Whitlam MP Stephen Jones has spoken in support of the government’s scheme to compensate victims of child sexual abuse in Australian institutions.
However, in a speech to parliament also highlighting the systemic problems within Wollongong’s Catholic church and detailing his own time being taught by abusers at Edmund Rice College, Mr Jones said the redress scheme did not go far enough.
The national scheme is based on recommendations from the Royal Commission. It is due to start in July and will provide victims with monetary payment, access to counselling and the opportunity to receive an apology from the institution responsible for the abuse.
Mr Jones said this was a good start, but said more work needed to be done, especially as the scheme only kicks in if churches and institutions agree to participate.
“We compound the injustice visited upon the survivors if we think that this bill is the complete answer to decades of abuse,” he said.
He said it should not be limited to only victims who are Australian citizens, as there were many child migrants who suffered abuse in institutions, and believed a cap of $150,000 – less than that recommended by the Commission – was “mean spirited”.
While the redress scheme will apply to abuse survivors across many institutions, Mr Jones highlighted the wide-reaching problems in the Catholic church, once again detailing his time as a student at Wollongong’s Edmund Rice – a “dumping ground for sex offenders” in the 1970s and 80s.
“My years at Edmund Rice College in Wollongong during the late 1970s and early 1980s were mostly happy,” he said.
“There was a darker side. We now know that there were many instances where Brothers were moved from other schools in Sydney after complaints and allegations of child sexual abuse.”
For instance, he spoke of Brother Chris Roberts, who has pleaded guilty to 11 counts of abuse, and was moved to Edmund Rice after abusing boys at two other Catholic schools.
“He was but one of a community of sex offenders which included my principal, my form master, my parish priest and too many of the Brothers who taught at my school,” Mr Jones said.
“Many, many more were complicit in a culture of silence and cover-up.
“The impact it had on boys at my school cannot be underestimated, nor can the impact of denial and cover-ups that accompanied the original crimes and allowed them to be repeated.”
Mr Jones said parliament should push for broad reforms within the Catholic church and other institutions, highlighting how enforced celibacy for priests and the seal of the confessional helped foster a culture of abuse and secrecy.
Also on Thursday, Gilmore MP Ann Sudmalis spoke on the redress scheme, saying it would provide money and other support to victims of institutional child sexual abuse, in an effort to “begin the healing process”.
She said the commonwealth scheme would provide redress for a significant number of survivors, including 9000 from within NSW institutions, 1000 in the commonwealth and another 5000 from within Victoria.
If other jurisdictions sign up, she said the scheme could provide redress to 60,000 survivors.