Abuse payout offer insult
VICTIMS of sexual and physical abuse in state care have labelled the Government’s scheme to compensate that as "mean-spirited and harsh."
They claim the strict guidelines for claims, which have jest been released, are “re-victimising” them sand that the amount of compensation offered is too low.
Under the guidelines, the ex-gratia payments of up to $50,000 are available in extreme cases, but the vast majority of claimants will receive up to $30,000 for suffering “serious and lasting harm” from sexual abuse.
Attorney-General Michael Atkinson will make the final decision on each payout amount after Crown Law officers have scrutinised each claim. The scheme is designed as an alternative for victims identified during the Mullighan Inquiry who do not wish to take court action for compensation.
But serval victims who have spoken to Sunday Mail say they will continue their District Court civil action, rather than access the compensation scheme.
Among the more contentious guidelines objected to by victims are: the fact that there is no right of review of Mr Atkinson’s decision; claimants must disclose any criminal history they have; and any debt to the Victims of Crime Fund, Centrelink or Medicare by a claimant will be deducted from their payout.
Former state ward Barry Turner, 62, said the guidelines for the scheme were “too harsh” and “an insult to those involved”.
“To me it is just not applicable. I can’t accept it,” he said.
“We have been through all of what they want us to do again with Mr Mullighan. Why can’t they just accept what he says?”
Mr Turner is one of the 165 victims suing the government over psychical and sexual assault while a ward of the state.
His statement of claim, lodged in the District Court, outlines shocking punishment and abuse he suffered at the former Magill reformatory.
Both Mr Turner and another former state ward, who declined to be identified, said it was “ironic” that Mr Atkinson had a say in how much compensation they would get.
“This is the man who had his lawyer write to several people in December demanding $20,000 from each of them because he believed they may have defamed him in an email to some councillors,” the abuse victim said.
“His feelings get hurt and he wants compensation and yet I am only entitled to less that $30,000 for being sexually abused while in state care. It’s a bloody disgrace”
Mr Turner said Mr Atkinson, who has now withdrawn his demand after receiving an apology, “must have been severely hurt” for him to seek such a large payout for defamation.
Duncan Basheer Hanon laywer, Peter Humphries, who is handling the claims before the District Court said there was “no transparency” in the scheme and is was “unnecessarily difficult” for the victims to access.
“The bulk of these could be settled in the mid-range if the Government would instruct its legal officers to sit down and talk to us,” he said.
“The $7 million they have allocated for their officers to work through this could be used to compensate the victims, not consumed in the process as it will be.”
A spokesman for Mr Atkinson said the ex gratia payments were “among the most generous in Australia” and thresholds of proof were substantially lower compare to other types of compensation claims under the Victims of Crime Act.
“If dissatisfied with an offer, a claimant can refuse it and pursue a common law claim, in which the Sate Government has pledged to take a particularly compassionate approach.”
The spokesman said any payment form the Crown must take in debts owing to the state and “the right to recovery for other wrongdoing does not change because of this scheme.”