Tania MAXWELL (Northern Victoria) (10:13):
That this house:
(1) acknowledges the significant and ongoing psychological and physical impacts of crime on victims and victim-survivors;
(2) recognises that victims of crime need access to varying levels of support at different stages of their trauma and recovery, but the limitations of the current scheme result in some victims of crime being exited or disengaging with the current service response without receiving assistance that meets their needs;
(3) notes that:
(a) the Victorian Law Reform Commission’s July 2018 report, Review of the Victims of Crime Assistance Act 1996, made 100 recommendations including the establishment of a new state-funded financial assistance scheme for victims of crime;
(b) the Victim Support Update of December 2021 does not include the introduction of a new financial assistance scheme in this term of Parliament;
(4) calls on the government to provide:
(a) a detailed timeline for the introduction of the new victims of crime financial assistance scheme and transition details; and
(b) a mechanism for victims of crime who are children, victims of sexual and violence offences and family members of deceased victims to access ongoing psychological support and counselling without needing to reapply through the current scheme, until the new victims of crime financial assistance scheme is implemented.
I rise to speak on motion 717 standing in my name. This in effect is a straightforward motion that calls for simply two actions.
First, my motion today calls on the government to provide a detailed timeline for the introduction of the new financial assistance scheme for victims of crime and to outline how the transition to this new scheme will occur.
My motion also calls on the government to provide a mechanism until this new scheme is implemented for certain victims to access ongoing psychological support and counselling should they require it, without having to reapply.
This includes victims who are children, victims of sexual and violent offences and family members of deceased victims. I am using the term ‘victim’ today to encompass victims, victim-survivors and other terms used by those who are affected by criminal offending. We intertwine such descriptions, recognising and respecting that individuals have their own preference for how and when they use any terms themselves.
In 2018 the Victorian Law Reform Commission (VLRC) released its report the Review of the Victims of Crime Assistance Act 1996.
The report makes 100 recommendations to reform state-funded financial assistance to victims of crime. The principal recommendation of this report is—and I will read the words of the chair of the VLRC in the preface:
‘… the Victims of Crime Assistance Act 1996 (Vic) should be repealed, and be replaced with an Act establishing a new state-funded financial assistance scheme for victims of crime, separate from the court and tribunal system, and instead sited within the Office of the Victims of Crime Commissioner …’
The VLRC review was first initiated by the government specific to victims of family violence; however, this was later expanded to include all individual victims of crime. This was an important reflection of the extent to which the current system does not meet the needs of victims. Significantly, the commission concluded what we already knew: that the current model is not victim centred or beneficial. This is due to delays that victims experience in accessing financial assistance and the priority the system gives to procedural and evidentiary processes over the needs of victims, so that priority has to change.
I have tried to be proactive and productive in my advocacy for victims and to collaborate with the government to deliver change. I say the same for my colleague Mr Stuart Grimley ()Western Victoria). We still have a long way to go, as evidenced by the frustration that is consistently expressed by victims who feel offenders’ rights are given greater priority than their suffering and their recovery. It is the reason Derryn Hinch’s Justice Party exists, and we are proud to be a party that focuses on improving the rights of victims of crime and building fair, just and safe communities. I certainly welcome that we are seeing more of a victim-centred approach to policy planning. Victims welcome the long-awaited and much-needed conversation about how the system that most affects them works against them.
I expect we will hear a lot from the government today about what they are doing to support victims, and I welcome that. I thank them for accepting my amendments yesterday into legislation*. Every discussion about supporting victims, what is happening now, what improvements are needed and how we can do better as well as how we create a society where there are less victims of crime—these are conversations we need to have. But without actions they are just words.
The Victorian Department of Justice and Community Safety commissioned RMIT University’s Centre for Innovative Justice (CIJ) to review and redesign Victoria’s service and support system for victims of crime in 2019. Its final report, released two years ago, notes that:
Victoria’s response to victims of crime has received little investment or policy attention in the decades since it was established.
It recognised that victims’ needs are varied and support should respond to the full range of a victim’s experiences, including staying beside victims every step of the way. I would certainly say today that the financial assistance scheme does not walk with them. It is very clear that the one-size-fits-all expression of the system does not suit what victims need for their recovery.
The current system is difficult to navigate and ranges from cursory contact, services not matched to the level of need and services denied to cases being closed off when they should not be and even without notification. The best experience for victims often occurs as a result of extraordinary lengths taken by individual case managers to support them. Those efforts of individuals who go outside the scope of the system can make the difference between a victim feeling supported and not.
The university’s CIJ report proposes a service model that is designed to step victims through services as they need them, stepping both up and down. Currently we expect victims’ journeys to follow a straight line, but all the while the reality of trauma and recovery is a path that is twisting and tumbling. It does not match, and victims say their needs are not being met. As a result their recovery unravels, compounding their trauma.
I recognise that such reform is substantial and that formulating a new model that will support victims in the future is taking time, effort and money. It involves both the redesign of the service model as well as the financial system that accompanies it. However, when the victim support update was released in December 2021 I was expressly disappointed to see that there was no time line for the new financial assistance scheme. It was simply noted as going forward—not 2023, not 2024. So when and how will that transition occur? I have asked those questions and, sadly, received no answers. The 2021–22 state budget invested $54.6 million to develop the new financial assistance scheme for victims. There is a lot of hope about what this new system will provide, but without a time line it risks being pushed further down the road, and there should be a time line. Surely for something so substantial a time line must exist. If it does, release it, commit to it. My greatest concern in the meantime is for those victims who are stuck with a system that was identified four years ago as needing a complete start over.
I was speaking with Merri Health ahead of this motion. They received 560 new client referrals over the past 12 months. Their experience is that victims associated with serious and fatal crimes need long-term counselling to help their recovery. I will give you a few examples that may help you understand why an interim measure as proposed in my motion today is needed to remove the requirement for some victims to have to reapply for ongoing psychological support.
