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Limitation of Actions (Child Sexual Abuse) Amendment Bill

Introduction and First Reading

The Hon. J.A. DARLEY (20:55): Obtained leave and introduced a bill for an act to amend the Limitations of Actions Act 1936. Read a first time.

Second Reading

The Hon. J.A. DARLEY (20:56): I move: That this bill be now read a second time.

I am pleased to rise to present this bill on behalf of Advance SA. This bill will amend the Limitations of Actions Act to remove the statute of limitations for civil claims relating to child sexual abuse. I understand the member for Bragg has introduced a similar bill in the other place; however, it is worth noting that this bill goes further. The member for Bragg's bill removes the statute of limitations only for claims of child sexual abuse that were committed in a government institution. This bill goes further and removes the statute of limitations from all claims of child sexual abuse, regardless of where it is committed. This was a recommendation of the federal Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.

In 2016 the royal commission produced the Redress and Civil Litigation Report. The commission made a number of recommendations, including that all states should remove the statute of limitations for civil claims against child sexual abuse claims where the child was in institutional care. I quote:

"Recommendation 85. State and territory governments should introduce legislation to remove any limitation period that applies to a claim for damages brought by a person where that claim is founded on the personal injury of the person resulting from sexual abuse of the person in an institutional context and the person is or was a child".

While the recommendation is limited to child sexual abuse committed in institutions, the report also says:

"While our recommendations relate to institutional child sexual abuse, we have no objection to state and territory governments providing for wider changes".

I cannot see a reason why the statute of limitation should be removed for some victims of child sexual abuse and not others.

When sexual abuse is perpetrated against a child the abuser often manipulates the child to ensure their silence. They threaten that something bad will happen to them or their family or they prey upon the playful innocence of a child by presenting the abuse as a secret game. This abuse has a long-term effect that often extends well into adulthood. Children are often not competent enough to report these matters to other adults for fear that they will not be believed—after all, who would believe a child over the word of an adult?

This is what they are told, and it is their truth. Once it gets to the stage where a child or young person realises that what is happening to them is not acceptable, they are essentially having their truth completely perverted. What they thought was right is now wrong, and what is wrong is actually right.

To undo years of psychological manipulation is very difficult. Therefore, a lot of cases of child sexual abuse are not reported until many years later, far beyond the current statute of limitations. The statutory limitation period for criminal prosecutions has been removed; however, there is still a time limit for personal injury claims. This limit is three years. However, I understand the limitation period does not begin until the child turns 18, which effectively means that a person has until they turn 21 before the statute of limitation runs out. I will read a quote from the royal commissioner's report as to why a statute of limitations is inappropriate when applied to child sexual abuse claims:

"…the delay in a survivor's capacity to report child sexual abuse, particularly when it occurs in an institutional context, is now well known. Many survivors are unable to disclose their abuse until well into adulthood. Analysis of our early private sessions revealed that, on average, it took survivors 22 years to disclose the abuse. Men took longer than women to disclose the abuse. These delays are not surprising. It is common for survivors who were abused in an institutional context to tell us that they were unable to report the criminal acts of a person who had authority over them. Their compromised psychological position often means they wrongly blame themselves for the abuse and are grossly embarrassed and ashamed, all of which make it difficult for them to tell anyone about the abuse for many years".

Whilst I acknowledge that the courts have a discretion to grant an extension, the royal commission found that the mere idea of the limitation is often obstacle enough to dissuade a claim. I quote:

"[Survivors] have told us that limitation periods are a significant, sometimes insurmountable, barrier to survivors pursuing civil litigation…

They create the risk of lengthy litigation—sometimes years of litigation—about whether or not the claim can be brought. This involves substantial legal costs without any consideration of the merits of the case. Many survivors and survivor advocacy and support groups have told us that this risk is enough to prevent many survivors from commencing civil litigation".

There has been very little done to address this by the state government, and Advance SA believes this is unacceptable. The government have not opted into the national redress scheme that would allow victims of child sexual abuse access to compensation, instead referring people to make a claim from the Victims of Crime Fund. This in itself is problematic as any claims are dependent upon the police prosecuting the matter and attaining a successful conviction. If there is no conviction, it is up to the abused person to prove to the government that the offence occurred beyond reasonable doubt.

I understand that New South Wales, Queensland and Victoria have already removed the statute of limitations for civil claims and that Western Australia is looking into it. There has been no movement in South Australia and it is about time that this is done. Advance SA wants to provide justice for child sexual abuse victims, and I commend the bill to members.

Debate adjourned on motion of Hon. J.S.L. Dawkins.