Jul 18

Legal process will be easier but redress scheme for sex abuse victims in children’s homes a long way off

Brad Hazzard: “We are working with advocates.” Photo: Dominic LorimerThe legal process for survivors of sexual abuse committed in state-run children’s homes and orphanages will be simplified under recommendations from the NSW government aimed at reducing the suffering for victims.

Victims advocates welcomed the move but continued calls for a national redress scheme that includes financial compensation.

Care Leavers Australia Network executive officer Leonie Sheedy commended some aspects of the state government’s interim response to the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse but said much more work was needed.

“We need to have a national independent redress scheme for people who have been abused and used in orphanages in NSW and foster homes,” Ms Sheedy said.

“We need to acknowledge the unpaid labour in laundries and on farms that little children were doing. We need a national independent reparation fund to help heal people’s shattered lives.”

Attorney-General Brad Hazzard said the NSW government has had preliminary discussions the royal commission and other states and territories on a redress scheme.

“Where we will land, we are not sure yet,” he said. “We are working with advocates and we’re trying to ensure that the final recommendations are sustainable both for them and the state.”

He described the interim response released on Monday as the “first step” in the redress process, declaring there would be “no more government denial and ducking.”

The royal commission’s most recent public hearing – into Bethcar Children’s Home – was told that the NSW government spent almost $1 million and 5½ years fighting victims of sexual abuse committed at the Brewarrina facility.

“It’s been horrific to hear just how those legalistic steps have been applied,” Mr Hazzard said. “We’re going to ensure that there be a very clear understanding by the lawyers and the agencies across government that when litigation is involved you will look to being compassionate and caring.”

The legal process will be quicker and less adversarial under 18 “guiding principles” applying to all state government agencies dealing with civil claims involving child sexual abuse.

Under the principles, there will be no time limit on most claims, agencies should consider early settlement without litigation, and the majority of claims will be resolved in less than two years.

Agencies can also pursue alleged abusers for a contribution to the settlement where the perpetrator is clearly culpable.

Family and Community Services Minister Gabrielle Upton promised former wards faster access to their records, which can take up to two years to obtain.

She said resources would be doubled to clear the backlog, with staff managing up to 40 new applications for care records a month since the royal commission started.

Australia’s treatment of the estimated 500,000 children raised in homes last century will be exposed on the world stage this week when CLAN makes a submission to the UN Committee Against Torture in Geneva on Friday.

CLAN will argue that Australia violated its obligations under the UN Convention against Torture by allowing physical, sexual and psychological torment to be inflicted on children in care.

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