It’s now been nine months and it is time to make the call. The National Redress Scheme is a dismal failure.
The scheme, established in the wake of the Royal Commission into Responses to Institutional Child Sex Abuse, is not a failure driven by good intentions gone awry.
It is a policy disaster bearing the predictable design failures where the best advice has been ignored in favour of vested interests.
In its report, the Royal Commission’s recommendations included free counselling for the life of the victim, with the victim having the ability to seek services from the counsellor of their choice, the provision for counselling services for family members and the limit of visits extended to a victim under a Medicare health plan (where visits are bulk-billed) removed.
The cap on payouts has been reduced from the $200,000 recommended by the Royal Commission to $150,000 under the NRS. The Royal Commission suggested a matrix be used to determine the amount of compensation which recognised the extent of injury, harm and trauma suffered by the victim. The NRS does not use a matrix and makes its determinations in secret.
The Royal Commission wanted the NRS’s processes in determining compensation to be transparent. Instead, any disclosure of the NRS’s decision-making processes can lead to a criminal conviction and a maximum two-year’s imprisonment.
That is an appalling list. A catalogue of bureaucratic deceit.
The application form for redress is a mind-numbing 44 pages of abstractions pock-marked with pointless street corner psychology. Victims completing the form invariably describe the experience as retraumatising. As painful as it is, it is only the start of the process.
It goes on into a secretive administrative labyrinth and is made even more incomprehensible should a victim be making multiple claims against multiple institutions, or even for something as simple as having moved interstate since the abuse occurred.
For example, let’s take a victim of institutional sexual abuse who was once a ward of the state. That person may have a claim against a state government, and then a religious organisation who ran a facility under the state’s imprimatur. The claim may involve more than one institution if the former ward shanghaied around the system, was abused in an orphanage or home run by one institution then passed on to another where the abuse continued.
In the former ward’s case, the process will require assessment by each of the institutions’ insurers and if the victim has moved state, the office of the Attorney-General in the state where the abuse occurred and the office of the Attorney-General in the state where the victim now lives, will both have to sign off on the claim.
These circumstances are not uncommon. I know of cases where the victim is claiming against three institutions that necessarily requires the involvement of two states. As the victim clambers through each hoop, the wait grows longer.
The delays can be interminable if one or more of the institutions in question have yet to sign on to the National Redress Scheme. They have been given until 2020 to do so. Many guilty institutions have dragged their feet. Some will never sign up.
Victims have died waiting and many more will do so.
Anyone who has followed federal politics in the last three years will know that the federal government is not working. The National Redress Scheme is the policy child of the Turnbull government: an error-prone government mired in internecine feuds. Since August last year, the Morrison government has been in almost permanent campaign mode.
Guilty institutions, including state governments, have been able to lobby the federal government to reduce their liability and reduce their ongoing exposure to their insurers. Insurers, too, had the ear of the bureaucracy and the government.
The only people who did not have access and who were unable to press their case were the victims themselves.
But even if the federal government was distracted, obsessing over its own fate, it had the benefit of a Royal Commission’s recommendations to act on. Indeed, the Turnbull government promised it would act on all the Royal Commission’s recommendations and published a report accepting those that fell under its jurisdiction.
That can now be shown to be a proven lie. What we are left with is an ugly hybrid of those recommendations, manipulated in favour of the guilty.
After watching this shambles roll out, my first thought was victims should ignore the NRS entirely and litigate in the courts. In the US, claims against the Catholic Church by victims of clerical child sex abuse averages out at around $1 million per claimant.
The primary purpose of the National Redress Scheme was to prevent our courts being choked with litigated claims. But litigated claims are costly and the process a form of punishment for victims.
There may be as many as 60,000 claimants, although under the dismal NRS, victims are being deterred from coming forward. These people are you and me. They are us. And they are being retraumatised and their lives put on hold again.
Governments across the country had the opportunity to get this right. They were not flying blind, grappling with uncertainties in virgin policy territory. They were shown the way forward. The fact that they have ignored the best advice and failed to deliver fundamentally decent outcomes should strike at the heart of public confidence in government in this country.
Ten years ago, governments could offer the not entirely satisfactory response that they did not know, or at least could not quantify the extent of the damage wrought on our society through institutional child sex abuse.
What excuse do they have now?