Humanity and legal responsibilities

The Australian Lawyers Alliance (ALA) is calling on the federal government to draw knowledge from Ireland’s victim restitution methods of 2009 when it comes time to consider how best to help compensate Australian institutional abuse victims as part of the Federal Royal Commission just announced. 

A lengthy report detailing sexual, physical and emotional abuse during a 70-year period from the 1930s to 1990s was released in May 2009. It included evidence from 2000 witnesses and resulted in Cardinal Sean Brady expressing remorse on behalf of the Catholic Church, as well as a shared commitment from 18 implicated institutions to increase their compensation funds through the sale of assets to better financially compensate those abused while in their care. 

The Federal government announcement is the first step on the road to long-awaited justice for victims. A well-considered path must be trodden by the government from the outset to minimise suffering, ensure true healing for victims and allow for adequate compensation. 

Comprehensive Terms of Reference, effective information gathering and sharing, along with cohesion between opposing political forces in the various states and federal governments, is crucial for success. 

To date Victoria, South Australia, and just recently NSW, have had, or announced intentions to hold, separate inquiries – two of which are likely to run simultaneously to the Federal Royal Commission. 

As part of an inquiry in my own state of South Australia, a total of 826 allegations were made against 922 perpetrators. 

Justice Mulligan, at the time, made 54 recommendations including the need for a charter of rights to protect children and young people, yet the need for a federal protective instrument continues to be ignored despite all evidence suggesting its value. 

The ALA is not trying to jump ahead on the issue, but consideration and planning needs to be undertaken to reduce the psychological trauma for those involved in reliving such horrific experiences. 

The initial phase is naturally all about fact finding and setting up well-defined Terms Of Reference, but beyond that phase, authorities need to consider how those institutionally abused are properly compensated and psychologically assisted. 

The failure of those in such trusted positions of authority to follow both their legal responsibilities, as well as basic humanity towards children abused so horrifically, is hard to comprehend. 

As a society we now must group together and support those that have suffered and try to reduce the longevity and intensity of the pain likely to come with reliving atrocious crimes perpetrated against them as children. We then must ensure processes are put in place to prevent such events from ever occurring again.

TONY KERIN

NATIONAL PRESIDENT

AUSTRALIAN LAWYERS ALLIANCE

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