House debates

Tuesday, 29 May 2018

Matters of Public Importance

National Redress Scheme for Institutional Child Sexual Abuse Bill 2018, National Redress Scheme for Institutional Child Sexual Abuse (Consequential Amendments) Bill 2018; Second Reading

5:37 pm

Photo of Tanya PlibersekTanya Plibersek (Sydney, Australian Labor Party, Deputy Leader of the Opposition) Share this | Hansard source

I'm very pleased today to rise to speak on the National Redress Scheme for Institutional Child Sexual Abuse Bill 2018 because it gives me an opportunity to speak a little about the bill itself and a little about some of its shortcomings. As the member for Herbert very clearly laid out, while Labor supports the bill and the redress scheme, we think it doesn't go quite far enough in some respects. It also gives me the opportunity of putting on the record in this place the incredible bravery of the people who have participated in the royal commission and my deep gratitude and thanks to so many of those who were involved.

Of course, that starts with our former Prime Minister, my colleague Julia Gillard, for launching the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, and the work that was done by Julia when she was Prime Minister, and by Jenny Macklin, who was the minister responsible at the time, in preparing the groundwork for this royal commission.

The royal commission was conducted in an absolutely exemplary way by those who were entrusted with its running. The work rate was extraordinary: 42,041 calls handled, 25,964 emails and letters received, 8,013 private sessions held and 2,575 referrals, including referrals to the police. The workload was extraordinary, and I do just want to place on the record, once again, how grateful the nation is to the Hon. Justice Peter McClelland AM, who led the royal commission, and to his fellow commissioners: the Hon. Justice Jennifer Coate; Bob Atkinson AO APM; Robert Fitzgerald AM; Helen Milroy; and Andrew Murray, who, of course, is a former colleague of many of us here.

I also want to thank Gail Furness SC, who was the senior counsel assisting the royal commission, as well as all other counsel assisting and the extraordinary staff that worked throughout the operations of the royal commission. I have heard story after story from people who interacted with the royal commission about the compassion, the decency, the thoroughness, the sense of responsibility and the respect that the staff of the royal commission gave to all of those who came forward to tell their stories.

But it is to those people who came forward to tell their stories that my deepest gratitude goes, because I think we really need to acknowledge in this place the extraordinary bravery that goes with survivors stepping forward to give evidence. Some of these people had been lifelong campaigners for the royal commission or something like it, to see a formal response to the abuse they suffered as children. Some who stepped forward had, as the member for Herbert said, kept their stories to themselves for decades—for a whole lifetime, essentially. Both of those approaches take their toll: being a public campaigner takes its toll, and keeping a secret takes its toll. Coming forward to share experiences, for many, was reliving those experiences, and it's a very, very difficult thing to do. So we thank them as a nation, because their bravery means, I hope, that, as the member for Herbert said, no other child has to suffer in the way that these children suffered.

One of the things that were extraordinary about the revelations from the royal commission was how phenomenally widespread this child sexual abuse was and how commonly it occurred in institutions in our suburbs—not in a different place, not in a distant place and not in a distant time but in amongst us and until recently, and indeed, no doubt, still now. In my electorate, there was the Charlton Boys Home in Glebe, which was an institution in which terrible abuse took place. Carl Beauchamp wrote a book about the abuse that he and other boys suffered in the home. The book was called Come Home You Little Bastards, and I launched that book in 2016. Carl spoke about his experience and the experience of his brother and many other boys in this home.

Carl was sent to Charlton Boys Home at the age of 13, having already been sexually assaulted in Yasmar remand home. Carl tells the story of his family, and his family was so very typical of so many families in the inner city at the time when he grew up. He talks about growing up in Redfern and Waterloo and living in Erskineville with his parents—his mother in particular. These boys did nothing wrong. They had the misfortune of being born to parents who couldn't care for them or didn't care for them appropriately. Carl tells the story about the superintendent at the home who was so very violent to the boys, physically and sexually assaulting them, including violent beatings that involved all sorts of injuries—broken bones and compound fractures—freezing showers in the middle of winter, and boys standing there naked being inspected by the staff and having their genitals inspected and fondled. Carl writes about being sent on a camping trip in his Christmas 'holiday', if you could call it that, where he was raped by a man who also raped other boys on that trip.

