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Report targets better victim support

Statement on report

May 11, 2022

Tania MAXWELL (Northern Victoria) (17:16):

I rise to speak on the Legal and Social Issues Committee report on the inquiry into Victoria’s criminal justice system*.

With more than 50 per cent of people incarcerated in Victoria going on to re-offend and 6pc of offenders being responsible for more than 44pc of crimes reported to Victoria Police, there was a solid case for evaluating how we break the downward spiral of offending and try to limit the suffering of those who are victims and survivors.

In retrospect, given how broad this inquiry was, I probably would have preferred that the examination of the criminal justice system was separated into two parts: first, how we address serious and violent offending, and then a separate consideration of lower level offending.

In considering factors that increase the risk of engagement with the criminal justice system, the inquiry confirmed that adverse childhood experiences have a significant impact and that support for children and young people should be community led, place based and focused on education and employment.

How we implement early interventions and primary prevention strategies that address the root cause of offending, particularly where it relates to disadvantage, trauma, childhood neglect and family violence, is an ongoing challenge and a responsibility. This was strongly reflected in the report and is a key focus of the regular discussions I have with ministers about our justice system.

While the inquiry gave a general recommendation to raise the age of criminal responsibility, I acknowledge the answer the Attorney-General recently gave to a question in the chamber about this very matter.

I am very supportive of the Attorney’s response that the focus should be on holistic programs that stop children from being caught up in the justice system in the first place. How we support at-risk children and, importantly, their families with appropriate, trauma-informed services that are implemented early with intensity and consistency must be a priority.

This inquiry considered diversion programs and the important role they have to play in providing alternative pathways to prison whilst keeping our community safe.

Victoria Police issue around 130,000 cautions and diversions every year, and Drug Courts are another judicially-supervised pathway that is proving effective and worthy of expansion. There are various recommendations about data and the importance of evaluations and transparency. Some will be difficult to implement and require further unpacking with key stakeholders before progressing.

Three chapters of the inquiry report are dedicated to victims of crime, their experience and support. Some of the recommendations made by the inquiry have progressed quite recently, including a new financial assistance scheme, which will go a long way to assisting victims of crime, something I have been advocating for since my first day in Parliament.

While I made a deliberate decision not to submit a minority report, I will put on record my strong opposition to any watering down of practices or laws relating to high-risk offenders, or that may rush major law reform without evidence-based early interventions in place that are well-funded, evaluated and working.

This makes it clear that our justice system should ensure that presumptions against bail are targeted to serious offending and serious risk. It also recommends that any review of practices should take the views of victims and law enforcement into account. I will note that offences subject to strict circumstances in the granting of bail include serious charges such as murder, manslaughter, threats to kill, rape, incest, family violence, drug trafficking, home invasion and committing offences while on parole. These are not trivial offences, and they are certainly not victimless.

We cannot forget the six people killed and 30 injured at Bourke Street Mall (on January 20, 2017). We cannot forget the families who suffer after their loved ones have been killed by someone on parole or bail. This did not just happen once. It happened to Jill Meagher, to Karen Chetcuti, to Zoe Buttigieg, to Courtney Herron, to Masa Vukotic. Before the Coghlan review more than 20 Victorians were killed by serial offenders who should have been in jail—20 offenders.

With more than 800 pages and 100 recommendations there will continue to be much to say about the justice inquiry. I look forward to the government’s consideration of the recommendations made and the continued debate it will no doubt generate as we continue to endeavour to make our community safer.

* The report was tabled in the Legislative Council on February 24, 2022.

Tania Maxwell strengthens victim protections

Media statement

March 9, 2022

Derryn Hinch’s Justice Party late yesterday secured government agreement to extend protections for people harmed by crime from facing their offenders at Victims of Crime Assistance Tribunal hearings.

Member for Northern Victoria Tania Maxwell MP successfully amended the government’s omnibus workplace safety bill* in the Legislative Council to stop stalkers and people threatening serious injury or death from attending or being notified of tribunal proceedings.