Sarah Cafferkey was murdered in 2012 by an offender who 12 days earlier had completed parole for another murder. Her mother, Noelle Dickson, feels the pain of that loss as acutely today as a decade ago, and her needs may be different but they are still there. Ms Dickson should be provided access to ongoing psychological support without having to repeatedly justify her need. Instead, for the past decade and for the foreseeable future she has to put through new applications then wait and hope before accessing support. There is the added stress that if that support is denied, what then?
Janelle Saunders, the mother of Zoe Buttigieg, a young girl who was raped while she slept and murdered in her bed, was referred to the victims assistance program in 2015. Less than three years later an application was made to vary the assistance as the Victims of Crime Assistance Tribunal (VOCAT) funding for counselling had run out. Ms Saunders received notification in response to her claim that further support was refused because funds were exhausted. It was a simple letter in the mail—no phone call, no meeting. It was callous. Our system expected this mother to go it alone a mere three years after losing her beautiful daughter in the most horrific of circumstances. This is the system that victims navigate today, and it is a completely inappropriate response to someone reaching out for help.
Bronson Little, brother of Alicia Little, who lost her life to violence in 2017, reached out for counselling support when the offender was coming up for parole. He was told he would have to reapply. When he asked why, he was told, ‘Oh, we closed you off because you told us at the time you were doing okay’. He said, ‘I was doing okay, but they seemed to think that meant that I was going to be okay forever’. There was a complete lack of recognition that something so substantial as an offender’s release would retrigger trauma. So back they go through the application process—a process that requires victims to justify their pain and put up with delays and the added stress that brings to their whole family.
I can go on. I speak to victims every week who share their stories with me. When navigating the system they do not often even understand what will happen until they need to access further support and it is denied. These flaws are unnecessary, cruel and absolutely avoidable. I do recognise that the new scheme will remove the requirement for VOCAT hearings, and this will be welcomed by many victims, who have described this experience as feeling like they are put on trial themselves.
It puts them off making an application or going back when they need a variation, because it is just too confronting. The government has made some changes to help clear the current backlogs of cases, but we can make a further improvement, making it easier for victims to access support when they need it by removing the requirement of certain victims to reapply until the new financial assistance scheme is delivered. Instead of waiting we could actually do this right now. There is a bill before the Parliament that makes changes to the existing Victims of Crime Assistance Act. 4(b) of this motion could implement it right now. It is a simple change that could make a huge difference, particularly in the interim phase, until the until the new financial assistance scheme is operational.
I acknowledge the government’s substantial positive work in developing a new framework to support victims, but in terms of a time line I ask the government to commit to delivering the new financial assistance scheme in 2023. At the very least, victims and stakeholders that work with them need to know when and how the transition will occur. Will a draft be released? If so, when? Will there be public consultation? I think the government has a responsibility to victims to share its plan.
In closing I reaffirm the commitment of Derryn Hinch’s Justice Party to advocating for victims. We are so proud to do so—and sometimes in the most heartbreaking of circumstances. We have initiated the broadest review of the criminal justice system in three decades. My colleague Mr Grimley’s advocacy resulted in the first dedicated victims legal service as well as legislating victim notifications to victims by prosecuting agencies for restitution and compensation orders. The VLRC is reviewing responses to stalking. We have government support for a review of coercive control and tendency evidence. In the last sitting week the Attorney-General affirmed her commitment to make non-fatal strangulation a standalone criminal offence. And just yesterday we extended the protection for people harmed by crime from facing their offenders at a tribunal hearing. The feedback from those victims is that they are so grateful that this is now enshrined in legislation.
We will continue to work with all parties, all sides of politics, to make improvements so we can live in fair, just, safe communities, whether that is today for victim support or in other areas that are important to the people we represent. Most importantly we will continue to be a voice for victims—and a loud one at that. I thank the house.
Harriet SHING (Eastern Victoria) (10:28):
Ms Maxwell has made a really profound contribution to the house today, touching on the trauma and the pain that ripples through victims’ and survivors’ lives following the experience of crime and the impact that it has for them and for their families. On that basis I want to make a number of comments about the very subject matter that she has addressed today, not just in her contribution but as it relates to the motion more broadly. I want to note from the outset Ms Maxwell’s enduring prioritising of this issue, which is the reason that brought her to Parliament, and the work that she continues to do to raise issues around victim-survivor health, wellbeing, support and resourcing.
To that end, I note that the first part of the motion is about acknowledging the pain that is sustained and endured and often not survived by victims of crime and that that in and of itself represents a tragedy that gives rise to our responsibility and our obligation as a Parliament and as a community more broadly to respect and to counter and to have difficult and uncomfortable conversations about it.
I agree with the second part of the motion around the need to recognise that victims of crime need access to varying levels of support at different stages of their trauma and recovery as well. One of the things that I want to do with the limited time that I have available to me today is to talk to the levels of different support that are provided from the restorative justice model and the work that is being undertaken by the victims of crime commissioner, Fiona McCormack, who was appointed in 2019.
Fiona has decades of experience with family violence and with the often impenetrably difficult legal system and the processes required in order to access outcomes that are too often a real deterrent to people actually seeking legal remedies. We need, as the criminal law recognises, to take victims as we find them, and that then requires that governments reflect the differing characteristics, lives, lived experiences and demographics of victims. That is why culturally appropriate and culturally sensitive processes are so crucial to the way in which we assist victims to access everything from restorative justice through to the retention of privacy and indeed the capacity to reduce the terror that might come with an application to the Victims of Crime Assistance Tribunal (VOCAT), for example, then becoming the knowledge of an abuser or indeed a perpetrator of the crime against the victim.
Putting our money where our mouth is is one of the things that I think is relevant to this particular debate. All up there has been a total of $64 million in support for victims, and that includes the $54.6 million being allocated for a new financial assistance scheme and an improvement of services to victims. That is about how we design that scheme, it is about what the consultation process looks like—to go directly to a number of Ms Maxwell’s contributions in speaking to this motion—as well as a major new ICT platform to administer that support, and preparing for a physical transition from the current Victims of Crime Assistance Tribunal, the VOCAT, to the new business operating model that can support victims. There is also $7.3 million for a victims legal service to provide that legal support to applicants and to victims who are seeking restitution and compensation orders.
