Advocating for improvements to the National Redress Scheme for survivors

In September 2019, federal parliament created the Joint Select Committee (JSC) on Implementation of the National Redress Scheme (NRS) to examine how well the Scheme is working, including how it supports survivors. knowmore has contributed to the committee’s inquiry by speaking at a public hearing on April 6 and making a written submission.

For many of our clients the ability to obtain redress through the NRS is life-changing. However, the current design and implementation of the Scheme prevents it from delivering access to justice and redress for all survivors in the manner that was envisaged by the Royal Commission.

We reiterated to the JSC that the recommendations of the previous Joint Select Committee, published in April 2019, should be implemented as a matter of priority. We also proposed improvements to the NRS to ensure that it delivers three essential elements recommended by the Royal Commission: equal access to justice for all survivors of institutional child sexual abuse; equal and fair treatment of survivors throughout the redress process; and survivor-focused and trauma-informed redress.

Our recommendations included the following:

  1. Urgent action should be taken to ensure the participation of institutions that are yet to join the Scheme, including by reviewing government funding for these institutions and suspending their tax concessions and charitable status if necessary.
  2. The NRS should reduce its assessment timeframes and provide more information to survivors about the assessment process, including average processing timeframes for each stage.
  3. The NRS should improve fairness and consistency in the assessment of applications, particularly in terms of what is and isn’t being regarded as sexual abuse and the assessment of relevant prior payments.
  4. The NRS should ensure that all communication with survivors is trauma-informed and survivor-focused. All survivors should receive regular and meaningful updates about the status of their application.
  5. The NRS should improve its capacity to ensure that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander survivors can engage with the Scheme in a manner that is culturally safe and appropriate.
  6. The NRS should ensure greater transparency and accountability in its operations and decision-making, including by clearly communicating the grounds on which determinations are made and giving adequate written reasons for their decision. The NRS should also address gaps in its publicly available data.
  7. No classes of survivors should be excluded from access to redress.
  8. Counselling and psychological care under the NRS should be available, accessible and high quality while also being survivor-focused and trauma-informed.
  9. All survivors should have access to specialist financial counselling services to ensure that their redress payments are not at risk.
  10. The exploitative practices of some law firms and ‘survivor advocacy’ firms should be addressed to protect survivors and to uphold the integrity of the NRS.
  11. The NRS should ensure that there is greater protection of a survivor’s personal information once it is disclosed to the institution.
  12. Existing requirements regarding statutory declarations should urgently be removed to ensure that survivors can safely access redress in the current environment.

The JSC released its first interim report on May 1. The purpose of this report was to summarise the evidence received by the committee so far and to inform the direction of the second anniversary review of the NRS, due to commence after June 30. Many of the concerns and recommendations raised by knowmore have been identified as high-priority areas for reform by the JSC.

The JSC is expected to release its final report in May 2022. Read knowmore’s Submission to the Joint Select Committee on Implementation of the National Redress Scheme.