Readers of the BLOG will be aware that the Joint Select Committee (JSC) was established in September 2019 to inquire into and report on:
- the Australian Government policy, program and legal response to the redress related recommendations of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, including the establishment and operation of the National Redress Scheme( NRS) and ongoing support of survivors
- any matter in relation to the Royal Commission’s redress related recommendations referred to the committee by a resolution of either House of the Parliament.
The JSC has now issued its first Interim Report on the Implementation of the NRS which was released on the 3rd May, 2020.
With the Second Anniversary Review of the NRS set to commence prior to 1 July 2020, the JSC thought that it was important to produce an Interim Report to highlight priority issues and inform the direction of this review.
The report includes 14 recommendations concerning the implementation of the Scheme.
- The JSC recommended that the NRS make a more concerted effort to engage with survivors and survivor groups.
- When establishing the second anniversary review mechanism it is recommended that the Minister for Social Services, ensure that the reviewer should be a reputable person familiar with the operation of other redress schemes in the Australian and/or international context and the review should include survivors or their representatives as members of the review panel.
- In order to improve transparency for survivors the JSC said that each applicant should be provided with an individualised application flowchart which maps out next steps and approximate timeframes, to keep survivors and their nominees better informed about the progress of their application, the Assessment Framework Policy Guidelines should be published and the NRS should establish a direct complaint avenue for survivors, their nominees, and advocates.
- The JSC recommended the removal of the requirement for a Statutory Declaration to accompany each application for redress, as is currently required under section 19, 2 (d) of the National Redress Scheme for Institutional Child Sexual Abuse Act 2018.
- An amendment to the indexation of prior payments was also suggested, so that indexation is applied up until the date an application is submitted, rather than the date of payment offer.
- The JSC said that the second anniversary review should examine the following areas for reform as a high priority:-
- The provision of additional information in the final determination and offer provided to a survivor;
- The appropriateness of the requirement for survivors to sign a deed of release when accepting redress payments, restricting any future compensation claim through civil courts;
- The appropriateness of indexing prior payments; and
- Finally the appropriateness of the current cap and matrix for calculating redress payments.
- The JSC goes on to say that the second anniversary review should examine the following areas for reform as a high priority:-
- Increasing access to counselling and psychological care services, including specialist financial counselling, for survivors who intend to apply for the scheme, and throughout the application process;
- Expanding the provision of out-of-hours support and counselling services;
- Expanding the provision of culturally sensitive services;
- Removing any caps or limits on counselling and psychological care services for survivors.
- The JSC recommended that the second anniversary review examine options to facilitate and better support survivors to seek a direct personal response as a high priority.
- It also recommended that the second anniversary review of the NRS should examine the reasons for the relatively low rate of applications for redress.
- In advance of 30 June 2020 which is the deadline for institutions to join the NRS the JSC advised that the NRS obtain a written statement from each institution which has not yet joined the NRS, but has been named in applications, detailing their intention and timeline for joining the National Redress Scheme.
- The JSC say that the Minister for Social Services convene the Ministers’ Redress Scheme Governance Board by 30 June 2020 to review decisions given by institutions declining to join the NRS and to determine and advise what initiatives will be undertaken by the relevant Commonwealth, state, and territory governments to remove their charitable status and/or other concessions or sources of public funding.
- The JSC also recommended that the Redress Scheme Governance Board expand the circumstances in which the funder of last resort provision applies so that the relevant participating jurisdiction/s act as the funder of last resort where:
- the institution responsible for the abuse is now a defunct institution; and
- the defunct institution would not have fallen under the operations of an existing institution.
- The JSC advised that the NRS closely monitor its operations during the COVID-19 pandemic to ensure that the NRS is as responsive as possible to the increased levels of anxiety, and the more limited access to counselling and psychological care services that is available to survivors.
- The JSC recommended that the second anniversary review investigate the appropriateness of the use of advance payments for survivors who are especially vulnerable as a high priority.
The JSC says that “Every effort must now be placed on meeting the expectations set by the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse and then by the official Apology, so that more timely justice can be delivered for survivors and their families.”
The Australian Government has responded to the report saying that is it considering the recommendations.
Written by Sharon Moohan at BLM