National News

Archdiocese of Melbourne rejects Attorney General criticism

Monday 13 March 2018

Media and Communications

Last week, Archbishop Denis Hart welcomed the announcement that Victoria and New South Wales will join the national child sex abuse redress scheme, paving the way for a national redress scheme for abuse survivors. The proposed legislation will cap payments at $150,000.

However, Archbishop Hart’s response to the proposed scheme drew criticism from Attorney General Christian Porter, who accused it of being ‘underwhelming’.
 
Speaking to the ABC’s Patricia Karvelas, Porter said, ‘When you say that you need a review into how the State Government has signed on—as the Archbishop of Melbourne has said—to a scheme that has been reviewed more often than any scheme in Australia, quite frankly it starts to look like excuse-making.’

Porter, who was the architect of the scheme, voiced his frustration in what he saw as a slow response from the Church, adding ‘[It's] starting to look like making excuses for the sake of making excuses and delay, which I think victims would be more than a little bit upset about.’

Archdiocesan Media Director Shane Healy rejected the Attorney General's comments saying ‘it is perfectly reasonable for the Archbishop to want to see what is proposed before making a commitment. Any fair-thinking person would agree with that. I suggest the Attorney-General looks again at Archbishop Hart’s comments of Friday, which could not possibly be defined as an underwhelming response.’

The Chief Executive of the Catholic Church’s Truth Justice and Healing Council, Mr Francis Sullivan, urged all states to sign up to the national child sexual abuse redress, scheme noting that Catholic leaders are on the record saying they will join the scheme. ‘While Church leaders are yet to see the exact details of how the scheme will work, there has been wide-spread in-principal support from Church authorities’, he said.

With a planned start date of July 1, the Commonwealth is putting pressure on states, territories, institutions, churches and charities to join the redress scheme. The Catholic Church has been consistent in signaling that it will join the scheme.   
 
Read Archbishop Hart’s letter welcoming the Redress Scheme below.

‘I welcome the announcement by the Prime Minister the Hon. Malcolm Turnbull MP and the Premier the Hon Daniel Andrews MP that the Victorian Government will join the National Redress Scheme and enable non-government institutions based in Victoria to opt into the Scheme. I am also encouraged by the announcement by the New South Wales government of its intention to join the Scheme.

The Truth Justice and Healing Council in its submission in response to the Royal Commission’s Issues Paper No. 6, Redress Schemes, provided its support for the establishment of an independent National Redress Scheme which was later reiterated in its submission of March 2015 in response to the Royal Commission’s Consultation Paper on Redress and Civil Litigation.

Following the recommendation of the Royal Commission in its report on Redress and Civil Litigation, the Catholic Church and the Truth Justice and Healing Council have consistently advocated for the introduction of a National Redress Scheme to which all survivors of child abuse can access no matter in which institution or jurisdiction the abuse occurred.

The Archdiocese of Melbourne established the Melbourne Response as its redress scheme in October 1996 and since that time has provided redress, recognition and support to more than 350 survivors of child abuse.

The Archdiocese increased the cap under the Melbourne Response to the amount of $150,000 proposed by the Commonwealth in November 2016 prior to any commitment by any state or territory governments to join the National Redress Scheme. The Archdiocese has also provided additional redress totalling $10.37M to 227 recipients of redress under previous caps.

Carelink which is the Melbourne Response service that coordinates the ongoing care and support of survivors has since 1996 provided access to counselling and other support services at no cost to survivors of abuse.

I will be carefully examining when released the arrangements under which Victoria will opt into the proposed Scheme to ensure that the Scheme reflects the recommendations of the Royal Commission, is an appropriate Scheme for victims of abuse and treats government and non-government institutions equally. While this review is being undertaken, victims of abuse within the Archdiocese will continue to have access to redress under the Melbourne Response.

The preference of the Archdiocese is to join the Scheme and I look forward to being able to make a formal announcement when full details of the Scheme are available.’
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