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Can the national redress scheme deliver justice?



The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse examined, among other things, what institutions and governments should do to address and alleviate the impact of child sexual abuse that occurred when children were in their care.

Teddy bear on chairThe commission recommended a national redress scheme be established to which all state governments, churches, charities and other non-government organisations could opt in to.

This has now been established by the federal government, with NSW, ACT and Victoria joining the scheme. The Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull, has urged other states and institutions such as the Catholic Church, to opt in:

'More often than not, the victims of these crimes were not believed,' Turnbull told Fairfax media in March. 'The crime was compounded by indifference and resistance, by legal obstacles and by institutional denial. This cannot continue.'

The National Redress Scheme, which commences on 1 July 2018, is an alternative to seeking compensation through the courts. Redress is not compensation — it is about acknowledging the harm caused and supporting people who have experienced child sexual abuse in an institution to move forward positively in the way that is best for them.

The scheme provides: access to psychological counselling; a direct personal response, such as an apology from the responsible institution for people who want it; and a monetary payment. Payments will be assessed on a case-by-case basis, reflecting the severity and impact of the abuse experienced, with a maximum of $150,000.

At the time of writing, the government has said it will exclude some victims on the basis of their criminal history. This has been strongly criticised by survivors, advocates, institutions and a significant majority of the community who understand that childhood sexual abuse in institutions often resulted in a life course that led to conflict with the law, poverty and further institutionalisation including prison.


"As long as the institutions prevaricate survivors are reminded of who has the power."


Survivors who came forward to the royal commission, as well as many others, speak about the harm caused not only by the abuse itself, but also by institutional responses to them, that have too frequently been disbelieving, re-traumatising and sometimes downright abusive.

Take for example, John Ellis, who sought compensation for the abuse he suffered by a Catholic priest. The Catholic Church offered Ellis $30,000 in compensation for the abuse he suffered as a teenage altar boy, and the subsequent trauma that destroyed his marriage and his career in a prominent Sydney law firm.

When Ellis tried to sue the church over the abuse he suffered, the courts rejected the claim, ruling the Church was not a legal entity, nor was it liable for abuse committed by a priest.

The royal commission heard that the Catholic Church was by far the religious institution identified most often as having the highest number of perpetrators and therefore victims (61.4 per cent). As a proportion of all survivors, 35.7 per cent of survivors said they were abused in a Catholic Church institution.

For many victims, the redress scheme will provide the only means of seeking justice. They are outside the time limit for seeking compensation through the civil courts, they have little prospect of seeing the offender brought to a criminal trial, and institutions have too often failed to admit any liability or responsibility.

While a monetary payment will most certainly give recognition to their experience and suffering, redress must be so much more.

The opportunity to access support and counselling when needed, across the lifespan, is important. The royal commission's findings, as well as the Adverse Childhood Experience (ACE) Study affirms that adverse experiences in childhood can have a range of negative effects on the health and wellbeing of adults — both physical and psychological — if the trauma is unresolved. It also shows how the coping strategies people adopt in childhood to deal with overwhelming experiences can become risk factors later in life if the underlying trauma is not resolved.

Learnings from both the royal commission and the Australian DART (Defence Abuse Task Force) indicate that the significant motivation in seeking justice is to protect children in the future, and to hold institutions accountable for making it safe for children.

Through an 'apology process', the redress scheme has the potential to facilitate a dialogue between the survivor and the institution in which they were harmed. This could give survivors the opportunity to meet with key leaders of the institution, to have their experiences of abuse and the consequent impacts heard by that institution, receive an apology, and provide insight into ongoing safety of children.

It remains to be seen whether other institutions and states will opt in to the scheme. As long as they prevaricate survivors are reminded of who has the power, and will question whether some measure of justice will ultimately be available to them.



Craig Hughes-CashmoreCraig Hughes-Cashmore is CEO of Survivors & Mates Support Network.

Topic tags: Craig Hughes-Cashmore, Royal Commission, clergy sexual abuse, redress scheme



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Existing comments

A clearly expressed summary of the redress scheme, Craig. I find it disquieting that institutions found responsible for great suffering have the choice of 'opting in' to a scheme to help those who have been harmed. Redress is so much more than a monetary payment - as if money can wipe away trauma! Respectful recognition of the harm inflicted upon and suffering of victims and survivors requires the best and most compassionate response. And, yes, facilitating dialogue between survivor and institution should be encouraged, if the survivor feels confident enough.

Pam | 04 April 2018  

Knowing the allure that money holds for the human being and how human behaviour is often crafted by that allure, I have never been convinced that money is the compensation that should devolve to victims of abuse unless the abuse has incurred a monetary loss for the victim. I think the repair of the loss of human dignity is a far greater priority and that monetary compensation will not achieve anything towards that end. We have to extend open arms to the abused, reaffirm the wrong that has been done to them, punish the perpetrators and subject them to the civil law, and provide the necessary psychological and philosophical repair and do everything possible to restore trust in the victims in a genuine caring and protective Church. Some human beings will do anything for money and I wonder how often the prospect of remuneration has driven some historical complaints.

john frawley | 04 April 2018  

It is without doubt that childhood sexual abuse has lasting effects on survivors. One of those effects is loss of earnings. A simple way to make the institutions accountable for their actions is to change the law so they can be sued. I question why has this not been done?

