A Black Saturday fire-fighter who kicked his former partner in the head so hard it snapped her optic nerve and blinded her in one eye has been given a bravery award by the Royal Humane Society of Australasia.
In a ceremony attended by Victorian Governor Alex Curnov and other dignitaries at Melbourne Town Hall on Friday night Paul Francis McCuskey, 41, of Reefton in rural Victoria, was named as a recipient of the Humane Society's Certificate of Merit for his part in helping to save an elderly woman and her animals in the Marysville area during the 2009 Black Saturday bushfires.
McCuskey is serving a five and a half year jail sentence after pleading guilty two years ago to a series of attacks on his former partner.
In one assault, he punched and kicked the pregnant woman in the stomach, only stopping after a friend intervened.
In another he dragged her from their bed and kicked her in the head, leaving her bleeding and in terrible pain. She lost the sight in her left eye. Doctors said the woman suffered injuries similar to those usually seen only in high impact car accidents.
The Humane Society said it would "review" the award.
The victim declined to comment, but she is believed to be extremely upset by the award.
Deb Bryant, CEO of the Women's Domestic Violence Crisis Service, says any award to McCuskey is an outrage.
"Committing such violence against one's partner is anything but brave, it's outright cowardly," she says. "This man doesn't deserve any kind of public award; if anything he owes the public an apology for what he's done."
His fire-fighting colleagues agree. "I'm not going to stand up and fight for him," says CFA captain Dan Bennett, McCuskey's former commander.
"As far as we are concerned, he's a scumbag and he's where he deserves to be. What we're disappointed in that it's taken the shine off the award for the rest of the crew."
Humane Society President Ross Campbell says that he and other members of the selection committee were not aware of McCuskey's crime, guilty plea or jail sentence.
"We don't check everybody out as to their status," says Mr Campbell. "Whether or not the award is appropriate I can't say at the moment. He was judged on what he did then, on that day... but if they are in prison then that would certainly be an issue.
"These people are given awards for saving the lives of others and there may be issues occasionally like this one where we have to review it because of other circumstances and I will do that straight away."
The same awards ceremony also honoured a man who helped save a woman from a violent partner.
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