The rationale that sits at the heart of this allocation of the $54.6 million is to streamline and to make more efficient and less confronting the process by which victims can seek redress, whether it is compensation or engagement with services, to help them to move past the effects of the crime or crimes of which they have been victims. Again, from listening to some of the most harrowing stories that Ms Maxwell has shared in this place and more broadly, it is a deeply jolting experience, and I cannot even imagine the trauma that sits at the heart of people who live this grief and frustration and rage and feeling of an unclosed chapter every day of their lives. So I want to acknowledge that pain, and I want to reflect perhaps in my contribution that wherever possible we will work toward recognising that pain in the actions that we take as a government and in the resources that we allocate to address trauma and to assist and aid in recovery, in the many dimensions and shapes that that takes, for individual victims.
Mr Grimley has spoken in this place about one of the elements of victim support and assistance which is so crucial to participation in legal process and indeed administrative process. It is a small example, but one which I think is really relevant to providing comfort to people at the most difficult parts of the process, whereby they are required and encouraged to share the trauma of their experience, often involved in the retelling over many occasions, to have that heard and acted upon in the course of understanding recourse, and it is the canine support program. This is one of the things that is geared toward making sure that people in times of high distress, including children, are able to access the very visceral support that comes from assistance dogs trained specifically for trauma and trauma response. Lucy is one of those dogs, and Mr Grimley has mentioned her. That is a small example, and I do not mean to sound trite in raising that example in this contribution because I am not intending to diminish in any way the trauma that is sustained by victims.
But it is one part of the pieces that need to come together, whether that is culturally sensitive and culturally safe support, in particular for our CALD communities and also for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander victims of crime, whether that is assisting in the co-design of a process which accommodates the enormously broad spectrum of experiences that bring victims through to this particular process or whether it is about improving the system for victims of sexual offences. The work needs to go on to better understand the pieces that fit together and to fund them accordingly.
I note that the Attorney-General, Ms Symes, has as a first step commenced work on affirmative consent laws to make it clear that a person has responsibility to say or do something to establish consent, and that is underpinned by a $5.2 million funding boost for specialist sexual assault services to respond to increased reporting and demand. That is another example of specific elements of our justice system which are receiving that direct support and law reform which is about identifying the importance of improving and changing behaviour such that we see fewer victims and such that we have a clearer process for understanding an investigation and possible prosecution of offences that arise under laws as we amend them to keep pace with community standards and expectations around what constitutes appropriate behaviour, what constitutes respectful behaviour and what constitutes the evolution of what it means to operate fairly as a government and as a community in a way that accommodates everyone no matter what their experience or their story.
I have touched on victim-centred restorative justice, and I have touched on children and young people. But I also want, with the time I have available, to touch on victims who are affected by cognitive disability, intellectual disability, and neurodivergent victims of crime. There has been a pilot that was announced for the 2021–22 state budget and following that pilot an allocation of $9.9 million for the continuity of the intermediary program, and that involves again specialised communication officers to be able to assist with providing advice and assistance to children, young people and people with reduced capacity in whatever way or form that takes to be able to work through the impact of crime upon them and the legal or other processes that sit alongside that work. All up this constitutes a range of different measures.
I note that Ms Maxwell will continue to pursue this particular trajectory that has brought her to this Parliament. I commend her for the work that she has done in being consistently an advocate for victims and survivors of crime, and I look forward to the work associated with this subject matter continuing, albeit in a painful way but in a necessary way and an important way nonetheless.
Matthew BACH (Eastern Metropolitan) (10:38):
Just yesterday when we were in this place debating a police bill Minister Tierney noted that when she was listening to the debate principally in the other house, which was a much longer debate than the one we had in this place, right across the chamber there was a great level of understanding about the role of the police and that members had been thoughtful and obviously spent a lot of time in their communities engaging with the police. Already in this discussion it is clear from the contributions of Ms Maxwell and Ms Shing that right around this chamber members have thought deeply and productively about the need to continue to do more and to do better in order to support victims of crime. I would echo in their entirety the comments of Ms Shing in commending Ms Maxwell. We all understand her deep and abiding passion in this particular area, and I would say also at the outset of my brief contribution on this motion that the Liberal and National parties will be supporting it.
At the outset, as Ms Shing noted, the motion goes to the need for great empathy with victims of crime. Over the last few months I have had the great honour of shadowing the Attorney-General, and in that role many victims of crime have reached out to me to have discussions with me about the place that they find themselves in.
I would reiterate it is just not possible to have sufficient empathy for people who have been through the kinds of tragedies that Ms Maxwell articulated in her contribution today and that she has articulated previously. It is not possible, as Ms Shing said, to be able to do enough to fully meet the grief of the families and the victims of some of the offences that Ms Maxwell has spoken about, and yet it struck me in the meetings and discussions that I have had with victims of crime over recent months that they are also very understanding that the government has no magic wand, no silver bullet, in order to deal with their travails, but nonetheless they want a fair system, a system that is flexible, a system that as far as possible meets their changing needs. So I was pleased to see point 2 in particular in Ms Maxwell’s motion:
That this house:
(2) recognises that victims of crime need access to varying levels of support at different stages of their trauma and recovery …
That is a point that was made to me on any number of occasions.
I was also very pleased to see the final element of Ms Maxwell’s motion focus on children who are victims of crime, victims of sexual and violent offences and family members of deceased members in order to ensure that they have access to ongoing psychological support and counselling. There is a great need for measures such as this at present of course because, very sadly, tragically, over the period of the pandemic and due to the resulting restrictions we saw a very significant increase in the number of sexual offences against children. I think even prior to our experiences over the last two years this element of Ms Maxwell’s motion should have been able to garner support. Nonetheless it is even more meritorious now, given what we have been through.
