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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 1999 Week 12 Hansard (25 November) . . Page.. 3724 ..

MR HUMPHRIES (continuing):

That the Assembly takes note of the paper.

Mr Speaker, I indicated to members at the government business meeting the other day that the report had already been tabled. I regret that error. That, in fact, is happening now.

Compiling a government response to this report has been a very difficult task, because the recommendations are complex and numerous. In compiling a response, I have asked my officers to work hard to achieve agreement with as many of the recommendations as possible; but agreement with all of the recommendations would, frankly, cost taxpayers in this community millions upon millions of dollars.

Criminal injuries compensation schemes are created by legislation and are essentially welfare measures. Unlike workers compensation or accident compensation schemes, they are not a statutory embodiment of previously existing rights to damages. Criminal injuries compensation schemes are a relatively recent invention which some commentators regard as primarily an attempt to mollify victims' rights activists alienated by the treatment of victims in the criminal justice system.

The Government's two submissions to the committee's inquiry reported that the efficacy of such schemes to address victims' concerns in any meaningful way has been challenged by both victimologists and victims themselves.

Despite the origins of the current scheme as a welfare measure, the courts in the ACT have applied the common law tort scale to awards of criminal injuries compensation. As the discussion paper released by my department in 1997 noted, the adoption of the tort scale has effectively transferred to the Territory the liability of any offender as the defendant in a civil action for damages without conferring on the Territory the rights that such a defendant would have in the litigation, such as the right to compel a medico-legal examination of the claimant or to demand better particulars of the claim. The result has been that the criminal injuries compensation scheme has lost its character as a welfare measure by government and now costs far more than was originally anticipated.

Despite the ACT's comparatively low crime rate, the ACT scheme is the second most expensive scheme per capita in Australia and has the second highest average award at $13,333 per claimant. The ACT's per capita expenditure and average award size is exceeded only by New South Wales. However, New South Wales has a far higher rate of serious violent crime than the ACT and its expenditure is expected to decrease as that State completes the transition from its 1997 legislation to its 1996 legislation.

It was interesting to read in last Sunday's Sun-Herald that a New South Wales parliamentary committee chaired by Labor MP Tony Stewart is calling for urgent reform of the State's CIC scheme. Mr Stewart was quoted as saying:

We need to get back to the real needs of genuine victims rather than just throwing money at them.

Some people might be better served with counselling and support services than a big payout.

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