Lawyers for abuse survivors have today welcomed the announcement that the Catholic Church will join the national redress scheme, saying state and federal governments must be prepared to take swift action if other institutions fail to follow suit.
Maurice Blackburn Abuse Law Principal Michelle James said the Catholic Church’s decision to become the first non-government institution to opt-in to the scheme was an important step that would provide choice to abuse survivors.
“Survivors will now have the choice to pursue compensation from the Catholic Church through the redress scheme or through the courts depending on their circumstances, which is incredibly important,” Ms James said.
“It is a choice that all survivors should have, irrespective of what institution or government has caused them harm.
“Today’s announcement is a call to action for other relevant institutions to also join the redress scheme and for governments at both the state and federal level to exercise any relevant powers necessary to force institutions’ hands if they fail to do so.
“Specifically that must include being prepared to strip the charity tax deductibility status of any institutions that stonewall on joining the national redress scheme.
“Each year charitable institutions reap multiple billions in state and federal concessions, with the Federal Government alone forgoing almost $2 billion in annual revenue to offer charity tax deductibility status on donations.
“Many of these charitable institutions were singled out by the Royal Commission for failing to protect children in their care, yet they continue to benefit from generous tax concessions.
“Those institutions need to be given a clear message from state and federal governments: join the national redress scheme in meeting your responsibilities to abuse survivors or risk being stripped of your tax concessions.
“If charitable institutions’ taxpayer benefits are on the line then it may force them to act in doing the right thing by survivors,” she said.
Ms James said the implementation of a national redress scheme was a key recommendation of the Royal Commission that was fundamental to ensuring proper support for survivors, and it was a welcome step to see the scheme progressing with the majority of states now also committed to the scheme.
“The wellbeing of survivors must be a priority for all levels of government, and it is pleasing to see that the majority of states have now stepped up to join the redress scheme,” Ms James said.
“However, there remain a number of outstanding recommendations from the Royal Commission that are still yet to be implemented as part of any final scheme.
“This includes gaps in key elements of the scheme such as reduced caps for redress payments and a much shorter period of time being made available to survivors to determine if they wish to accept an offer of redress than was recommended by the Royal Commission.
“It is vital that the Federal Government ensure its national redress scheme mirrors as closely as possible the recommendations of the Royal Commission so the scheme can effectively meet the needs of survivors,” she said.
 Tax Expenditure Statement 2017. The Treasury, January 2018