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Families are waiting to find out whether their children will be removed. People in jail are waiting to find out whether they’ll be found guilty of a crime. Couples are waiting to find out when they’ll be reunited.

COVID-19 has caused a huge backlog in hospitals, courts and government departments, and it’s estimated it will take more than a year for some to clear. Crikey breaks down some of the biggest delays.

Anti-corruption and royal commissions

The legislation was ready to go before the pandemic, but introducing a federal anti-corruption body to parliament has taken 11 months. The framework was finally detailed this week.

Meanwhile, the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety will deliver its final report in February, three months later than scheduled. The Royal Commission into Violence, Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation of People with Disability has asked for an extension until September 2023.

Courts

The Federal Circuit Court, which hears most family law disputes, has a massive backlog of cases with lists overloaded because of limited face-to-face hearings and retired judges not being replaced.

This has led to delays in decisions about child removal, family contact, placement and reunification. Some parents have been told their cases will be heard before Christmas only if they fall into the most urgent categories, including child safety and homelessness.

Jury trials have also been affected. In Victoria, the trials of up to 1000 accused people have been delayed. They are expected to start again from mid-November with virtually selected jurors and social distancing.

NSW had a three-month freeze on jury trials — criminal trials restarted in June. Judges estimated it would take about a year to get their caseload back under control.

Visas

Visa applications have been delayed as the Department of Home Affairs struggles to get supplementary information such as health and character checks from international departments.

By September 30 it had 163,874 applications for Australian citizenship.

Partner, student and skilled nominated visas have been worst affected. Nearly 100,000 Australians are in the queue for partner visa grants, which generally take two years to process.

Clinical trials

The National Health and Medical Research Centre (NHMRC) has delayed several grants for clinical trials and studies after the pandemic due to increased workload on researchers and healthcare workers.

The results of a government study on per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) has also been delayed until mid next year. There are concerns the chemicals — which are used in some fire fighting foams and are found in products used in the metal plating industry, aviation and photography — are toxic, carcinogenic and don’t break down when released into the environment. The results of the study were supposed to be released by the end of 2020.

Cancer screening

Breast cancer screening tests dropped significantly from March to June. Between January and June, there were more than 145,000 fewer screening mammograms conducted by BreastScreen Australia than that same period in 2018.

BreastScreen Australia operates in specialised facilities and suspended its services from late March to early May because of COVID restrictions.

Elective surgery

Elective surgeries were one of the first things to be suspended in every state as governments prepared for a potential influx of coronavirus patients.

In September, New South Wales had a waiting list of more than 100,000 which will take at least six months to clear. By June in Victoria, waiting lists had blown out by 40%.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey

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