Attorney-General Christian Porter sledges Catholic Church

Frustration with slow response to national redress scheme builds

The Attorney-General Christian Porter has described the Catholic Church’s response to the news that NSW and Victoria had signed on to a national redress scheme as “pretty underwhelming.” The redress scheme will provide compensation to survivors of child sexual abuse in Australian institutions, including churches. (All the main parties in the South Australian election next week have said they will sign on, but the Queensland and West Australian state governments claim they need more information.)

According to Porter, the Catholic Church’s Archbishop Denis Hart has said the church would like to examine the Victorian Government’s basis for signing up to see if it is a good scheme for survivors.

“When you say that you need a review into how the state Government has signed on – as the Archbishop of Melbourne has said – to a scheme that has been reviewed more often than any scheme in Australia, quite frankly it starts to look like excuse-making,” Porter told the ABC’s Patricia Karvelas.

The Catholic Church has consistently signalled that it will join the national redress scheme.

The Catholic Church has, however, consistently signalled that it will join the national redress scheme, which makes Porter’s comments surprising – possibly betraying frustration with how long it is taking for the states and churches and other institutions to sign up. This morning the Melbourne Archdiocese has hit back following Christian Porter’s comment in what the ABC describes as a “similarly terse response from the Archdiocese which said any ‘fair-minded person’ would agree that it is ‘perfectly reasonable’ to see what is being proposed.”

The chief executive of the Catholic Church’s Truth Justice and Healing Council, Francis Sullivan, has repeatedly reported that Catholic leaders are on the record saying they will join the national scheme.

The price will be steep. If the Catholic Church had to pay its victims, say, $50,000 each on top of existing compensation, the 4444 cases identified at the Royal Commission will cost the church $222.2 million. A recent Fairfax investigation estimated the church’s assets at $30 billion.

Eternity has learnt it is likely that the Anglican Church will try to join the scheme whenever it starts, without waiting for each diocese (region) to pass legislation. If the church waited for all the dioceses to hold their synods (meetings), it could take two years as some small dioceses such as the Northern Territory only meet once every two years. Whether this will happen could be confirmed this week when the church’s Royal Commission Working Group meets.

The Uniting Church says it will be ready when all the states sign up. Its National Assembly, which meets in July in Melbourne, will consider a report from their Royal Commission task force.

“We really want to be part of a truly national scheme.” – John Cox, Uniting Church

John Cox, executive officer of the UCA Royal Commission Task Group, has previously told Eternity the Uniting Church is keen to sign up. “Our submissions to the Royal Commission supported the maximum limit of redress available as well as flexible care arrangements for survivors.

“We really want to be part of a truly national scheme. That’s what we’re focused on,” said Cox.

Meanwhile, the Prime Minister has urged churches to sign up. “If a church or a charity or an institution doesn’t sign up, I hope that they will be shamed,” he told journalists outside Kirribilli House in Sydney. “I’d be looking forward, I can tell you – we’ll be using the megaphones we have – to encourage them to sign up, and I hope you are all too. I’m sure that if it’s a church, their parishioners and members of their congregations will be doing so.”

“We want every survivor of child sexual abuse in these institutions, regardless of which institution it is, to be given the redress that they are entitled to.” – Malcolm Turnbull

Joining with the Premiers of NSW and Victoria, the PM said, “Now we have a National Redress Scheme and it is vital – as the three of us have just said – that all states and territories and all institutions, churches, charities, sign up to it. We want every survivor of child sexual abuse in these institutions, regardless of which institution it is, to be given the redress that they are entitled to.”

More detail has emerged on the level of payment that will be expected. “The cap – the maximum payment recommended by the Royal Commission – was $200,000. The maximum under the National Redress Scheme that has been put together, that we’re signing up to, or the states are signing up to today, is $150,000,” Turnbull explained. “Our estimate is that the average payment will be $76,350, which is actually more than $11,000 in excess of the average payment the Royal Commission estimated, so that’s an important point to bear in mind.”

Labor’s shadow social services minister Jenny Macklin has called for the cap to be set at $200,000 while pointing out that the Royal Commission first recommended the scheme in 2015.