“Where a victim seeks help on the path to recovery, the government rightly wanted to prohibit someone who has committed, or is accused of committing, family violence or abhorrent sexual offences from being given notice of the time and place where the hearing is to occur,” Ms Maxwell said.

“This is a welcome protection for victims, but in Derryn Hinch’s Justice Party we believed the changes should go further.

“Threatening to kill, do serious harm and stalking happen within the home and family relationships.

“But these horrific offences also occur beyond it – where people work, socialise and communicate – and they’re widely reported as being markers for future violence.

“Threat re-offending occurs at twice the rate for all offenders in Victoria, and there’s no substantial difference in re-offending rates between family situations and elsewhere.”

Ms Maxwell said a Victorian Law Reform Commission paper had reported almost 13,900 stalking offences recorded by Victoria Police, with stalking in the context of family violence occurring at only a slightly higher rate than in other situations.

“Similarly, in the eight years to December 2019, more than 66,000 threat offences were recorded by police in Victoria,” she said.

“Nearly two thirds of these were threats to kill and more than half were associated with family violence.

“That means a substantial proportion were unrelated to family violence, and I think we have a responsibility to provide protection and support for those victims in the same way that we protect victims of family violence.”

Ms Maxwell said threat offences cause immediate fear but also limit a victim’s freedom of choice.

“Someone who has a fixation on a person, perhaps without even knowing them personally, can wreak havoc in their victim’s life,” she said.

“An opportune offender can use the knowledge of their target’s VOCAT hearing to offend again – such as placing a tracking device on the victim or their vehicle.

“Simply being in the vicinity of the tribunal can become an act of intimidation, alone deterring a victim from even making an application for assistance.”

Ms Maxwell’s amendment was also supported by the opposition.

Comments attributable to Di McDonald, a victim-survivor of stalking whose offender was jailed in 2020 for eight months and given a two-year community corrections order:

Stalking appears to still be a forgotten crime. To be told by a magistrate at the Victims of Crime Assistance Tribunal to come back when you have a case is truly horrific. To read a victim impact statement in front of the offender is also horrific.

To have stalking and threats to kill and commit serious injury now recognised is a huge step forward. I still have not been recognised for the psychological injuries suffered from my offender seven years ago.

I listened to the debate throughout. It was such a high-five moment when the bill passed. As a result of these amendments, future victims will now have their voices heard.

A massive thank you to Tania Maxwell and everyone for their persistence in highlighting these insidious crimes.

ENDS

* Workplace Safety Legislation and Other Matters Amendment Bill 2021

Image: Herald Sun

Stronger victim protections become law

Motion

Tania MAXWELL (Northern Victoria) (16:18): 

I rise to speak on the Workplace Safety Legislation and Other Matters Amendment Bill 2021. This bill is another omnibus bill. It makes changes to eight different acts, including extending compensation provisions to allow those with serious silicosis to make a subsequent claim and extending weekly pensions to dependent children of deceased workers until they are 25 years of age if they have a disability or are a full-time student or apprentice.

The bill extends the presumptive cancer rights for firefighters to vehicle and equipment maintenance employees. This is something that we consulted widely on and considered extremely carefully. We understand this will affect around 100 workers, predominantly diesel mechanics or district mechanical officers. I sought clarity on the circumstances in which vehicles are repaired on a fireground and the circumstances in which a worker may be exposed. There have been, and still are, situations where these workers were undoubtedly exposed to cancer-causing chemicals and particles.

We recognise the quite unique exposure of firefighters to toxins that has elevated their risk of cancer and that these rights were long pursued and are very important to both career and volunteer firefighters. As I have mentioned before, I lost a dear friend before Christmas who was a longstanding member of the CFA and contracted cancer. He was very grateful for the presumptive rights that he was afforded.

There is some concern, particularly from the United Firefighters Union, that removing the term ‘firefighter’ and replacing it with ‘person’ broadens the scheme. They fear it will be diluted in the process, and I respect that concern. But we have considered that while diesel mechanics may not be in a consistent, active firefighting role, in attending a fireground they may experience exposure to a range of deadly chemicals and toxins. In how the presumptive rights are crafted there are requirements to qualify and rebuttal provisions. While we recognise that there may be very few mechanics that attend firegrounds, if they are exposed to fire and develop cancer, they should have presumptive rights to compensation. Let us hope they never have to use them.

