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Vic institutions accountable for abuse

AAP logoAAP 22/11/2016 Megan Neil

Organisations in Victoria will have to prove they took reasonable steps to protect children under their care from abuse in a move that will make it easier for victims to sue institutions for damages.

Victoria is the first state to introduce laws creating a duty of care for organisations so they can be held accountable for the abuse of children.

The onus of proof will be reversed so organisations have to prove they took reasonable precautions to prevent the abuse from happening, Victorian Attorney-General Martin Pakula said.

"We're strengthening our laws to better protect children and ensure that organisations can be held to account in the future, and we are continuing to work on a redress scheme for victims of historical child sexual abuse," he said in a statement.

A Victorian inquiry recommended laws be changed to ensure organisations are held accountable and have a legal duty to take reasonable care to prevent abuse.

The child abuse royal commission has also said the onus of proof should be reversed so institutions are liable for child sexual abuse by their members or employees unless the organisation proves it took reasonable steps to prevent abuse.

As recommended, the reverse onus of proof will not be retrospective.

Maurice Blackburn Lawyers principal Dimi Ioannou called on other states to enact the laws, saying it was hoped the changes aimed at preventing abuse would also help improve the process in future for survivors seeking compensation.

"This is an important step towards ensuring that institutions take greater responsibility in the future not only for the prevention of abuse, but also in acknowledging what has taken place and responding appropriately and more fairly - something that has let survivors down in the past," Ms Ioannou said.

"It is a critical step in providing greater access to justice by ensuring that institutions can no longer rely on the defence that they had no prior knowledge this was occurring on their watch."

Mr Pakula has also accused the federal government of "dragging its heels" on implementing a national redress scheme, saying it had not responded to Victoria's request for further details about the Commonwealth proposal announced earlier this month.

Victoria has been working on its own redress scheme for victims of institutional child sex abuse but maintains a national model is the preferred option.

The new Victorian abuse laws, introduced into state parliament on Tuesday, are expected to come into effect in July 2017.

The legislation applies to all religious institutions, community organisations, childcare facilities and government bodies that care for or supervise children, and are capable of being sued.

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