Ms Maxwell has another motion on the notice paper that goes to similar themes, and I would note what Ms Shing has said about good steps that the government has taken in order to support victims. Of course we can do more, and I agree with what Ms Maxwell said—that through committee work and through legislation this house has taken positive steps recently. I would agree that there is far more to do.
Of course it was a Liberal Attorney-General, the Honourable Ms Jan Wade, who first introduced victim impact statements. There was some discussion from the Attorney yesterday on International Women’s Day about the leadership of Victoria’s legal community, which is entirely—almost—female led at the moment. There was also reference to previous attorneys-general, and with all due respect to the current holder of that high office, in my opinion Ms Wade was our greatest ever. She had a particular focus on the needs of victims, as I know Ms Maxwell does. The government has also made some positive steps recently, but there is far more to do. And for that reason my view and the view of my colleagues on this side of the house is that Ms Maxwell’s motion is deserving of our support.
Sheena WATT (Northern Metropolitan) (10:43):
As I rise to speak on this motion for victim support I would like to note that the Andrews Labor government is committed to delivering key reforms for victims of crime. We were the government that first created a dedicated portfolio in the Parliament for victim support, and it was a significant step to listening to the needs of victim-survivors and then acting on them. It is a role that ensures the needs of victims of crime are consistently being heard around the cabinet table. It was truly a very welcome step, and we must also recognise the harms suffered by victims of crime and commit to doing whatever we can to make their experience of the criminal justice system a respectful one.
My colleague in the other place the Minister for Victim Support, Natalie Hutchins, has recently released the government’s Victim Support Update, which outlines the key reforms this government is delivering for victims of crime. The update clearly demonstrates that the Victorian government is working hard to ensure that victims of crime are heard and that they are given the opportunity to tell their stories and to participate in processes that they should all be central to.
I want to take this chance to also acknowledge workers that provide support to victims of crime, as well as those victims themselves. I take this moment to acknowledge an organisation close to my heart that has been working on this for a great number of years, Merri Health, which was also mentioned by Ms Maxwell just a moment ago.
I of course say that the voices of victim-survivors are powerful and an integral part of our justice system. They play a vital role in improving our laws, systems and practices, and this government is committed to putting victim-survivors at the heart of justice in our state. We really do understand the extensive and ongoing financial, emotional, social and physical impacts faced by victims of crime throughout our community by listening to the Victims of Crime Consultative Committee and the Victorian Victim Survivors Advisory Council. These bodies provide a forum for people with lived experience of being victims of crime and, in the instance of the Victim Survivors Advisory Council, lived experience of family violence, to discuss improvements to policies, practices and service delivery to improve outcomes for victim-survivors. I had the very real privilege of working with members of the Victim Survivors Advisory Council on the Family Violence Steering Committee in the not-too-recent past and can say that they are very staunch and very strong advocates for their peers.
Victims of crime are impacted by harm in different ways and therefore require different supports in their recovery. That is why we have made listening to victims of crime central to our reform efforts. Last year the Andrews Labor government passed the Justice Legislation Amendment (Criminal Procedure Disclosure and Other Matters) Bill 2021, which among other reforms was an important step to strengthen the justice system and include many safeguards intended to ensure victim participation in sentencing processes, including a new requirement in the victims charter that the Director of Public Prosecutions, the DPP, consult with the victim on a decision on whether to oppose an application for a sentencing indication. Victims will continue to be able to read victim impact statements aloud once the accused person has formally entered a guilty plea following this sentence indication.
The government has introduced legislation into the Victorian Parliament to amend the Victims of Crime Assistance Act 1996 to stop alleged offenders from being notified of or attending hearings at the Victims of Crime Assistance Tribunal in family violence or sexual offence matters. As stated in the Victorian Law Reform Commission’s report into this act, we know that victim-survivors of family violence and sexual offences are most impacted by these offender notifications and that notification can prevent them from applying for assistance. We only need to consider how frightening it can be for survivors who currently face the prospect of the abuser being notified of their VOCAT application and having to face the abuser in a hearing to understand why as a government we should not delay in making this simple but important change. That is why we have brought these amendments forward in advance of establishing the new financial assistance scheme, to make a start on the things that matter most to victim-survivors. This reform is contained in the Workplace Safety Legislation and Other Matters Amendment Bill 2021 and will commence as soon as the bill is given royal assent.
The government is taking steps to deliver on the election commitment to progress the recommendations of the Victorian Law Reform Commission’s report on financial assistance for victims of crime. These reforms will create a more fair, timely and trauma-informed system for financial assistance for victims of crime and their families. The new financial assistance scheme for victims of crime is a highly anticipated reform because of the fundamental difference it will make to victims’ lives. This new administrative scheme will mean no courts or judges are involved in deciding financial assistance. It will broaden eligibility and categories of assistance, simplify the application process and better acknowledge harm faced by victims and their families. It will uphold cultural safety and trauma-informed practice as a priority at its very foundation.
I am delighted at the prospect of this extraordinary reform that will make a huge difference to victims of crime. A dedicated team has been established within the Department of Justice and Community Safety and is working to progress these reforms, including through community consultation, scheme design and demand modelling. This government has made it a priority to consult with victim-survivors to ensure that we are able to achieve beneficial outcomes. We have heard loud and clear from victim-survivors, including the powerful representatives on the Victims of Crime Consultative Committee, how important these reforms are. As a result of our extensive consultation, in the most recent budget there was released a $64 million package for victim support. $54.6 million was allocated to building the new financial assistance scheme and improving services for victims, including undertaking detailed service design of the new scheme, focusing on what and how victims experience the service of requesting financial assistance, including key recommendations such as implementing the signature experience of victim recognition—a new approach to recognising victims only carried out here in Victoria.
We are also building a major ICT platform to operate and administer the new financial assistance scheme. We are preparing for the physical transition from the current Victims of Crime Assistance Tribunal, or VOCAT, to a new business operating model that can support victims. There is $7.3 million for the new victims legal service to provide legal services to FAS applicants—that is financial assistance scheme applicants—and to victims seeking restitution and compensation orders. It is important that the new financial assistance scheme is built victim centred from the very ground up. We will not rush this important process of listening to victims. We will ensure the new system is innovative, responsive, trauma informed and accessible. We must, must get it right.
