Australia's Royal Commission into Institutional Response to Child Sexual Abuse
A relative wears a pin displaying a photograph of children who he said had been sexually abused by the Catholic Church as he stands outside the venue for Australia's Royal Commission into Institutional Response to Child Sexual Abuse in Sydney, Australia, February 29, 2016. Reuters/David Gray

The Australian government has announced up to $150,000 compensation to sexual abuse victims. The Commonwealth redress scheme was announced on Friday as key recommendation from the child sex abuse commission.

Social Services Minister Christian Porter told reporters in Perth that the Commonwealth will lead the program, with states, territories, churches and institutions allowed to “opt in.” The scheme, which will provide emotional, mental and other support to victims of sexual abuse, will run for 10 years, starting in early 2018, with an option to extend.

The maximum payout for individual victims is $150,000.

“A fair, simple and generous process for redress is the most significant thing that we can do for survivors of sexual abuse,” Porter said.

While the government would like all jurisdictions to opt in, it was unable to compel them to do that. Instead, it would just encourage that opt in is to be clear and transparent. In the case of territories, though, the Commonwealth has the right to legislate to compel them to join if they did not opt in.

Advocacy groups have welcomed the program but slammed the “opt in” part. Care Leavers Australasia Network co-founder Leonie Sheedy said the redress scheme “sounds wonderful until you read the fine print.”

“Allowing the states to opt-in is a cop out. It should be mandatory for all states to contribute. The states cannot wash their hands of this,” Sheedy was quoted by the Sydney Morning Herald as saying. “As for the institutions, many of them have a poor track record of supporting people who were abused. What if they say no, they’re not going to contribute? If any charity or religious organisation refuses to contribute to the scheme, they should lose their tax exempt status.”

Catholic Church’s Truth Justice and Healing Council CEO Francis Sullivan, on the other hand, has commended Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and the Commonwealth for the program.

“It is now up to all institutions in which abuse occurred, as well at the State and Territory governments, to get on board and become part of the scheme,” he said in a statement. “This is by far the best chance we as a community and particularly the institutions responsible for the abuse will have to do the right thing.”

Last year, the Royal Commission into Institutional Child Sexual Abuse released recommendations to the government on how to address the ongoing care of victims, including a $4 billion national redress scheme that would provide compensation and care, as well as response from the institution if needed.

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