Women firefighters have to date been too low in numbers for research to determine the risk of developing female-specific cancers from exposure to fire. However, I am continuing to pursue this with the government, as I strongly feel we should be taking a precautionary approach, a preventative approach, in the interests of fairness and equality and extend the schedule to include female-specific cancers. It would have been a very welcome announcement today, being International Women’s Day. I have undertaken consultation with members of the fire services, unions, volunteers and academics, and there is broad support for this precautionary principle to apply, and it is something I will continue to push for.

I turn now to another important aspect of the bill, which is an amendment to the Victims of Crime Assistance Act 1996. This bill will prohibit the tribunal giving notice of the time and place of a hearing to a person who committed or is alleged to have committed an act of family violence or certain sexual offences.

This is a welcome protection for victims, but we think it should go further, and I will be proposing amendments to extend this to offences of stalking, threats to kill and threats to inflict serious injury. I will be asking for those amendments to be circulated later as we head into the committee of the whole.

The serious offences of stalking or making threats to kill or threats to inflict serious injury can occur within the context of family violence, but they also exist outside of that context. The Victorian Law Reform Commission consultation paper on responses to stalking cited 13 872 offences recorded by police in Victoria, with stalking in the context of family violence reported at only a slightly higher rate than non-family violence stalking. It certainly shows the prevalence.

Similarly, in the eight years to 31 December 2019 more than 66 000 threat offences were recorded by police in Victoria. Nearly two-thirds of those threats were threats to kill, and more than half were associated with family violence. That leaves a substantial proportion that were unrelated to family violence, and we must provide protection and support for those victims in the same way that we protect victims of family violence.

Threat offences cause immediate fear but also limit victims’ freedom of choice. Someone who has a fixation on another, perhaps without even knowing them personally, can wreak havoc on the life of their victim, and we are all very familiar with the death of Celeste Manno.

An opportune offender can use the knowledge of a Victims of Crime Assistance Tribunal ((VOCAT) hearing to further offend, such as putting a tracking device on the victim. Simply being in the vicinity of the tribunal can be an act of intimidation. This alone could deter a victim from even making an application.

The new financial assistance scheme will not require tribunal hearings, which I think will be welcome for most victims, and will eliminate this issue. I will talk more about this amendment during the committee stage, but I hope that the chamber will support us in extending this provision a little further for very serious offences that are known to be markers for future violence and give important protection to victims.

There are other changes to acts in this bill that I will not refer to now and will leave for other speakers to address. I look forward to asking a few questions in the committee stage. I thank the house.

Amendments

Ms MAXWELL:

I move:

1. Clause 87, before line 11 insert—

“(aa) an offence against section 20, 21 or 21A of the Crimes Act 1958 or any corresponding previous enactment; or”.

We agree that alleged offenders of family violence or sexual offences should not be notified of or attend tribunal hearings relating to their victims. While there may be some loose argument that an offender may have some reputational interest in a victim’s assistance claim, it is an affront to the very notion of victim’s assistance that an offender is given the opportunity to be aware of a claim, let alone attend, listen or, even more strongly, participate.

The Victorian Law Reform Commission review into the Victims of Crime Assistance Act 1996 recommends that alleged offenders should not be notified of a victim’s hearing or be allowed to attend. It is our expectation that the new scheme will deliver on this. In the meantime the bill closes part of the loophole but still leaves a serious gap.

I know in the circumstances of Di McDonald the offender was notified of her interim claim and attended the court. Ms McDonald would refute that the offending was in the context of family violence. The offender wanted a relationship, but she did not. What could be described as some malicious mischief resulted in the magistrate denying her interim support and suggesting that she come back when she had a case. Ultimately the offences against Ms McDonald were proven beyond reasonable doubt and her offender received a substantial jail term, so her victim status is very clear.

