By Rachel Baxendale – Victorian Political Reporter – THE AUSTRALIAN
Cover 📷: Sarah Matray
Victorian Attorney-General Jill Hennessy has called on the federal government to put more resources into processing applications for child sex abuse redress, following revelations just a third of Victorian survivors who applied last year had been offered access to the scheme.
Ms Hennessy’s call came as she confirmed Victoria would follow the ACT and NSW in legislating for priests to be required to report any child sex abuse evidence they hear in the confessional to police, with laws first flagged in September to be introduced before the end of the year.
Ms Hennessy said she had written to her federal counterpart Christian Porter to convey her concern over “significant delays” in processing redress applications and the scheme’s lack of transparency.
“We have great hope in the power and possibility of the national redress scheme,” Ms Hennessy said.
“Unfortunately Victoria is disappointed with how the national redress scheme has been operating to date.
“Last year we had only a third of our 66 applications the subject of offers being made to those victims, and this year only two of approximately 34 have been processed, where an offer of settlement has been made to those victims.
“Yesterday I wrote to the commonwealth Attorney-General, calling on the federal government to make sure that they are more quickly and efficiently processing requests for compensation under the national redress scheme.”
Mr Porter’s office referred questions to the office of Social Services Minister Paul Fletcher.
The Australian has contacted Mr Fletcher’s office for comment.
Ms Hennessy said many abuse survivors had been re-traumatised following Cardinal George Pell’s conviction on historic child sex abuse charges last week.
“We know from all of the evidence around child sex abuse that many people don’t report that they were victims of child sex abuse for a long period of time, and the scars of that emotional and physical trauma often play out in a range of ways, both emotionally and physically, so it’s so critical that we provide people with quick access to justice and fair access to justice, and I think that the national redress scheme has a long way to go if we’re going to meet that promise,” she said.
Mr Fletcher has previously indicated that the failure of institutions to sign up to the scheme is the greatest constraint for payments being made.
Ms Hennessy said she hoped to introduce legislation before the end of the year requiring anyone who makes a confession of child sex abuse to a priest to be the subject of a mandatory report, as recommended by the child sex abuse royal commission.
“We will also take away the legal defence of the confessional as a reason as to why people ought not have to report child sex abuse,” she said.
“The ultimate objective here is to make sure that when people do confess to child sexual abuse, that we put the interests of the child first, and not the interests of what might be the laws of the church first.
“Ultimately as a matter of law, why is it that a doctor or a nurse or a teacher must report suspicions around sexual abuse of children, but a priest does not?
“I think that is a really striking absence in the law, and we know that that has had intergenerational consequences for individuals and communities and families because it was used as part of the cover-up of an incredibly disastrous period of our history, when it comes to the abuse of children, particularly in the context of religious organisations.”
Ms Hennessy said she was also considering legislation similar to that proposed by Reason Party MP Fiona Patten, which would remove the legal restraints put on abuse survivors who signed up to institutional schemes such as the Catholic Church’s Melbourne Response, allowing them to re-sue the organisation responsible for their abuse.