Redress scheme's new class of have-nots



Trigger warning: sexual abuse, sexual assault, child abuse.

The announcement of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse by the Gillard government; its extension by the Abbott government, supported by the Turnbull government; and the national apology delivered by Scott Morrison and reiterated by Bill Shorten, demonstrate that issues related to institutional child sexual abuse survivors are not only bipartisan, but at the core of our national identity.

High angle view of doll on hardwood floor (Xavier Serrano / EyeEm / Getty Creative)The pervasiveness of child sexual abuse within some 4000 institutions shocked us to the core. Some victims were robbed of even the most basic human rights not once but repeatedly when those rights were further transgressed, as survivors' disclosures were dismissed, their needs minimised, and support and justice denied.

The commission also alerted us to broader issues around childhood trauma. We learnt not only that many institutional sexual abuse survivors were additionally physically violated, and emotionally neglected, but also that most childhood abuse and other complex traumas — interpersonal, repeated and extreme — occur in the home, family and neighbourhood.

Regardless of the outcome of the upcoming election, Australia must respond promptly and fairly to the needs of all survivors, not only of institutional child sexual abuse, but of all forms of childhood trauma. Every time we create a new class of survivor and more 'have-nots' we replicate the inequities of abusive systems.

The Joint Select Committee Report around the implementation of redress released last week is telling. It highlights the gaps between the commission's recommendations for a fair and equitable National Redress Scheme, its driving focus on survivors, and the current scheme. Most notable is the abrogation of the responsibility of many so-called 'responsible' institutions to sign up to the scheme. This has left many survivors in the 'have-not' group, yet again.

None of this is to deny the complexity of the scheme, or the inherent tensions between the machinations of government and a trauma-informed survivor-focused scheme.

Not the least of these was the more than two-year delay from the commission's report to government action, the reduction in cap for the maximum payment from $200,000 to $150,000, and the implementation of an assessment matrix, uninformed by an understanding of grooming, child sexual abuse dynamics and impacts. Again, we see a class of 'have-nots', in which many people who experienced unimaginable impacts are not eligible for maximum or near-maximum payments.


"To exclude prisoners from applying until their release is a further violation of their human rights, already decimated when they were children."


Similarly, the treatment of survivors of child sexual abuse who have served a custodial sentence of five years or more is punitive and discriminatory. It is well known that many survivors become involved with the criminal justice system, and for those serving custodial sentences, the current potential for exclusion, subject to advice to the scheme operator from the relevant state attorneys-general, is doubly punitive. To exclude prisoners from applying until their release is a further violation of their human rights, already decimated when they were children.

Similarly, the current provision for counselling and psychological care, which differs between states, is not focused on the quality of the counselling, and is not accessible life-long, as recommended by the commission. The recent Senate report delineates still other inequities — more 'have-nots' — which need to be addressed, regardless of who is in government after the election.

The provision of support for survivors in an ongoing way remains inadequate for many who struggle to feel safe, ever. Lack of consistent informed support, particularly for isolated survivors, people from remote communities, or those living with a disability, add to survivors' frustration and distress. Delays in processing of applications, confusion about exclusion criteria and which institutions are in the scheme, are further compounding, as are challenges in transparency, expectations and clear communication about the scheme.

The establishment of the National Office of Child Safety, implementation of national child safety standards and national principles are to be welcomed, as consistency of practice across the state and territory divides is critical. So too is the announcement of funding for a national centre focused on child sexual abuse.

However, the population of survivors of childhood trauma extends well beyond this group. By conservative estimates, childhood trauma affects one in four adult Australians, all of whom deserve and need informed support. For this reason, it is paramount that the brief and funding of the national centre be extended to include childhood trauma more broadly. Otherwise, we will have even more 'have-nots'.


For confidential counselling and support call the blue knot helpline on 1300 657 380 or visit



Cathy KezelmanDr Cathy Kezelman AM is a medical practitioner, mental health consumer advocate, and President of Blue Knot Foundation National Centre of Excellence for Complex Trauma.

