The Salvation Army had no procedures or policies to deal with allegations of child sexual abuse when it started to receive a growing volume of claims in the 1990s, a royal commission has heard.
The situation was “all new to the organisation”, the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sex Abuse was told in Adelaide on Tuesday.
“Remember, we didn’t really know how to handle this,” former Salvation Army employee relations director Graham Sapwell said.
The commission heard how the army first sought legal advice in 1994 but did not take action to put a policy in place until 1997.
Mr Sapwell rejected suggestions the delay was inappropriate, instead describing it as fortuitous.
He said during that period claims were dealt with on a case-by-case basis and were resolved without litigation.
The royal commission is examining the abuse of children in four Salvation Army homes, at Eden Park in Adelaide, at Box Hill and Bayswater in Melbourne and at Nedlands in Perth from 1940 to the 1980s.
Various former residents have told of the abuse they suffered over long periods of time with the average payment in settled claims being $44,000.
However, the army said it would provide immediate top-up payments to victims if an internal review found their initial settlements were unfair.
Senior army official Commissioner Floyd Tidd said those payments would not have to wait until the introduction of any national or state-based redress scheme for victims.
The internal review is looking at 418 settlements made between 1996 and 2014 and is expected to be complete by the end of 2015.
“If as a result of the review any claims are identified that were not assessed fairly and consistently, the Salvation Army will reopen those claims including making top-up payments in the interim period,” Commissioner Tidd said on Tuesday.
But he said if claims were found to have been assessed fairly and consistently they would not be reopened ahead of the introduction of a national redress scheme.
Such a scheme, that provides equal access and equal treatment for survivors regardless of where they were abused and the institution involved, has been recommended by the royal commission but the federal government is yet to respond.