The state government cares more about cleaning up the laneway next to the Illawarra Legal Centre than supporting victims of sexual or domestic abuse, the centre’s lawyer claims.
Victims are likely to have their maximum compensation cut from $50,000 to $15,000 under a bill before State Parliament.
Yet earlier this month, the Attorney-General’s Department gave Wollongong City Council $50,000 to turn the graffiti-covered laneway into a ‘‘clean and inviting’’ space.
Principal lawyer Phillip Dicalfas said it was a slap in the face to victims of sexual or domestic abuse.
‘‘My clients are leaving my office and standing in that laneway and looking at the brick wall and I say, ‘What’s more important: this woman abused as a child or a brick wall?’,’’ he said.
‘‘It’s a slap in the face. Such a low amount of money, especially coming down from the amount it was. It’s possible clients wouldn’t bother going ahead with it.
‘‘The government has its priorities wrong.’’
Mr Dicalfas said his clients received on average between $20,000 and $25,000 in compensation under the current scheme. But he expects that to be reduced to about $1500 for most victims.
If passed, the legislation would be retrospective, meaning people whose claims had been lodged as far back as December but were delayed in the backlog would be handled under the new scheme.
‘‘We had 45 claims under way when the changes were announced,’’ Mr Dicalfas said.
‘They were all affected and will either get nothing or a reduced amount.’’
The bill makes allowances for victims to access compensation for loss of income if they cannot work due to rehabilitation or recovery. But according to Mr Dicalfas, many victims will be ineligible.
‘‘A lot of our clients, because of the abuse itself, have never been able to work so can’t establish an economic loss,’’ he said.
Under the current scheme, the Victims Compensation Tribunal could hear matters any time after the incident occurred, Mr Dicalfas said.
The proposed bill would limit the length of time those victims have in which to make a claim to just 10 years after the offence occurred.
‘‘Most of our clients are in their 40s and 50s before they get up the courage to make a claim for a childhood case,’’ he said.