I welcome the Government’s Financial Assistance Scheme (FAS) Bill.
For too many years victims have experienced frustration and trauma dealing with the Victims of Crime Assistance Tribunal (VOCAT). They have deserved better and that’s why I have continued to advocate for a more flexible, trauma-informed approach to financial assistance for victims.
Financial assistance should be about giving victims the support they need, when they need it—it should not be about cross-examining victims or making them attend court to plead for more funding for counselling.
The FAS Bill is the first step towards implementing the victim-centred financial assistance scheme envisaged by the Victorian Law Reform Commission in their 2018 report into the operation of the Victims of Crime Assistance Act (VOCAA) and the Victims of Crime Assistance Tribunal (VOCAT).
With expanded eligibility, increased award amounts and extended time limits for applying for assistance, the proposed new FAS should reduce the secondary victimisation experienced by so many victims under the existing scheme.
I am pleased that as Commissioner I will have an oversight role. The new FAS will have to comply with the Victims Charter and will come under the Commissioner’s complaints and regulatory powers. This will ensure victims are protected and any breaches of Charter principles can be addressed which is not currently possible with VOCAT.
While this is a significant step forward for victims, this generational reform will take time. It is important Government get these reforms right, but while that happens, many victims will still need to interact with the existing scheme administered by VOCAT.
I have heard from too many victims of crime that the current system is traumatic. Victims are dealing with the real-life consequences of VOCAT delay—victims of crime are in dire financial circumstances following victimisation. These issues range from missing out on much needed psychological support because victims can’t afford a psychologist bill to experiencing homelessness.
Because the FAS reforms will take time, it is vital that urgent interim improvements are made to the existing state-funded financial assistance scheme administered by VOCAT. This includes:
· continuing to address VOCAT backlog and delays
· introducing time limits for the making of VOCAT awards to address delays experienced by applicants
· amending the VOCAA to remove consideration of a victim’s ‘character and behaviour’ when determining an award
· a wholesale review of the language and materials used to communicate with applicants, consistent with a trauma-informed and plain English approach.
I urge all Members of Parliament to support this Bill and for the Government to speedily implement the new FAS so that victims can get the support they need, when they need it.