Historical Abuse: MSD secrecy over historical abuse claims

Recent documents show the categories the Ministry of Social of Development is using to provide settlements for ...
FAIRFAX

Recent documents show the categories the Ministry of Social of Development is using to provide settlements for historical abuse, but the ministry is refusing to release the details within the categories.

The Ministry of Social Development is refusing to reveal how it is assessing the claims of victims of historic abuse. 

It's also not allowing independent moderation of its assessments, prompting concerns victims are not getting a fair deal. 

The ministry is partway through a two-path process to settle the claims of more than 900 victims, who suffered abuse while in state care between the 1940s and 1993. 

The accelerated pathway allows for claims to be either assessed against set criteria to determine the level of settlement in line with the abuse, or claimants can try their luck in the courts. 

Cabinet documents obtained show a backlog of 921 historic claims has built up. The Government is aiming to settle them by 2020.

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Official documents released to lawyer Sonja Cooper, who was representing more than 500 claimants, showed the "risk of client frustration" prompted the development of an accelerated process based on categories of abuse. 

The categories determine the level of compensation victims get, and when developing them MSD carried out initial negotiations with Cooper.

They range from Category 1 claimants receiving $42,500, for suffering "serious abuse with distinguishing characteristics", to category five claimants receiving $5000 for "failures not leading to abuse". 

But the ministry's chief legal advisor Rupert Ablett-Hampson would not release the finalised details, saying it could lead to the identification of victims who might publicise that they had received settlements within a particular bracket. 

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"In particular, claimants may have put the amount they were offered and/or received from the Ministry into the public arena without anticipating the public release of information such as the category descriptions..." 

He said the ministry had a "duty to the people" not to make them feel re-victimised. 

Cooper said from their negotiations, the higher categories (from $30,000 up) were for clients who had been seriously sexually and/or physically abused.

MSD was pushing however, for physical abuse to be at a level requiring hospitalisation – "something we argued against as many were not given any treatment by those in whose care they were placed", Cooper said.

"The highest category required prolonged abuse of that nature, whereas the third category required only a few incidents of that kind.

"Less serious sexual abuse was covered by category four, along with what MSD defined as less serious physical assaults by staff."

Cooper said it was unclear whether any sexual assaults by others in care were covered - one of a number of concerns that could not be alleviated unless the ministry released the category details. 

The documents also outlined the process by which the ministry intended to "moderate" the claims. 

Ministry officials advised Social Development Minister Anne Tolley that settlements had to be in line with payments that had been made in the past, to be fair. 

But Cooper said she could only interpret that as meaning "MSD will have to artificially deflate the categories of many of the claims to fit within the model of payments for past claimants". 

It made a "mockery of the process" that the ministry was assessing abuse for which its own carers were responsible for, with no outside input.

"It is worse than the old process in many ways, as parts of the claim (like practice failures) will not be taken into account at all, and MSD will arbitrarily slot a claim into a category, based on what previous claimants have received, while all the time purporting to make payments on the basis of accepting what the claimant has said occurred to them in care."

 - Stuff

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