Labor pledges extra $15m to child abuse redress scheme as backlog grows

Social services minister Amanda Rishworth says funding will boost staff levels to cope with influx of claims from survivors

The federal government will inject $15m into the child abuse redress scheme to help it cope with a growing backlog of claims, which has more than doubled in two years.

Guardian Australia revealed on Friday that the scheme was struggling to deal with a huge influx of claims from survivors of institutional child sexual abuse this year.

The monthly volume of claims received by the scheme had shot up to about 710 a month this year, well above the 300-odd claims a month in 2020 and 2021, according to a Guardian analysis of government data.

The number of decisions being made by the scheme has not kept up with the increased demand, contributing to a growing backlog of claims up 265% in two years. The scheme was still processing 8,443 claims as of late August, the latest data available, up from 3,187 in September 2020.

On Tuesday, the social services minister, Amanda Rishworth, announced $15m to ensure the scheme was adequately staffed. The funding, she said, would help to reduce delay and address the “significant increase in applications” received since the second half of last year.

“No one should have to wait any longer than necessary to gain both emotional and practical support and full resolution of a claim,” Rishworth said in a statement.

“The former government was not committed to resourcing this scheme and did not give victim-survivors or this scheme the attention it deserved.”

The redress scheme was a key recommendation of the child abuse royal commission. The aim was to create a less onerous avenue to compensation and apology than the courts.

But an independent review of the scheme last year warned it needed a “significant and urgent reset” to ensure it was a “survivor-centred, humane, and less onerous option than civil action”, as intended by the royal commission.

Last month, the Guardian revealed that the last government had failed to issue a final response to the review’s recommendations, breaking its own promise to do so by “early 2022”. That was despite pleas for urgency from the reviewer, respected public servant Robyn Kruk, who said: “The window for making meaningful changes to the scheme is now extremely limited.”

Rishworth plans to respond to the review’s 38 recommendations in full in early 2023. Some of the reforms require the agreement of state and territory governments.

Some of Kruk’s recommendations have been acted on in the interim, including the use of advance payments to older and terminally ill survivors.

Federal and state ministers agreed last month to set up a survivors roundtable that will be enshrined into the redress scheme’s governance arrangements, a move designed to make the scheme more survivor-centred and compassionate.


Christopher Knaus

The GuardianTramp

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