New South Wales parliamentarian (right): “I’m thinking of voting against the NSW Greens’ 3 point reform package for victims of child sexual abuse. What do you think?”
Political adviser (left): “I think that would be a most … courageous … decision.”
A lazy post today. Indeed, it is little more than a replication of a media release put out by New South Wales Greens parliamentarian, David Shoebridge, yesterday, about a three-point package of reforms designed to better conditions for victims of child sexual abuse. I’ve done so because although the media has given it some coverage, it deserves to be acknowledged and publicised as widely as possible. There’s really nothing to add to what has already been said in the media release, reproduced below. It says it perfectly.
3 point reform package for victims of child sexual abuse
19 March 2015
The NSW Greens have today released a 3 point reform package to better serve and support victims and survivors of past child sexual abuse in their pursuit of civil and criminal justice. This reform package was designed in consultation with victims, support groups, lawyers and other stakeholders.
For further detail please see the attached Media Release (150319 MB JUSTICE Greens NSW launch 3 point reform package for victims of child sexual abuse).
- Remove time limits for victims’ civil damages claims
The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse has found that the average time to report child sexual abuse is over 20 years. Yet the law in NSW requires civil compensation claims to be brought within 3 years after a person turns 18. These timeframes are grossly out of step. The NSW Greens have drafted the Limitation Amendment (Child Abuse) Bill 2014 to remove the time limit for civil claims by victims of child sexual abuse. Victoria and many other jurisdictions in the US, Canada and Europe have implemented these reforms. NSW victims deserve no less.
1. Bring sentencing for past child abusers into the 21st century
Modern day NSW courts are forced by precedent to sentence perpetrators of child sexual abuse as if they were the court at the time of the offence – which might be 40 years ago. In the 1960s, 70s, and 80s, when many offences occurred, society had a flawed view that child sexual abuse was a less serious crime, and historically courts gave much more lenient sentences. Applying these flawed values in sentencing today brings the justice system into disrepute and disrespects victims. The Greens are proposing amendments to NSW sentencing legislation to fix this.
2. Stop churches hiding their money in trusts
Victims of child sexual abuse by clergy or officials of the Catholic and other churches must have a right to seek redress from the organisation that abused them. But many churches’ property is held in property trusts that shield its money from victims’ claims – the ‘Ellis defence’. This artificial legal structure cannot be permitted to continue to deny legitimate claims by victims of abuse. The NSW Greens have drafted The Roman Catholic Church Trust Property Amendment (Justice for Victims) Bill 2014 to allow victims to sue the property trusts on behalf of the Catholic Church, removing the ‘Ellis defence’. The reform should then be extended to other organisations.
NSW Greens MP and Justice Spokesperson David Shoebridge MLC said:
“Case after case has come out of the Royal Commission involving the criminal sexual abuse of children dating as far back as the 1950s, and it’s not enough to just wring our hands and say we’ll try harder in the future.
“Those children are now adult survivors of child abuse, and their path to justice is still strewn with obstacles.
“We can and should change the law going forward, but there are barriers facing victims of past child abuse that must be removed to deliver justice now.
- Limitation period
“It is unacceptable that NSW law requires victims to make any claims for damages by age 21 when we know that it often takes decades for survivors of child sexual abuse even to tell anyone about it.
“NSW Parliament cannot stand by while organisations that allowed children to be abused hide behind the statute of limitations to defeat legitimate claims by victims of child sexual abuse.
“It is unacceptable that the law is telling judges to sentence child sexual abusers based on the flawed and uninformed community attitudes of the 1960s or 1970s.
“Of course judges must apply the law from the time the offence occurred, but the range of sentences must be informed by what the community now knows about the damaging impact of child abuse, not past unenlightened views.
“Without this sentencing reform judges are bound by common law to continue to deliver unjustly short sentences for historical child abuse.
“The community can’t have faith in a justice system that has to pretend it’s in the dark ages to sentence child abusers from the 1960s or 70s – judges should represent the community of today not 40 years ago.
3. The Ellis defence
“Why should the community accept that the Catholic Church cannot be sued and that it doesn’t exist in the eyes of the law – of course it exists, of course it has assets, and if it has caused harm, it should be able to be sued.
“A law that quarantines an organisation’s wealth from legitimate claims by victims is itself an abuse. Parliament has the power to change that, and where an organisation is at fault, it should pay,” Mr Shoebridge said.
Media contact: David Shoebridge 0408 113 952 or (02) 9230 3030
Greens MP in the NSW Legislative Council
P: (02) 9230 3030 T: @ShoebridgeMLC
SIGN UP TO STAY IN TOUCH at davidshoebridge.org.au/sign-up
NSW Parliament House, Macquarie Street Sydney NSW, 2000 Australia
One hopes for a packed gallery in the NSW parliament at the appropriate time. As one astute person explained to me today, in words to this effect, there is considerable power in members of the public supporting reforms such as these actually turning up to parliament, sitting in the gallery, and eye-balling members of parliament who may be inclined to vote against much-needed legislation.
These reforms are urgently needed, and, as noted in the release, will ultimately benefit not just victims of the Catholic Church, but those of other institutions as well, such as the Salvation Army.
Although this package is, by necessity, confined to New South Wales, it is highly relevant to people in other Australian states and the territories. If the Greens’ legislation goes through in New South Wales, hopefully it will be followed by successful introduction of similar packages in other jurisdictions.
[Postscript: Fans of Yes, Minister and Yes, Prime Minister would ‘get’ the reference in the picture above, but for those who’ve yet to experience the great pleasure of these television series, the dialogue is a reference to bureaucrat, Sir Humphrey Appleby (pictured left talking with (Prime) Minister, Jim Hacker to his right), imparting an important lesson to his young protege, Bernard Woolley:
Sir Humphrey: “If you want to be really sure that the Minister doesn’t accept it, you must say the decision is “courageous”.
Bernard: “And that’s worse than “controversial”?”
Sir Humphrey: “Oh, yes! “Controversial” only means “this will lose you votes”. Courageous” means “this will lose you the election”!”
The point is this: In addition to people turning up to parliament at the appropriate time, extremely vocal, visible, and early expressions of public support for the 3-point reform package would be welcome to demonstrate to fence-sitting or potentially hostile parliamentarians (and their advisers) that the public wants these changes, and won’t forget any sitting member who doesn’t support the package … particularly at election time. What’s your local MP got to say on the subject?].
Read more here: