Legislative Council: Wednesday, February 08, 2023


Victims of Crime Fund

The Hon. D.G.E. HOOD (15:18): I seek leave to make a brief explanation before asking a question of the Attorney-General regarding the Victims of Crime Fund.

Leave granted.

The Hon. D.G.E. HOOD: It was recently reported that the Victims of Crime Fund surplus totalled some $194 million last financial year, and just over half of the $50 million accrued in that financial year was directed to victims and relevant services—just under half. The Attorney-General has been called upon by victims of crime to rectify the situation so that the unspent funds can go towards their intended purpose.

Indeed, the Law Society has spoken out in support of these victims, stating that the legislation capping compensation is, in their view, 'without justification'. They have suggested various amendments to the Victims of Crime Act 2001. My question to the Attorney-General is:

1. What is the Attorney-General's response to the Law Society's proposed amendments to the Victims of Crime Act 2001?

2. Has the Attorney-General commenced consultation in relation to potential changes to the act, or is a bill being drafted currently?

3. If the Attorney-General is amenable to implementing changes to the act, when can state parliament expect to see a bill?

The Hon. K.J. MAHER (Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, Attorney-General, Minister for Industrial Relations and Public Sector) (15:19): I thank the honourable member for his important question and his interest in law and order matters and in supporting victims of crime. The Victims of Crime Fund, as the honourable member mentioned, is a levy on a number of offences and expiation notices that goes into a fund to provide payments to people who have been victims of certain crimes but also to provide specialist service and for victims of crime programs.

If my memory serves me correctly, I think when the Hon. John Rau was Attorney-General was the last time there was a significant increase in the maximum amount payable. I will double-check to make sure that is right, but I think the maximum amount payable went up almost a decade ago from $50,000 to $100,000. It was a doubling that occurred under Attorney-General John Rau.

I know there was a significant increase under the last government of the levy that is payable—about a 50 per cent increase—without commensurate further increase in the amount payable, which I guess could be argued was a catch-up for the doubling that was available previously.

There is also an allocation to support areas that provide services for victims of crime. Out of the Victims of Crime Fund we have allocated extra payments for victims. We have allocated an extra $2 million—$500,000 each year over four years—to improve supports for victims, including an allocation of funding for the Victim Support Service, for example.

The Victim Support Service will use this increase in funding to deliver the two programs: the court companions program that will provide support to victims, witnesses and their families in criminal courts across South Australia; and the Safer Spaces Program to provide information and referrals to help victims of crime navigate the justice system and access appropriate support.

This is a restoration of services the Victim Support Service had provided in the past that were cut under the course of the former government. The Victim Support Service was founded in 1979 and was the first of its kind in Australia and only the fourth of its type in the world. For over four decades, it helped families such as those families of murder victims, sexual abuse survivors and victims of violence.

The services included court preparation, companion programs (as I mentioned) that we have reinstated funding for, peer support groups, and education and training for professionals who work with victims. The previous funding cuts under the term of the last government did have a very significant and rather devastating impact on the Victim Support Service, including the closure of seven offices in regional towns.

South Australian victims of crime and abuse, regardless of where they live, need that support, particularly when they are navigating what is often a very distressing time in their life. Last year, it was a great privilege to meet with some of the volunteers who operate in, particularly, the court companion service in Mount Gambier that we are providing extra funding to from the Victims of Crime Fund.

We have announced other initiatives that we are providing for victims of crime over and above what has been provided in the past. These include helping those who experience family violence navigate their way through the court process. We are always keen to see how we can best support victims and will continue to do so.