Ms PATTEN (Northern Metropolitan) (10:54): I am pleased to rise to Ms Maxwell’s motion today. It is one that Ms Maxwell, Ms Watt and I have probably lived for the last year or so as part of our inquiry into the criminal justice system. These issues were very pertinent and were really expressed by a wide range of people. We met with many victims of crime and organisations supporting them and a variety of legal organisations that also spoke of the need for victims of crime to really be included in the process. That has been a difficult thing to grapple with in our current justice system. Where does the victim sit in that system? Because for all intents and purposes the victim is not part of the proceedings. The victim is sometimes just a mere witness to them, a mere bystander to the crime as far as our court system is concerned. So this motion really does go to that.
The impact of crime on victims and victim-survivors, their families and their loved ones is different for every person, is complicated, can often be absolutely profound and can have ongoing psychological and physical impacts. As I say, it is different for everyone. People have varying levels of trauma and varying levels at different stages, and that recovery is not necessarily the same for everyone—and some people may never recover. So anything that we can do to address those current system limitations and better meet victims’ needs for assistance is absolutely a good thing.
As Ms Maxwell has already stated, the 2018 Victorian Law Reform Commission report, the Review of the Victims of Crime Assistance Act 1996, made 100 recommendations to reform state-funded financial assistance to victims of crime. The principal recommendation was that the existing act be repealed and replaced to include a new state-funded financial assistance scheme for victims of crime. I understand that work on that is afoot, certainly hearing from the government speakers who expressed that as well. We also heard that during our committee investigations.
You will need to watch this space to see where our committee landed on this. The report—and it is quite a tome; in fact I believe it is going to go to two volumes—is currently at the printers, so I hope that we will be able to table that very shortly. But much of what we heard is on the public record. Much of what we heard was in the public hearings that we undertook around the state and also in the public submissions that were made by a wide variety of people. Some people will live that day every day for the rest of their lives. Other people have found ways to deal with that, and they have found different solutions to recovery. But it is different for everyone, and our current scheme probably does not reflect that.
I think we hear that in everything. We heard that in the homelessness inquiry—that our current system creates these boxes of service and creates these boxes of assistance, but if you do not fit that box or if you need more assistance, if you need more than three months assistance, ‘Well sorry, you have to reapply and go back in’. And the same applies for victims of crime. So we see that there are considerable shortcomings in it.
Also, many times, as I said, victims of crime feel like bystanders in this whole system. They feel like a third party that is kind of watching what happened—what was this intimate part of their life. They are just watching from the sidelines, and in many ways they are treated like they are sitting in the audience viewing, with people talking about the most profound day of their life quite often and the most damaging day of their life.
So if we can work out a way that is less adversarial, is more accessible and of course is better resourced—we heard that many times. Sometimes it was simple things like changing the architecture or changing the design of courts so that victims’ families did not have to come face to face with the perpetrator. We heard that this has worked successfully in some court places and in some systems, and I think we can do a lot more in that area.
For many victim-survivors and their families just trying to traverse the justice system if they have never been involved in it, to understand the court structure, to understand the processes—and they are complicated and quite often they are archaic and draconian—is difficult. We need to provide some legal assistance to victims, to victim-survivors, to their families so that they can better understand the system, they can better understand the role that they have to play in that system and they can better understand the resources that are available—and certainly those resources do need to be expanded, and that is without doubt.
We understand from the government that a new system is being developed. Certainly from speaking to Fiona McCormack, the victims of crime commissioner, she was optimistic about some parts but concerned about others and concerned that we did not go far enough—things like recognising victims in the Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities. Those were areas that were discussed with us in public hearings, so I am certainly not speaking out of school here. We do need to address those gaps, and those gaps were very articulately put to us not only by Fiona McCormack but by families, by survivors, by victims who all spoke about how the system had let them down and at what point. We heard so many varied stories about where the system failed.
This is about our community. It is about our community’s wellbeing, it is about our community’s recovery and it is about people who have experienced significant trauma. They need our help, and our system should be able to provide that. And we need to be able to do it in a far more effective way than we are doing it right now. We know change is happening, but for many of us change just cannot happen fast enough and change seems to take this inordinately slow process to get through. Now, I appreciate that that change is happening, but give us some idea of how long we have to wait for change, how long survivors have to wait before they feel that there is an adequate system that meets their diverse range of needs. With that short contribution I would like to commend Ms Maxwell’s action.