Limitation Amendment (Child Abuse) Bill 2016

Dr HUGH McDERMOTT (Prospect) [10.43 a.m.]: I support the Limitation Amendment (Child Abuse) Bill 2016. However, I express my disappointment that a similar bill put forward by the Opposition last year was opposed by the Government. Playing politics with this matter is offensive. It beggars belief that this Government would vote down a similar bill simply because we put it forward. That would have to be the worst thing this Government has done.

Ms Gabrielle Upton: It was similar but different. Read the fine print.

Dr HUGH McDERMOTT: I have read the fine print; I know exactly what it says. I have also lived with these matters all my life. Child abuse is one of humanity's greatest crimes and one in which victims are rarely able to find justice. The actions of perpetrators of child abuse, the identification of victims and the resulting effects of child abuse are often not discovered for decades. The current limitation period of only three years is grossly insufficient. The victims of child abuse deserve the same justice that is available to anyone who seeks financial redress for crimes committed against them. Indeed, they deserve more time to seek justice. Victims of child abuse have spent the majority of their lives suffering, and often they know the perpetrators. In institutional cases, the victims know that those institutions employed paedophiles and that they were well aware of the violence being committed behind closed doors. Those victims deserve justice not only from a criminal law perspective but also from a civil rights perspective. They have a right to compensation for medical treatment, lost financial potential and for the many other areas in which their lives have been devastated. This House has a responsibility to protect the victims of child abuse.

Recommendation No. 85 of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse states that State and Territory governments must remove the limitation period that applies to civil actions founded on personal injury caused by sexual abuse of the victim as a child. Recommendation No. 86 states that the removal of limitations should have retrospective effect, regardless of whether a claim was subject to a limitation period in the past. Recommendation No. 87 states that the courts' existing jurisdictions and powers should be preserved so that their power to stay proceedings is not affected by the removal of the limitation period. Recommendation No. 88 states:

State and Territory Governments should implement these recommendations to remove limitation periods as soon as possible, even if that requires that they be implemented before our recommendations in relation to the duty of institutions and identifying a proper defendant are implemented.

In New South Wales sexual abuse of children has been a crime and a civil wrong for more than a century. There is no criminal limitation period for child sexual abuse; the civil limitation period should match the criminal limitation period. However, the current limitation period gives child abusers an unfair advantage. Extending the limitation period for child abuse in civil actions will improve justice in New South Wales.

These reforms are long overdue. They will create avenues of justice for the victims of child abuse. However, they are only one of the many reforms that must be implemented to provide justice for victims of child abuse, particularly those who suffer the after-effects of the abuse they incurred under State and institutional care. Members well-know that even after removing the limitation period many victims of child abuse will not litigate. The New South Wales Government must support a national redress scheme as part of these reforms. The five key recommendations of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse are: the establishment of a national redress scheme to process compensation claims for child abuse survivors in New South Wales; survivors with a reasonable likelihood of having been abused should receive at least $10,000, and up to $100,000 in the most severe cases; the Government should pay New South Wales institutions' shortfalls; religious organisations and residential facilities for children should be liable for child abuse in civil law suits; and there should be a program to provide unlimited counselling and psychological care throughout a survivor's life.

This approach would allow victims of child abuse, who are already piecing together what is left of their shattered lives, to seek compensation without having to go to court. In conclusion, I commend the thousands of child abuse victims for their courage. I commend the courage of the most vulnerable members of society who were abused under institutional care. They never had the support of family yet they still faced the world each day. Finally, I commend the courage of those who have spoken out about their pasts and put this issue on the agenda today.

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