The funding from the 2021–22 budget also includes more than $7 million to create a new dedicated victims legal service, the first of its kind in our state. With funding beginning in 2022–23 the service will provide legal information and advice to victims making applications to the new financial assistance scheme when it is established and to victims seeking restitution and compensation orders. This is a great innovation and service, and I know that the government and community legal services are working hard on designing this and how it will deliver great outcomes for victims of crime.
I also want to speak briefly on the progress this government is making to improve the justice system for victim-survivors of sexual offences. The Victorian Law Reform Commission’s recent report Improving the Justice System Response to Sexual Offences is crucial in reforming the justice system and making it safer for survivors of sexual offences. Led by the Attorney-General, as an immediate first step we have already commenced work on new affirmative consent laws to make it clear that a person has responsibility to say or do something to establish consent. We have also started work on criminalising stealthing. This government is also delivering $5.2 million in a funding boost to specialised sexual assault services to help respond to increasing reporting and demand.
Sexual violence and harm do not have any place in Victoria, and the government is working hard to reform the way the justice system responds to them. Importantly, we are ensuring that in addressing these processes they are indeed centred around victims. Victim-centred restorative processes are an important addition and alternative to traditional justice processes. They give victims the opportunity to tell their story in a safe and supportive environment. The new victim-centred restorative justice program will provide eligible victims with more opportunities to participate in restorative justice processes. The program will introduce new restorative justice streams for families of adolescents using violence in the home, victims seeking a restorative process with offenders under sentence and applicants to the new financial assistance scheme.
We know that reporting crime and giving evidence in court is daunting. This is especially true for children, young people and adults with cognitive disability, who face additional barriers to accessing justice. These reforms and services have made it extremely clear that the Andrews Labor government is listening to what victims are saying and will help deliver on what they need.
Fiona PATTEN (Northern Metropolitan) (10:54):
I am pleased to rise to Ms Maxwell’s motion today. It is one that Ms Maxwell, Ms Watt and I have probably lived for the last year or so as part of our inquiry into the criminal justice system. These issues were very pertinent and were really expressed by a wide range of people. We met with many victims of crime and organisations supporting them and a variety of legal organisations that also spoke of the need for victims of crime to really be included in the process. That has been a difficult thing to grapple with in our current justice system. Where does the victim sit in that system? Because for all intents and purposes the victim is not part of the proceedings.
The victim is sometimes just a mere witness to them, a mere bystander to the crime as far as our court system is concerned. So this motion really does go to that.
The impact of crime on victims and victim-survivors, their families and their loved ones is different for every person, is complicated, can often be absolutely profound and can have ongoing psychological and physical impacts. As I say, it is different for everyone. People have varying levels of trauma and varying levels at different stages, and that recovery is not necessarily the same for everyone—and some people may never recover. So anything that we can do to address those current system limitations and better meet victims’ needs for assistance is absolutely a good thing.
As Ms Maxwell has already stated, the 2018 Victorian Law Reform Commission report, the Review of the Victims of Crime Assistance Act 1996, made 100 recommendations to reform state-funded financial assistance to victims of crime. The principal recommendation was that the existing act be repealed and replaced to include a new state-funded financial assistance scheme for victims of crime. I understand that work on that is afoot, certainly hearing from the government speakers who expressed that as well. We also heard that during our committee investigations.
You will need to watch this space to see where our committee landed on this. The report—and it is quite a tome; in fact I believe it is going to go to two volumes—is currently at the printers, so I hope that we will be able to table that very shortly. But much of what we heard is on the public record. Much of what we heard was in the public hearings that we undertook around the state and also in the public submissions that were made by a wide variety of people. Some people will live that day every day for the rest of their lives. Other people have found ways to deal with that, and they have found different solutions to recovery. But it is different for everyone, and our current scheme probably does not reflect that.
I think we hear that in everything. We heard that in the homelessness inquiry—that our current system creates these boxes of service and creates these boxes of assistance, but if you do not fit that box or if you need more assistance, if you need more than three months assistance, ‘Well sorry, you have to reapply and go back in’. And the same applies for victims of crime. So we see that there are considerable shortcomings in it.
Also, many times, as I said, victims of crime feel like bystanders in this whole system. They feel like a third party that is kind of watching what happened—what was this intimate part of their life. They are just watching from the sidelines, and in many ways they are treated like they are sitting in the audience viewing, with people talking about the most profound day of their life quite often and the most damaging day of their life.
So if we can work out a way that is less adversarial, is more accessible and of course is better resourced—we heard that many times. Sometimes it was simple things like changing the architecture or changing the design of courts so that victims’ families did not have to come face to face with the perpetrator. We heard that this has worked successfully in some court places and in some systems, and I think we can do a lot more in that area.
For many victim-survivors and their families just trying to traverse the justice system if they have never been involved in it, to understand the court structure, to understand the processes—and they are complicated and quite often they are archaic and draconian—is difficult. We need to provide some legal assistance to victims, to victim-survivors, to their families so that they can better understand the system, they can better understand the role that they have to play in that system and they can better understand the resources that are available—and certainly those resources do need to be expanded, and that is without doubt.
We understand from the government that a new system is being developed. Certainly from speaking to Fiona McCormack, the victims of crime commissioner, she was optimistic about some parts but concerned about others and concerned that we did not go far enough—things like recognising victims in the Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities. Those were areas that were discussed with us in public hearings, so I am certainly not speaking out of school here. We do need to address those gaps, and those gaps were very articulately put to us not only by Fiona McCormack but by families, by survivors, by victims who all spoke about how the system had let them down and at what point. We heard so many varied stories about where the system failed.
