Jul 1, 2020

Government names institutions that did not sign up to National Redress Scheme for child sexual abuse victims

Social Services Minister Anne Ruston says she does not understand why institutions did not join.(ABC News: Nick Haggarty)
Matthew Doran
ABC News
July 1, 2020

Six institutions, including the Jehovah's Witnesses, have been publicly named by the Federal Government for failing to sign up to the National Redress Scheme for victims of institutional child sexual abuse.

Key points:
  • Organisations had until last night to join the program
  • The Government says those which did not sign up will no longer receive Commonwealth funding
  • 380 non-government institutions have signed up or intend to sign up to the scheme

But within hours of the Government following through with its threat to name recalcitrant organisations, the Australian Air League changed course and announced it would join the scheme.

Organisations had until last night to join the program, with the Commonwealth promising to not only reveal those which refused to take part, but also cut them off from future federal funding and consider ways to cut their charitable status.

The six institutions named this morning are Australian Air League, Boys' Brigade NSW, Fairbridge Restored Limited, Lakes Entrance Pony Club, Jehovah's Witnesses and Kenja Communications.

According to the Federal Government, 55 applications from victims of child sexual abuse could not be processed as a result of the six groups failing to sign up.

Social Services Minister Anne Ruston was scathing as she urged the organisations to think about the consequences of not joining.

"Think about the reputational damage by you saying, as an organisation, that despite having a history of working with children, despite having applications against your organisation for child sexual abuse, you still refuse to accept your moral obligation and responsibility to come forward and allow these people the small thing of a bit of redress and a small amount of money to acknowledge that they actually have had wrongs committed against them," she told the ABC's AM program.

"I don't understand how any organisation can take that kind of course of action, so I'll be calling on them to actually rethink their position."
Non-profit joins scheme hours after public naming

After the announcement, the Australian Air League, a not-for-profit organisation for children with an interest in aviation, initially held firm, saying it had already done work to manage claims internally and would not join the redress scheme.

But hours later, it issued a revised statement, saying it had submitted a letter of intent to join the scheme.

"Our members are the lifeblood of our organisation and throughout the day, we have received strong feedback from them and our wider community," the statement said.

"As a result, the Australian Air League has signed and submitted the letter of intent to join the National Redress Scheme.

"We did not take this decision lightly, however our members have made it clear they believe the best way for the Australian Air League to support victim survivors is through the National Redress Scheme. We thank all of our members for their feedback."

The Commonwealth and state and territory governments have all signed up to the scheme — covering any abuse that happened within their institutions.

In total, 224 non-government institutions have agreed to take part in the scheme, while another 156 have signalled their intention to join.

Jehovah's Witnesses argued it did not have the "institutional settings" needed to be covered by the National Redress Scheme.

"Jehovah's Witnesses understand that, to date, there have been less than 10 applicants to the redress scheme who have referred to the religion of Jehovah's Witnesses," the organisation's Tom Pecipajkovski told the ABC.

"Jehovah's Witnesses have responded and will continue to respond directly to individual claims for redress in a caring, fair, and principled manner, taking into consideration the unique circumstances of each claim.

"The religion of Jehovah's Witnesses also provides spiritual comfort and assistance to child abuse victims and their families."

Senator Ruston said it was not up to Jehovah's Witnesses or other organisations to decide whether their models suited the scheme or not.

"It's not up to you to make those decisions," she said.

"Let the independent scheme assess the validity of the arguments you're putting forward because they may well be correct but it's not for them to decide.

"We have applications and we have a responsibility to process them."

The Minister said in the future, if a new non-participating organisation was named in an application, it would have six months from when it was notified of the application to join the scheme, or be publicly named and be ineligible for Commonwealth funding.
Kenja Communications denies any abuse took place

Kenja Communications has denied accusations that it is a cult.

Its founder Ken Dyers took his own life in 2007 after being deemed unfit to stand trial over alleged child sex offences. Another complainant came forward shortly before his death.

The organisation had posted on its website in the days leading up to the deadline, saying it would not sign up.

"We deny that sexual abuse has ever taken place at this organisation," the organisation's co-founder Janice Hamilton said.

"We do not accept that there are genuine claims in this regard, and for that reason we do not propose to participate in The Scheme.

"We reject the claim that in the circumstances, our conduct is reprehensible. We consider we are acting appropriately and responsibly in our community obligations, and in a society based on the rule of law."


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