Queensland’s Labor government has been accused of dragging the chain on reforms to ensure child sexual abuse survivors can hold institutions liable in court, including abolishing in the notorious “Ellis defence”.
In a move praised by child sex abuse survivors, Greens MP Michael Berkman today announced a bill in Queensland’s parliament to implement reforms urged by the royal commission before the state presses ahead with the National Redress Scheme.
These reforms include overturning the “Ellis defence” which has allowed institutions to hoard their wealth in trusts that cannot be sued by victims seeking restitution for abuses committed by their employees.
“The royal commission explicitly recommended that these changes should be made before the National Redress Scheme commences, otherwise survivors are left to make decisions about redress payments under the Scheme without all options on the table,” said Mr Berkman, who toppled Liberal National frontbencher Scott Emerson to win the seat of Maiwar last year.
“The Queensland government component of the National Redress Scheme will commence in the next few months, but disappointingly Queensland Labor is yet to commit to these crucial changes.
“This Bill is now urgent. These changes need to be made immediately after two years of inaction since the most recent Government issues paper.”
Mr Berkman is the sole Greens MP in the state’s 93-member, unicameral parliament. He will therefore need support from the Labor government to have the legislation passed.
“Justice for survivors of abuse is above politics, and I’d encourage the Government and Opposition to do the right thing and work with me on these amendments,” he said.
Queensland Child Sexual Abuse Legislative Reform Council spokesman Kelvin Johnston praised the draft law as “a great step for making those vicariously liable for abuse accountable”.
“It’s very significant because it allows for civil actions of survivors to be put on a level playing field with the institutions that it’s had to fight so hard with,” he said.
“If the institution says it has no money, it lets the trusts be looked at.”
Mr Johnston said the bill would allow survivors to seek civil compensation for both sexual abuse and psychological abuse.
“This is our third attempt to try to get this happening in Queensland,” he said.
Attorney-General Yvette D’Ath’s spokeswoman said Mr Berkman “made no attempt to raise these issues with the Attorney-General prior to bringing this bill”.
“The government is currently consulting with stakeholders on draft legislative amendments to address these issues, which is the proper course to take,” she said.