Legislation to amend the Australian National Redress Scheme (NRS) was passed on 2 September 2021 and came into force on the 13 of September 2021.
The National Redress Scheme for Institutional Child Sexual Abuse Amendment Act 2021(the 2021 Act) implements the following recommendations of the final report of the second year review of the NRS by amending the National Redress Scheme for Institutional Child Sexual Abuse Act 2018 as follows:-
- provide for advance payments of AUS$10 000 to elderly or terminally ill applicants, or where there are other exceptional circumstances for particularly vulnerable people
- change the date for which the indexation of relevant prior payments is calculated
- extend the acceptance period of a redress offer after it has expired and provide for the period within which to seek a review to be aligned with any extension to the acceptance period
- remove the requirement for an application to include a statutory declaration, and
- provide for redress payments and counselling and psychological care payments to be made in instalments rather than as a lump sum, if requested by an applicant.
In the course of having the legislation passed into law the Federal Minister for Education and Youth Alan Tudge said that “There is a risk that survivors may pass away before receiving their redress outcome and any acknowledgement of the abuse they experienced as children. The purpose of the advance payment is to provide these applicants with a form of recognition for their abuse early on in the redress application process”. Many who practice in this area and specifically in the area of redress for survivors of non-recent allegations of child sexual abuse were surprised that such allowances were not made when the NRS was established, as the greater majority of the survivors applying for redress will be elderly and often unwell and similar provisions had been made in other modern national redress schemes from the outset.
Prior to the enactment of the 2021 Act if an applicant had not accepted an offer of redress or requested an extension within the six-month acceptance period, the offer was taken to have been rejected. The second year review noted that this time limit restricted access to redress for survivors. The 2021 Act introduces the ability for the NRS to extend the acceptance period after their six-month acceptance period has expired, where needed to ensure the scheme meets the needs of the survivors.
The need for survivors to make a statutory declaration as part of the formal application to the NRS for redress has always been controversial in Australia. Survivors were of the view that it placed an onerous burden on vulnerable survivors and questioned the integrity of their application. There was also a sense that it was deterring people from applying for the redress that they were entitled to under the terms of the NRS. This has now been removed.
It is hoped that the 2021 Act will make it easier for those who are entitled to redress to access it and it is further proof if needed, that for redress schemes, national and otherwise to be successful they must remain open to change and be flexible so that they serve the needs of the survivors, which must always remain at the centre of the process.