Victims to ‘fall through cracks’

Friday May 29, 2020

Published by The Border Watch

By Raquel Mustillo

Closure to leave community vulnerable as government defunds support service

LIMESTONE Coast victims of crime needing support navigating the state’s justice system are likely to “fall through the cracks” after Mount Gambier’s peak victim advocacy service reluctantly closes its doors next month.

The Victim Support Service, which provides help to people affected by crime, has been defunded by State Government following the appointment of a new contract.

Relationships Australia South Australia has been appointed to provide therapeutic counselling services across the state, with Attorney-General Vickie Chapman saying the organisation put forward the most comprehensive bid for services across regional and metropolitan areas.

The new service will operate on $800,000 per year - approximately a 66pc drop from the $2.4m allocated to the Victim Support Service.

Victim Support Service chief executive John Koerber said the transition would result in loss of dedicated victim support services which provide help and advocacy for the complex needs of victims.

“Therapeutic counselling services is a very small component of what the Victim Support Service does, as we provide general support and advocacy for clients,” he said.

“We support victims with preparation of victim impact statements, accessing victims of crime compensation and aside from the one on one support, also provide critical training for police cadets, police prosecutors and the Director of Public Prosecutions office.”

Mr Koerber said the organisation’s long-running court companion - which provides support to victims, witnesses and families in courts - would also cease.

He likened Victim Support Service as a one-stop shop for clients and expressed concern victims would be required to seek assistance from multiple agencies.

“In the government’s response on this and something the Attorney-General has previously stated publicly is they believe there is significant duplication in the criminal justice system,” he said.

“Arguably responsibility for providing help with Victim Impact Statements or Victims of Crime Compensation sits within SA Police, but we pick that up because it is under resourced - particularly in regional locations where funding is tight.

“We have been asking for months about who will provide this service and we have not had clarity, but the only assumption is the Victims’ Rights Commissioner and SA Police will put up that general support.

“There will be some things which will fall through the cracks.”

The Attorney-General’s office said Limestone Coast victims of crime could receive help and support from the Office of the Victims Rights Commissioner, but did not respond to a question on whether outreach services were available before deadline.

Ms Chapman’s office said Relationships Australia had committed to establishing an office in Mount Gambier by the end of the year, but directed questions on a date to the organisation.

When asked if an office was required in Mount Gambier as part of the organisation’s contract, Ms Chapman’s staffer said the information was not able to be provided due to commercial in-confidence reasons.

Although Relationships Australia South Australia confirmed it hoped to open an office later this year, Member for Mount Gambier Troy Bell and Labor parliamentarian Clare Scriven have both expressed concerns about the continuity and transition of services in the interim.

Ms Scriven said the new contract was a betrayal of victims, many of who were survivors of family violence and sexual assault.

“It is appalling regional South Australia appears to be abandoned through this change and it appears there will be a big gap in services when the Victim Support Service ceases in Mount Gambier,” she said.

“There could be a gap of up to six months where face-to-face services will not be available to victims of crime.

“We need to have that support on hand, not rely on outreach services.

“Having such huge cuts to crucial services is the wrong approach and we should be increasing assistance to victims of crime and not cutting it.”

Mr Bell hoped the existing face-to-face service delivered by Victim Support Service would not be replaced with a lesser one.

The independent MP indicated he would raise the issue with Ms Chapman next week in parliament.

“Victim Support Service was unique in that it provided an allencompassing service for victims right from the start, guiding them through every stage of the criminal justice system,” he said.

“Sometimes, the relationship between counsellor and victim would stretch on for years.

“That kind of dedicated knowledge and skill set is irreplaceable and I comment our local Victim Support Service coordinator Sonya Mezinec on her excellent work over the last five years.”