It is often said that if you want the truth, follow the money. Doing that with the National Redress Scheme reveals the real focus.
Did you know the politicians voted for the National Redress Scheme without knowing how the payments to victims were going to be calculated?
Did you know that the 15 member Advisory Council didn’t know that either? And many of those members are the heads of victims’ advocacy groups, all funded by the government to look after the interests of survivors? Can you believe that?
We are told that the method of calculating payments, called the matrix, was kept a secret by the Department of Social Services until after all the State Governments and churches agreed to get on board.
The matrix is designed to limit payments to survivors, keeping the cost of the scheme as low as possible. That’s in the interest of everyone except the survivors. Everyone who is on the gravy train, that is.
Under the matrix, if people don’t experience penetrative abuse, they aren’t considered to have experienced abuse in ‘extreme circumstances’ even if their abuse was ‘particularly severe’ (i.e. committed over a long period, or having seriously disabling impact on them, or being particularly cruel or high handed). That means that victims who suffered non-penetrative abuse are locked out of the $50,000 payment for abuse in ‘extreme circumstances’.
In fact, the best that a person who suffers non-penetrative abuse can achieve is $50,000 plus $2,500 for counselling.
But more revealing of the focus of the National Redress Scheme is that the majority of the calculation method is focused on the institutions:
- Was there more than one set of abuse?
- Which institutions were primarily or equally responsible for each set of abuse?
- What share does each institution have to pay for their share of each set of abuse?
- Which of those institutions is a participating institution?
And then there are the deductions for past payments (a small point, but still telling of whose interest were given the most thought in this scheme).
- The National Redress Scheme requires that inflation be taken into account when working out the amount of any deductions for past payments, but it doesn’t provide for the maximum redress to be increased each year to account for inflation.
- So every year that goes by, the value of the maximum redress awardable drops (i.e. $150,000 in 2020 doesn’t buy as much as it does in 2018), and the institutions benefit from the annual increase in the size of the deduction they get for any past payments they made to the victim.
Because the National Redress Scheme caps redress on a per person, rather than a per set-of-abuse basis, the method for dividing up the share of redress between each participating institution can get extremely complicated (to the point where it really has to be done by a computer to avoid errors) if there is more than one set of abuse and there are a number of responsible institutions involved.
The assessment matrix that Kelso Lawyers proposed to Senator Hinch’s Joint-Select Committee did allow different amounts for penetrative and non-penetrative abuse, but the ultimate difference would have been about $50,000, not $100,000. It is a challenging balance to strike when drawing up an assessment method for an abuse compensation scheme as the same flexibility that assessors can use to award more when it is fair can also be used by them to award less due to their biases, prejudices, and pressure from the institutions.
The underlying vulnerability of the National Redress Scheme in its design and its future is the fear that institutions will just pull out if they don’t like the decisions that assessors make.
If the government is unwilling to use its leverage (government grants, tax exemptions) then whatever good intentions remain in the National Redress Scheme will in practice be eroded by these pressures over the next 10 years.
I say scrap the matrix, use the model recommended by the Royal Commission and increase the cap to $200,000. If the institutions opt out then tax the churches and pull their funding.
Image: Investment Collective