Safe Children Conference 2018

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Thank you for the opportunity to address the Safe Children Conference.

Acknowledgements

  • Commissioner Robert Fitzgerald AM
  • Janet Schorer (NSW Children’s Guardian)
  • Steve Kinmond (NSW Community and Disability Services Commissioner and Deputy Ombudsman)
  • Julie Inman Grant (eSafety Commissioner)

Introduction

The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse ran over five years from 2013 till 2017.

It:

  • heard evidence from more than 16,000 people
  • spoke with over 8,000 people in private sessions
  • received 1,000 written accounts
  • held 57 public hearings
  • published 59 research reports
  • conducted 35 policy roundtables
  • reviewed allegations of sexual abuse in more than 4,000 institutions
  • made more than 2,700 referrals to authorities, and
  • delivered a final report that comprises 17 volumes, including 409 recommendations proposing significant reforms to ensure the safety of children in the care of any Australian institution.

The breadth and depth of this project is difficult for an outsider to comprehend, and everyone involved in the Royal Commission should be thanked for their tireless dedication to the job.

But the scale of the Royal Commission should not distract us from its intent.

Because at its heart, this Royal Commission was about each individual.

The system failed every single person in Australia who suffered sexual abuse in an institution that was meant to protect them.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has committed to making a formal apology, on behalf of the nation, to all survivors this year.

The Government will appoint a survivor-focused Reference Group to facilitate the delivery of the apology, and to advise the Government on its form and content.

The Turnbull Government is also committed to doing everything possible to make sure that this national tragedy is never repeated.

The Government has acted to respond to the Royal Commission’s recommendations.

And I urge all Australian governments and the non-government sector – churches, charities, other institutions – to follow the Royal Commission’s recommendations and respond to the report by June.

Of the 74 recommendations relevant to the Australian Government, 63 have been adopted in principle.

The Government also took the initiative last year to introduce legislation which will mandate terms of imprisonment for Commonwealth child sex offenders.

We are taking whatever steps are possible to ensure our children are kept safe in the future.

Beyond the apology, one of the most important outcomes of the Royal Commission will be the Redress Scheme. The Scheme will provide survivors with access to psychological counselling, a direct personal response from the relevant institution, and a monetary payment.

In 2016, the Government announced it would establish a Commonwealth Redress Scheme, funded with an initial $33.4 million for set up costs and access to support services for survivors.

An Independent Advisory Council was formed, bringing together a broad group of specialists, including survivors and legal and psychological experts, to provide advice on the design and implementation of a Redress Scheme.

A bill was introduced into Parliament in October last year to establish the Scheme, with a starting date of July 1 this year.

The Redress Scheme will provide survivors with a consistent national approach and an alternative to civil litigation.

Redress isn’t just about compensation – no amount of money can give back what was taken. It’s about unequivocally accepting that the events occurred. It’s about acknowledging the hurt and the harm suffered. And, it ensures that the institutions take responsibility for the abuse that occurred on their watch, by their people – people entrusted with caring for our children and some of the most vulnerable people.

The Government recognises the importance of the Redress Scheme process. We must focus on healing and moving forward, rather than dwelling on the past – although, of course, past wrongs must be acknowledged.

The Redress Scheme is crucial for survivors.

The Turnbull Government is working to deliver a national Redress Scheme that covers as many institutions and people as possible, and that focuses on three key benefits: justice, transparency and healing.

Justice

The Redress Scheme should be a mechanism that addresses and helps our community come to terms with past wrongs – this includes the experience of abuse, as well as the community silence and institutional corruption that meant survivors weren’t listened to, believed or acknowledged.

Transparency

Survivors, and the general community, want to make sure that institutional child sexual abuse never happens again. Greater transparency is our protection against future abuse.

Healing

Practical assistance provided as part of the Redress Scheme will address people’s immediate needs – the psychological and financial support needed to function well – and also contribute to the ongoing process of survivors’ healing and recovery.

Right now, the Commonwealth only has the power to provide Redress for abuse in Commonwealth institutions, such as the defence forces and cadet schools.

The Scheme will fulfil its promise of justice only if we have maximum participation across all jurisdictions. A national Scheme is vital to ensure consistency.

In order for jurisdictions to participate from 1 July, the states must take urgent action and refer the appropriate power to the Commonwealth.

The Government is working closely with each jurisdiction to encourage their participation in the Scheme. Unless the states agree to take part in the Scheme, institutions within their jurisdictions will not be able to join this process.

Survivors deserve much better. I urge the Premiers in all of the jurisdictions to prioritise this work and join the Redress Scheme without further delay.

I also urge the non-government institutions to commit to joining the Scheme.

We are in negotiation with the jurisdictions and non-government institutions to encourage them to opt in to the Redress Scheme to deliver the best outcome for survivors across the country.

The Government is having constructive talks with NSW and Victoria, and excellent progress is being made. We hope to finalise negotiations in the coming weeks.

In December, we announced the Government will provide a further $52.1 million to ensure there is support and assistance for victims throughout the process of applying for, and accessing, Redress.

A dedicated telephone helpline and website will be available to provide information to survivors and their families about the Scheme when it begins on 1 July.

But Redress is only one of the many actions the Commonwealth is taking.

The Government has established an Implementation Taskforce, which has already begun progressing some of the Royal Commission’s key recommendations in conjunction with the states and territories.

The Taskforce will report on its progress through a website engaging survivors and their families, in particular.

Among the world-leading reforms we have already introduced are measures to cancel passports and stop registered child sex offenders from travelling overseas without permission.

The Government is also strengthening the Working with Children Checks.

This means developing nationally consistent standards for screening and the creation of a national database that can be used by all state and territory screening agencies.

It is critical that we ensure a person who has been found unsuitable to work with children in one state or territory cannot simply move and work unchecked in another state.

Other measures already set in train include developing a set of nationally agreed principles to help make organisations safe for children and young people.

Megan Mitchell, the National Children’s Commissioner, is leading a consultation process engaging peak bodies and advocacy groups to finalise the principles and assist in their implementation.

The Royal Commission was one of Australia’s longest running public inquiries.

Its recommendations will be of significance not only to Australia but internationally.

The findings of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse unveiled the full extent of a national tragedy.

I want to place on the record my thanks to the people who worked so hard to deliver this Commission: Commissioners, Mr Bob Atkinson; Justice Jennifer Coate; Mr Robert Fitzgerald; Professor Helen Milroy; Mr Andrew Murray; and the Chair of the Royal Commission, the Hon Justice Peter McClellan; Senior Counsel assisting Gail Furness SC and, in total, 680 other members of the Royal Commission’s staff who worked professionally and with such dedication over the past five years.

More importantly, I want to place on the record a thank you to every person who came forward and spoke up about abuse.

As I’ve already mentioned, later this year, the Prime Minister will offer an apology, but I want to acknowledge your bravery, your honesty and your perseverance.

It is said that the best form of disinfectant is sunshine.

And only because of the witnesses who testified about the abuse they suffered were we able to shine a light onto this dark stain on our national character.

Because of your bravery our nation can begin to heal.

And ensure it never happens again. We have a national obligation to confront and combat the shocking crimes detailed and the suffering endured.

As a nation, we owe the survivors who fought so hard and so long for truth, nothing less.