Many threat and stalking offences do occur in the context of family violence, but around one-third of them do not. The devastating case of Celeste Manno is very clearly in my mind when thinking of the serious indicator that threat offences and stalking will lead to future violence. The reoffending rate for threat offences is double the rate for all offenders in Victoria, and there is no substantial difference in the reoffending rates between family violence and non-family violence offenders. One-third of victims of these serious offences will not be protected by this prohibition unless this amendment passes. It demonstrates the need for the new system to be expedited, but in the meantime we need to make the changes we can to improve safety and support for victims. On that basis I commend these amendments.

Craig ONDARCHIE (Northern Metropolitan):

The state Liberal-Nationals coalition will be supporting these amendments of Ms Maxwell today. Can I thank Ms Maxwell and Karen Rourke from her office for the very comprehensive amendment explainer that brought it to us. This is in some sense, with respect to Ms Maxwell’s explanation, a bit of a no-brainer. This amendment should carry forward as an improvement to this bill, and as a result we will be supporting it.

Ingrid STITT (Western Metropolitan—Minister for Workplace Safety, Minister for Early Childhood):

The government has introduced changes to the Victims of Crime Assistance Act 1996 (VOCA Act) to remove barriers for victim-survivors of family violence and sexual assault applying for financial assistance at the Victims of Crime Assistance Tribunal (VOCAT). They align with findings and recommendations from the Royal Commission into Family Violence and the Victorian Law Reform Commission (VLRC). VOCAT provides financial assistance to victims of violent crime under the Victims of Crime Assistance Act. Currently VOCAT can notify alleged offenders and allow them to appear at hearings where they have a legitimate interest or substantial interest in the victim’s application for assistance.

In 2018 the Victorian Law Reform Commission reported on its review into the VOCA Act. The government has committed to significantly progress the recommendations of the report in this term of government. The review recommends that the new scheme will place victims at the centre, and therefore the alleged perpetrator of an offence would not be notified of the victim’s hearing and should not be able to attend that hearing under the new financial assistance scheme. Recommendation 21(a) states:

The proposed Act should provide that the objectives of the Act are to:

recognise, on behalf of the state, victims and the impacts of a criminal act on a victim, through the provision of a respectful forum for victims to be heard and to have their experiences properly acknowledged by the state

In doing so, the VLRC found that:

… removing perpetrator notification reflects a trauma-informed approach that prioritises victims’ safety and wellbeing.

Regardless of model, or other technical and procedural reforms implemented, the Commission considers this to be a significant step in prioritising victims’ safety and wellbeing needs and placing victims’ needs at the centre of the state-funded financial assistance process.

Removing perpetrator notification and attendance at hearings reflects a trauma-informed approach to responding to victims of crime. The Royal Commission into Family Violence made a similar finding: that notifying perpetrators and allowing them to attend a VOCAT hearing can traumatise victims.

Exactly which offences and prohibitions should apply to within the current VOCAT legal framework was a complicated decision. The Attorney-General and the Minister for Victim Support considered this in detail with regard to the VLRC’s finding that notifications had a chilling effect for survivors of sexual assault or family violence.

The original amendments made by the government were confined to family violence and sexual offences to balance VOCAT’s needs to gather evidence and determine facts whilst removing barriers and improving victims’ safety in matters where it was identified as most problematic. Offenders’ notifications will not be included as part of the new administrative financial assistance scheme.

The government thanks Ms Maxwell for raising the experiences of victims of stalking and other offences listed in this additional amendment to extend the notification and attendance prohibition to further offences of stalking, threats to kill and commit serious injury. This is supported by the government.

We need to make it clear that there is a balance to be reached between modifications to the current scheme and the work to implement the new scheme. While we reached a position in the bill following the request of stakeholders, we also understand the trauma and negative impacts for many of the victim-survivors who Ms Maxwell has mentioned today and at other times in this place, and this is why we are happy to accept these sensible suggestions.

The government is committed to delivering a new administrative scheme to deliver financial assistance for victims of crime in Victoria. The financial assistance scheme will replace VOCAT, and this is an administrative scheme. No hearings will be required, and therefore there will be no place for alleged offenders. The government amendments included in this bill go beyond the VLRC recommendations to deliver immediate positive outcomes for survivors of family violence and sexual assault prior to the commencement of the FAS.

