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 1637 The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse has been harrowing at times. As someone who has followed the commission closely, I think it is important that this legislation supports the bravery of the people who have given their testimony. It has come at significant personal cost to people and has been a very difficult process. In this legislation we honour those people by learning the lessons of what they have put forward, and we are acting to honour their experience. Measures providing better support for victims of child abuse, in this case reducing current impediments to making legal claims for damages, are critical. I am strongly supportive of the bill. The work of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse has been farreaching and comprehensive, and it is encouraging that other jurisdictions such as NSW, Victoria and Queensland have enacted similar legislation to this bill to give effect to the Royal Commissions recommendations. I agree with the Member for Sanderson; this is about us making sure our legislation is contemporary and has a nation-wide response to the issue. I fully support the approach to this bill to consider child abuse to not only encompass sexual abuse, but serious physical abuse and psychological abuse that arises out of sexual or physical abuse. This is an acknowledgement that all abuse is, at its core, an abuse of power. One of the things the Royal Commission has given us is a new understanding of how to talk about that abuse of power and how it manifests, particularly in the systemic abuse in an institution that has power over children, and the links between sexual abuse and psychological abuse. That is an important part of the way we move forward. This bill also covers abuse whether or not it has occurred in an institution. This is only fair, for the effects of the abuse are not determined by where the abuse occurred. The current Limitation Act provides an action that must be commenced within three years from the date on which the cause of action first occurred. For minors this is when they reach the age of 18. I agree with the Member for Drysdale; three years after the age of 18 is not long. Twenty-one is still very young; it is when you are still processing those issues, particularly when child abuse triggers such deep-seated emotional and psychological responses. I imagine that very few children who have been abused would be in a personal position to take such action as children, or even in their early adult years. Removing the current limitation period in place under the Limitation Act provides a clear message to victims that as a government and a community we are aware of the real and debilitating difficulties they face in disclosing childhood abuse and seeking action. As a social worker who has practised for over 25 years, I have seen this time and time again; people will come to you for counselling on a specific issue and it is not long before you scratch the surface and find an underlying issue of childhood abuse. We cannot continue to underestimate the impact of this type of abuse on people. The impacts are far and wide. It is one of the most underdisclosed crimes in our community. Because it is so undisclosed, hidden, personal and so hard to speak about, we constantly underestimate the impact it has on so many people. We also cannot underestimate the courage it takes to stand up and talk about this. The importance of including psychological abuse in this bill, particularly when it is attached to long-term sexual abuse, is that often the most damaging part is the psychological abuse. It is the abuse of being told you will not be believed, because, I am a good bloke and everyone looks up to me. No one will believe you. You are the one who is doing the wrong thing. Those are messages that people internalise into adulthood. We cannot underestimate the courage it takes to stand up and tell a story when you still, in your heart, think people will not believe you. Part of this legislation is us, as a government, saying, We believe you, by having a process they can follow. Last Friday I was very pleased to be at the opening of the Alice Springs courthouse. It is a magnificent building. The workmanship that has gone into that building is extraordinary. I was sitting in the courthouse with a full court of Supreme Court judges. It is a very imposing place. It is a very difficult thing to go to court and talk in extremely intimate detail. We are asking a lot of victims when we do that, particularly when we have such low rates of conviction in sexual assault matters. The new court has facilities for vulnerable witnesses, which is really important. It is a difficult process that can be damaging if people are not ready to do it. By giving people the time to be fully ready, we acknowledge that. That is one of the important things about this legislation.
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