In November 2023, the Australian Minister for Social Services, introduced the National Redress Scheme for Institutional Child Sexual Abuse Amendment Bill 2023 into Parliament in Australia. If passed, this Bill will implement outstanding measures from the Australian Government’s response to the Final Report of the Second Year Review of the National Redress Scheme, which was published in June 2021.

The Bill proposes key changes to improve the Australian National Redress Scheme (the NRS) by:

  • enabling applicants to provide additional information when requesting a review of a redress determination.
  • reducing the circumstances where applicants need to undertake the special assessment process (the NRS has a special assessment process for people with serious criminal convictions. A person has a serious criminal conviction if they have been sentenced to imprisonment for five years or longer for an offence against a law of the Commonwealth, a State, a Territory or a foreign country). However, the NRS have confirmed that this process will remain for what is described as “particularly serious offences (such as homicide and sexual offences) or where there may be a risk to the integrity of the scheme”.
  • allowing for the reassessment of finalised applications, if a relevant institution later joins the NRS.
  • removing restrictions that prevent incarcerated survivors from lodging an application.

The Bill is also expected to provide for more transparent and streamlined practices through changes to protected information provisions and improve technical aspects of funder of last resort provisions.

November 2023 also saw the introduction of changes to eligibility for former Child Migrants from the United Kingdom and Malta. As of 29 November 2023, some former child migrants are now eligible to apply to the NRS. You can now apply if you are a former child migrant who:

  • is not currently an Australian citizen or permanent resident,
  • was sent to Australia from the United Kingdom or Malta prior to 1984,
  • arrived in Australia without a parent or guardian, and
  • were made a ward of the state.

The NRS has also introduced a new application form and application guidebook, from December 2023. The NRS says that modifications and improvements to the application form were developed in consultation with survivors and support services to try and limit any distress caused to them by applying to the NRS and to simplify the application process. The NRS confirmed that it will continue to accept applications submitted on previous versions of the form where they are completed and signed correctly.

As of December 2023, there have been 34,582 applications to the Scheme. Of the total number of applications received:

  • 14,674 have been finalised (determined as either eligible or ineligible, with offers of Redress either accepted or declined);
  • 13,846 payments have been made totalling approximately AUS$1.232 billion dollars (this makes the average award of redress being paid out by the NRS just shy of AUS$89,000);
  • 1,312 have been withdrawn by the applicant.

18,596 applications are on hand with the NRS, of which: -

  • 1,064 are with applicants, awaiting a decision on their offer of Redress;
  • 1,075 are with institutions, awaiting a response to a Request for Information;
  • 5,214 are on hold (for different reasons, such as at the request of the applicant, where further information has been requested from the applicant, where there is difficulty contacting the applicant or due to a non-participating institution);
  • 11,243 are in progress with the Scheme, of which: - 
    • 8,991 are being actioned;
    • 2,252 are temporarily unable to be actioned (for reasons such as awaiting contact from the applicant, or awaiting extra information).

The NRS is now in operation for just over five years of its proposed 10-year term. The above changes together with other changes made earlier last year, which simplified the online application process and removed the need for the application to be accompanied by a statutory declaration, have had the effect of almost doubling the number of applications that are on hand with the NRS. Inevitably this has led to an increase in waiting and processing times for applicants to the NRS and despite appointing seven new independent decision makers last year, the Australian Government continues to face growing calls to provide for additional staff and more streamlined systems to prevent further delays in providing redress, to many who have been waiting decades to receive it.

It has also now been confirmed that all Australian Government institutions, state and territory government institutions are participating in the NRS as are 506 non-government institutions, and this means the NRS now covers approximately 70,000 sites across Australia. To date only 109 institutions have been dealt with under the Funder of Last Resort arrangements. As previously advised in earlier blogs on the Australian NRS, this means that the Australian Government and/or relevant state or territory governments have to step in as the Funder of Last Resort and pay the redress awarded under the NRS. 

However, this is an area where we could see developments in 2024, as the changes introduced in early 2023 to simplify the online application process and remove the need for an application to be supported by a statutory declaration has resulted in ACS Mutual announcing that, as from June 2023 it was no longer willing to participate in the NRS. ACS Mutual represented a number of institutions in the NRS including Australian Christian Churches, schools, ministries and missions, as participating groups or lone institutions. It is understood that ACS Mutual’s withdrawal of cover affected almost 1,000 churches covered by the NRS and there is still uncertainty as to whether these institutions will now continue to participate in the NRS.

The NRS has seen much change in the first five years of its existence. The Australian Government has shown a willingness to listen and proactively address the concerns of victims and survivors and criticism of the NRS processes and procedures generally. However, their biggest challenge now, will be to ensure that all the changes that they have recently introduced don’t further delay access to redress, both in terms of delays in processing the greater number of applications now being received and other insurers/institutions no longer being willing in participate in the NRS and the uncertainty that would bring.