Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2003 Week 9 Hansard (28 August) . . Page.. 3329 ..
MR STANHOPE (continuing):
The victims services scheme was found to be offering appropriate assistance that promotes victim recovery. However, the community still had major concerns regarding the inequity of retaining awards for pain and suffering for certain occupational classes, namely police officers, ambulance officers and fire fighters. The mandatory requirement to report the crime to the police was criticised as well as the level of the legal fee cap that solicitors could charge for assisting with a financial assistance claim under the act.
The government, in its response, agreed to make changes to these provisions and one additional aspect of the legislation, and these are reflected in today's bill. This bill amends the act to remove awards for pain and suffering for police officers, ambulance officers and fire fighters and in doing so rectifies an inequity introduced into the act in 1999.
In 1999 members of the crossbench singled out these occupational classes for entitlements to special awards in respect of pain and suffering. Justification given for their inclusion was that these occupational groups routinely placed themselves in dangerous situations on a daily basis and the community should make a special exception in recognition of the service they provided.
This government values highly the excellent service provided by the police, fire fighters and ambulance officers and accepts the dangerous nature of these occupations but it cannot continue to justify the preferential treatment under the act reserved for these occupations alone, particularly having regard to the overwhelming criticism from the community that these requirements are unfair. These occupations have always had access to workers compensation for injuries suffered in the course of their duties. In recognition of this inequity, the special award is removed.
Mr Rugendyke at the time also moved amendments to enable victims of sexual offences to be eligible for an award of special assistance for pain and suffering. In line with the government's commitment in the Dare report and in this Assembly to restore the balance in the legislation, these awards are also removed in the bill. Preferential treatment for particular groups is not appropriate nor should the legislation discriminate between categories of victims. The government is not insensitive to or dismissive of the suffering survivors of sexual offences experience.
For this reason also, this award will not be extended to other categories of violent crime, such as domestic violence, as was suggested by some contributors to the review of the act. These amendments ensure that the legislation does not discriminate between victims purely on the basis of a characteristic that is not related to the severity of the actual injury sustained.
Where the severity of the injury is of such a nature that they have suffered an extremely serious injury under the act, these victims would be eligible to apply for special assistance in the amount of $30,000, as would any other victim of a violent crime. This is a flat rate of $30,000 as opposed to the maximum upper limit that currently applies to pain and suffering awards. Combined with medical and other expenses, which are likely to be significant for severe injuries, the total award to a victim would feasibly reach the maximum aggregate amount awardable under the act of $50,000.