Victims of crime (compensation) amendment bill

In Parliament - Thursday, 3 December 2015

Mr DULUK (Davenport) (17:18:46): Thank you, sir, and you look very good in that chair.

The ACTING SPEAKER (Hon. T.R. Kenyon): Thank you, sir. I have designs.

Mr DULUK: Grand designs. I also rise today to make a contribution to the Victims of Crime (Compensation) Amendment Bill 2015. Victims of crime often suffer a range of physical and psychological injuries which can have a devastating impact on both the victims and their families. Whilst financial compensation cannot redress the harm that victims suffer, payments are designed to help people address the suffering that impacts their lives afterwards.

Unfortunately, compensation payments available under the Victims of Crime Fund have not increased in South Australia since 1990, and I was about seven years old then. I support this bill and welcome the opportunity to endorse amendments which will increase the maximum amount of compensation payable to the victims of crime, and, of course, endorse the amendments to be moved by the member for Bragg.Compensation payments in conjunction with the conviction and sentencing of the offender often help victims find some closure, and they also provide assistance on the long and slow process of psychological and physical recovery from the effects of crime. These changes are long overdue, and I welcome them to the house. Let us not forget that these changes were commitments at the last election by both parties, and it has taken some 18 months before we have seen some legislation to consider these changes. Without being too cynical, one often feels that the government has failed to prioritise victims of crime; and, of course, it is not for the first time, unfortunately.

The balance of the Victims of Crime Fund as at 30 June 2015 was $203 million. During budget estimates the Attorney-General confirmed that the total moneys expected to be received into the fund in this financial year is a further $68.7 million, and a total estimated expenditure of $28.2 million is to come out of the fund.

The Attorney also confirmed that, over the forward estimates, the expected income for the fund is more or less stable between $68 million to $69 million, and with outgoings stable between $20 million to $30 million per annum, that is an expected inflow of approximately $40 million year on year through to 2018-19. This essentially is a result of the Victims of Crime Fund increasing to well over $300 million within that four years.

So, here we are, with over $200 million in the Treasury coffers with a forecast of this to grow by more than $100 million, and that is more than a 50 per cent increase in the four years, for maths and science students. How is this government planning to utilise these funds? That is a great question, and today in question time the Minister for Corrections was not sure how much could be allocated from the fund from people who had been incarcerated for domestic violence offences.

Certainly some funds could be used out of that. We could support services, of course, for children who are victims of crime. We could consider allocating additional resources for our overburdened justice system. Of course, we could focus on better perpetrator programs and more early intervention in the youth justice systems, but, unfortunately, I do not know whether this is going to be coming.

Also during the budget estimates the Attorney-General was asked about the potential use of the fund and he was very circumspect in his options. He certainly kept his cards close to his chest. He does want to use the money, it is true. The Attorney in estimates said that he was thinking about using the money, but he put nothing on the table, and for me that is a bit of a problem. It is a bit of a problem to me because this government is using victims of crime to prop up this budget bottom line, and it has been doing so for years. Throughout the department, throughout the agency, time and again, we see price gouging, we see increases in the ESL and we see increases in other fees and charges to essentially prop up this $11 billion debt that this government has.

Let us remember that it was only four years ago that the fund held less than $100 million. It now holds about $200 million, and in four years' time it is going to hold about $300 million. There is no doubt the government could have increased compensation to victims of crime several years ago. It did not. It could have explored opportunities to use the fund for the benefits of victims. It has not.

The Attorney-General has repeatedly been asked by the opposition to consider ways to ensure that the Victims of Crime Fund is utilised, and too often I think those questions have been rebuffed, but it is good to see today that we are finally talking about this matter. I go back to why. Why are we here? For me, I am cynical. I have been here for 10 months and to me it is about the bottom line of the state coffers.

The victims of crime levy is imposed by legislation on any court fine or SA police expiation notice and all expiation notices once they have been enforced. The levy is paid to the Crown in order for people who are victims of crime to be able to draw on these funds if eligible.

The amount that can be spent in any one year from the Victims of Crime Fund is set in the context of the total state budget and any change to the net position of the fund will be reflected in the bottom line of the state budget. Any change that would affect the bottom line, of course, needs permission from cabinet and the Treasurer, permission that the Attorney-General has not been prepared to request so far. He will not because he knows what we know, that the state budget is in bad shape.

We have a massive $279 million budget deficit for 2014-15, the public sector debt is well over $10 billion and the government will pay $971 million total in interest on all debt in this financial year. Of course, this interest will increase to $1.4 billion in 2016-17 when the Royal Adelaide Hospital debt comes onto the balance sheet. This equates to an interest-only payment of just over $3.8 million per day—$3.8 million per day, every day, in interest only. It is no wonder that the ESL has increased as well, water prices have increased and South Australians are paying more but receiving less. With numbers like this, it certainly explains why the government is holding onto every dollar that it can.

Unfortunately, it is the people of South Australia who are once again forced to pay for this government's poor economic management. Victims of crime have been paying through inadequate compensation, a slow justice system and under-resourced support services, and ordinary South Australians pay by being slugged a fixed fee victims of crime levy regardless of the offence, a fee that the Rann Labor government doubled from $30 to $60 only a few years ago. Whilst I acknowledge that it is a levy that you only pay if you do commit an offence, to me, personally, $60 is a hefty charge to add on top of an $80 parking ticket or a $160 speeding fine for going a few kilometres over the speed limit.

When it comes to parking and these sorts of infringements, it is indeed a levy that many South Australians struggle to pay. Under recent FOI documents, the value of unpaid victims of crime levies has skyrocketed to almost $14 million in one year alone. In June 2015 there were more than $52 million in unpaid levies, up from $38 million as at 30 June 2014. The number of clients who have not paid the victims of crime levy has increased by 53 per cent, meaning there are now almost 122,000 clients that have an unpaid victims of crime levy debt.

A fair proportion of those clients are, of course, people under the age of 18, juvenile offenders. A case has been brought to my attention by a constituent where a high school student did not have his student ID card on him at the time and was charged for using an incorrect concession card on the train. He had to pay the fine, including the victims of crime levy, notwithstanding that he produced his ID down the track to SA Police, and that is a matter we are dealing with at the moment.

The Victims of Crime Fund being awash with money that this government seems unwilling to unlock is a real disappointment. For me, the government could consider reviewing the size of the levy because there is money in the fund. It could consider providing relief to child offenders by allowing judicial discretion on whether the levy should be applicable, or it could stay true to form and continue to reach into the pockets of South Australians and rip their hard-earned money away, as we do so often with the ESL, SA Water prices and across the board.

The Commissioner for Victims' Rights continues to urge the government to improve not only compensation payments but also the types of services that are provided to the victims of crime. It is a view that I share and we certainly share on this side of the house. Victims of crime need support in what is a very challenging time in their lives. The legislative changes put forward in this bill provide the necessary and valuable updates to the victims of crime compensation scheme.

Whilst I welcome the bill, and certainly support it, I would like to see it go a little bit further. We have this kitty and the money is not being paid out, and there are so many avenues of good work to which these funds could be put—combating domestic violence, improving support services for children of victims of crime and, of course, helping our overburdened justice system, to name a few.

The reality is that the kitty is growing at a tremendous rate and the government, if it does not address these issues with the funds available, will be failing victims of crime. It continues to fail those members of the public who pay the victims of crime levy and expect the money to be used to the benefit of all South Australians.