Debates Day 4 - Tuesday 9 May 2017
Parliamentary Record 5
Debates for 13th Assembly 2016 - 2018; ParliamentNT; Parliamentary Record; 13th Assembly 2016 - 2020
pp 1623 to 1686
Made available by the Legislative Assembly of the Northern Territory
Legislative Assembly of the Northern Territory
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Legislative Assembly of the Northern Territory
DEBATES Tuesday 9 May 2017 1633 Ms NELSON (Katherine): Madam Speaker, I also support the legislative changes that will ensure those who abuse Northern Territory children cannot run out the clock on answering for their heinous crimes in a civil court. Since the national Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse was launched in 2013 I, like most people, have watched in horror as the extent of systemic abuse was relived by witnesses, often decades after the fact. In many cases child abuse survivors have been unable to seek reparations for the physical and psychological pain they have suffered because they spoke out too long after statutes of limitation had passed. With the changes proposed in the Limitation Amendment (Child Abuse) Bill, this government will remove the limitation period in which civil action must be taken against offenders and, in doing so, provide a pathway for some of the most vulnerable Territorians to redress wrongdoings that have caused lifelong hurt. Currently the Limitation Act provides that an action founded in tortthat is, a civil wrong that causes unfair loss or harmmust commence within three years from the date the action transpired. For minors the threeyear limitation period begins when they turn 18, irrespective of what age they were when the child abuse took place. I believe such a time frame is manifestly inadequate and fails to take into account that the mental and emotional effects of such treatment, which can become life sentences, often take many years for a victim to fully acknowledge and understand. If it takes someone who has spent a lifetime coming to terms with the damage caused by those who perpetrated the abuse, are we not causing additional suffering by placing a finite time period in which they have to seek civil atonement? It is mindboggling. In fact, the Royal Commissions 2015 Redress and Civil Litigation report poses a similar question in regard to whether a limitation period was fair and in the spirit of ensuring a carriage of justice. In the report the six commissioners noted: Our case studies and private sessions to date leave us in no doubt that many people, while children, were injured by being subjected to child sexual abuse in institutions or in connection with institutions. In some cases, their injuries are severe and long lasting. People can be affected by these injuries for the rest of their lives. Because of the nature and impact of the abuse they suffered, many victims of child sexual abuse have not had the opportunity to seek compensation for their injuries that many Australians generally can take for granted. Of the reports 99 recommendations, three pertained to the time frames victims should have to commence civil litigation. The commission proposes state and territory government ensure the limitation period is removed with retrospective effect, regardless of whether a claim was subject to a limitation period in the past. To date, Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria have scrapped the limitations periods in their respective legislation, while the ACT has enacted legislation removing it specific to child sexual abuse that occurred in an institution. It is our turn to stand up, take action and prevent the passage of time stopping those who suffered the most abhorrent abuse as children from seeking restitution. The amendments proposed in the bill we are debating in this Chamber today do not differentiate between abuse that took place in an institution or another setting, and cover that of a sexual, serious physical or psychological nature. This is in line with legislation adopted in New South Wales and Victoria and recognises that any of the abuse I referred to can have a traumatic and far-reaching impact to those on the receiving end of it. With this bill anyone in the NT under the age of 18 who was abused sexually, severely physically or who suffers psychological damage as a result of the aforementioned acts no longer has a ticking clock adding to the angst of holding the offender accountable for their actions. It is a perspective supported by the Royal Commission, which stated in its 2015 report: There is now clear evidence that it is likely to take many survivors years, even decades, to disclose their experience of sexual abuse as a child.
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