Shane | 05 April 2018  

The decision to leave out certain victims with a criminal history is a dreadful one. They've committed a crime, they've done their time, and now they're to be revictimized. Not OK.

Joan Seymour | 06 April 2018  

So beautifully expressed Craig. It is so important that all the survivors of child abuse are treated with dignity, and not put on trial themselves as if the fault is theirs. We already know that many victims carry the blame internally for most of their lives. It is surely time that every one of them is freed from this pain.

Jillian Curnow | 07 April 2018  

I have been deeply suspicious of the reasoning behind the Church's perhaps only universal agreement about anything during this whole sorry saga - that we should have this Redress scheme. Why, of all issues, does the one concerning compensation (money) result in pretty-well unanimous agreement. Again, from my studies, especially that I am currently undertaking, it has become deeply obvious that for the most, the Church's main objective is that the sexual abuse crisis will cost them as little as possible financially (and yes, I suppose reputationally - although I still see this as a greatly mis-interpreted-by-us, smoke screen). All responses from the initial inertia - do nothing and hope they'll go away, (which costs nothing), right through to settling out of court and if that doesn't work, then the no-holds-barred civil cases, reflects this desire. So, why the agreement about a redress scheme. Well, it looks like they are genuine in wanting to compensate - but, 1) will the scheme even ever take off, and 2), will it 'cost' them a great deal less than civil cases, not that I would wish that on anyone. And there's the rub...civil cases that I have witnessed have almost re-killed the victim.

Stephen de Weger | 08 April 2018  

Spot on Shane. This is what I have labelled in my study, “Practical Harm”. It is an aspect of abuse not well understood or discussed but deeply crippling for so many. It refers to usually later effects resulting from sexual assault/abuse relating to career/job issues/inability to work. Such issues in turn result in financial stresses which can affect every aspect of life producing further harmful sequelae (Price, Choi and Vinokur 2002). Price et al. (2002, 310) for example, found that “reduction in personal control is an important consequence of financial strain and elevated symptoms of depression. In the present sample of unemployed people, significant and strong longitudinal pathways from financial strain and depression to personal control were observed. Our results also suggest that the loss of personal control can have adverse impacts on health and role and emotional functioning”. They went on to link such impacts on subsequent attempts to find work, and thus develop a sense of self-worth and self-control: “Thus, chains of adversity are clearly complex and may contain spirals of disadvantage that reduce the life chances of vulnerable individuals still further” (Price et al. 2002, 310). The practical harm produced by sexual abuse has been acknowledged by the Royal Commission in its latest consultation paper, “Redress and Civil Litigation” (Royal Commission 2015a, 45, 48).

Stephen de Weger | 08 April 2018  

Joan, on the 6th, said that she disagrees with the decision that certain alleged victims with criminal histories might be left out of any proposed redress scheme. Well... may I do a reality check?. To put it in a nutshell... our mothers were right when they told us about 'the boy who cried wolf'. He destroyed his credibility when he told deliberate lies, for his own excitement. Adults are no different....if they deceive and break the law.....then nobody will trust them. So whose fault is that? As a former auditor I find it puzzling that a priest, with no criminal record, is presumed guilty. Solely on the word of a known criminal. It's like something out of 'Alice in Wonderland'. When are we going to wake up?

malcolm harris | 09 April 2018  

The heading of this article is a no-brainer if you are talking individual lives. The example I provided above expresses this. The answer is 'No, it can't'. If you compare the costs of loss of income and pain and suffering that individual victims have endured there is NO comparison between what is being offered by the redress scheme and what the Church would have to pay out if victims were covered for loss of income, pain and suffering. As I tried to point out in the above story, $50,000, while helpful, covers roughly one year's income. When it runs out, nothing has changed and even deeper depression and anxiety result, until a steady source of decent income can be found, if that's possible. I don't know how this can be solved. Maybe the Church doesn't have enough money to truly compensate and re-establish the lives of all victims, and yes, many would not know how to use that money wisely anyway, often because they are now so damaged. I just want people to think about all this. I don't know the answer, but I do horribly know the reality.

Stephen de Weger (catholicmetoo.com) | 10 April 2018  

why is it onley sexual abuse, what about physical abuse is it less importent, the government schools where there were kids being bashed in the sixties werent listened to then i was bashed kicked down the stars by a nut case teacher, at the time people were complaing to the government about the abuses all they did in the end was stop corporal punisment & still cant get justice the government does not seem to mind blaming other organisations for there sins but refuses to look at it own sins thats why they put a clause in for sexual abuse onley show they can get away with what they have done the brutal punishments were a disgrace & still no one wanto help pollies a saying they will fight for physical abuse vitims but it all garbage its just acover up.

michael | 10 May 2018  

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