Main image: Xavier Serrano / EyeEm / Getty Creative

Topic tags: Cathy Kezelman, royal commission, clergy sexual abuse, child abuse, redress



submit a comment

Existing comments

'Redress' in the archaic meaning of the word is to 'set upright again'. That means restoring dignity and worth. Money can do neither of these things, although this form of compensation says "You've been through trauma, we want to support you financially and make it easier to live." Complex trauma such as child sexual abuse requires institutions responsible for this abuse to place them first in their list of priorities. The only way forward for both parties to heal. Our worth as a society should be based on how well we treat 'outsiders' and how well we recognise their intrinsic value.
Pam | 09 April 2019

Thank you Cathy for an informed front-line appraisal of what is (still) so wrong with so much of how we are dealing with victims/survivors. If survivors had more say in how this scheme developed we would probably have come up with something completely different. I was dubious about the scheme from the start - not about it's intentions but about the fact that it was the only recommendation the Catholic Church officials fell over themselves to accept. They probably knew they would be much better off both financially, and in the ability to not have their abuse and cover up further exposed. There probably isn't enough money to compensate for lost lives, lost professions, lost what-could-have-beens. But it is about money: the church's and the governments desire to not have to pay 'too much'; but also for survivors like myself, who lost their career and ability to work again because of the affects of abuse, and the unwillingness of the Church to fully "redress' me and my family, money is a huge factor - we need t to survive. While I am more or less better psychologically for the most, my/our still very uncertain ability to maintain a home and to pay bills, to care for my family, to have a place of stability so essential for maintaining mental health after abuse, could again almost make me give up. Can a government/Church redress scheme really do what is needed? Do they even really WANT to?
Stephen de Weger | 10 April 2019

Momentum accepts agreement in all written but there is a growing danger in compensation becoming a monitory cash conscious appeasement This creates other problems. In Africa, Bishop To Too created forms of mediation that history revealed led a way forward for that nation. Our nation given all the media attention and morals, justifications have failed to consider other avenues.
Edward M | 10 April 2019

Thank you Cathy for those insights. I suppose one of the unintended consequences of a royal commission is the misuse of its findings and recommendations for cynical purposes. Some institutions opt in only after making sure the payouts will be cheaper for them than civil litigation payments. Some institutions delay opting in in the expectation that some survivors will be discouraged and give up - or die. Some refuse to opt in using the excuse that they can't afford to contribute. It's time the governments of Australia got serious about the tax status of these organisations and the handouts of taxpayers' money. I'm sure, too, there's another cynical story to be told about the development of the national redress scheme. And that's the manipulation of the so-called consultation process where advocates and survivor representatives are called around a table a few times to give advice only to have governments distort and bury that advice. The whole redress package needs to be thoroughly renovated. It's a shambles in many more ways than Kathy has room to tell here.
Frank Golding | 10 April 2019

Interesting. Your on the Independant Advisory Council on Redress?? As are members from Knowmore and CASA, so why are things not running a little smoother and changes happening when supposedly your the people with our concerns at heart? Seems like a either a huge conflict of interest or none of your suggestions are terribly helpful?
Sue | 12 April 2019

Does this include those of us abused even once, by those I trusted in keeping us safe in a child & family therapy unit until we were made wards of the state? Does this include those of us who also once placed in a group home after a state run orphanage had been closed, who were physically abused & often held in detention centres for trying to run away from the group home where the abuse was carried out? If so, where can we find out more? Thankyou.
Sarah Marie | 12 April 2019

Thank you Dr Kezelmen for your compassion understanding of this heinous issue on the effects on Child Sexual Abuse and its life-long impacts. As a Victim/Survivor, I can identify with how you have portrayed this fiasco of The Redress Scheme and how we are being re-traumatized over and over and left in this cloud of uncertainty. As for the diocese's directly involved, their response has been so disillusioning right from the start of the disclosure; for me personally, I been treated as a non-entity. No wonder why we found it so hard to confront out demons in the first place.
Mary Adams | 13 April 2019

I worked in Child Protection Services for many years and I can say that I witnessed over and over again, young persons entering into sexual exploitation at an incredibly young age, particularly boys was as an outcome of sexual abuse occurring to them at some stage in the past. I was around the system long enough to see them live lifes of quiet desperation, ( drug use) or acting out and offending, through frustration and basically lack of significant ongoing support. Its criminal on the part of our services to refuse them compensation and deny our responsibility at this point in cant be that we cant afford it!!! For me we cant not afford it.
helen m donnellan | 13 April 2019


Subscribe for more stories like this.

Free sign-up