Redress – Claytons or Fair Dinkum?
In late October/early November I was invited to Sweden along with Associate Professor Jacqui Wilson of Federation University (another Care Leaver) to talk about the state of play with the Australian Royal Commission’s recommendations on redress.
We planned to present an essentially negative story about why the Australian government had rejected the Commission’s recommendations on redress. Despite intensive lobbying by CLAN and other stakeholder, the government had been silent for more than a year on the whole question of redress.
A few days before we were due to present our paper, the government dropped a bomb. There would be a national independent redress scheme after all! There was much joy and excitement.
However, after frantic phone calls, emails and texts between us and our well-informed colleagues in Australia Jacqui and I were soon alerted to be cautious about changing the main thrust of our presentation. As the details (and the lack of them when Ministers were pressed for answers) one commentator (Wendy Bacon) accurately summed up the position: it was like getting a kiss and then a kick.
The opt-in principle is a cop-out
The scheme was to be based on an opt-in principle – and it was (and remains) clear that some of the States and churches were (and are) not too keen to opt in.
With the ink hardly dried on the government’s media release and a government-inspired Q&A sheet which had more Qs than As, Jacqui and I quite dubbed it a Clayton’s Redress Scheme. The participants – from over a dozen nations – needed a translation! It’s like the drink you have when you’re not having a drink, we explained. They got the point.
A couple of weeks ago, the CLAN CEO and I joined with a group of advocates, lawyers and other stakeholders in meeting with the Australian Minister for Social Services (Christian Porter) and (separately) with Opposition and cross-bench Parliamentarians in Canberra.
Minister Porter was not able to give us any firm commitments or expand on our knowledge about the National Redress Scheme that his government was proposing. Nothing had been clarified between the initial announcement and this meeting – at least nothing the government was prepared to divulge.
Mr Porter acknowledged that his government has no powers to oblige anyone to opt in to the scheme (except the two Territories who are small players anyway). He conceded that at least one State was implacably opposed to it and the five other states were non-committal. Likewise, he was not able to say which churches and charities, if any, have opted in.
His stock answer to our long list of questions was, “We are still working on that”.
The only clear commitment was to set up an Advisory Council which would, he said, have its first meeting before Christmas.
The Advisory Council
A few days ago Minister Porter’s colleague, the Attorney-General George Brandis, issued a statement announcing the names of the Advisory Council. There will be 15 members, among them CLAN’s CEO, Leonie Sheedy, and Caroline Carroll, the current Chair of the so-called Alliance for Forgotten Australians. These are the only Care Leavers on the Advisory Council.
The media release explains “the principal purpose” of the Advisory Council will be to give the government “independent advice”. It also indicates four areas in which particular advice will be sought.
- One of these areas is “the governing principles that underpin the scheme”, which is strange given the government already has a very detailed report on that matter from the Royal Commission.
- Another area – “how to best encourage state, territory and non-government institution participation in the scheme” – seems very odd. Surely, it’s the Australian government’s role to work out how to get other levels of government and the churches and charities to join a national scheme.
- The fourth area – about how the proposed national scheme should interact with “other redress schemes” – is something that Jacqui and I commented on in our Norrkoping presentation. It goes to fundamental problems inherent in grafting a sexual-abuse-only scheme on to schemes that have given redress to survivors of other forms of abuse and neglect. It will also turn on the question of how a proposed broad-based scheme for survivors of abuse in all forms of institutions can be integrated with schemes that focused on survivors in 24/7 closed institutions only.
The members of the Council have not yet been given a date for their first meeting or a schedule of dates thereafter.
In sum, an Advisory Council has been set up to provide advice to the Australian government, but the “opt-in-if-you-like” principle of state/territory governments and churches and charities remains in place and as of today’s date there is no change to the position Jacqui and I outlined in Norrkoping.
That is, the Australian government has made a public announcement about a redress scheme but is a very long way from being in a position to make it work. There is reason to believe it never will, unless there is a drastic re-casting.