We need to balance the need to ensure family violence and sexual assault survivors can seek assistance at VOCAT without fear of their abuser being notified of their VOCAT application with the need for VOCAT to appropriately consider an application outside of family violence and sexual offences where illegal activity may have taken place. The Andrews Labor government is committed to implementing the recommendations of the Royal Commission into Family Violence and building a new financial assistance scheme for victim-survivors.

Mr ONDARCHIE:

So that is a yes?

Ms STITT:

It is.

Ms MAXWELL:

I would just like to thank the minister for her words and particularly thank the members of the government who I have collaborated with in regard to these amendments. I thank them for their time and for their support.

Amendment agreed to; amended clause agreed to.

Clause 88 (19:06)

Ms MAXWELL: I move:

2. Clause 88, page 58, before line 1 insert—

“(aa) an offence against section 20, 21 or 21A of the Crimes Act 1958 or any corresponding previous enactment; or”.

Mr ONDARCHIE:

Consistent with the amendment to clause 87, the state Liberal-Nationals coalition will be supporting this amendment and thank Ms Maxwell for bringing it to the house.

Ms STITT:

Similar to our position on clause 87, the government will be supporting Ms Maxwell’s amendment to clause 88.

Amendment agreed to; amended clause agreed to; clause 89 agreed to.

Reported to house with amendments.

Ms STITT (Western Metropolitan—Minister for Workplace Safety, Minister for Early Childhood) (19:08):

I move:

That the report be now adopted.

Motion agreed to.

Report adopted.

Ms MAXWELL:

I move:

1. Clause 87, before line 11 insert—

“(aa) an offence against section 20, 21 or 21A of the Crimes Act 1958 or any corresponding previous enactment; or”.

We agree that alleged offenders of family violence or sexual offences should not be notified of or attend tribunal hearings relating to their victims. While there may be some loose argument that an offender may have some reputational interest in a victim’s assistance claim, it is an affront to the very notion of victim’s assistance that an offender is given the opportunity to be aware of a claim, let alone attend, listen or, even more strongly, participate.

The VLRC review into the Victims of Crime Assistance Act 1996 recommends that alleged offenders should not be notified of a victim’s hearing or be allowed to attend. It is our expectation that the new scheme will deliver on this. In the meantime the bill closes part of the loophole but still leaves a serious gap.

I know in the circumstances of Di McDonald the offender was notified of her interim claim and attended the court. Ms McDonald would refute that the offending was in the context of family violence. The offender wanted a relationship, but she did not. What could be described as some malicious mischief resulted in the magistrate denying her interim support and suggesting that she come back when she had a case. Ultimately the offences against Ms McDonald were proven beyond reasonable doubt and her offender received a substantial jail term, so her victim status is very clear.

Many threat and stalking offences do occur in the context of family violence, but around one-third of them do not. The devastating case of Celeste Manno is very clearly in my mind when thinking of the serious indicator that threat offences and stalking will lead to future violence. The reoffending rate for threat offences is double the rate for all offenders in Victoria, and there is no substantial difference in the reoffending rates between family violence and non-family violence offenders. One-third of victims of these serious offences will not be protected by this prohibition unless this amendment passes. It demonstrates the need for the new system to be expedited, but in the meantime we need to make the changes we can to improve safety and support for victims. On that basis I commend these amendments.

Mr ONDARCHIE:

The state Liberal-Nationals coalition will be supporting these amendments of Ms Maxwell today. Can I thank Ms Maxwell and Karen Rourke from her office for the very comprehensive amendment explainer that brought it to us. This is in some sense, with respect to Ms Maxwell’s explanation, a bit of a no-brainer. This amendment should carry forward as an improvement to this bill, and as a result we will be supporting it.

