Premier announces $600m to ‘do what’s right’ for survivors

SUPPORT: Premier Daniel Andrews announces a $600m redress allocation for Victorian survivors. Picture: Lachlan Bence
SUPPORT: Premier Daniel Andrews announces a $600m redress allocation for Victorian survivors. Picture: Lachlan Bence

Victorian survivors of institutional child sexual abuse will share in $600 million funding, as part of the state’s participation in the Commonwealth Redress Scheme.

Premier Daniel Andrews announced the funding as Labor’s Redress Scheme for Institutional Child Sexual Abuse (Commonwealth Powers) Act 2018 became law, enabling Victorian government and non-government institutions to participate.

Over 10 years, eligible survivors of institutional child sexual abuse can access redress options, including a payment of up to $150,000, access to counselling services and a direct personal response, such as an apology, from the institutions or organisations responsible for their abuse.

“Looking at the work the Commonwealth Royal Commission has done, the amount of submissions, the historical evidence they provided, together with the work of actuaries and others; sadly there are experts that have the necessary skills to make assessments like this and about how many people are likely to come forward .... we believe that's a fully-funded scheme, at $600 million,” Mr Andrews said.

"In the event that we do need to do more, of course we stand ready to do that.” 

“This is about doing what is right to try and make good the terrible acts of evil, the terrible acts of cruelty, made worse by the fact that they were covered up by far too many, for far too long.”

Asked about the status of the Catholic Church and whether he thought there were plans or an attitude change in terms of clergy abuse survivors and redress, the Premier said”

“As a Catholic, I have always been very frustrated to see my church operate like an insurance company, denying claims and denying liability that is clearly theirs.”

“However, I do think there has been some very welcome and positive change in recent times ... Signing on to the redress scheme and in many of the discussions with church hierarchy about being part of a national redress scheme,” he said.

“I have been a critic when I thought that was necessary and appropriate, but I do get a sense that there is a shift … and that can only be a good thing for victims and survivors and those who were disillusioned (and yes, many still are) but hopefully that faith can be restored in the institutions and the administration of their duty of care.”

As a Catholic, I have been very frustrated to see my church operate like an insurance company, denying claims and liability that is clearly theirs.

Premier Daniel Andrews

“I may be wrong, but I sincerely hope not. There needs to be a proper acknowledgement (from the Church) that things were not as they should have been. The way many people were treated was evil; not just the act but the response to the act was equally bad.”

“Once acknowledgment is made and once there is a genuine commitment to try and make good to repair as much damage as possible, acknowledging that some hurt and pain can never be dealt with … then there is hope.”

​“We may be proven to be naive but I do get a sense that there is a little bit of a change,” Mr Andrews said.

Mr Andrews said the eligibility criteria for the redress scheme was broad. “People shouldn't have to be retraumatised in order to access these funds. There are some rules but as for how that compensation, how those benefits are used, that is entirely a matter for the person involved.”

Mr Andrews agreed that many survivors may need  ongoing counselling for the rest of their lives.

"Counselling services have been boosted, whether it be through the CASA here in Ballarat or in other parts of the state. We have already made some significant investments to boost the counselling services available and, again if we need to do more, we will.

Melbourne lawyer Vivian Waller, who has represented hundreds of abuse victims, said the official redress scheme could be a “terrific option”, but only for survivors whose ability to sue institutions was limited.

Ms Waller said the redress scheme’s medical benefits were limited, and survivors might need expensive long-term care or treatment for conditions arising from the abuse they had suffered.

Ballarat lawyer Ingrid Irwin said abuse could not be “graded via a matrix.”

“Any matrix, is offensive to so many victims … When a war veteran presents with PTSD he gets a medal, a parade and the disability support pension. No one asks him nuestions like, “Did you kill anyone in the war or did you just see dead bodies, or did you hide in the trench like a coward while your mates ran into fire for our country? No, they are treated as a hero regardless,” Ms Irwin said.

“But for victims of childhood sex assault who suffer the same after effects, we arbitrarily quantify and talk about how many attacks, and worse. We should make standard awards and I think $150,000 (which is already comparatively low)  each is appropriate as a base amount.’’

The average payments are completely inadequate for a lifetime of suffering, whether they average $60,000 or $76,000 is a moot point,” she said.

Mr Andrews said applications for redress would be assessed by “independent decision makers on a case-by-case basis, and survivors will be able to access independent legal advice funded under the scheme, before accepting any offers.”

Once established, “the redress unit” will be operated by the Commonwealth Department of Human Services.