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Published: 31 January 2017
Author: Ashleigh Kemp

Bourke Street tragedy - counselling help for victims, witnesses and relatives

The tragic and deadly events that occurred on 20 January in Melbourne’s Bourke Street Mall have shocked the community. They have also brought into focus just how damaging the effects of a public tragedy like this can be.

People across Melbourne, no matter how removed from the events, have been affected, so much so that professional counsellors have been urging people to seek the comfort of family and friends, or professional help if needed.

Violent crimes often have different types of victims; from those who are directly physically injured, to those witnessing or aiding the injured, and those related to those that have been hurt or killed.

Until they experience or witness a violent crime, people are often unaware that a compensation scheme exists in Victoria to assist victims such criminal acts. The horrific impact of violent crime, such as the events of 20 January in the Bourke Street Mall, can affect victims, witnesses and their loved ones for years to come. Whilst no amount of money can compensate for the suffering of a tragedy, this article is designed to provide clarity on the Victims of Crime Assistance Tribunal (VOCAT) and how to access the help it provides.

How does crimes compensation work?

The crimes compensation scheme operates out of a special Tribunal called the Victims of Crime Assistance Tribunal (VOCAT), at all Victorian Magistrates’ Courts. The types of assistance available is linked to whether an applicant is a Primary, Secondary or Related victim. The Bourke Street Mall tragedy will no doubt encompass all three of these categories.

Related victims – family members, partners or dependants of any of those tragically killed would be eligible for up to $100,000 in financial assistance. Where there are multiple related victims, the Tribunal decides on how that amount is allocated.

Primary victims – people injured at the scene would also be eligible for financial assistance. This includes those physically injured as well as those injured whilst trying to aid/rescue others, prevent the crime occurring or stopping/arresting the offender. A lump sum called ‘Special Financial Assistance’ up to a maximum of $10,000 is available, plus up to another $60,000 for medical and counselling expenses, lost earnings, home security costs and clothing damaged by the crime or taken for evidence. There is also discretion for the Tribunal to award monies for ‘assist recovery’ items that will help the victim move on from the crime, commonly self-defence programs, respite holidays or other confidence building activities.

Witnesses – finally, even onlookers or passers-by could be eligible for help should they be suffering from psychological trauma that requires medical treatment or counselling. Up to $50,000 is available for medical and counselling expenses, and in exceptional circumstances the Tribunal can award monies for lost wages. If the crime involves a minor (either witnessing a violent act, or the parent/guardian witnessing a violent act against their child), the Tribunal can award monies for ‘assist recovery’ items.

How to apply for crimes compensation assistance

It’s reasonably easy to apply for help. A form (https://www.vocat.vic.gov.au/application-assistance) must be completed with contact details of the victim and their injuries, details of the crime, the relevant assisting police officer/s and the help sought.

Applicants can complete the form themselves, and as of 2016 this can be done online (http://vocat.iapply.com.au/#/form/537c03cfdfc1490668c3b672), or if they require legal help, do so through a local lawyer, whose fees are paid directly by the Tribunal.

Once the Application has been processed, Applicants can submit any supporting documentation for the Tribunal’s consideration. If urgent assistance is required (for example, counselling or medical treatment), an ‘Interim’ Application can be made.

Compensation under the Transport Accident Act

It is important to note that the events of 20 January also arguably fall into the definition of a Transport Accident, entitling those injured, dependants of those killed, and witnesses, to compensation under the Transport Accident Act. The Act includes coverage for funeral, medical and counseling costs, loss of income and in some cases, lump sum compensation. Those affected should contact the Transport Accident Commission on 1300 654 329 to lodge their claim, and seek legal advice about their entitlements.

Some useful sites when making a claim and understanding more about the work of the Tribunal follow.

Meanwhile, our team at Ryan Carlisle Thomas and Stringer Clark extend our deepest condolences and support to all of the families and friends impacted by the events that occurred in Bourke Street on 20 January.

Victim Support Services: https://www.vocat.vic.gov.au/resources/victim-support-services

Victims of Crime Assistance Tribunal: https://www.vocat.vic.gov.au/

Types of Victims: https://www.vocat.vic.gov.au/assistance-available/types-victims 

Financial Assistance Available: https://www.vocat.vic.gov.au/assistance-available/financial-assistance-available