Federal Politics

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Political row over redress scheme for child sexual abuse

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The federal government has curbed the power of the Senate to overhaul a new scheme that offers redress for victims of child sexual abuse, setting up a flashpoint over plans to cap compensation claims at $150,000 for each person.

The government will rely on state laws to set up the national scheme under an agreement struck last Friday with NSW and Victoria, giving states the ability to set the compensation terms despite any vote in the upper house in Canberra.

As a Senate committee hands down a report on how to help victims, the design of the new scheme gives states the power to reject calls in the federal political sphere for an increase in the compensation cap.

Labor social services spokeswoman Jenny Macklin and legal affairs spokesman Mark Dreyfus called last week for the cap to be raised to $200,000 because this was the figure recommended by the royal commission into child sexual abuse.

“We don’t want to see survivors of child sexual abuse short-changed,” they said.

“For too long survivors of institutional child sexual abuse weren’t believed. For too long they’ve waited for justice. They shouldn’t be made to wait any longer for redress.”


Yet Victorian Labor Premier Daniel Andrews has signed on to the federal plan with the $150,000 cap, joined by NSW Liberal Premier Gladys Berejiklian.

The next stage in the debate will be the release of a Senate committee review into federal legislation to offer redress for victims of abuse that fall within the Commonwealth, but this does not cover the national scheme.

The legislation for the national scheme is to be drafted in NSW and Victoria and presented to their state parliaments, with “mirror” legislation being passed in Canberra as well as in other jurisdictions that sign up.

This is likely to supersede the bill currently before the Federal Parliament.

While states such as NSW and Victoria will refer some powers to Canberra to ensure the scheme is set up, this will not go so far as allowing the Senate to amend the scheme and impose the changes on the states.

Fairfax Media was told that a push in the Senate to increase the compensation to $200,000 would run the risk of contradicting laws passed in the states.

Social Services Minister Dan Tehan said NSW and Victoria agreed to join the national scheme with a maximum payout of $150,000 and they expected this to be reflected in legislation.

“A truly national scheme will involve as many jurisdictions and NGOs opting into the scheme as possible and the cap has been selected to achieve this and give proper recognition to the suffering of survivors,” he said.

“If the Senate were to unilaterally alter key elements of the agreed scheme, it may place the whole national redress scheme at risk, and would particularly jeopardise the Commonwealth's capacity to convince other state and territory governments and NGOs to opt in to the scheme.”