CHILD abuse victims have been exempted from new time limits on claims for the state’s victims compensation scheme, after the state government adopted a crossbench amendment to ensure parliament’s upper house passed other changes on Thursday morning.
But 10-year limits for lodging claims for ‘‘recognition payments’’ will now apply to sexual assault and domestic violence victims, and maximum payments have been slashed from $50,000 to $15,000 retrospectively for unresolved claims lodged under the previous scheme.
The government had sought to place a time limit on child abuse victims as well, which would have required them to lodge applications within 10 years of turning 18.
It prompted outcry from victims groups, who said child abuse victims may need years before they were ready to speak out.
The Christian Democratic Party, which shares the balance of power in the state parliament upper house with the Shooters and Fishers Party MPs, put forward an amendment on Wednesday night to ensure the time limit would not apply to certain claims from child sexual assault victims.
It was the only successful amendment to the bill, which passed the Legislative Council about 4.30am on Thursday morning despite opposition from Labor and the Greens, who had proposed 20-year time limits apply to claims instead.
The bill will return to the lower house, which the government controls, for its endorsement.
In a statement, Attorney General Greg Smith said the new scheme would deliver faster and more effective support for victims of crime, changing the focus to helping victims with counselling and immediate financial assistance.
The Victims Commissioner would be able to accept claims from victims of child sexual assault for recognition payments, out-of-pocket expenses (up to $5000) and expenses for attending related criminal proceedings (up to $5000) beyond the 10-year limit, Mr Smith said.
“We have listened to victims of child sexual assault, who have said it often takes victims a long time to be ready to disclose the abuse they have suffered,” Mr Smith said of the adoption of the amendment.
But Greens MP David Shoebridge said victims of crime had been ‘‘betrayed’’ by the government and the crossbench.
‘‘This amendment, while a small positive step, does not come close to making this law anything other than a brutal assault on the rights of victims of crime,’’ he said.
‘‘...The same O’Farrell government that granted registered clubs hundreds of millions of dollars in ongoing poker machine tax concessions in its first months of government, now says it can not find a single fresh dollar to adequately fund victims compensation.’’
Labor said the time limit would still apply to claims from family members of victims of historical child abuse.
Thousands of compensation claimants would also be left ‘‘out in the cold’’ because of the retrospective changes.
“The O’Farrell government’s move to cut compensation for victims of serious crimes, families of homicide victims and survivors of historical child sexual abuse is not worthy of our civilised and decent society in NSW,’’ opposition leader John Robertson said.
Women’s Legal Services NSW principal solicitor Janet Loughman said compensation was paid to ‘‘show that as a society we are opposed to violence and in favour of a safe and healthy community’’.
Reducing payments, particularly retrospectively, sent the opposite message.
“We have already had direct contact with clients who have responded with tears, frustration and anger at the failure of government to protect them from further injustice,” Ms Loughman said.
“As one client said: ‘Why should I expect anything different, no one else has ever cared about me.’’’