Handling of child abuse by religious and other non-government organisations (13.11.2013)

Written on the 14 November 2013

Ms CROZIER (Southern Metropolitan Region) presented report, including appendices, together with transcripts of evidence.

Ordered that report be printed.

The PRESIDENT -- Order!

Before I call on Ms Crozier again, I know there are a great many people in the gallery who are interested in this report being presented to the Parliament today. I understand the significance of this report for each of you, and I wish to indicate that it is important that you do not participate in the proceedings. You are most welcome to hear the speeches that will be made in support of the tabling of this report, but I ask that you refrain from any sort of participation at all, which includes applause or comment or such like. I thank you for your assistance in that.

Ms CROZIER (Southern Metropolitan) -- I move that the Council take note of the report. 

 

The report is available on the homepage of the Parliament of Victoria website at www.parliament.vic.gov.au

 

President, it is a great honour to rise and speak to the report of the inquiry into the handling of child abuse by religious and other non-government organisations undertaken by the Family and Community Development Committee.

This has been a significant and historic inquiry for the state of Victoria, and I am proud to table our final report on behalf of the committee. We have called our report Betrayal of Trust -- the reasons are clear. Children were betrayed by trusted figures in organisations of high standing and suffered unimaginable harm. Parents of these children experienced a betrayal beyond comprehension, and the community was betrayed by the failure of organisations to protect children in their care.

This report was made possible by the hundreds of personal accounts that victims courageously shared with us during the inquiry, many for the very first time. I thank them for their determination and the significant contributions they made to our inquiry. I also thank the families of victims, some of whom spoke on behalf of those who could not. To the many other participants who provided us with invaluable insights, thank you.

We received a large volume of evidence: 578 submissions were provided, and we held 162 hearing sessions, including 56 private hearings. I would like to acknowledge the cooperation by organisations throughout the inquiry in providing evidence, assisting with additional information we requested and enabling us to access relevant files. In addition to the evidence from victims, we heard from experts and those with valuable knowledge on protecting children, from communities in regional Victoria and from non-government organisations themselves.

We held hearings in Melbourne, Bendigo, Geelong and Ballarat, and the committee recognises that there are communities in many other parts of Victoria that have also been affected. Through written submissions and hearings we also sought access to documents and files from organisations. In total the committee scrutinised 604 complaints files to assist in understanding the management of complaints.

From the evidence we heard, the devastating effects of the crime of child abuse were clearly evident, in many instances with life-altering implications. The criminal abuse of children is a fundamental breach of the values of our community. It involves unlawful physical assaults, sexual abuse offences and the criminal neglect of children. Children cannot be expected to protect themselves from crimes such as these within organisations, and it is up to us as a community to take greater responsibility in safeguarding their wellbeing.

In our evidence we heard that children were subjected to a pattern of criminal behaviour, parents were groomed to enable access to their children, reports of criminal abuse were not acted upon by organisations, and organisations covered up their wrongdoings to protect their reputations and finances. It was important that we could review all the evidence we heard and received and that our final conclusions were soundly based.

The committee was extremely mindful of the complex nature of information given to the inquiry: allegations, disclosures and the sensitivities for victims reliving their experiences. To assist victims throughout the inquiry process we engaged the Victims Support Agency to provide multiple levels of support at varying stages of their participation. It was never our role to investigate individual cases, and we were instructed by our terms of reference not to impinge on the responsibility of the police or courts.

At the outset we worked to establish a parallel process for any allegations that may have arisen from any historical or new cases that could then be responded to properly. The SANO task force was established by Victoria Police to investigate any claims or allegations, and during its inquiry the committee referred 135 cases to the task force.

We have endeavoured to be open, transparent and balanced in conducting our inquiry. To ensure natural justice and to prevent us impinging on the responsibilities of investigatory agencies we have needed to redact content before publishing it on our website and also ensure that people were given the opportunity to submit a right of reply if they felt they needed to. In total we received 30 rights of reply at the time we adopted our report.

Our recommendations are intended to provide an umbrella of protections from the consequences of the heinous crime of child abuse that people in positions of authority have facilitated either through their actions or their inaction. While we acknowledge we cannot repair the irreparable damage that has beset so many, our recommendations are designed to create an easier path for victims in their pursuit of justice.

In essence our recommendations cover five key areas. Firstly, in reforming the criminal law we propose amendments and new laws to: make it an offence to fail to report to police or to conceal knowledge of suspected criminal abuse of children; make it a criminal offence for people in authority to knowingly put a child at risk; and make it a separate offence to groom a child, their parents or others.

