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Can the national redress scheme deliver justice?

  • 05 April 2018


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.

The 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