Thank you Chair. My name is John Cox. I am the Executive Officer of the Uniting Church in Australia’s Royal Commission Task Group. The Task Group’s job is to guide the Church in its response to the recommendations and more broadly the many learnings of the Royal Commission. Our membership is made up of senior representatives of the Uniting Church, its agencies and schools, including members with experience in Pastoral support of survivors of sexual abuse and in the Church's internal procedures for dealing with allegations of sexual abuse.
As is our practice on every occasion we address these matters in public, I would again like reiterate the President of the Uniting Church’s statement and to apologise to children who suffered sexual abuse in our Church’s care and acknowledge the impact that it’s had in their lives. For that we are truly sorry.
Our commitment is that we will seek to make amends and try to ensure that others don’t suffer in the same way they have. Our pledge to survivors is that we will continue to implement the lessons of the Royal Commission, and pursue best practice for care, service and support of children.
In relation to redress, the Uniting Church has consistently expressed its strong support for a truly independent national redress scheme. We believe a national scheme will put the needs of survivors at the centre and provide certainty, equity, transparency and consistency in redress for all survivors.
We recognise that no form of redress or compensation can right the wrongs of the past, but we understand that the process of redress, including a recognition of the harm, an apology and appropriate and trauma-informed support, can assist survivors in healing.
I won’t repeat our submission but I would like to reiterate points that I believe are key for the Uniting Church in opting into a national redress scheme.
In general, we remain concerned by the uncertainty caused by the drafting of the Bill. Specifically, the definition of “official” and its inclusion of “member”.
A member within the Uniting Church can include someone who attends services but has no other participation in the life of the congregation. A Church does not have any control or authority, over such a person. Due to this, we can’t accept a “member” being defined as an “official” of the Uniting Church.
Acceptance Documents, Sections 39 and 40
As currently drafted the Bill:
- fails to release volunteers, officers, employees, members, agents and servants of the Participating Institution and related bodies;
- fails to release Participating Institutions who were responsible for the contact between the abuser and the relevant person in a minor or tangential way; and
- fails to release Participating Institutions for claims for contribution or indemnity by other institutions in civil proceedings arising out of the same sexual and related non-sexual abuse.
We believe this ambiguity undermines the integrity of the scheme.
To remedy this a full release from all future claims needs to be granted for all Participating Institutions.
Eligibility - Section 16(1)
We strongly disagree with the proposed design of the Scheme to exclude classes of people from redress such as those with a criminal conviction or those that do not meet the residency requirement.
The Uniting Church believes that it is a fundamental right for all survivors of institutional child abuse to be included within any national redress scheme.
We believe that the Scheme needs to provide equal access and equal treatment to all survivors, not just particular classes of people.
The intergenerational damage of child sexual abuse has never been better documented that at this time in Australian history. We simply cannot have a scheme that penalises survivors on a basis which may be related to their abuse.
We believe that the Commonwealth could rectify these issues by deleting s.16(1)(c) and ensuring that the foreshadowed limitation on persons with a criminal history or those that do not meet the residency requirements not be included in any revision of the Bill or in any subsequent Scheme eligibility (whether by Rules or otherwise).
The basic, and governing, principle of redress is that it aims to do no, or as little, further harm to survivors as possible. But the very nature of the process, applying for redress can be traumatic.
We have requested clarification on the services and support that will be offered to our First Peoples, vulnerable survivors and for those with specific cultural needs. In light of the work the Church has done with survivors, we believe that other services will need to be included in the Scheme.
So we would like further clarity on the support offered to survivors.
With a redress scheme that is administratively based, the Church has concerns that not all survivors will receive adequate support. Support must be appropriate to survivors’ needs.