National Redress Scheme – Radio National Breakfast

E&OE…

FRAN KELLY:
RN Breakfast understands the Federal Government will today release its response to an inquiry calling for institutions to have their charity status revoked if they fail to sign up to a National Redress Scheme for survivors of child sexual abuse. Swimming Australia is among the organisations coming under pressure to sign on but the Australian Olympic Committee says the scheme could push sports bodies to financial ruin.

[Excerpt] MATT CARROLL:
Most of the Olympic sports aren't large organisations and they simply could become insolvent and therefore not be able to meet the financial commitment and it would be the people that have been sexually abused as children that will miss out.

FRAN KELLY:
That's Matt Carroll, CEO of the Australian Olympic Committee speaking to us on Breakfast yesterday. There's also been criticism that the redress scheme is just moving too slowly. Fewer than 1000 survivors of child sexual abuse have received compensation since the scheme was set up nearly two years ago. Senator Anne Ruston is the Minister for Families and Social Services. Minister, welcome back to Breakfast.

MINISTER RUSTON:
Thanks very much Fran.

FRAN KELLY:
Matt Carroll says the AOC and the sports within it is committed to redress but the scheme's structure makes it difficult for organisations like Swimming Australia to join in responsibly. Is that good enough in your view?

MINISTER RUSTON:
Well look, I'm looking forward to meeting with Mr Carroll next week to discuss this very issue but what I would say to him and any of the organisations, the 41 that I wrote to last year, 41 sporting organisations encouraging to join – you need to test the process. Now, there are circumstances that we will take into account as part of that process of joining up to the scheme but don't just sit back and say that it's going to be a problem. Come in and talk to us, test the process, start the application process and I'm sure that we can find a way that they can participate in this scheme which obviously, we want every organisation in Australia that has a history of working with children to join up.

FRAN KELLY:
Well it's about the rules, it's about the financial rules and you have to have sort of, you know, fiduciary rules around this and you have to be able to manage the financial risk. It's also more complicated when you have state bodies as part of a federation. But we are what? Four months out from the deadline, June, and the AOC and Swimming Australia and others are yet to meet with you. Have they been too slow with this?

MINISTER RUSTON:
I would encourage them to, they've still got four months and we're more than standing ready to help them if they want to start this process. But yes, I think every organisation who has a history of working with children should at least come forward and test this process because there are a lot of people out there that have had, they had terrible trauma, this is their opportunity to get some redress. No amount of money is ever going to pay for the trauma they've gone through, I think we need to establish that right up front, but at least it acknowledges the trauma that they've been through. And for organisations to just say we're not coming forward because we don't think we might be to meet the requirements, I don't think is good enough.

FRAN KELLY:
And Swimming Australia is not just, has a history of working with children which it does, of course - kids all around Australia are in pools - but it's, and it's put new guidelines in place since the Royal Commission. But it was named in the Royal Commission too, you know, it was there front and centre at some point. Matt Carroll suggested there might be a separate scheme needed for sporting bodies to help make it possible for them to sign up. Is the Government considering that? Have you had a look at that yet?

MINISTER RUSTON:
Well look, I don't think it actually is necessary. We've got a lot of organisations that have already signed up that are quite small. This wasn't a one size fits all model. We understand that there were very big organisations, they had a myriad of different structures. So as I said, if you're a sporting organisation and you're concerned about the implications of signing up to the scheme come forward, speak to us, test it and I'm sure there will be a way that we can enable you to participate in this because it is your obligation. And I think organisations also need to understand the public confidence in them as an organisation, if they're seen not to be joining up. So I think there's a lot to be gained by the process of coming forward.

FRAN KELLY:
Okay. But as I say, you've set the deadline yourself; the Government's set the deadline for the end of June. We're not far off that. How many are still outside the system and what are the key issues that you've found is keeping these organisations from signing up?

MINISTER RUSTON:
At the moment, about 10 per cent of the applications that we've received from survivors have had to be put on hold because we don't have an organisation signed up to match them up to.

FRAN KELLY:
So what's that in numbers, 10 per cent? How many?

MINISTER RUSTON:
About 700.

FRAN KELLY:
Alright. That's a lot.

MINISTER RUSTON:
It is a lot but some of those are in the process of signing up. At the moment we've got quite a number of organisations and we're getting hundreds of them signing up on a reasonably regular basis. So there will be a number, quite a number more will sign up between now and 30 June deadline. But there are other situations, for instance, where the organisation doesn't exist anymore. There are situations where the organisation does not have the financial capacity to be able to do this and I point out that there have been a number of instances already where state governments have come forward and offered to be the funder of last resort when the institution no longer exists, and that's fantastic. But at the moment, our absolute focus is making sure that every organisation that can sign up, should sign up, does sign up by 30 June, or at least have started the process so we can give comfort to those people who have put applications in.

FRAN KELLY:
And how tough are you going to be on this? I mean should there be consequences? The Joint Standing Committee looked at the redress scheme, tabled its report in April last year. Amongst its 29 recommendations was one that the government should put pressure on institutions to sign up and if they don't, well one way to increase that pressure would be to revoke the charity status of some of those institutions that refused to sign up. Will you do that?

