Minister Rishworth interview on ABC Radio National Drive with Andy Park


Topics: National Redress Scheme

ANDY PARK, HOST: Five years since the National Redress Scheme was launched, the backlog of claims for survivors of child sex abuse has grown significantly. There's more than 8000 applicants waiting to be processed. That's almost double what was reported in January. Now the Federal Government is introducing amendments into Parliament in a bid to make the scheme more accessible and transparent. Amanda Rishworth is the Federal Minister for Social Services. She joins me from Canberra. Minister, welcome to you.

AMANDA RISHWORTH: Great to be with you.

ANDY PARK: What do you see as the number one problem with the redress scheme as it stands now? What are the holes in this scheme?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: Firstly, I would say that the redress scheme has provided significant financial support to many survivors of child sex abuse. It's paid out about $1.2 billion, but the Second Year Review provided some really important recommendations about how we can improve the scheme. And so the legislation we introduced today did a couple of things. It allowed for people to provide more information without the fear of having the amount they've been awarded marked down. So, that's a really important change that was made in legislation today. It also allowed prisoners to apply for redress before they are released. So, these are just two measures that were put into the Bill, including providing survivors more transparency about the stage in the application that an institution might be signing up to. So, the legislation is some of our response to continuing to improve the scheme. But there were also other recommendations that didn't need legislation and we've been progressively working through those pieces of work to make sure that this scheme is improving and delivering, importantly, redress to those survivors of child sexual abuse.

ANDY PARK: During a Senate inquiry last year, we heard a number of organisations were still yet to formally join the scheme, despite saying that they intended to. Where is this at?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: There's a number of organisations that haven't joined the scheme. The Commonwealth is not in a position to compel organisations to join the scheme. There was a lot of focus, for example, on Gymnastics Australia. They've now joined the scheme and so I think that is an important step. There are a number of organisations that are beginning to join the scheme and what the bill before us actually provides us is some transparency to survivors about where organisations are in their joining of the scheme.

ANDY PARK: The figure of applicants that are currently being processed is 8235. That's compared to 4196 in January. I want to know from you why there is this sharp increase and also the staffing levels to address it. It was announced under the Coalition government that extra staff would be hired to clear the backlog that was threatening to sort of buckle this programme. Has there been any new staff to deal with this increase?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: Unfortunately, the Coalition did not appropriately budget for the Redress scheme. What we saw when we came to Government is the immediate need, and so we, in our October Budget, put an immediate $15 million for more staff to support the scheme. But then in our most recent Budget, we've provided a significant investment, $142.2 million to support the scheme. There's been an increase in applications to the scheme, particularly now that people can apply online and also be able to no longer need a statutory declaration. So, there's been an increase in applications, which is a good thing, because we want to make sure that those people do get redress. Through the scheme and through our first two budgets, we've made a significant investment, but we've also been investing in the Redress Support Services. These are really important third party services that can help an individual through the process of redress, which can be really confronting and often, sometimes the first time a person has ever disclosed. And so supporting those redress services as well has been a critical investment that we've made in our last two Budgets.

ANDY PARK: In fact, some survivors describe the redress process as doubling their trauma. And with the added aggravation of long wait times or more and more people in the processing list, how confident are you that these amendments will make the process less traumatic for survivors?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: We want this process to certainly not add to the trauma of people. We know when survivors of institutionalised child sex abuse seek redress, it can be sometimes the first time they've ever spoken about it, and that is really difficult. But the scheme has adopted trauma-informed principles to ensure that there isn't undue pressure and traumatisation on people. And it's certainly, when you look at the other options of civil litigation, redress is hopefully a much easier process to go through. But we are always looking at ways that we can improve the scheme. We have a survivors’ regular engagement – a survivors’ roundtable – in which we continue to seek to get support. And, as I said, we've made a significant investment for the Redress Support Services and also in the number of staff in the scheme to process applications. But this can be a really difficult process for someone. And in addition to, obviously, the redress payment, the other forms of redress that are available to people are a direct personal apology and counselling that can be available. So, it is important that we continue to work through and make sure the scheme is delivering for those survivors that have bravely applied to the scheme for assistance.

ANDY PARK: Amanda Rishworth is the Federal Minister for Social Services. Minister, thanks for your time this afternoon.