Ms STITT:

The government has introduced changes to the Victims of Crime Assistance Act 1996 (VOCA Act) to remove barriers for victim-survivors of family violence and sexual assault applying for financial assistance at VOCAT. They align with findings and recommendations from the Royal Commission into Family Violence and the Victorian Law Reform Commission (VLRC). VOCAT provides financial assistance to victims of violent crime under the Victims of Crime Assistance Act. Currently VOCAT can notify alleged offenders and allow them to appear at hearings where they have a legitimate interest or substantial interest in the victim’s application for assistance.

In 2018 the Victorian Law Reform Commission reported on its review into the VOCA Act. The government has committed to significantly progress the recommendations of the report in this term of government. The review recommends that the new scheme will place victims at the centre, and therefore the alleged perpetrator of an offence would not be notified of the victim’s hearing and should not be able to attend that hearing under the new financial assistance scheme. Recommendation 21(a) states:

The proposed Act should provide that the objectives of the Act are to:

recognise, on behalf of the state, victims and the impacts of a criminal act on a victim, through the provision of a respectful forum for victims to be heard and to have their experiences properly acknowledged by the state

In doing so, the VLRC found that:

… removing perpetrator notification reflects a trauma-informed approach that prioritises victims’ safety and wellbeing.

Regardless of model, or other technical and procedural reforms implemented, the Commission considers this to be a significant step in prioritising victims’ safety and wellbeing needs and placing victims’ needs at the centre of the state-funded financial assistance process.

Removing perpetrator notification and attendance at hearings reflects a trauma-informed approach to responding to victims of crime. The Royal Commission into Family Violence made a similar finding: that notifying perpetrators and allowing them to attend a VOCAT hearing can traumatise victims.

Exactly which offences and prohibitions should apply to within the current VOCAT legal framework was a complicated decision. The Attorney-General and the Minister for Victim Support considered this in detail with regard to the VLRC’s finding that notifications had a chilling effect for survivors of sexual assault or family violence.

The original amendments made by the government were confined to family violence and sexual offences to balance VOCAT’s needs to gather evidence and determine facts whilst removing barriers and improving victims’ safety in matters where it was identified as most problematic. Offenders’ notifications will not be included as part of the new administrative financial assistance scheme.

The government thanks Ms Maxwell for raising the experiences of victims of stalking and other offences listed in this additional amendment to extend the notification and attendance prohibition to further offences of stalking, threats to kill and commit serious injury. This is supported by the government.

We need to make it clear that there is a balance to be reached between modifications to the current scheme and the work to implement the new scheme. Whilst we reached a position in the bill following the request of stakeholders, we also understand the trauma and negative impacts for many of the victim-survivors who Ms Maxwell has mentioned today and at other times in this place, and this is why we are happy to accept these sensible suggestions.

The government is committed to delivering a new administrative scheme to deliver financial assistance for victims of crime in Victoria. The financial assistance scheme will replace VOCAT, and this is an administrative scheme. No hearings will be required, and therefore there will be no place for alleged offenders. The government amendments included in this bill go beyond the VLRC recommendations to deliver immediate positive outcomes for survivors of family violence and sexual assault prior to the commencement of the FAS.

We need to balance the need to ensure family violence and sexual assault survivors can seek assistance at VOCAT without fear of their abuser being notified of their VOCAT application with the need for VOCAT to appropriately consider an application outside of family violence and sexual offences where illegal activity may have taken place. The Andrews Labor government is committed to implementing the recommendations of the Royal Commission into Family Violence and building a new financial assistance scheme for victim-survivors.

Mr ONDARCHIE: So that is a yes?

Ms STITT: It is.

Ms MAXWELL:

I would just like to thank the minister for her words and particularly thank the members of the government which I have collaborated with in regard to these amendments. I thank them for their time and for their support.

Amendment agreed to; amended clause agreed to.

Clause 88 (19:06)

Ms MAXWELL:

I move:

2. Clause 88, page 58, before line 1 insert—

“(aa) an offence against section 20, 21 or 21A of the Crimes Act 1958 or any corresponding previous enactment; or”.

Mr ONDARCHIE:

Consistent with the amendment to clause 87, the state Liberal-Nationals coalition will be supporting this amendment and thank Ms Maxwell for bringing it to the house.

