The Forgotten Australians Compensation Debate
Most people would agree that the national apology by Kevin Rudd to the forgotten Australians on 16th November went some way to acknowledging the pain and suffering many people experienced as children whilst in state care.
But is sorry enough to compensate these Australians for the neglect and abuse they suffered?
Many would argue no.
The Commonwealth Forgotten Australians Report released in August 2004 made some fairly strong recommendations about this issue.
A key recommendation was that a National Reparations Scheme be created, to be funded by the Commonwealth and State governments, and churches or agencies which ran the institutions where the abuse occurred. The suggestion was that a predetermined amount be offered to victims, so that claims could be processed quickly, and the cost manageable.
This recommendation has been largely ignored. The Federal governments response has been to place the onus on the individual states.
All states have formally apologised to the forgotten Australians, but not all have been willing to offer financial compensation.
Tasmania established a scheme in 2003 which pays compensation of up to $60,000 per individual. Redress WA, established in December 2007, pays up to $45,000 per individual. (The cap was originally set at $80,000 but reduced in July). QLDs redress scheme, created in October 2007, set the cap at $40,000 per person.
NSW has so far refused to come to the party.
So the only avenue for NSW residents is the Civil Court system. While going through the courts potentially means a larger amount than you might get in a redress scheme, the reality is, its not an option for most victims. The cost of litigation is out of reach for most. Given that the trauma or illness often doesnt occur for decades after the abuse, many victims miss the limitation period to make a claim. Many are unwilling to relive their childhood horrors in a formal court setting.
Ireland and Canada both have effective redress schemes. The Irish Redress Board, set up in 2002, has 5 categories, with the amount paid in compensation dependent on the severity of the abuse. Victims can receive up to 300,000 Euros. The Board also covers legal expenses.
Mary Moloney, a Director of Stacks/Goudkamp, has acted for several Irish-Australians seeking compensation for mistreatment while in the care of the Irish state. In her experience, compensation proved to her clients that they were believed, which was incredibly important to them.
One client stated, Robbed of confidence, which prevented me from reaching my full potential in life and employment, compensation is a security blanket in my old age.
While an apology is certainly appreciated, perhaps its time for the Federal and NSW governments to put compensation on the table?