THE state government is predicting 2000 fewer victims of crime will apply to its revamped compensation scheme, following recent controversial changes that it insisted were aimed at supporting victims rather than cutting costs.
The latest budget papers show the government has forecast 5000 applications will be made to the Victims Compensation Tribunal in the next financial year, down from 7200 in 2012-13.
At the same time, two inquiries - the Royal Commission on child abuse in institutions and the NSW Special Commission of Inquiry on clergy abuse in the Hunter - encourage victims to come forward.
Changes to the scheme passed State Parliament last month, after the government declared the previous scheme unsustainable and said it would switch the focus to immediate financial help for victims.
Maximum payments were slashed from $50,000 to $15,000.
Ten-year time limits were imposed on claims from victims of sexual assault and domestic violence.
The Hunter Community Legal Centre, which provides free legal advice to the vulnerable, estimated 15 clients with claims unresolved under the old scheme stood to miss out on more than $176,000 combined because the changes were retrospective. In one case involving several members of the same Hunter family, the maximum compensation payment would be reduced from $100,000 to $17,500.
"The new scheme will have a severe impact on our victims' compensation clients who are now looking at substantially reduced compensation for their physical and psychological injuries," centre managing solicitor Liz Pinnock said.
Opposition leader John Robertson said it "defies logic" the government had forecast 2000 fewer claims for the next financial year.
"The whole point of the Royal Commission and the Hunter special inquiry was to encourage more victims to step forward - and smash the code of silence around this issue," Mr Robertson said.
"Survivors of child sexual abuse are people who have endured the worst ordeal imaginable.
"They deserve our support and compassion, not callous cost-cutting."
Attorney General Greg Smith said the budget gave recurrent funding of $70 million a year for crime victims crime, as well as $130 million to fund unresolved claims under the previous scheme.
The extra money was booked under the 2012-13 accounts.
Free legal centre pleas for extra funds
THE Hunter Community Legal Centre has appealed to federal politicians to boost funding to help it meet the rising costs of providing free legal advice to the region’s vulnerable and disadvantaged.
The centre’s managing solicitor, Liz Pinnock, and Community Legal Centres NSW director Alastair McEwin met with Shayne Neumann, parliamentary secretary to federal Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus, this month.
They also spoke with Coalition representatives, including Attorney-General spokesman Senator George Brandis SC, Kevin Andrews and Louise Markus, about the funding shortfall.
NSW community legal centres were given an extra $2.5million in the recent federal budget. But this is not enough to meet operational costs, including soaring electricity bills, which cannot be passed on to clients, they say.
‘‘Funding restrictions mean that access to justice is denied for those most in need,’’ Ms Pinnock said.
The Hunter centre services a vast area, including the Lower Hunter, Upper Hunter, Gloucester and the Great Lakes.
It receives about $850,000 a year – a third from the federal government and the rest from NSW – and did casework for more than 1000 clients in the past year.
It also operates a telephone advice line, receiving more than 3200 calls since May last year.
A spokeswoman for Mr Dreyfus said the government ‘‘understands the importance of ensuring that all Australians have access to justice, and that’s why we have been working to restore funding to community legal centres’’.
‘‘The government is committed to improving access to justice and our total nationwide contribution to legal assistance services over the four years will be $1.4billion, including increased funding of $10.3million over four years for community legal centres,’’ the spokeswoman said.