understand people being concerned that the Attorney General, who is a representative of one of the institutions required to pay redress under the scheme, will be responsible for recommending whether an application be considered.
Another concern, which I think will come up in the amendment that will be before us, is the “one application only” rule. Tragically, it is not uncommon for survivors to have been assaulted in more than one institution. However, under the current redress scheme, they will not be entitled to a larger payout. The maximum of $150 000 for penetrative abuse or $50 000 for contact abuse will still stand. I am concerned that many institutions will, effectively, be rewarded by having to pay only a portion of their financial accountability. Applicants can submit only one application to the redress scheme, even if they suffered abuse in multiple institutions. This is unnecessarily restrictive and is likely to cause significant distress to survivors. It will also lessen the amount that each institution will have to pay as a result of the abuse. Frankly, it does not seem fair.
I want to comment on criminal injuries compensation. As I mentioned earlier, the National Redress Scheme avenue must be exhausted before criminal injuries compensation can be considered, which is consistent with section 21 of the Criminal Injuries Compensation Act 2003. Criminal injuries compensation can be determined if national redress is refused or if the person refuses the redress payment component of a redress offer for the abuse. They will have already put themselves through the process of making an application to the National Redress Scheme. Criminal injuries compensation cannot be used to top up a redress payment. However, the second reading speech stated that a national redress payment is likely to be higher than a criminal injuries compensation payment. National redress payments will be up to $150 000 and will be banded. The worst cases will receive $100 000 to $150 000, mid-range cases will receive $50 000 to $100 000, and other cases will receive up to $50 000. Again, there is no minimum payment. Criminal injuries compensation payments are available for offences committed after the scheme was introduced in 1971. Depending on the date of the offence, maximum payments are between $2 000 and $75 000, with the latter aggregated to $150 000 for multiple offences, which is a provision that is not available under the National Redress Scheme.
We will discuss this more when we get to the amendment proposed by Hon Nick Goiran. On the issue of appeals and reviews of decisions, although determinations can be reviewed, such as whether to grant redress and how much redress is granted by an independent decision-maker, the lack of external merits review or judicial review of a determination has been raised as a concern. Appeals are to the operator; and independent assessors, importantly, who were not involved in the original decision, consider the appeal. A deliberate decision was made to not have appeals to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal, and I understand this was to keep the process a low-burden one.
There are some other concerns. I understand that if a survivor has no home address, they can provide a postal address. I asked this question in the briefing and I was assured that it would be an available option. The address could potentially be that of a support person or an organisation. I would appreciate confirmation that this is the case because it was raised specifically with me that there was a deep concern that the requirement of having an address could potentially exclude homeless people from being able to apply. If that has effectively been addressed and it is not a concern, it would be good to get it on the record. Another concern raised is, of course, that the scheme does not let children apply, which is contrary to the recommendations of the royal commission. However, I understand that approximately 75 per cent of applicants are expected to be over 51 years of age. According to some stakeholders, the time frame for accepting or rejecting an offer is still too short, although the federal government has at least increased it from the initial 90 days to six months. That is certainly an improvement.
In conclusion, of course the Greens welcome this scheme. Of course we do; it is something that we have long advocated for and it finally enacts critical recommendations of the royal commission. Of course we support the government’s decision to sign up. We are pleased that it made a considered response. I acknowledge that the scheme is not perfect and acknowledge the work that was done to try to improve it. For example, I referred to the Attorney General’s efforts to try to ensure that prisoners are not completely excluded from the scheme. That was a distinct improvement. We want to have the best possible scheme for Western Australian survivors and we will continue to advocate for improvements when we see that they are warranted. I cannot overstate how anxious people are to ensure that the mistakes that occurred with the WA redress scheme are not replicated.
The ACTING PRESIDENT: Members, could you keep it down to a dull roar, thank you. I am struggling to hear Hon Alison Xamon. Hon Alison Xamon has the call.
Hon ALISON XAMON: Thank you, Mr Acting President. I want to stress it is really important that we recognise we are dealing with an inherently vulnerable and traumatised group of people who have already been through so much. We need to ensure that the process is as accessible, affordable and simple as we can make it. We need to ensure that timely advice is given to people on the best option available to them. We need to ensure that the multiple options that should be available to them, whether that be civil litigation, criminal injuries compensation, or the National Redress Scheme, are genuinely available and that they are able to access what will have the best outcome. We know that many survivors are going to watch what happens before they decide to apply so it is important that they see from the outset it is safe, fair and just. Again, the Greens remain extremely strong supporters of the concept of redress and we hope that this will go some way to addressing people’s pain and trauma. We owe it to the thousands of Western Australians who have been haunted by their lost childhoods to get this right. I want to acknowledge those institutions that have embraced the recommendations of the royal commission and have taken the responsibility to sign up and get this right as seriously as they have. I am disappointed to still be receiving correspondence from some institutions that are clearly holding out and are trying to suggest that they should not have to take any responsibility. Sorry, people; the world has moved on and you need to own up to the legacy of the history of your organisations. I really hope we get some healing for people, which means we will have to be vigilant about ensuring the process, as we move forward, is the best we can get and also ensuring that this legislation is the best we can get.
[Speeches and comments from various members]
Progress reported and leave given to sit again, on motion by Hon Sue Ellery (Leader of the House).