All Australian states are being urged to change laws preventing the Catholic Church from being sued and to consider a compensation fund for victims of child sex abuse.
A peak legal group says every government should implement a Victorian inquiry’s recommended reforms to make the Catholic Church immediately liable for child sex abuse.
The church itself is leading a call for the establishment of a national compensation scheme, which it will partially fund.
The parliamentary report, tabled on Wednesday, made a number of recommendations, including a call to remove the barriers that prevent victims from suing the Catholic Church.
Australian Lawyers Alliance (ALA) spokesman Andrew Morrison said there had been enough delays.
“The ALA calls upon state governments to urgently legislate in respect of the legal status of the Catholic Church to make it liable to apply its vast resources to compensate past and present victims,” Dr Morrison said.
Echoing the calls of advocacy groups, he said the states and territories should not wait for the findings of the national royal commission, which could take five years.
The Catholic Church’s Truth, Justice and Healing Council said all governments should start working on a national approach to compensation and justice.
The council’s CEO Francis Sullivan said a national compensation fund would be an important first step, taking the role of investigating complaints and determining compensation away from institutions.
“The fact the Victorian inquiry has called for a state scheme and the possibility that the royal commission may recommend a national scheme should be enough for all governments to now start considering adopting a national approach to all key issues associated with child sexual abuse and child protection,” Mr Sullivan said.
Victims groups outside Victoria have praised the report, with a NSW group describing it as a “dream come true”.
Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) spokesperson Nicky Davis, from NSW, said implementing the recommendations would encourage more people to report abuse.
NSW Premier Barry O’Farrell said he would consider enacting legislation similar to the recommendations.
“If other states have legislation that can prove just as worthwhile and effective in NSW we’re always happy to look at them,” Mr O’Farrell told ABC Radio.
Dr Morrison warned a national approach could slow the process and said the legal status of churches was a matter for the states.
“Every state and territory is going to have to legislate anyway,” he said.
Prime Minister Tony Abbott said the Catholic Church was not the only institution that had not handled the issue of child sex abuse well. “I understand that these things probably did happen, but I suspect it wasn’t just the (Catholic) church that didn’t handle these things well,” Mr Abbott said.