New sanctions for failure to join the National Redress Scheme

E&OE

SABRA LANE:
There are developments this morning towards making sure religious and community institutions are made to pay compensation to victims of child sexual abuse. The Federal Government's moving to give the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission the power to deregister a charity if it fails to join the scheme. It argues by not signing up, they're just doubling down on the crime and hurt. The Social Services Minister, Anne Ruston is overseeing the scheme. Minister, thanks for joining AM. You want Parliament to approve giving the Charities Commission the power to strip the charity status of those institutions, still refusing to sign up. How many institutions will this affect and how many victims are still waiting for an apology and compensation?

MINISTER RUSTON:
Well it will immediately affect one of the four institutions that was named back in July as refusing to join. But there is about 80 institutions that we are hoping will join by the 31st of December this year and of those 80 institutions about half of them currently have charitable status.

SABRA LANE:
Okay and that one institution you're referring to there is the Jehovah's Witness organisation. It is charitable? Why is it behaving in a recalcitrant manner? It is a religious group, is it behaving in a Christian way?

MINISTER RUSTON:
Well, certainly we've been extremely disappointed in the behaviour of the Jehovah's Witnesses. I mean we have spent a lot of time trying to explain to them what we think is their moral obligation to participate in this scheme but they have to date declined to do so. So I'm very hopeful that anybody from the Jehovah's Witnesses that are listening to our show this morning Sabra that they might actually reconsider because there's some pretty significant implications for them of losing their charitable status.

SABRA LANE:
Now there are institutions that aren't charities that are refusing to join up. It seems like they're behaving as if they're above the law. What are you going to do to make them pay?

MINISTER RUSTON:
Well there are a number of sanctions that are already in place. Firstly no organisation that's refused to join will in the future ever get any access to Government funding. We're also working with states and territories along the same lines. In fact I'm meeting with the Redress Ministers from the states and territories this afternoon to discuss this, amongst other things. But I think to be named and shamed and have the Australian community know that you have refused your moral obligation to acknowledge wrongs of the past undertaken and done by your organisation you certainly would think that people might think twice before they actually would participate with the activities of that organisation going into the future. It's just reprehensible.

SABRA LANE:
Well, you've named them before. I'm going to name them. Lakes Entrance Pony Club, Kenja Communications, Fairbridge Restored Limited. Naming them before hasn't done anything. Again, what is going to make them change their behaviour?

MINISTER RUSTON:
Well, when we did name them we named six Sabra and two of those, Australian Air League and Boys Brigade New South Wales immediately undertook the process to start joining the scheme. We have continued to work with another one of these and we're very hopeful that we will be able to succeed in getting them on board. Clearly we hope that today's announcement will be enough to get the Jehovah's Witnesses to rethink their position. There's really only one of those four at the moment that are point blank refusing to engage with us and we remain hopeful that we'll be able to convince, cajole or threaten the rest of them into joining.

SABRA LANE:
Are they doubling down on the hurt here?

MINISTER RUSTON:
Well look obviously the most important thing about this scheme is actually responding to understanding the pain that victims have suffered through the abuse that they received as children. Part of the importance of this is actually for the survivors to understand that they're believed and someone can say sorry to them and any institution who refuses to join is refusing to do that and so yes they are, they are actually exacerbating the pain.

SABRA LANE:
Back in August, the Government said that 7500 people had applied for compensation and 3000 people had been paid. How many more cases have been settled since then?

MINISTER RUSTON:
We've received now 8730 applications, 4221 of those have been fully finalised with another 587 that we are waiting for the applicant to respond because they've received an offer. But just today, if you put it in context, this year in the first five months of the financial year we have processed about 1500 applications. We processed about 2500 applications in the last financial year and that compares with just 239 applications in the first year that the scheme was operating. So you know whilst we certainly understand the scheme was a lot slower to stand up than we had hoped because of the extraordinary complexity, we are now processing applications quicker than we're receiving them and so hopefully we will be able to make sure that we get the redress to people in a much quicker way than we have in the past.

SABRA LANE:
If the Government leads by example, when it comes to robodebt and the hurt caused to thousands of people, it is only on the day that a class action was starting an open trial that the Government offered compensation. No one's lost their job. There hasn't been a proper apology. The Government isn't even arguing that that settlement constitutes liability. If the standard applied to the Government and in this case, the standards that you're applying now in this situation you'd fail wouldn't you?

MINISTER RUSTON:
Look not at all. I think the Government moved very quickly when it became apparent to us that recovering debts by income averaging wasn't valid and we immediately put some provisions in place to start the process of repaying Australians who had had debts recovered by that particular process.

SABRA LANE:
Sorry Minister, but there hasn't been an apology. And you're arguing that the settlement doesn't constitute liability?

MINISTER RUSTON:
Well look I think if you actually consider the situation, I mean, Australians do expect the Government to recover overpayments that have been made to Australians. But what we found out was the method by which we were determining those debts was not considered to be a valid way of doing it and so immediately we sought to repay them. But I do think the Australian public genuinely believes that the Government does have a responsibility to make sure that people are only receiving the payments that they're entitled to.

SABRA LANE:
Minister, thanks for talking to AM this morning.

MINISTER RUSTON:
My pleasure thanks Sabra.

SABRA LANE:
That's the Federal Social Services Minister Anne Ruston.