This is about our community. It is about our community’s wellbeing, it is about our community’s recovery and it is about people who have experienced significant trauma. They need our help, and our system should be able to provide that. And we need to be able to do it in a far more effective way than we are doing it right now. We know change is happening, but for many of us change just cannot happen fast enough and change seems to take this inordinately slow process to get through. Now, I appreciate that that change is happening, but give us some idea of how long we have to wait for change, how long survivors have to wait before they feel that there is an adequate system that meets their diverse range of needs. With that short contribution I would like to commend Ms Maxwell’s action.
Craig ONDARCHIE (Northern Metropolitan) (11:03):
I rise at this time to support Ms Maxwell’s motion 717, and I thank her for bringing it to the house today. Seventeen years ago, it almost feels like yesterday, my 72-year-old uncle was sitting in his house on the Mornington Peninsula at night watching television and a young man broke into that house—we do not know for what reason; I suspect it was for money associated with his drug habit; I do not know—and discovering my uncle watching TV he was not sure what to do, so he stabbed him 31 times, and he died. My young cousin sitting in her room could hear noises in the family room. Being late at night, she decided to go out of her room to see what all the noise was about and found her father dying on the floor. It seems like it just happened yesterday. I loved him very much. He was so much fun. He loved his family, he loved his sport, he loved—as he would say—his wonderful St Kilda Football Club. Albeit to some people it might seem a long time ago, we all miss him very, very much.
At the time this all happened my young cousin, the product of his second marriage, was a bit alone and was not sure what to do through it all. My role was to try and help her as much as I could, to help her through the homicide investigation, through the trial, through the evidence that was given at the trial, through the court hearings, of course through the funeral. For us as a family to try and navigate through that whole thing was really, really tough.
There were hurdles. There were barriers. There was a stigma associated with this. It was very confronting, and it was very, very scary.
Apart from through school, up until that time I do not think I had set foot in a court. None of us had. That sort of goes to part (1) of Ms Maxwell’s motion today, which asks the house to acknowledge the significant and ongoing psychological and physical impacts of crime on victims and victim-survivors. It is really bloody tough. And, as I said at the outset, it feels like it just happened yesterday. It is still raw at some level.
We do need to recognise that victims of crime still need varying levels of support, as Ms Maxwell’s motion says today, because it is still traumatic. As I suspect is evident today, it is still traumatic to me but very traumatic to my cousin, who has had to live her life through this. She is a wonderful mother and has two beautiful children. She does an awesome job, and she has the love of course of me and the wider family every single day.
This motion is very, very important. This motion is important because it calls on the government to introduce the new financial assistance scheme that came about as a result of the Victorian Law Reform Commission’s report as one of its recommendations. The update that was provided in December 2021 did not talk about this. This is not just about money for victims of crime, it is about a whole range of support services. We need to get on with it. We need to see the time line for the introduction of the victims of crime financial assistance scheme and how that will transition. We need to do that urgently, not just for my cousin but for all victims and their families.
Nina TAYLOR (Southern Metropolitan) (11:07):
I know that the Minister for Victim Support has been working collaboratively with Ms Maxwell and obviously other stakeholders, and we very much appreciate her passion and commitment and dedication to what are really some of the most serious topics that we have to face in society, without question. It is quite moving even to talk about it in the chamber. But I think it is good and positive that we do discuss these things, as difficult and emotionally disturbing as they can be, because I think in that way it not only extends the voice of victims—and I will get to the point about victims being heard—but it ensures that these matters continue to be progressed and also validates the expression of victims and their capacity to talk about the things that have happened.
It must be, I imagine, very, very difficult to have to speak about any number of these extremely traumatic experiences. I think that goes without saying. It takes a lot of courage to be able to do that per se, let alone then to find further courage to actually pursue a fair and just outcome. That takes a lot of internal strength, but that is also where we as a community and a state can provide the necessary support to help people, as best we can, to work through. I say ‘work through’ because I think it has been pretty thoroughly discussed already the fact that trauma is individualised. You cannot define necessarily how one person or another is going to be able to heal from an experience that has potentially permanently altered their life negatively. I mean, one would hope that one finds a pathway to some healing and some recovery along the way, but it makes sense that when we have experienced something traumatic, as much as we might tell ourselves that that experience is past, it can very much be embodied. I am not a psychologist, but I do appreciate that it can take many, many, many years, if not a lifetime, to have any hope of recovery and healing from something that is inherently traumatic.
But on that point I thought I would zone in on one of the key elements of the motion, which is regarding the financial assistance scheme for victims of crime. I know that we are taking steps to deliver on the election commitment to progress the recommendations of the Victorian Law Reform Commission’s report on financial assistance for victims of crime, and I just want to emphasise that that is very much backed in by an active process, so it is not simply a discussion, because then that would not be satisfactory. There are many actions that are underway to ensure that we do get to the other side of getting this scheme up and running. But on the point of noting the individualised nature of and the sensitivity for victims of crime—and I am not saying something that the chamber is not on board with—it has to be victim centred. On the one hand we cannot rush that and we do need to properly listen to victims, because otherwise we are actually contradicting the underlying purpose of setting up a scheme of this nature. I know at times in other matters there is conjecture about, ‘Have you properly consulted as a government? Have you gone through the steps?’, which are legitimate questions, and it is certainly fair and reasonable for people to pose those questions. But at the same time we have to honour that process of authentically making sure that this is victim led and trauma informed, and to dishonour that would undermine the premise and the purpose upon which we are taking these reforms forward. So to enunciate what has been undertaken is to actually give credence to the efforts of so many victims of crime, so they know that their advocacy and their courage is being listened to and acted upon. That is why I am enunciating it. It is not lip-service, it is literally to connect that strong voice—or voices, I should say, plural—of the many, many, many victims that there are unfortunately in society and across the globe. But here obviously we are localising to Victoria, because that is relevant to our government, to make sure they know that we take this extremely seriously, and that is why we are actively progressing this very important reform.
There are various aspects of this reform which I would see as particularly helpful, noting that this new administrative scheme will mean no courts or judges are involved in deciding financial assistance. So that is a fundamental change, and it will broaden eligibility and categories of assistance, simplify the application process and better acknowledge harm faced by victims and their families. It will uphold—and this is a point that Ms Shing articulated earlier—cultural safety and trauma-informed practice as a priority at its foundation.
