More than two years after the Royal Commission into Institutional Abuse expedited a recommendation on a national redress scheme for victims of sexual abuse, the federal legislation has finally been tabled in parliament.
A national redress scheme is in no way a complete solution to the woes decades of sexual abuse left in its wake in Ballarat but it is a step forward - even if there is still a major sticking point where its success relies on all the states and institutions opting into the scheme.
Importantly for Ballarat. the Catholic church has signalled its support with Francis Sullivan from the Catholic Church’s Truth Justice and Healing Council highlighting the need to have all the states and institutions support the scheme.
Without that unaimiity state-based institutions will not be able to be part of the scheme posing the risk the proposed legislation will only cover those abused in Commonwealth institutions, a paltry 1,000 victims nationwide of an estimated 60,000 survivors.
While the Victorian Premier has also voiced his support in being part of a scheme, this jurisdictional exclusion looks set to result in more equivocation and delays, particularly by any body that sees evasionary caution as one more craven clause to shirk responsibility.
Perhaps those who have waited decades for justice and any degree of recognition have developed a stoic patience at these frustrating delays but that should not in any way lessen the urgency and importance of the scheme.
Every year that it is delayed means the dangers posed to damaged lives can potentially have more repercussions to individuals and their families.
Moreover let us all hope their resilience can withstand some of the let downs contained in this legislation including a cap $50,00 less than the commission recommended and some severe limitations on the time scope of the scheme.
One of the more controversial exclusions from the scheme is to exclude any victim who has themselves committed a sexual offence or other crimes that carry significant jail terms. Minister for Social Services, Christian Porter has argued this is critical to protecting the integrity of the scheme. On first appraisal this makes sense. Imagine the mockery an open compensation scheme would come under if say a notorious offender like the imprisoned Gerald Ridsdale, who claims himself to have been abused, were to apply for these funds.
But while the expedient of prohibiting state compensation for individuals who have in effect violated the social contract themselves makes sense, there is the risk of a blanket ban oversimplifying the complex causes of these crimes. This is particulalrly relevant when the ruined lives of victims have frequently involved recourse to drugs, alcohol and aberrant behaviour. Would not a middle ground of assessing individual cases on merit be a more just outcome with such exclusions included in any expert decision?
But putting the issue of actual dollar amounts aside or who should miss out, it is more important to focus on those many thousands of legitimate cases whose patience and inner fortitude has been tried for too long. For them it could be argued no monetary figure can make up for innocence violated or lives ruined. Recognition of this damage highlights how equally important are those elements of any redress scheme based on a full and frank admission of institutional culpability.
If the Royal Commission has highlighted one major failing in the disastrous history that followed the actual abuse it is the abnegation of responsibility solves nothing; it will merely “skin and film the ulcerous place whilst rank corruption, mining all within, infects unseen.”
Decades of lies, obfuscation and evasion neither silenced those who were wronged nor protected the reputation of tottering institutions, let alone pursued solutions or any semblance of justice.
This legislation is a small step toward a real and comprehensive redress but it is a critical one all relevant bodies need to support to find a way forward.