The Australian National Redress Scheme (NRS) commenced on the 1st July, 2018.
On the first anniversary of the NRS its work can be summarised as follows:
- The NRS has received over 4,100 applications
- 229 Redress payments have been made
- In addition, 85 offers have been made. (Applicants have six months to consider an offer)
- The average Redress payment is around $83,000.00
- The NRS has answered more than 40,000 phone calls and its website has had over 877,000 page views.
However, even the NRS accepts that is still has much to do to ensure it can support individuals while providing the Redress as quickly as possible.
Readers of our blog will be aware that in a blog published on 8 April, 2019 we addressed the 29 recommendations made by the Joint Select Committee on oversight of the implementation of redress related recommendations of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, who concluded that the NRS was struggling to deliver on one of its principal objectives, to provide justice to survivors of child sexual abuse
Lawyers for survivors argue the framework for assessing redress used by the NRS has created a hierarchy of abuse and failed to recognise the impact on victims. The only survivors eligible for the maximum AUS$150,000 payment are those whose abuse involved penetration, and even then there has to be additional “extreme circumstances”. This is an age old problem in former international redress schemes, in assessing redress what weight do you give to the abuse as against the impact of that abuse? There is no right or wrong answer however, the experience to date has been that no matter what approach is adopted it rarely meets the varying and individual needs of the survivors.
The newly appointed Australian Minister for Social Services Anne Ruston said the government is committed to improving the NRS and ensuring as many survivors as possible feel confident to apply to the NRS. She has advised that the joint select committee’s recommendations would require legislative change and the full co-operation of the states and territories. If this is indeed the case, it is difficult to see how these recommendations will be actioned in a timely fashion. Minister Ruston also said that “…there is no guarantee that all or any of the recommendations will be accepted,”
The NRS has stated that it is committed to working to enhance its operations, to improve processing times and reduce the impact on the people who are applying.
Knowmore (who have been appointed to provide free legal advice to survivors who apply to the NRS) principal lawyer Prue Gregory said the NRS has been the right option for the 4320 clients who have availed of its legal services to access the NRS. She accepts that others will opt for the traditional route of seeking compensation through civil claims before the Courts. Ms Gregory rightly notes that “For many it is going to be the only option because they are too fragile in terms of their mental health and the detail that’s required for civil litigation is far more intense than it’s going to be for the redress scheme.”
While this is indeed the case, in the final analysis the success of the NRS will be largely judged on whether it provided a real and credible alternative for survivors to access justice, as the principal reason for establishing the NRS in the first place was to provide survivors with an alternative to civil litigation which can be hugely damaging for them.
Written by BLM’s Sharon Moohan