30 June 2021: Kruk Review into the National Redress Scheme
The Federal Government has responded to the final report of the second year review into the National Redress Scheme (NRS). The review’s recommendations were published in March 2021 and related to the second year review from June 2020 noting that the scheme commenced in July of 2018.
In agreeing to implement or prioritise 25 of the 38 recommendations, the Government has by and large cherry picked the easy stuff including that survivors have input into the operation of the scheme and into the improvement of services for survivors, reviewing the policy guidances etc. In actuality supporting these recommendations does not require any commitment to change.
The big ticket recommendations which would make a real difference to survivors now include reviewing whether survivors can make more than a single application, amending the eligibility criteria to include non citizens and prisoners, removing the sole requirement for the existence of penetrative sexual abuse for the extreme circumstances payment and a minimum base payment of $10,000 to be made to all eligible applicants even where there is a relevant prior payment which under the current scheme arrangements would mean there is no further entitlement. These recommendations have been noted but are not supported by the Government.
Other recommendations which would provide clarity for survivors and their advocates which include publishing the Assessment Framework Policy Guidelines, allowing for the provision of additional information as part of any internal review and requiring that on review the original determination would not be reduced were also noted by the Government but not supported. Clarity fand certainty for survivors would make a big difference.
Positive changes include that the Government supports are funder of last resort arrangements being extended so that even if an organisation is defunct or has no capacity to pay, the Government will step in as funders of last resort, even if there is no link to a Government organisation which was equally responsible which is currently the case. The Government also supports reviewing the policy guidance regarding child sex abuse in “medical” settings eg invasive vaginal examinations which many clients have told us constituted digital rape but the scheme has by and large accepted the lie that these were justified medical examinations. Government support for advance payments of $10,000 to claimants born before 1944, or 1964 for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, is also welcomed.
There were also a raft of recommendations about supporting the NRS staff in doing their difficult job. The Government supported all of the recommendations for the support of NRS staff bar increasing its cap on average staffing levels in the NRS.
We are now three years into the NRS scheme and nearly 6,000 claims have been processed but we know that the scheme is still taking too long to process claims and that elderly claimants are dying. We also know that payments are being accepted by vulnerable claimants who do not fully understand the implications of finalising their rights and sometimes accepting minimal compensation under the Scheme when they could have much better prospects at common law. There is a concern that the advance payments, whilst welcome, may trap vulnerable claimants into finalising their rights for very modest sums under the NRS. At all stages, claimants should be encouraged to seek legal advice from the Knowmore Legal Service and/or to seek advice from specialist abuse lawyers before any redress offer is accepted.
By Angela Sdrinis