The Victorian Government is working to ensure effective redress for victims and survivors of child sexual abuse by participating in the National Redress Scheme for Institutional Child Sexual Abuse and enabling a direct personal response to survivors by institutions through reforms to civil litigation.
The Victorian Government was one of the first states to opt in to the National Redress Scheme for Institutional Child Sexual Abuse, and has participated in the scheme since it commenced on 1 July 2018.
The scheme is operated by the Australian Government and is governed by a framework for determining applicants’ eligibility for redress, and which institution is responsible for payment. Applicants may receive access to counselling, a redress payment, and a direct personal response from the institution responsible for the abuse (for example, an apology).
All applications for redress are determined by independent decision makers. The Victorian Government is responsible for paying redress to a person if a Victorian Government institution is found reasonably likely to be responsible for a person’s abuse.
The Victorian Government provides counselling to all applicants residing in Victoria who receive an offer of redress under the scheme. A person is offered a choice of counselling service provider, and a range of delivery options and services in rural, regional and remote areas. Specific services accommodate culturally appropriate counselling for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, and also consider the disability, gender, sexuality and language needs of applicants.
As at 31 October, the Victorian Government had received 628 applications through the scheme from applicants who had identified a Victorian government institution as responsible for their abuse and returned 641 responses for determination by the independent decision maker. By the end of the first year of the scheme’s operation, 109 applicants had accepted an offer of redress. Of these applicants, 64 accepted the offer to receive a direct personal response and 54 accepted the offer to access counselling and psychological care services from the Victorian counselling service provided by RESTORE.
The Victorian Government will continue to advocate to the Australian Government for improvements to the transparency and accountability of the scheme and to reduce delays in processing applications for redress. The Attorney-General brought an Options Paper for progressing these improvements to the Ministers' Redress Scheme Governance Board meeting in November 2019. The Victorian Government has also commenced a review of non-government institutions that have not joined the scheme, which is examining options to encourage organisations that receive government funding to join.
The Victorian Government has introduced a suite of reforms to remove a range of hurdles faced by child abuse survivors seeking compensation from organisations associated with their abuse.
Victoria was the first jurisdiction in Australia to remove time limitations to civil claims for damages for child abuse victims and survivors. These ground-breaking reforms ensured victim survivors are not discouraged from bringing their claims in court, and the expiration of a limitation period is not used against victims in negotiations.
While the abolition of limitations periods for child abuse removed a significant barrier to civil litigation for survivors of institutional child abuse, it did not deal with the unjust product of those time limitations, which led to survivors accepting inadequate settlements and releasing institutions from future liability. To remedy this, the Victorian Government introduced a reform to allow a court to set aside past judgments concluded after a limitation period had expired, and settlements reached while a limitation period applied, if it is just and reasonable to do so. This reform was implemented as part of the Children Legislation Amendment Act 2019 and commenced on 18 September 2019.
The Funding Guideline for Services to Children, which commenced on 1 July 2019, will further improve access to justice for survivors. The Funding Guideline requires non‑government organisations that receive government funding to provide services to children to be incorporated and insured against child abuse. This reform helps to ensure that relevant organisations are capable of being identified and held financially accountable where they are responsible for child abuse.