Some Stolen Generations survivors will receive compensation under a package of redress laws for Indigenous children taken from their families which were introduced into federal parliament on Thursday.
Minister for Indigenous Australians Ken Wyatt introduced two bills for the scheme covering the Northern Territory and the ACT.
“The establishment of the scheme represents an important practical step forward in healing this country and reflects our government’s commitment to our nation’s journey to reconciliation,” he told parliament.
A third bill was introduced that establishes a $10,000 advance payment for priority applicants who are elderly or terminally ill, after a review found making a claim was traumatic, bureaucratic, and too slow.
“The establishment of the scheme represents an important practical step forward in healing this country.” – Ken Wyatt
Families Minister Anne Ruston announced that the notorious Retta Dixon Home in Darwin, which had previously been disqualified from the scheme, will now be covered. Retta Dixon, operated by church group Australian Indigenous Ministries (AIM), was used to house mostly Indigenous children between 1947 and 1980. Multiple children, many from the Stolen Generations, were allegedly raped and abused at the home during that time.
Senator Ruston said the commonwealth had agreed to be a funder of last resort for the period up to 1978 when the NT’s self-government arrangements came into place. But she said the commonwealth was working with the NT government to ensure any application after that would also be covered.
In January, when AIM tried to join the National Redress Scheme, it was deemed ineligible by the Department of Social Services because the operator didn’t have the money to pay out claimants.
State and territory governments have agreed to cover some defunct institutions where child sexual abuse took place, and Senator Ruston hopes more will be funded to share accountability and improve the scheme.
The federal government said the South Australian, Tasmanian, NSW and Victorian governments had also agreed to take funder of last resort responsibilities for 17 more defunct institutions.
They include 11 United Aborigines Mission institutions, the Foundation for Aboriginal Affairs, Umeewarra Mission, Umeewarra Mission Children’s Home, Northcote Home, Ten20 Foundation and the Launceston Girls Home.
Under proposed laws for survivors in the territories, a one-off payment of $75,000 will be made next year in recognition of the harm caused by the forced removal along with a one-off healing assistance payment of $7000.
An important part of the scheme is giving each survivor the opportunity to tell their story to a senior official and receive a face-to-face or written apology for the harm caused by their removal.
“No compensation in any way will achieve any closure at the end of the day, because we live with the trauma.” – Frank Spry
The commonwealth’s announcement came as a relief to claimants such as 69-year-old Frank Spry, who had been unable to have his claims processed.
Mr Spry said he experienced physical and sexual abuse when he was a resident at the Retta Dixon home between the ages of eight and 18.
“I’m happy that something has happened and hopefully we don’t have to go any through any rigorous process to access whatever compensation we need,” he told the ABC.
But he added: “No compensation in any way will achieve any closure at the end of the day, because we live with the trauma.”
Witnesses told a parliamentary inquiry in Canberra on August 18 that many people in remote and isolated communities still don’t know about the national redress scheme, particularly in the Northern Territory.
Senator Ruston today encouraged survivors to access the scheme, noting that the number of Indigenous applicants had been low.
“We want to make sure that particularly Indigenous Australians come forward, because we actually have had a lower than expected number of people in the Northern Territory being able to come forward,” she said.
“For anybody who has suffered institutionalised abuse then we’d be very keen for them to come forward and get the redress that they so justly deserve.”