She said it may “compound trauma” to re-engage with a service or read reports.
Victim-survivors would also have to meet any costs for obtaining records up-front, and would only recoup them if their application was successful.
“Many victim-survivors don’t have spare cash to be able to do this,” she said.
The scheme offers payments and support services to victims of violent crime, including financial assistance for economic loss, one-off recognition payments – starting at $1500 – and up to $5000 for immediate needs such as urgent medical treatment, refuge fees and security measures.
Survivors are already required to collect their own supporting evidence to access immediate needs payments. In other cases, Victims Services provides assistance.
The head of the Department of Communities and Justice, Michael Coutts-Trotter, told the Herald “we absolutely acknowledge the concerns of women’s groups [and] particularly the community legal services sector” but he believed the changes would help speed up access to payments.
He said the changes would “provide a significant incentive for victim-survivors to make use of the free counselling that the scheme offers them”, because a counsellor can provide a report supporting an application.
He said victim-survivors had shown they could access the necessary documents to obtain an urgent immediate needs payment, and the waiting time for those payments had “fallen from 73 business days to an average of 12, a three-month improvement”.
It was taking “an average of well over a year” for applicants to receive other payments, and the changes were aimed at delivering “a much swifter response to people who deserve a swift response”.
He said the government would work with the sector to “agree upon a mechanism for reviewing the impact of this change so if we are wrong about our assumptions we will know it, we can make changes”.
The scheme was the subject of a controversial overhaul in 2013, leading to many victims receiving significantly smaller payments. But the changes also expanded eligibility criteria and introduced immediate needs payments.
Shadow attorney-general Paul Lynch said the changes should not go ahead and were “completely out of touch with victims”.
“This will make it easier for bureaucrats but harder for victims,” he said.
Domestic Violence Line 1800 65 64 63; 1800-RESPECT 1800 737 732; Lifeline 13 11 14; Kids Helpline 1800 55 1800
Michaela Whitbourn is a legal affairs reporter at The Sydney Morning Herald.