Weighing in on recent criticism of the National Redress Scheme by a federal parliamentary committee, Jason Parkinson, principal at Porters Lawyers, says the $3.8 billion scheme to compensate people who were sexually abused as children in Australian institutions is the ''pink batts'' of child abuse compensation.
Porters, a leading Canberra, Sydney and Wollongong rights-based law firm, specialises in litigation for individuals. ''People are going to sign up for the redress scheme, where they are being told the average compensation is $81,000 - so they're already telling people what they're going to receive before even assessing the cases. 'Then these people will discover, according to law, their compensation for general damages alone ranges between $100,000 - $300,000, let alone compensation for ongoing medical treatment and economic loss they may have suffered,'' says Parkinson. ''Once they deal with the National Redress Scheme, they have extinguished all their common law rights.''
The scheme was created after recommendations were made by the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. It started on July 1, 2018, and will run for 10 years. As of March 22, more than 3300 applications have been received and 115 redress payments made. The five-year Royal Commission made 74 recommendations on how a national redress scheme should operate.
Parkinson, a former detective-turned-lawyer specialising in child sexual abuse by the clergy and forced adoption in Australia, insists people need to seek proper legal advice from those experienced in this area before signing on with the National Redress Scheme. ''People are going to work out how bad the scheme is and it's going to be a tragedy,'' he says. ''I've got 2000 cases filed in courts because the courts will protect these former child victims, whereas schemes don't.
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''We've had schemes in Queensland, Western Australia, NSW and Victoria that promised x-amount of dollars and they ended up paying a fraction of that. Now government has had to say, 'Oh, well, actually we're going to reopen them all because now we realise how we just virtually ripped off the most damaged people in society'. It's atrocious and they want to do it again.''
Survivors are critical of government for capping redress payments at $150,000, despite the Royal Commission recommending a $200,000 cap. Parkinson acknowledges the scheme may benefit people where there is no entity or individual who can be sued. ''Tragically, a lot of Aboriginal children who were on missions run by the Lutherans have no one to sue. The Lutherans have long since left Australia,'' he says. ''The companies they were under have all gone. So, in effect, the National Redress Scheme will be a defendant of last resort so these people will at least get something.''
Parkinson is adamant the only way to end institutionalised child sex abuse in the Catholic Church and other religious organisations is by making it financially unviable for organisations to continue hiding abuse. ''Child abuse [compensation] has to be expensive because once it is cheap - as the National Redress Scheme seems to want to make it with an average payout of $81,000 - no one will turn their mind to protecting children when they've got other issues that take their attention away,'' he says. ''Unless it is expensive, it will not be in the forefront of their minds. By ensuring former child victims receive 'damages according to law' and not some capped scheme, we are protecting the children of today and tomorrow.''