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10 Mar 2016

Victims of Crime (Compensation) Amendment Bill

The Hon. A.L. McLACHLAN ( 11:54 :07 ): I rise to speak to the Victims of Crime (Compensation) Amendment Bill 2015. This bill was introduced in the other place last year by the Treasurer. The victims of crime scheme provides monetary compensation to those unfortunate people in our community who have been injured as a result of a crime. The scheme provides compensation for both physical and mental injury, and is designed to assist victims in their suffering, which often continues to impact their lives long after a crime has taken place.

Compensating victims of crime in more recent times has been part of a wider social legislative trend towards greater recognition of the importance of the interests of the victims of crime in the justice system. The general philosophy underlying victims compensation can be found in the preamble to the Declaration of Basic Principles of Justice for Victims of Crime and Abuse of Power.

This non-binding resolution was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 1985. It recognises that victims of crime, and frequently their families, witnesses and others who aid them, can be subject to loss, damage or injury and that they may in addition suffer hardship when assisting in the prosecution of offenders. The applicable act, which we are seeking to amend, is the state’s response to these important principles.

Members may be interested to know that I commenced legal practice in 1990, and it is personally disappointing to me that there has not been greater consideration of the rights of victims since that time, particularly for financial compensation. In South Australia, there has been no increase in the amount of compensation available to victims since 1990 which is currently capped at $50,000. This capped amount covers compensation of both economic and non-economic loss.

Both the Liberal Party and the Labor Party made commitments at the 2014 election to double the amount of compensation to $100,000. Therefore, the Liberal Party welcomes this bill as a fulfilment of that promise. The bill itself amends the Victims of Crime Act 2001 to achieve this end. It also doubles the maximum compensation available for grief, from $10,000 to $20,000, and payments for funeral expenses, from $7,000 to $14,000. Importantly, it also extends eligibility for grief payments to include the children of homicide victims.

Other amendments contained in the bill include amending the numerical scale of compensation, from zero to 50, and replacing it with zero to 60, with the compensation amounts assigned to each value then increasing. This amendment has been drafted to align with the Civil Liabilities Act 1936, and I welcome this change. The bill increases the payments available to solicitors and counsel representing victims of crime, and it creates an offence that will require any claimants who receive compensation or damages from another source to notify the Attorney-General within 30 days.

I bring to the attention of the chamber that the member for Bragg in the other place successfully moved amendments to the bill deleting the clause that specified that fixed legal costs would not apply to the Crown. The member for Bragg also successfully moved an amendment removing the mandatory obligation of judges and magistrates to order that child offenders pay the victims of crime levy when convicted of an offence.

This particular amendment was drafted to accommodate a recommendation from the child protection systems royal commissioner. In her first recommendation from the royal commission, the commissioner outlined the difficulty experienced when trying to enforce these payments and cited the case of a 13-year-old child in state care who was convicted of 70 offences and so accumulated a levy debt of $7,000. The commissioner stated:

The commission can see no benefit to victims of crime or the community more generally in burdening the children and young people with large debts they can never repay.

Perhaps more importantly, she went on to say:

The commission h as heard expert evidence that the past experiences of these children means that their behaviour is not likely to respond to puni tive approaches.

The Liberal amendments were drafted in accordance with the commissioner’s recommendations but still give judicial officers discretionary power to order payment of the levy, for example, if the child was employed and over the age of 16 years.

I am pleased that the members of the other place recognised the wisdom of the commissioner and her approach to this issue in order to emphasise both the restitution to victims but also the rehabilitation of offenders, particularly our youth. With those few words, I commend the bill to the chamber.

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