On 29 November 2019, the Australian Minister for Families and Social Services, Senator the Hon Anne Ruston, hosted the Ministers Redress Scheme Governance Board, which is a meeting of the relevant Ministers with responsibility for the National Redress Scheme (NRS) in their state or territory.
Those in attendance noted that while redress has been paid to several hundred survivors to date (975 as of 03/01/2020) the administration of the NRS is not providing the fast, simple and trauma-informed response survivors deserve.
Ministers have made a further commitment to make every effort to improve the experience for survivors and to ensure that as many survivors of institutional child sexual abuse as possible have access to redress.
It was also noted that all state and territory governments and 70 non-government organisations are now participating in the NRS which now covers more than 41,900 sites, such as churches, schools, children’s homes, charities and community groups across Australia.
There was a sense of disappointment that not all institutions with redress liability have sought to join the NRS but it was agreed by all jurisdictions that they will now consider the use of all available levers to encourage non-participating institutions to join the NRS as a matter of urgency. Such action is necessary as currently there are 557 applications for redress on hold because one or more institutions named in the application have not yet joined the NRS.
While there have been some improvements in the rate of processing applications for redress the Ministers agreed that the NRS needs to continue to improve and expedite the finalisation of applications to reduce the impact on applicants. The Commonwealth and jurisdictions will develop a reporting framework that sets out appropriate time frames for finalising applications.
In circumstances where the NRS is open since the 1 July, 2018, will remain open for 10 years and is expected to deal with over 60,000 applications, it must be source of great concern to all involved that in the first 18 months the NRS has only paid out redress to 975 survivors, just over 1.5 % of the total number of expected applications.
Additional Commonwealth Funding to the tune of AUS$11.7 has been provided in an effort to help improve the NRS’s operations and support for survivors.
Initiatives have also been agreed to better support and engage with survivors and reduce the number of different people with whom a survivor has to deal while their application is being processed and engaging more decision makers to finalise applications as quickly as possible.
The Ministers’ are also keen for greater accountability to promote and ensure survivors and public confidence in the NRS and also that the transparency of the operations of the NRS must improve.
The success or failure of any modern redress scheme will largely be assessed on how simple it is to apply to the scheme, how quickly the redress is paid out and making sure the additional supports being made available to survivors are easily accessible.
Those operating redress schemes must communicate openly and transparently with all the stakeholders at all times and must be flexible enough to see what is not working and what is and to make the necessary changes and/or improvements.
It seems that in Australia this lesson is now being learned.
Statistics for the Australian NRS as of 03/01/2020.
Written by Sharon Moohan at BLM