I think what is most satisfying and what will be rewarding is to see the huge difference that this scheme will make to victims of crime. Further to the point about where progress on this scheme is at, we note that a dedicated team have been established within the Department of Justice and Community Safety and they are working to progress these reforms, including community consultation, scheme design and demand modelling.
I really want to emphasise that as a government we have heard loud and clear from victim-survivors, including the powerful representatives on the Victims of Crime Consultative Committee, just how important these reforms are. I am emphasising that because there is nothing worse than voicing a concern and then not feeling like there is an outcome. So I want to emphasise that we are very much progressing to the outcome. That is why in the 2021–22 budget, as part of the record $64 million package to victim support, $54.6 million was allocated—I do not want it to sound like empty words; the reason I am saying that is that we know that government funding is pulled in many, many directions, but this reflects that it is a priority, and that is why I am putting it on the record—to build the new financial assistance scheme.
Obviously without finding you are not going to progress a scheme. Ultimately the purpose is to improve services for victims and to hopefully help them on that path to healing. It may be managing your emotions throughout a lifetime. I am not here to define when or how a person heals, because that is certainly beyond my capacity and scope, and it is something that is certainly individual.
With the scheme, we are undertaking detailed service design, focusing on what and how—and I think this has been discussed at length for good reason in the chamber—victims experience a service of requesting financial assistance, including key recommendations such as implementing the signature experience of victim recognition. This is a new approach to recognising victims, and it is only carried out in Victoria. That will be thanks to the direct feedback of victims who have been through some very difficult experiences in their lives.
We obviously have to build a major ICT platform to operate and administer the new financial assistance scheme, and we have to get that right because we want victims to know that they have a system that they can rely upon. We are preparing for the physical transition from the current Victims of Crime Assistance Tribunal to a new business operating model that can support victims, and there is $7.3 million for a victim legal service to provide legal service to FAS applicants and to victims seeking restitution and compensation orders.
All of this detailed and important work is currently underway. The reason I am emphasising that is so those people who are directly impacted by the scheme know that they are being heard. We are honouring their needs, and it is in the process of being delivered, but we have to do it right and we do have to make sure that it is trauma led.
Catherine CUMMING (Western Metropolitan) (11:17):
I rise today to support the Justice Party and Ms Maxwell’s motion, which acknowledges the significant and ongoing psychological and physical impacts of crime on victims and victim-survivors and recognises that victims of crime need access to varying levels of support at different stages of their trauma and recovery. The limitations of the current scheme result in some victims of crime exiting and disengaging from the current service response without receiving assistance that meets their needs.
I also note that the Victorian Law Reform Commission’s July 2018 report, which is the Review of the Victims of Crime Assistance Act 1996, made 100 recommendations, including the establishment of a new state-funded financial assistance scheme for victims of crime, and that the Victim Support Update of December 2021 does not include the introduction of a new financial assistance scheme in this term of Parliament. The motion calls on the government to provide a detailed time line for the introduction of a new victims of crime financial assistance scheme, transitional details and a mechanism for victims of crime, including children, victims of sexual and violent offences and family members of deceased victims, to access ongoing psychological support and counselling without needing to reapply through the current scheme until a new victims of crime financial assistance scheme is implemented.
I stand proudly today to support this motion as a former member of the Justice Party. We have many victims of crime who due to the psychological strains that they currently face, due to the lack of psychological programs out there and due to the current pandemic and the challenges in trying to get access to psychological services have really struggled. For me there are far too many victims out there that need that support, and this government has given lip-service to that.
So I would hope this motion pressures the government at this time to make sure that this occurs before November, before the state election, that they do not continue to give lip-service to victims of crime and that they do not continue to say that they stand with victims of crime but not put action and money behind their words. For myself, there has been many a time during the last couple of years that people have come forward to my office. This is timely. It is needed. It is needed now—it actually was needed yesterday—so I would hope that this government hears this Parliament’s call for it to occur now.
I wish this motion strength and passage myself, especially for the adults that have come forward having been victims when they were children. I hope that this government actually do not continue with their lip-service and they actually put money towards psychological services. I will leave my contribution to that.
Sonja TERPSTRA (Eastern Metropolitan) (11:21):
I rise to also make a contribution on the motion brought by Ms Maxwell in regard to victim support. Before I begin my contribution I just want to acknowledge Ms Maxwell’s and Mr Grimley’s contribution and advocacy in this area. I know it is something that the Hinch party very strongly advocates for, and I know that Ms Maxwell and Mr Grimley have been very strong advocates in this place, in this chamber, on victims rights and reforms. And so I thank you, Ms Maxwell, for bringing this motion and for your advocacy in this space.
It is a detailed motion and it goes to a range of things, but at the core and at the heart of it it is talking about the physical impacts of crime and the ongoing psychological impacts on victims and victim-survivors and what they might look like. But also it does note the Victorian Law Reform Commission’s report—and it was a comprehensive report—Review of the Victims of Crime Assistance Act 1996. There were 100 recommendations that arose from that law reform commission report, and they included the establishment of a new state-funded financial assistance scheme for victims of crime. So the Victorian Labor government, the Andrews Labor government, has done extensive work to progress all of these matters, and I will just outline some of the key areas which the Victorian government has been working on. There is lots to do and there is always more to do, and sometimes these reforms can take time. Of course sometimes you need the machinery behind some of these reforms to get things moving, and as I said, these things can take time.
Some of the reform areas, just in broadbrush strokes, I will highlight now, and I will talk about them a bit more in a second. There were amendments to the Victims of Crime Assistance Act 1996. There was a financial assistance scheme for victims of crime that was set up. There was a new victims legal service established, and there were also reforms improving the assistance for victims of sexual offences and establishing victim-centred restorative justice programs. There were also reforms focusing on assistance for children, young people and adults with cognitive disability. We know that women from multicultural backgrounds but also people from a transgender or LGBTIQ+ background can be more vulnerable to being victims of crime and particularly sexually based offences, and there are support services available for all victims of crime.
