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WA joins National Redress Scheme as Turnbull prepares apology

Turnbull has pledged priority for child sex abuse survivors as Western Australia joins other states to commit to the scheme

Western Australia is the last state to join the National Redress Scheme aimed at covering more than 90 per cent of eligible child sex abuse survivors.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull announced that WA Premier, Mark McGowan, has given a firm commitment that the state will join the scheme. The state will sign up to the scheme in the next few months and, pending Senate hearings, it will begin July 1.

“This means, come 1 July, we will have a truly national redress scheme with more than 90 per cent of survivors estimated to be covered,” Turnbull said.

Turnbull is promising the country will be putting child safety first as he prepares for a national apology to survivors on October 22 for the “shocking” crimes against them. The apology will be issued during National Children’s Week.

A national office of child safety will also be set up and a nationwide study conducted to determine where abuse is happening in order to prevent it in future.

“The survivors have told their stories, many of them for the first time. They have been heard, and they have been believed, many of them for the first and only time,” Turnbull said. “Now that we’ve uncovered the shocking truth, we must do everything in our power to honour the bravery of the thousands of people who came forward.”

Social Services Minister Dan Tehan said the scheme is estimated to cover 93 per cent of survivors, although more non-government institutions are expected to join it. The Catholic, Anglican and Uniting churches, Salvation Army, Scouts and YMCA have already committed to joining the national scheme.

The state and territory governments are now working on strategies for how to address the issue following a recommendation by the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.

The Commission recommended the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference ask the Vatican to reform church law by removing provisions that “hinder or discourage compliance with mandatory reporting laws by bishops or religious superiors”.

The government has not rejected any of the Royal Commission’s recommendations. Turnbull said he accepts 104 of 122 recommendations directed at the Australian government. The other 18 will need more work across all governments.

“It revealed that for too long the reporting of this abuse was met with indifference and denial by the very adults and institutions who were supposed to protect them.

“Children’s safety should always be put first and we know thanks to the royal commission’s work, in far, far too many cases it wasn’t,” Turnbull said.

Attorney-General Christian Porter said the states and territories, which had responsibility for mandatory reporting laws and systems, currently dealt with priests in different ways, adding: “The process will be that the states have agreed to harmonise their laws, so in effect to accept the recommendation of the royal commission.”

The recommendation questioned the federal government on how state laws interacted with section 127 of the Commonwealth Uniform Evidence Act, which covers religious confessions. Porter said it provides a protection to confessional, “but ever since that provision has existed that protection has never been absolute.

“It’s always been very heavily qualified by the fact that confessions made for a criminal purpose have never been the subject of a protection or a privilege.”

Federal minister David Gillespie has been given responsibility for children’s policy issues and the Home Affairs Department will maintain a national “working with children checks” database.

State and territory governments are cooperating on another recommendation from the inquiry, dealing with religious confessions and their interaction with legal system.

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