22 Mar 2023

Government insists abuse survivor redress a 'top priority' after officials suggested delay

7:04 am on 22 March 2023

Survivor communities want the redress work to continue at pace, with many older survivors concerned they may not receive any redress, a briefing to the new Minister says. (File pic) Photo:

Officials have suggested the government could delay setting up a new redress system for abuse survivors, as part of Prime Minister Chris Hipkins' policy purge.

But the new Minister for the Public Service Andrew Little says he has not sought advice on it, and the work remains a top priority.

The government committed to creating a new, independent redress system for survivors of abuse in state and faith-based care, following the release of the Royal Commission's interim report in 2021.

It promised to develop the scheme with survivors, Māori, Pacific peoples and disabled people.

Since entering office, Hipkins has asked all his ministers to look at their portfolios and find ways to free up money and time, to focus on matters like the cost of living crisis and recovering from Cyclone Gabrielle.

A briefing from the Crown Response to the Abuse in Care Inquiry to the new Minister for the Public Service, Andrew Little, explained the strategic issues he will have to consider in the short-term.

The first is addressing the pace for the development of the new redress system, which will address financial compensation for survivors; physical, emotional, and psychological rehabilitation; and accountability for those responsible.

High-level design process envisaged

A paper taken to Cabinet in December by Hipkins as Public Service minister proposed a high-level design process for the redress, involving a survivor-focused design group.

Hipkins said the Crown Response Unit (CRU) would need to develop the high-level design proposals by June 2023, and they would be considered by Cabinet by July. The CRU would then aim to implement the new redress system around mid-2024.

In his Cabinet Paper, Hipkins acknowledged "the timeframe is ambitious, but this reflects the urgent demand for action and our commitment to make change for survivors".

He intended to seek funding for the different workstreams within the redress work programme as part of Budget 2023, while full funding for the redress system would be sought as part of Budget 2024.

However, the Briefing to the Incoming Minister (BIM) Andrew Little, said deferring the process until after the election was an option, given Cabinet's likely focus on re-prioritisation this year.

"Decisions on high-level design proposals could, alternatively, be deferred for consideration by the next administration. This would create more time for the development and consideration of high-level design proposals and allow some of the Crown Response's forecast costs to be shifted into the next financial year," the BIM said.

But the briefing acknowledged the issues this strategy would create.

"Survivor communities are strongly vested in this work continuing to progress at pace, with many older survivors concerned that they may not receive redress. Delays to the design process could also cause distress for some survivors and attract significant negative comment from both survivors and advocates."

It also suggested design suggestions could be staggered, with some taken to Cabinet this term and others deferred for consideration by the next administration.

'High priority' - Little

RNZ asked Little whether he was considering the deferral option.

"The work on redress for survivors of abuse in care remains a high priority for government and is continuing at pace. The commission is yet to complete its full work programme," he said in a statement.

"I have not sought advice on re-prioritising the work, nor have I discussed this possibility with ministerial colleagues."

The BIM said the scale of the redress system was another strategic issue. The total lifetime cost could be between $160 million to $29 billion.

The briefing said there would be ways to manage the fiscal risks around the redress system, while still making it meaningful. But the rest of this section was redacted in the briefing released publicly.

It also told the minister he would be expected to respond promptly and positively to the Royal Commission's final report, and the Crown Response Unit was trying to get an indication of its high-level content as early as possible.

Other tasks awaiting the new minister include confirming the timing and approach for the public apology to survivors, which is expected to take two-to-three months. Approval of the final text of the apology is expected to take four-to-six months.

The government started a phased rollout of faster claim payments in mid-December, separate from the redress system.

The rapid payments, administered by the Ministry of Social Development, were prioritised for survivors who were seriously ill or unwell, aged over 70, or have waited the longest to get their claims considered.

"Rapid payments recognise the additional stress to abuse survivors from having to wait several years, in many cases, for their claims to be resolved," Hipkins said at the time.

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