It has been a busy year for my office, and I want to thank my team of three for the work they have undertaken this year. Covid-19 brought challenges to the workplace, but we were able to transition quickly to work remotely and still provide a service to victims of crime. This was in part, not only due to the technology and systems we already worked with, but because we had largely transitioned to electronic systems and a paperless office.
One of the issues facing victims is the lack of knowledge about their ‘rights’. Many complaints from victims relate to the failure of being informed about their cases, or the withdrawal or lowering of the charges against the accused. The Victims of Crime Act 2001 outlines that victims are required to specifically request to be kept informed. Of course, if they are not aware of this, they don’t make the request. We are told that most victims expect to automatically be kept informed.
We believe that the Act should be amended so that rights become ‘opt out’ rather than an ‘opt in’. This would see the removal of references such as ‘on request’ and the onus shifted from victims to agencies. I strongly believe that agencies involved with victims should be mature enough to deliver on victims’ rights that have been legislated since 2001. This is one change but there are many other amendments that we are working on for victims.
To raise awareness of victim rights and how to exercise those rights, we collaborated with South Australia Police (SAPOL) at the Royal Show. I would like to thank SAPOL for allowing us to partner with them - of course, there is great synergy with SAPOL, who are the first point of contact for most victims of crime. We were assisted at the Royal Show by our partners and volunteers.
We also began a Twitter account to raise our public profile, and as an important source of information and support for victims of crime. We have also developed all the material for our new website, coming in 2020-21. This new website format will be simplified for easier navigation and location of information, as well as being more accessible. We worked with the National Victims of Crime Working Group (NVOCWG), to discuss a proposed National Victims of Crime Day to be held in 2021 when we can focus community attention on victim issues.
Moving accommodation from Pirie Street to Franklin Street provided further impetus to modernise how we manage our publications and distribute them to victims, as well as providing an opportunity to go completely paperless in the office. We have rewritten some of our publications to be easier to read and more accessible and have introduced postcards that can be distributed with pointers to our website.
This year we have spent significant energy and time in developing and establishing rigorous policies and processes relating to discretionary and legal funding payments, so that victims are treated equitably. The development of the policies and tracking workload in a more structured manner as outlined in the last annual report, has enhanced decision making and ensured victims’ needs are met in a more timely manner. This will be further enhanced when a case management system is secured.
During this financial year, case management needs have been scoped and funding approved, and this should be procured and implemented in the 2020-21 financial year, leading to streamlined services to benefit victims. We received less requests for assistance in the initial stages of Covid-19 and this enabled one of our part time staff to mobilise and assist in other areas where there was a greater demand on government services at that time. However, from June onwards these requests increased
significantly – from May to June 2020 the increase was greater than 30%.
Overall, there has been an increase in demand for our services, with our year to date statistics showing 96% of matters were completed in the 2019-20 reporting period. Specific details on victim services provided throughout 2019-20 are contained further in this report.
In June 2019, the government made a funding decision which resulted in a procurement for a counselling service for victims at less cost than had previously provided. At the time of this announcement I noted the need to review the impact this would have on victims and victim services. My office undertook numerous consultations with members of my Commissioner for Victims’ Rights Consultative Committee (CVRCC), as well as stakeholders involved in the victim arena in order to provide advice on what was required in a counselling tender.
In June 2020, the outcome of the procurement process was announced, with Relationships Australia SA (RASA) being the preferred provider. I would like to acknowledge RASA and their significant experience in trauma counselling and look forward to working with them for the benefit of victims. I would also like to personally acknowledge the 40 years of service provided to victims by the Victims Support Service (VSS). I have previously been a VSS Board member, so I know first-hand how hard VSS have worked with victims over an extended period.
In response to advice I provided to the Government about the gaps that would be left when funding was only provided for counselling, in June 2020, my office was provided with additional funding for increased staffing and system capabilities. This funding will address issues falling outside of the victims counselling contract, including support to prepare victim impact statements, court support and the provision of information and advocacy. Even though this will be a challenge, it will also be an opportunity to examine how we can do the best for victims across the State in a coordinated way. I have begun consulting with my CVRCC as well as other agencies involved with victims to develop a long-term sustainable plan.
Commissioner for Victims' Rights