Greens in Parliament: Justice for Victims of Child Sexual Abuse

Today the Greens supported legislation to remove the statute of limitations for civil claims for the victims of child sexual abuse. 


Ms JENNY LEONG (Newtown) [12.06 p.m.]: On behalf of the Greens I speak to the Limitation Amendment (Child Abuse) Bill 2016. The Greens support this bill, which seeks to remove the statute of limitations for civil claims for damages relating to child sexual abuse. It is encouraging that this bill and the improvement it will provide to those seeking justice has support across this Chamber. I take this opportunity to acknowledge the work of David Shoebridge, my Greens colleague in the other place. He has long been working with victims and survivors of child abuse to highlight the need for reform. As members have acknowledged, it was a positive step to see the recommendation come from the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse and we have subsequently seen action in support of that reform, which The Greens have long been committed to. Indeed, the introduction of a similar bill last year by the Opposition and the introduction of this bill by the Baird Government, demonstrates that we are all united in our desire to act in a way that will provide a measure of immediate justice for victims by improving their access to the courts.

The object of this bill is to amend the Limitation Act 1969 to remove any limitation period applying under that Act on a cause of action for damages that relates to death or personal injury from child abuse. The change operates retrospectively to all historical child abuse claims. This is crucial as the average time for a survivor to disclose sexual abuse is 23 years, which means the current three-year time limit for civil claims for compensation is a serious and inevitable obstacle to justice. For victims of child abuse the three-year time limit runs from when a victim turns 18 years of age. Victims and survivors of abuse have enough challenges in coping with the effects of the abuse, and wherever possible the law, especially our limitations laws, should not add to their burdens. Currently a person must seek the leave of the court to make a civil claim after the three years from when a child victim has turned 18. This limitation is often used by the defendants' lawyers to reduce the amount of compensation offered in settlement conferences. That is unacceptable.

On 14 September 2015, the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse issued its final report on redress. It found that the statute of limitations is an inappropriate and unfair obstacle to victims of child sexual abuse seeking civil redress. Recommendation Nos 85 and 86 in the report refer to the changes this bill proposes. Such changes were implemented in Victoria when the Limitation of Actions Amendment (Child Abuse) Act 2015 came into operation on 1 July 2015 but with one difference as the use of the qualifier "serious", which I will address in a moment.

The royal commission found that civil compensation is an important part of the healing process for many survivors of abuse and provides an incentive for institutions to improve the protection of children in their care. For this reason it is crucial that artificial barriers that prevent victims from accessing justice are removed as soon as possible, and that is what this bill seeks to do. The changes that will be realised as a result of the successful passage of this bill have the support of a wide range of stakeholders, community groups and support organisations across this State and nation, including the Indigenous Social Justice Association, Bravehearts, Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, Women's Legal Services NSW, Survivors and Mates Support Network and Adults Surviving Child Abuse, as well as the many victims, survivors and family and friends of those impacted by child abuse.

I foreshadow that The Greens will seek to amend the bill in the other place to make it consistent with the recently enacted Victorian legislation that removed the statute of limitations in that State. The amendment relates to our concern about the inclusion of the word "serious" as a qualifier of the physical abuse required to satisfy the definition of child abuse in new section 6A. The Greens are concerned that this qualifier will increase legal confusion and challenges, which will present a possible additional obstacle for victims and survivors of child abuse. When Mr David Shoebridge moves the amendment in the other place he will address our concerns about this qualifier and outline the reasons for the proposed amendment. I again express The Greens support for this bill and commend Government and Opposition members for their unified support of this important reform, which will improve and aid victims and survivors of child abuse to access justice. We have a significant role in this place to ensure that we introduce laws to protect the most vulnerable in our community. Indeed, it is our responsibility to ensure that they are treated with dignity and respect and have access to justice. This bill will make a contribution to that responsibility.


Link to Hansard

Sign up for updates