News National ‘Disastrous’: Just 51 child sex abuse survivors paid out in national scheme
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‘Disastrous’: Just 51 child sex abuse survivors paid out in national scheme

Members of the Care Leavers Australasia Network (CLAN) thank the Royal Commission as they await its final report in 2017.
Members of the Care Leavers Australasia Network (CLAN) thank the royal commission as they await its final report in 2017. Photo: AAP
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Only 51 child sex abuse survivors have received a payout under the National Redress Scheme since its launch seven months ago, a figure survivors say is “pitiful” after 2700 applications.

The scheme has made another 19 offers to survivors, who have six months to accept or ask for a review.

“Pretty bloody disastrous, isn’t it?” Ballarat abuse survivor Stephen Wood told The New Daily.

Institutions, states and territories have progressively signed up to the scheme launched by the federal government in July, to recognise harm and provide tangible support following the royal commission.

The 51 payouts amount to $4 million, or an average of about $78,400 each.

A total of 2700 applications had been made by a potential 60,000 eligible victims by February 1. Some applications would be stalled because the responsible institutions haven’t signed up to the scheme.

It’s understood the Department of Social Services had “cold called” 29 institutions who had not engaged by the end of November in an attempt to sign them up.

The New Daily has spoken to survivors about limitations of the scheme that docks them for previous payouts, blocks those in prison, and ranks penetrative abuse above all other forms.

Leonie Sheedy – the CEO of CLAN, which represents care leavers from institutions like orphanages – said some of those survivors have to wait for three or even five institutions to sign up.

“If you want to know how care leavers are, they’re feeling angry, hurt,” Ms Sheedy told The New Daily.

“I don’t call them survivors, because some of them aren’t survivors. They’re broken people.”

georgie burg - national redress scheme
Georgie Burg doesn’t know where she’d be without her husband Phil, who she met age 22.

The oldest CLAN member is 97, and survivor Tony Duffy died just a day after learning his redress claim was successful. Payments are distributed according to a person’s will if they die before seeing justice.

Jail terms

But payments can be blocked if the survivor has been jailed for five years or more. In those cases, relevant attorneys-general provide advice to support or deny the application.

“Care leavers who left orphanages and children’s homes at 14, 15 and 16 without any support, why should we be surprised that they had to steal food?” Ms Sheedy said.

“These churches and charities didn’t go to jail for the crimes they committed on us.”

Lawyer Judy Courtin, who represents abuse victims, said it was shocking to take into account convictions.

“One of the very, very common impacts of being traumatised severely as a child is they go off the rails. They don’t trust authorities. They don’t trust police. They end up in jail – not all of them, but a lot of them – they do their time and get a second punishment.”

national redress scheme

Survivors cannot apply from behind bars, unless they have special circumstances.

By late November, 42 redress applicants had serious criminal convictions and 12 were in jail.

Indexing compensation

The top payout is $150,000, below the royal commission recommendation of $200,000. Up to $5000 can also be provided for counselling.

Any prior compensation would be indexed to inflation at 1.9 per cent and deducted. For example, if someone was paid $35,000 in 2000 they would now have about $50,00 deducted from their redress.

That’s despite no indexing of the redress payments, meaning the maximum $150,000 will be progressively worth less until the scheme ends in 10 years.

“Now, after 20 years of campaigning for redress, for support, for help, I have now been cut out of the redress scheme. I’d probably get $50 because I got a small payout years ago, and [when] indexed that virtually cuts me off,” Stephen Wood said.

“So now, it’s just not worth my while. I’m not even going to apply for it now. It’s just an utter insult to the years of abuse and the shattered lives, the destroyed lives.”

Calculating redress

Redress payments are hierarchical depending on whether the abuse was penetrative, contact or non-contact.

“How bad was the assault? Well, how bad is a kick in the head? I mean, really. It’s just been administered terribly,” Mr Wood said.

stephen wood - national redress scheme
Stephen Wood said he was not going to bother applying. Photo: AAP

Georgie Burg – a survivor of jailed ex-priest John Philip Aitchison, and is not eligible for a redress payment – said the algorithm was “hopelessly flawed”, distressing and alienating.

It was widely agreed redress should be based on the impacts of abuse.

The royal commission recommended putting equal weight on the seriousness of abuse and its impact.

Jehovah’s Witnesses abuse survivor Sarah Blaire, an alias, said she found staff working on the National Redress Scheme helpful.

But she has to wait, because the church has not signed up.

“Knowing Jehovah’s Witnesses as a whole, knowing their culture, knowing their general attitudes all my life, I can’t see them ever joining up willingly or voluntarily,” Ms Blaire told The New Daily.

She said the government should compel organisations that refuse to join, or enforce penalties.

Child sex abuse survivor Georgie Burg
Georgie Burg railed against the algorithm that determines redress payments.

Most of all, Ms Blaire wants Jehovah’s Witnesses to apologise and improve their processes.

“I don’t really care about monetary compensation. It’s more upsetting to me that, No.1, they haven’t apologised to past victims.

“They haven’t acknowledged them, and they haven’t met the recommendations so as to make themselves a safer institution.”

The church still enforces the “two-witness rule”, requiring survivors to have another witness to establish truth.

Knowmore, which offers free legal advice to survivors for the scheme, said 19 per cent of its cases were prioritised because the survivor was unwell or elderly, aged 76 and over, or 56 for Indigenous Australians.

The royal commission said 14.3 per cent of the survivors they heard from were Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander.

Indigenous children are significantly overrepresented in out-of-home care and youth detention, and remain at the greatest risk.

An estimated 60,000 victims are eligible for a payout worth an estimated $3.8 billion. About 955 victims are from government institutions.

Call the National Redress Scheme on 1800 737 377.

If you need help, contact Lifeline on 13 11 14, Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800 or 1800 Respect.

Correction: A previous version of this article implied survivors who’ve been jailed for five or more years could receive less money. This was incorrect, it should have said their application could be blocked from the scheme based on advice from attorneys-general.

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