: NSW Victims Compensation Scheme slashed

NSW Victims Compensation Scheme slashed

David Carter
New South Wales

The NSW government has dramatically altered the NSW Victims Compensation Scheme, raising opposition from lawyers, community and victims groups. The changes reduce the maximum compensation available to victims of crime from $50 000 to $15 000 and apply retrospectively for compensation applications lodged but not yet determined.

In a media release on 8 May 2013, Community Legal Centres NSW (‘CLCNSW’) said that they were gravely alarmed by the reform and were concerned by the scheme’s retrospectivity among other changes to the new scheme.

One of the most significant changes is the replacement of the previous schedule of injuries, which determined rates of compensation, with ‘recognition payments’ that are determined on the basis of criminal acts and not the injuries suffered by the victim. The changes do not include reference to the availability of compensation for psychological harm.

Reforms to the scheme extend further, however, with a ten year limitation period on lodgement of applications imposed on prospective claimants for domestic violence, child abuse and sexual assault. Much of the criticism has highlighted links to ongoing and high profile processes at both State and Commonwealth levels for victims of child sexual abuse by religious institutions and other institutions. Janet Loughman, Principal Solicitor, Women’s Legal Services NSW, noted that the imposition of the time limit for claims ‘means that many victims appearing before the Royal Commission [into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse] could be excluded from victims compensation in NSW’. For those who were abused as children, the scheme’s time limit now runs to ten years from the day they turned eighteen. Andrew Morrison SC, spokesperson for the Australian Lawyers Alliance, echoed criticism of the time limits imposed by the new scheme describing them as ‘arbitrary and brutal’.

In announcing the changes, New South Wales Attorney General, Greg Smith, highlighted the previous scheme’s deficiencies stating that ‘victims are waiting almost three years for their claims to be determined [the scheme is] plainly not working, and the new scheme will provide victims of crime with help when they need it most — that is soon after the incident, not years later’. The Attorney General defended the changes to the quantum of compensation, arguing that the revised scheme compares well with the previous scheme, with the average claim under that scheme being $10 000.

Advocates for victims of crime disagree, lodging a complaint to the UN Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women, which argues that the revised scheme has a disproportionate impact on victims, particularly those who are victims of the most serious crimes.

DAVID CARTER teaches law at UTS.

(2013) 38(3) AltLJ 193
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