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Crime victims were awarded more than $70 million last financial year after a surge in the number of Indigenous Victorians seeking assistance.
The Victims of Crime Assistance Tribunal’s annual report, released by the state government last week, showed a record $74 million was awarded to victims, a 20 per cent increase on the previous year.
Victims of Crime Commissioner Fiona McCormack. Credit: Wayne Taylor
There was a 15 per cent rise in total claims, but applications for the Koori List – the section set aside for Indigenous victims – were up 50 per cent year on year.
The tribunal, established in 1996, provides financial assistance to victims of crime to help in their recovery. The payments can cover funeral and medical expenses, counselling and loss of earnings.
A record 8421 applications were filed with the tribunal last financial year. Of those, 582 were applications to the Koori List, also a record high.
More than 5600 payments were made in the 12 months to July, and the average payment amount was $9180.
Victims of Crime Commissioner Fiona McCormack said the rise in applications from First Nations victims was a result of authorities putting in place culturally safe practices.
The Koori List unit, established in 2006, displays Aboriginal flags and ceremonially smokes hearing rooms and registries, and staff are provided with specific training.
“Aboriginal peoples are far less likely to report a crime than the general population due to a lack of faith in the justice system or because they’ve had negative experiences of police,” McCormack said.
“This means they not only miss out on opportunities for justice and protection, but also on information and referrals to assistance.”
Primary victims of crime in Victoria can receive up to $60,000 for reasonable expenses, while secondary victims can claim up to $50,000.
From next year, the tribunal will be replaced by the Financial Assistance Scheme, which was created after a review found some victims’ trauma was exacerbated through the normal court process.
The state government says the new system will have the same financial thresholds but won’t involve courtrooms, hearings or magistrates, and it will give victims three years instead of two to seek financial help. Adult survivors of family violence and sexual offences will have up to a decade to apply.
McCormack said the government should ensure the new structure did not require a police report for a victim to access assistance.
“I have spoken with Aboriginal communities who say it is critical the new scheme scraps criteria like this, along with provisions that require the person considering an application to make judgments on a victim’s character,” she said.
“These types of criteria block access to assistance for many victims of crime and also disproportionately disadvantage Aboriginal peoples.
“It is essential the new financial assistance scheme ensures access, puts victims’ needs front and centre and doesn’t just replicate the current scheme, which has been traumatising for many victims of crime.”
Current laws require Victoria’s victim compensation scheme to consider whether the applicant reported a violent crime to police within a reasonable time except in special circumstances.
Professor Emma Lee, from Federation University’s National Centre for Reconciliation, Truth, and Justice, said Victoria was the first state to introduce Koori courts and that such initiatives were having results.
“Wholesale change comes from discrete examples,” she said. “Justice pathways are allowing Aboriginal people to not just be victims but [to] take back their agency.”
The state government was contacted for comment.
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