On 28 April, the Australian Government announced that all state and territory governments, institutions named in the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse or in an application received by the National Redress Scheme (NRS) must provide a clear written statement setting out their intention to join the NRS by no later than 30 June 2020. These institutions will be expected to join the NRS as soon as possible, but no later than 31 December 2020.
Under the original provisions of the NRS, state and territory governments and institutions who wished to join the NRS had to do so no later than 30 June 2020.
The new arrangements and associated extension of time now being allowed is indicative of the considerable time needed to complete the on-boarding process and recognises the changed capacity of many institutions due to COVID-19.
In making the announcement the Australian Government made it clear that they consider it unacceptable for institutions that have the capacity to join the NRS not to do so. It says that there are no excuses for institutions who have known for many months that they have been named in a redress application but have refused to join.
If institutions fail to indicate their intention to join the NRS by 30 June 2020 they will be publicly identified by the NRS and jurisdictions will consider other appropriate action that can be taken against the institutions. This will include financial sanctions applied by state, territory or Commonwealth governments, and changes to an organisation’s charitable status. The Australian Government says that the naming of institutions is necessary to ensure that people wanting to access the NRS know the status of relevant institutions.
In addition, institutions that are already participating in the NRS will be allowed to add additional institutions to their participating groups after the 30 June 2020 deadline.
While these new measures are being presented as a means of ensuring as many survivors of institutional child sexual abuse as possible will have access to redress beyond 30 June 2020, there can be little doubt that they are also a clear attempt by the Australian Government to bring significant pressure to bear on those institutions that have failed to join the NRS to date and to hold them to account.
At the time of making this announcement the NRS also provided an update on the progress of applications as of 27 March 2020.
As of 27 March 2020, the Scheme:
- had received 6,540 applications
- had made 1,883 decisions, including 1,533 payments totaling over AUS$123.3 million, the average payment s AUS$80,460
- had made 305 offers of redress, which applicants have six months to consider
- was processing 3,883 applications
- had 869 applications on hold, including 528 because one or more institution named had not yet joined, and about 341 because they required additional information from the applicant.
Sharon Moohan, Partner, BLM