Ms STITT:

Similar to our position on clause 87, the government will be supporting Ms Maxwell’s amendment to clause 88.

Amendment agreed to; amended clause agreed to; clause 89 agreed to.

Reported to house with amendments.

Ms STITT (Western Metropolitan—Minister for Workplace Safety, Minister for Early Childhood) (19:08):

I move:

That the report be now adopted.

Motion agreed to.

Report adopted.

Helping the hidden victims of crime

Adjournment speech

November 16, 2021

Tania MAXWELL MP (Northern Victoria):

My adjournment is to the Minister for Victim Support, and the action I seek is for the minister to review the claims for assistance for the children of Michelle Skewes, which have previously been rejected by the Victims of Crime Assistance Tribunal (VOCAT). Michelle Skewes endured years of horror at the hands of her abusive husband. He was recently jailed for a minimum of 10½ years on nine counts of rape, two counts of assault and one count of threatening to inflict serious injury. These offences occurred over a five-year period that was plagued with coercive control and degrading, pervasive abuse.

The judge noted Ms Skewes’s victim impact statement as being candid, honest and disarming in its dignity. It includes triggers of panic, moments of fear and terror, broken self-esteem, hypervigilance, distrust of others, anxiety, being plagued by nightmares and exhaustion, suffering the besmirching judgement we so often see in victim blaming and her attempts to shut off the abusing rhetoric that she endured in an attempt to reconstruct her life.

Ms Skewes has four children, three of them living. I will not give too much detail here in terms of what she has conveyed to my office about the impact of family violence on her children, but I think it is enough for us just to imagine their suffering and understand their need and their right to support. Ms Skewes has received some victim support through VOCAT, though it is quite minuscule in comparison to the five years, five months and 55 days that it took for this matter to run from report through to sentencing. She applied through VOCAT for support for her children to receive counselling; however, that was rejected. She did not have the emotional strength to appeal. These children are not considered victims in their own right, and this in itself is something that we will continue to push the government to correct.

Reforms in relation to victims of crime assistance cannot come soon enough for us. We have made some progress in increasing the recognition of children who live and witness family violence, most recently through my colleague Mr (Stuart) Grimley, who is working with Rosie Batty on calls for the standalone offence of family violence in the presence of a child. Children who witness family violence, who live in the context of family violence are victims. There is no doubt about that. This family has suffered enough, and these children deserve access to the psychological supports they need. I look forward to the minister’s urgent action on this abhorrent decision.

Victims support assistance open to question

Question without notice

October 13, 2021

  • Asked by Derryn Hinch’s Justice Party state leader Stuart Grimley MP for Tania Maxwell MP, in her absence:

Mr GRIMLEY (Western Victoria) (15:07): My question is to the Minister for Higher Education and Minister for Training and Skills, representing the Minister for Victim Support.

Minister, it is nearly five years since the government asked the Victorian Law Reform Commission to consider changes to the Victims of Crime Assistance Tribunal and the victims’ assistance program. The VLRC made 100 recommendations, which were accepted by the government and included establishing a new state-funded financial assistance scheme for victims of crime.

Minister, what is the status of this new assistance scheme, and when can victims expect it will be delivered?

Ms TIERNEY (Western Victoria—Minister for Training and Skills, Minister for Higher Education) (15:08):

I thank Mr Grimley for his question and his ongoing interest in and support for victims. I will refer it to the Minister for Victim Support, Minister Hutchins, and expect a response as per the standing orders.

Mr GRIMLEY (Western Victoria) (15:08):

Thank you, Minister. My colleague, Ms Maxwell, raised in this Parliament the difficulties that victims of crime face in accessing support through the current scheme, particularly as a result of the classification system.

My supplementary question is: will the government initiate any interim changes to the current scheme so that the recommendations of the VLRC are available to victims until the new act is in force?

Ms TIERNEY (Western Victoria—Minister for Training and Skills, Minister for Higher Education) (15:09):

Again, thank you for the question, Mr Grimley. I am sure Minister Hutchins will respond as per the standing orders. This is a key area of interest that she has in her portfolio.