Essentially, this Charlton Boys Home was run as a paedophile ring. These boys were lent out to paedophiles known to the directors of the home, and when they returned, if they complained, they were brutally punished for complaining. When they reported these crimes, including by demonstrating bleeding, they were not believed and they were further punished. Carl writes about being sexually assaulted on multiple occasions by a man that the home gave him to for weekends at a time. He was one of many boys staying at the home at one time, and he details the abuse that took place at this man's hands. The boys were sent to work in local businesses, often for no money. Carl was sent to work in a pie factory in Kensington where, again, he was sexually assaulted by the owner. Carl wrote in his book about 20 other boys from the home also claiming to have been sexually assaulted or raped by the owner. This wasn't an accident. It wasn't a one off; it was repeated methodical, organised paedophilia with the cover of an institution. And it happened with no recourse and no protection for these little children and a feeling of impunity or invincibility amongst those who were doing the abuse. That is the extraordinary thing about this.

Carl writes about a little boy, Alan, who was six years of age. He was raped by a part-time officer in a tin shed at the back of the home. When little 6-year-old Alan told the home superintendent about the crime, he was abused as a liar and punished for reporting it. What followed were years of sustained humiliation and abuse because of his report, as well as the continued sexual assault. You wonder why children didn't come forward earlier when they saw what happened to the kids who did come forward? It's no wonder. It's a wonder that anybody's ever been brave enough to complain.

I want to pay tribute to Carl and to all of those who came forward through the course of the royal commission: those who made their stories public beforehand when demanding the royal commission, and those who were brave enough to come forward subsequently. I also want to say this one thing about Carl: he's gone on to have the most beautiful life and marriage. He's a father of four, grandfather—last time I checked—of 12 and great grandfather of 17, and he's still married to his first love, Beryl. To find it possible in your heart to find love and stability, to value family and to go on to have a good life after this terrible start just shows the phenomenal strength of Carl. But not everybody made it through. Part of the reason for this Redress Scheme is to acknowledge the lifelong and ongoing damage that so many have faced, and for us to admit to ourselves that not everyone made it. Too many people never made it.

Throughout my electorate there are these landmarks of abuse, such as the former Bidura, the former children's court and remand centre on Glebe Point Road. Even more recently, in one of the music institutes in my electorate, around the corner from where my office was, abuse was taking place. This is living memory. These people who were abused are still young. This isn't ancient history. So many institutions and so many people have been affected right throughout our nation.

Also, I want to take the time I have remaining to say that this this royal commission and the Redress Scheme would not have come about without so many years of hard work and committed lobbying by so many people in our community. Pamella Vernon is a woman who was formerly in my electorate—a former long-time constituent. She's Vice-President of the organisation Alliance for Forgotten Australians. Pamella lobbied me for many years before the royal commission was announced. She grew up in the Central Methodist Mission Dalmar Children's Home, and she has been advocating for forgotten Australians for over 45 years. She can tell you the stories of her family and the affect that what happened to them as children has had on them, and it would break your heart. The Alliance for Forgotten Australians work tirelessly supporting survivors and lobbying for a national redress scheme, and they continue to hold governments to account to demand that governments and institutions that haven't signed up do so.

Many in this chamber and in the Senate know very well of the work of CLAN, the Care Levers Australasia Network, and the phenomenal work of Leonie Sheedy and all of those who have worked with Leonie over the years. We know of the support that CLAN has given survivors of child sexual abuse, helping them come forward, helping them tell their stories and helping them give their evidence, as well as dealing with their retraumatisation after they have given their evidence to the royal commission, despite the fine work of the royal commission. CLAN has been there through all of it. I am delighted to have been asked to be one of their parliamentary patrons. Their resolve and strength is continually inspiring. I visited their National Orphanage Museum, which provides an incredible, permanent monument to the experiences of the 'clannies'. It is a room full of the most poignant reminders through the artefacts that care leavers have given to the museum—artefacts that bear witness to their lives. It was very moving to visit that museum, and I certainly would urge other members of parliament to take the opportunity, if they can.

Finally, as pointed out by CLAN, the abuse that children suffered in institutions was not just sexual abuse; it was also physical abuse and emotional abuse. Over 25 years in Victoria, hundreds of children in orphanages and babies homes, wards of the state, were used in vaccine experiments and studies by doctors, in conjunction with CSL. It was unconscionable behaviour. There have been examinations in the past in this place that detail some of this behaviour. Another constituent of mine, Stephanie, has helped to keep this issue alive and at the forefront of our minds to make sure that the behaviour involved in these despicable acts of using young children, without any ability to consent, without the consent of any parent, continues to be remembered by this parliament and by our Australian community. I think it's vital that the work that Stephanie is doing to remind people of the use of these babies, including wards of the state, for vaccine experiments continues to be examined and that we, as a parliament, investigate the long-term effects. I want to thank the late Anthony Foster and his wife, Christine, who did so much work in bringing these issues to light and taking on the might of the Catholic Church.

Many of my colleagues have detailed the ways in which we differ from the government on this bill. We would like to see changes but, of course, we won't stand in the way of the bill itself, because too many survivors have been waiting too long for the redress that this scheme offers.


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