Look, there are, as I have said, broadbrush strokes that highlight some of the very well considered and extensive aspects that the law reform commission set out that the government should look at. We are steadily working our way through them.
I might just talk for a moment about the 2021–22 budget. There is a record $64 million package for victim support, and $54.6 million of that is allocated to build the new financial assistance scheme and improve services for victims. That includes undertaking detailed service design of the new scheme, focusing on what and how victims experience the service of requesting financial assistance, including key recommendations such as implementing the signature experience of victim recognition, a new approach to recognising victims which is only carried out in Victoria. That is a significant reform and something that I know the Andrews Labor government is particularly proud of. We look forward to that scheme continuing and developing as it is further embedded. We are also building a major ICT platform to operate and administer the new system, preparing for the physical transition from the current Victims of Crime Assistance Tribunal, or VOCAT, to a new business operating model that can support victims. There is also $7.3 million for a victims legal service to provide legal advice to applicants and victims seeking restitution and compensation orders. So there is some very detailed work that is underway in regard to that.
Also, funding from the 2021–22 budget includes more than $7 million to create a new dedicated victims legal service—again the first of its kind in Victoria. So there is a significant commitment and dedicated funding to assist victims. With that funding the service will provide legal information and advice to victims making application to the new financial assistance scheme, when it is established, and to victims seeking restitution compensation orders. It is a great innovation, and I know the government and the community legal services sector are working hard on designing it. It will assist victims of crime in that regard.
I will also speak briefly on the progress that the government is making to improve the justice system for victim-survivors of sexual offences. The Victorian Law Reform Commission’s recent report on improving justice system responses to sexual offending is a crucial step in reforming the justice system and making it safe for survivors of sexual offences. Again led by the Attorney-General, as an immediate first step we have already commenced work on new affirmative consent laws to make it clear that a person has responsibility to say or do something to establish consent. We have also starting work on criminalising stealthing. The government is delivering a $5.2 million funding boost to specialist sexual assault services to help respond to increasing reporting and demand. Sexual violence does harm and does not have any place in Victoria, and the government will continue to work hard to reform the way the justice system responds to it.
They are just a few highlighted areas of reform. Again, these are ongoing reforms that take time, but we are continuing to work hard on all of those things. I note Ms Maxwell’s motion calls for, I guess, a review or the establishment of a scheme—how the government is working on implementing these 100 recommendations. But, as I said, it does take time. As to seeking a detailed time line for the introduction of a new victims of crime financial assistance model and transition details, again these things do take time. I do not think it is something that Ms Maxwell would have necessarily intended in the motion, but we want to work as quickly as possible on these things. There is no intention on the government’s part to delay any of these things; we need to work on these things as quickly as possible. Sometimes machinery of government can move a little bit slowly, but it is not for want of trying to continue to move things along.
It is a well-intentioned motion. I hope I have highlighted and outlined particularly a few areas that the Andrews Labor government is continuing to progress these matters on. I look forward to seeing the continued work of the government on progressing and implementing all of the recommendations of the law reform commission. I know we are working really hard on it, and I know that victims of crime do see that there is progress being made and appreciate the implementation of the reforms. As I said, I understand and appreciate Ms Maxwell’s and Mr Grimley’s strong advocacy in this space.
I can assure the Hinch party and victims who may be watching these proceedings at home today that the Andrews government will continue to work hard on implementing the recommendations and funding them appropriately, because of course it is important to make sure that funding backs up reforms; they cannot happen without dedicated funding. I will leave my contribution there.
Ms MAXWELL (Northern Victoria) (11:30):
Of course I would like to thank everyone for their contributions today to my motion in an area of policy that is so important not only to me and to Derryn Hinch’s Justice Party but to the recovery of people whose lives are forever scarred by violence and crime. It is always heartbreaking to hear from victims who sometimes 10 years on still feel let down every step of the way. A victim shared just last week how the system perpetuates their trauma, how they have lost faith and how they find it hard to move forward. I hear this regularly. It is why I ran for Parliament and why I put this motion forward.
I would like to thank Mr Ondarchie for his heartfelt contribution, and I am conscious every time I raise these matters in this chamber of the vicarious trauma that may be inflicted upon not only those of you within this house but anyone watching, and that does affect me deeply, but we must talk about these things. This is life; this is unfortunately what happens, and we have to expose it. We have to highlight it. This is such an important issue.
The new financial assistance scheme is very important reform and must be done properly, as has been reiterated by members of the government. But it is also urgent, and every year that passes is another year that victims continue navigating a system that all of the reports and all of the reviews consistently tell us does not meet their needs. This scheme is simply removing a barrier to support that victims should be entitled to. Removing this barrier will save stress on the individual and save money within the system. Putting aside the benefits to victims by simply relieving them of the requirement to go back and justify their pain in order to receive counselling, the whole process costs time and money.
Ms Shing spoke about the services available, and there are many; however, what we know through evidence is that the current systems are not working, hence my motion today. Ms Taylor reiterated in this chamber that this process cannot be rushed. The Victorian Law Reform Commission came out in 2018 with these recommendations. This is not what I call rushing an improvement to this system. We are not asking to reinvent the wheel. The evidence is already available. Please give the cohort mentioned in my motion what they need now, not at an undetermined date. Ms Stitt highlighted what the government has already funded and implemented, but I will say it again: these recommendations were introduced in 2018.
I hope everyone in this chamber will recognise that what I am putting forward today is a small change that will make a big difference until the new reforms are delivered, because we are promised that those reforms are coming but we do not know when. The government have suggested that extending this is too open-ended, but it is not. They have dodged the ‘Why?’ and are sitting behind the ‘Why not?’. The government is seeking millions in order to respond to the recommendations of the Royal Commission into Victoria’s Mental Health System. This is mental health. Victims of crime are some of the most mentally vulnerable people in our society. It can be done—it just needs the political will to do it now.
Motion agreed to.