MINISTER RUSTON:
We will absolutely look at anything that is reasonable to try and force organisations who we believe should be part of this scheme to join up. And that is…

FRAN KELLY:
Is that reasonable? Taking away their charitable status?

MINISTER RUSTON:
Absolutely, it will be certainly something that we're considering and I know state and territory governments are also looking at the ways that they can increase the pressure on organisations that haven't signed up to get them to sign up.

FRAN KELLY:
Well in fact, the actual recommendation from the committee was to suspend all tax concessions for organisations. So is that, are you prepared to say now, as the Minister, that that's what the Government will take that step if organisations don't sign up?

MINISTER RUSTON:
Look, I'm not going to make the policy on air this morning, but I can certainly say that we will be looking at every option that we have to make sure that an organisation that we believe should be signed up is signed up. And if that means that we have to take a big stick approach to it, that's what we'll be doing.

FRAN KELLY:
So you'll be giving that message loud and clear to Matt Carroll and Swimming Australia and others when they meet with you?

MINISTER RUSTON:
Well I have and I've written, as the Prime Minister has before I came into this job, I have written to a number of organisations, the 41 that I wrote to in October last year, the 41 sporting organisations, and I made it very clear the expectations, not just of the Australian Government but, I think, the Australian public that we think that any organisation that has got a history with working with children should sign up. That's not to say that they'll ever have any applications against them but it gives confidence to the public that they are transparent about what they're doing. And, you know, I would just say to anyone, do not be fearful of signing up. There is a process here, no one's going to send you broke. But these people who have suffered this trauma deserve this redress and we will do what needs to be done to make sure they get it.

FRAN KELLY:
You're listening to RN Breakfast. Anne Ruston is the Minister for Families and Social Services. Minister, you're on the cusp of publishing the Government's response to this Committee, the recommendations came out in April. Are we will get those findings today?

MINISTER RUSTON:
Well, I actually released it yesterday…

FRAN KELLY:
Yesterday? Sorry.

MINISTER RUSTON:
…to the Standing Committee and it's up to the Standing Committee obviously to publish it. But I would hope that it would, if it's not today, it will be in the next sort of 24, 48 hours that I have actually released it to the committee that required it.

FRAN KELLY:
Are you in a position to tell us all nationally, now, by and large is the Government accepting the recommendations?

MINISTER RUSTON:
We've accepted every recommendation that we are able to accept which is solely within our responsibility. We've noted a number of them because we have to take them back to the Redress Minister's committee, which I will be doing very shortly because the structure of this scheme requires state and territory agreements to many of the changes. But we have in substance agreed and supported or at least acknowledged every one of the recommendations. And hopefully I'll be in a position to respond on behalf of the Redress Committee Ministers to the recommendations that I haven't got the power to accept on my own.

FRAN KELLY:
It took a long time for all the states to get on the same page. Are the states and the federal government now broadly on the same page on this in responses? Is there much difference between the states? Because that's a problem.

MINISTER RUSTON:
Look yes, they have been and the states and territories are very, very strong on this. And I met with them just before Christmas and they were particularly strong on taking a much, much stronger and harsher action on organisations that didn't sign up. But the other thing that we do need to do, and we recognise we need to once we've got these organisations on board, we have to accelerate the speed with which we're assessing these applications. Many of them are much more complex than we ever imagined. But we got additional funding last year so that we could accelerate and increase the number of workers on this particular project but also to case manage it so that we're assisting and making sure it's the most trauma informed way that we can deal with people who have been through what most of us could never imagine.

FRAN KELLY:
Yeah. As you say, many of them are complex and time is an issue for many people. Many people who came before the royal commission were opening up about abuse they suffered a long time ago and they're getting on. The Joint Standing Committee looking at the Redress Scheme, amongst its recommendations was also finding the government put pressure- sorry, was that a new assessment framework acknowledging the type of abuse doesn't determine the impact on the survivor. There's been a big criticism of this scheme, that it creates a hierarchy of abuse. Do you agree with that?

MINISTER RUSTON:
Look, it is a very, very difficult scheme. I mean - a very difficult issue I should say. The scheme was designed on the back of the Royal Commission into Institutionalised Child Sex Abuse and that is what the Redress is about. But all of the recommendations that came out of that Standing Committee or Select Committee will be considered by ministers and if there is a way that we are able to reach agreement so that we can improve this scheme, we absolutely will.

FRAN KELLY:
Will you personally, as the Minister, be driving that change? Will you be recommending that change?

MINISTER RUSTON:
Look, it is my job is as the Federal Minister to make sure that I drive all of the changes that have been put forward that are going to improve the scheme, but mostly to improve the outcome for survivors. As I said, nothing can ever repay or compensate for what these people have been through. But I think for us to be able to make sure that this scheme, it operates in the easiest, simplest and least trauma induced way is absolutely something that we must focus on as a priority.

FRAN KELLY:
Good to hear it. Anne Ruston, thank you very much for joining us.

MINISTER RUSTON:
My pleasure, thanks Fran.

FRAN KELLY:
Anne Ruston is the Minister for Families and Social Services.

ENDS