Victims of Crime (Offender Service and Joinder) Amendment Bill

Second Reading

I indicate my appreciation to all speakers for the contribution to the consideration of this bill. I thank the opposition for their indication of support for the bill, and members on this side, the member for Colton and the member for Heysen, for their supportive comments.

In concluding the consideration of the bill, can I just also place on the record my appreciation to the Commissioner for Victims' Rights, Ms Bronwyn Killmier, a former longstanding member of the South Australian police force and who now has the role of commissioner, for her support to this advance.

I did listen to the member for Kaurna's contribution and his concern about the failure of this government to reappoint Mr Michael O'Connell as the Commissioner for Victims' Rights. I remind the member that the contract of employment for Mr O'Connell had concluded. He was invited to apply, and he did. Ms Killmier was the successful applicant, and she comes with a commendable record.

I do not know whether the former commissioner made any presentation to the former government that the ill that we are remedying in this bill should have been attended to in the 16 years of their government by former attorney-general Atkinson. The time of their government overlapped the time when Mr O'Connell was first the victims' rights director and subsequently the commissioner. If he did, clearly he was not successful in getting the former government to act on this important reform. That is disappointing because the passage of this bill will relieve literally hundreds of applicants of indignity and potentially quite stressful circumstances by virtue of no longer having to serve the offender.

On the other hand, if he did not do it at all—I can only think that there are two circumstances—he did not think it was a matter of such moment that it needed remedying, which I think would be concerning. I read his annual report each year when he tabled it in the parliament. There were a few years when I did not read it because it came to my attention that the former commissioner for victims of crime had failed to lodge his report. I think at one time it was a period of some four or five years since he became the commissioner that he had not lodged a report at all.

I raised the matter with then attorney-general Rau at that stage to ask, 'What happened to this annual report? Has Mr O'Connell submitted this report to you and you have just forgotten to table it in parliament?' 'I will make some inquiry' was his shortened response, and he did. He found that Mr O'Connell just did not think that it was necessary for him to do that, that it was not a pressing matter for him. He thought that he might be in the role for a number of years and that, when he thought it was appropriate, he might report to the parliament what he had been doing.

I am pleased to say that the former attorney reminded him about what the act said and that he was required to tender an annual report, and he did so, covering the work that he had undertaken for that period, to comply with the obligations under the statute. Since that time, in the time that overlapped his appointment and at least my being in the parliament, I duly read his annual report because I think it is important for all of us as members of parliament to keep ourselves informed of these important statutory officers. If they have recommendations for us to consider as a parliament, then we should look carefully at those recommendations.

I do not recall this issue being raised by the former commissioner for victims' rights. As the previous government did not raise it, I would certainly be alert to the fact that it is something that we should consider. I would have considered at least presenting it to my own party at the time to progress it as a private member's bill. It has always been a concern to me. I have done cases in relation to these applications right back from the commencement of the original Criminal Law Consolidation Act, which was passed in 1978.

At that time, and in the early 1980s, I think there was still a maximum compensation of only up to $1,000. I think it fairly quickly moved to $2,000. I remember doing a multiple rape application for compensation for $2,000. I thought to myself at the time how manifestly inadequate that was for the shocking experience of the woman in that case. Over the years, we have remedied that and we have updated it. Although it took a long time for the former government to eventually increase it from $50,000 to $100,000, they did do it. The former attorney introduced a scale of application, which has some significant limitations and deserves some reviewing.

In the meantime, this is an important aspect that we need to remedy. It has not previously been brought to our attention to act on. This government acted on this advice from the Crown Solicitor's Office. It is supported by our relatively newly appointed Commissioner for Victims' Rights, and I am pleased to have her support in that regard and advocacy generally in the support of victims.

I also express my appreciation for the member for Heysen's recognition of Mr Ray Whitrod, who was a pioneer in relation to the establishment of the Victim Support Service, a community-based board-led organisation, which has a history over decades of providing support.

Particular groups, such as those that provide support to victims of homicide within families, are active across the board in providing counselling and support services for the many victims subsequent to the royal commission by the late Mr Ted Mullighan QC into the sexual abuse and exploitation of children in institutional care. They have undertaken a number of roles over the years.

When the previous government advised that they were going to provide funding to the Victim Support Service to provide a legal service—that is, for legal representation and advice at courts—there was some comment that, whilst the service is a very important one for the provision of support of those who are going through court proceedings, I did not feel, and I still do not feel, that that is appropriately undertaken by the Victim Support Service. It needs to be undertaken by a legal service.

Members might be familiar with the recent announcement of that particular work being put out to tender. Last Monday or Tuesday, it was made public that the Legal Services Commission was the successful applicant to undertake that work in respect of court legal advice, so the service will continue but via a legal entity which is able to employ legal services and which will give a greater network of service through South Australia.

This does not in any way reflect on the work that the Victim Support Service is competently undertaking. In fact, I have been impressed by the level of work they have done in relation to counselling, so much so that I have publicly indicated my support that those victims who might now be going through an application process for extra redress under the national scheme for children and who are victims of institutional abuse and have been given a package of money for counselling and support services if they are successful—money for compensation up to $150,000, plus counselling service—may wish to avail themselves of the Victim Support Service for that area of support.

Obviously, in many of our country regions, or areas where the VSS does not operate, it is also important that those applicants are given a chance to still have a service and may employ some other private provider for the purposes of accessing that locally, rather than having to come to Adelaide. I thank members for their very considered contributions, and the support indicated by the opposition, and seek the swift passage of the bill.