Child sexual abuse survivors promised less traumatic route to compensation

By political reporter Matthew Doran

Posted Wed 3 May 2023 at 10:34pmWednesday 3 May 2023 at 10:34pm

The silhouette of a child sitting on a bed with an adult sitting alongside them.
The federal government acknowledges it has taken longer than expected to carefully consider all review recommendations and their implications.(ABC News)

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Survivors of horrific child sexual abuse are being promised an easier and less traumatic route to getting compensation, while some people currently in jail will soon be allowed access to financial support.

Key points:

  • The federal government wholly or partially supports 34 of 38 recommendations to improve the way the National Redress Scheme operates
  • An earlier review found it was an overly complicated process which regularly caused distress for victims
  • The government says more than $1 billion has been paid in redress payments since 2018

The federal government has released its response to a review of the National Redress Scheme for people who experienced institutional child sexual abuse, wholly or partially supporting 34 of 38 recommendations to improve the way it operates.

The review, led by former senior public servant Robyn Kruk, echoed the sentiments of many who had made applications for redress over the course of its existence – that it was an overly complicated process which regularly caused distress for victims forced to recount their experiences in terrible graphic detail.

Survivors and advocates have complained the scheme is a bureaucratic nightmare, and there is a lack of consistency in judging claims for redress and providing payments.

Amanda Rishworth wearing a pink blazer and white blouse, looking to the right
Amanda Rishworth says the government is forging ahead with improvements to the National Redress Scheme.(ABC News: Ian Cutmore)

The maximum amount of compensation remains at $150,000, with some critical that few applications are ever deemed to be worthy of such a payment.

Restrictions on some people serving jail terms from accessing the scheme will be eased, and the eligibility rules for people with criminal records will be tweaked.

Abuse victims convicted for serious offences, such as murder or sexual assault, will still have to go through a separate application process “to ensure public confidence in the Scheme is maintained”.

“Better targeting would see fewer survivors undergo the special assessment process before a decision on their eligibility for redress is made, which is currently leading to unnecessary delays in survivors accessing their redress outcome,” the response stated.

Greater guidance will be given to staff at the scheme on how to assess child sexual abuse stemming from medical procedures, after concerns some claims were dismissed because the abuse was dressed up as legitimate treatment for health conditions.

But the federal government has rejected calls to remove references to “penetrative sexual abuse” when making calls on the severity of claims.

“Making broad changes to the Assessment Framework at this point in the Scheme would constitute a fundamental change to the Scheme’s design and operation, risking the viability of institutional participation which is essential for survivors being able to access redress,” the report said.

“Such major changes would also introduce complex issues of equity and re-traumatisation risks, noting the Scheme has issued over 12,000 outcomes to redress applicants.”

It has also refused to make the framework public, because it said there was a “risk of re-traumatising survivors because of the necessarily descriptive content”.

Eligibility to apply for redress will be extended to former child migrants, who are not Australian citizens or permanent residents.

No ‘faceless’ staff

Extra staff hired to clear backlog in child sexual abuse redress scheme

The scheme has been widely criticised for being painstakingly slow and re-traumatising for those forced to relive their abuse.

A shot of a busy Melbourne street with pedestrians in front of a tram.

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The names of senior officials involved in considering redress claims are now provided to applicants when their case is finalised, to allay concerns from some abuse survivors their cases are being considered by “faceless” staff.

A proposal to change the way redress claims are considered – that a “reasonable likelihood” abuse occurred be enough to prove a claim – has also been rejected by the government.

Extra support services for survivors, and for staff poring over the details of their abuse, will also be provided.

The response argued the legislation is already prescriptive in the way claims should be judged.

“While it has taken longer than expected to carefully consider all Review recommendations and their implications, we have still been forging ahead with improvements,” Social Services Minister Amanda Rishworth said.

“The Government’s main concern is the wellbeing of survivors, and ensuring the Redress process is as smooth as possible.”

The cost of the changes remains unclear, with the details to be revealed in next Tuesday’s budget.

Other recommendations from the review have already been acted on.

They include the proposal for advance payments of $10,000 to be made to Indigenous applicants and people making claims who are terminally ill, and changes to the indexation rules for payments.

The minister said more than $1 billion had been paid in redress payments since 2018, and that more than 600 institutions have signed up to the national redress scheme.

Posted 3 May 2023


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