More than 2,200 survivors told the child abuse royal commission they were sexually abused in Australia’s orphanages or children’s homes, including 880 at government-run institutions.
Children who were abused in out-of-home care made up a staggering 40% of private sessions with the royal commission into institutional responses to child sexual abuse. The royal commission has referred 361 cases of abuse in out-of-home care to police.
The data was released on Tuesday as the royal commission turns its focus back to state, territory and commonwealth governments, seeking to understand what they have done to respond to its findings.
The commission on Tuesday began to press state and territory governments on whether they will commit to the single national redress scheme to compensate survivors, which was announced by the federal government in November.
Senior bureaucrats from New South Wales, Victoria, Northern Territory, the Australian Capital Territory and Queensland were all reluctant to fully commit to a national redress scheme, saying they were supportive but needed more detail from the commonwealth.
South Australia appeared the least willing, and suggested a redress system might serve only to “retraumatise” survivors. Tasmania and Western Australia said they had no current position on redress, and the Tasmanian justice department secretary, Simon Overland, said the government had no thoughts on the issue that he was “privy to”.
The commission chairman, Peter McClellan, told the bureaucrats the national redress scheme was of “fundamental importance” to recognise the suffering of survivors and to ensure they received ongoing care.
“On behalf of the commissioners, can I commend all of you to apply yourselves as assiduously as you can on behalf of your governments to ensure that an appropriate redress scheme is designed and is able to be implemented at the earliest opportunity,” McClellan said.
“We have now spoken to thousands of people, many of whom have suffered terribly because of their abuse,” he said.
“You can’t leave a discussion with them but with an understanding that a redress scheme of the type that we’ve recommended is of fundamental importance if the community is to meet its obligations to all of those who have suffered in this way.”
The royal commission will also ask senior bureaucrats why they have failed to develop an integrated and consistent system of working-with-children checks, which the commissioners previously described as a “significant and inexcusable failure on the part of governments”.
The royal commission’s report on working-with-children checks urged for those reforms to be completed within 12 months. It has now been 19 months since its report was released.
The royal commission also released data on abuse in juvenile justice centres. The counsel assisting, Gail Furness SC, said 361 private sessions had been held with survivors of abuse in juvenile justice institutions. Ninety-five cases were referred to police as a result.
Evidence was also heard about abuse in 400 state schools. About 460 private sessions were held with survivors from state schools, and 140 referrals were made to police.
“It is clear from this statistic that most of the government-run institutions which were reported were the subject of only one or two allegations,” Furness said.
More than 160 survivors of abuse in health settings, including those being cared for by disability service providers, spoke with the royal commission in private sessions.
Furness said poor record keeping and information sharing about abuse was “systemic” across all institutions.
“The royal commission has identified that poor record keeping is a systemic issue which affects the response of many institutions to allegations and instances of child sexual abuse,” Furness said.
The royal commission has proposed reforms to improve information sharing and record keeping, including the development of a national set of privacy principles.
The inquiry released its report on national redress in September 2015.
The New South Wales Department of Justice secretary, Andrew Cappie-Wood, said the state was working with the commonwealth towards setting up a national redress scheme as quickly as possible.
But Cappie-Wood said there were still a lot of “outstanding questions” in the design of the commonwealth’s scheme. He said NSW and other jurisdictions were still waiting on answers to those questions.
“We are literally doing as much as we can, given that we’re engaging with the commonwealth,” he said. “A lot of the initiative is effectively in this time in the hands of the commonwealth.”
Furness asked Cappie-Wood whether non-government organisations and faith-based institutions in NSW would be able to take part in the redress scheme, if the state government decided it would not.
Cappie-Wood failed to answer the question, prompting McClellan to say:
“Mr Cappie-Wood that doesn’t address the issue of counsel. She was asking whether or not you understand there is any impediment to an NGO from a particular state participating in the scheme if the government of that states does not itself opt into the scheme?”
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