Greens Member for Newtown, Jenny Leong MP has spoken in support of a new scheme to create better pathways to justice of those who have experienced child abuse.
Ms JENNY LEONG (Newtown) (10:35): On behalf of The Greens I speak in debate on the Civil Liability Amendment (Child Abuse) Bill 2021. First and foremost, I acknowledge the stories that have been shared in this House by members on all sides, describing the levels of trauma, abuse and harm that were inflicted on children in our community for many years. I acknowledge that no matter what we say in this place and despite how hard it is to listen to those stories, it is much harder for the people who have suffered that abuse to continue to live with that trauma. Many people have not survived through that trauma. It is important for us to remember those people first and foremost, and we must provide them with the strongest justice.
The Greens welcome the bill and accept that its intention is good, but we believe that the current draft creates a seriously limited scheme that will see many unfair settlements unchallenged and therefore will pose a significant obstacle to justice for victims. The bill seeks to make changes to improve access to justice for survivors of child sexual abuse by improving access to settlements. A new part 1C is inserted, which gives courts the power to set aside agreements to settle sexual abuse claims if the previous agreement is an affected agreement. Affected agreements include those where limitation periods had expired or the claim was against an unincorporated association. The second change is to ensure that a person who suffers personal injury as a result of child abuse in custody is able to seek damages.
The Greens have worked in consultation with experts in the sector and will move an amendment to the bill in the upper House. The amendment will ensure that settlements can be put aside where it is just and reasonable do so. New paragraph 7C (1) (c) will specify that affected agreements include those that were settled before the commencement of part 1B of the Act and that the agreement is not just and reasonable in the circumstances. The amendment will allow unfair historical settlements—for example, when a person who was assaulted was subject to the religious hold of the institution as part of the agreement—to be set aside. Given the vast power disparity between victims and survivors and the intuitions they had to take on to get justice, it is an appropriate amendment that we hope the Government will take seriously. We have heard about the level of trauma, harm and damage done to so many people and their families as a result of child abuse in our communities. We must not hold back on anything so that we can deliver justice and support to those victim-survivors so they can now live fulfilling lives.