Secondly, to create easier access to civil litigation we propose legislative amendments to exclude criminal child abuse from the current statute of limitations, recognising that it can take decades for victims to come forward about their abuse, and to ensure that organisations are held accountable for their legal duty to protect children from criminal abuse and that they can be held vicariously liable for the actions of people who act on behalf of the organisation. We have also addressed the legal entity of non-government organisations. Any organisation that receives government funding or tax exemptions from government should be incorporated and insured.

Thirdly, we propose the establishment of an independent, alternative avenue of justice for those people who want to make a claim but cannot or do not want to take civil proceedings. It is intended that this will be a truly independent government-managed system that is paid for by non-government organisations.

Fourthly, we recommend greater monitoring and scrutiny of organisations through independent oversight and by giving greater attention to developing the skills and knowledge of people in organisations to appropriately handle allegations.

Finally, we make recommendations to further enhance prevention systems and processes, including strengthening the working-with-children check system and working towards organisational environments that are safe from criminal abuse.

As chair of the Family and Community Development Committee, it has been an enormous privilege and honour to have worked on an inquiry of such significance. It is an important reminder that our Parliament is privileged to hold special powers and has the capacity to conduct such an inquiry which has exposed many issues that may otherwise never have been revealed.

I pay tribute to the former Premier, Ted Baillieu, and the government for having the courage to launch an inquiry of such great importance. At that time no other government within Australia was prepared to take on issues as confronting as those about which we have read and heard. It was only after the establishment of this inquiry that New South Wales established an inquiry in that state and the former federal government announced the royal commission.

This inquiry has been a collaborative effort by many, all of whom felt the responsibility of the task they had been given and all of whom have supported the committee throughout the course of the inquiry.

In conclusion, I thank the Parliament and those people who have assisted with the inquiry. To the dedicated secretariat, whose members have worked so diligently and with compassion, and who together with the staff of Hansard have had the unenviable task of recording a litany of personal trauma and obnoxious criminal behaviour; to Dr Janine Bush, who together with her team has done an extraordinary job in assisting the committee and getting this report to the Parliament today; to the expert advisers, Mr Mal Hyde and Ms Claire Quin, who have given tremendous guidance; and to the Honourable Frank Vincent, I thank you for your wise counsel, which has been instrumental in so many ways. And finally, to my committee members, who have all worked with dedication and demonstrated such commitment to enable the tabling of this report today, I especially thank Mrs Coote and Mr O'Brien in this house, and in the Assembly the deputy chair and member for Broadmeadows, Mr McGuire, the member for Ferntree Gully, Mr Wakeling, and the member for Thomastown, Ms Halfpenny.

President, I believe our inquiry marks the beginning. We have not only listened but we have heard. This is our report. I trust it gives the community an opportunity to set a new benchmark for the future protection of Victoria's children.

I commend the report to the house.

 

Honourable members applauded.

The PRESIDENT -- Order! It would be hard to tell people in the gallery not to applaud when members do. At any rate, I thank Ms Crozier for a fine presentation of that report.

 

. . . .

 

Mrs COOTE (Southern Metropolitan) -- In the words of Justice Marks of the Supreme Court of Victoria:

A society which fails to protect its children from sexual abuse by adults, particularly those entrusted with their care, is degenerate.
It is within this framework that the Family and Community Development Committee of this Parliament presents its report, Betrayal of Trust. Sexual offences against children are by no means a recent phenomenon, nor have these crimes occurred only or mainly within the institutions that are now the subject of increased scrutiny. The sad reality is that such assaults have been committed throughout human history within virtually every kind of family and other setting that gives perpetrators access to children.

This report may appear to emphasise offences that occurred in the Catholic Church and the homes and orphanages operated by the Salvation Army. This is an inevitable product of the volume and content of the submissions the committee received.


In regard to the Catholic Church, specifically the committee found that rather than being instrumental in exposing the criminal abuses within the organisation, it minimised and trivialised the problem; it contributed to abuse not being disclosed or not being responded to at all prior to 1990; it ensured that the Victorian community remained uninformed of the abuse; and it ensured that perpetrators were not held accountable, with the tragic result that some children continued to be abused by some religious personnel when it could have been avoided.

We found that today's church leaders, with the notable exception of Father Kevin Dillon, view the current question of abuse of children as a short-term embarrassment which should be handled as quickly as possible to cause the least damage to the church's standing. They do not see the problems as raising questions about the church's own culture.

The betrayal of trust perpetrated at a number of levels of the church hierarchy is also so completely contrasted to the stated values of their religion that many parishioners found the betrayal almost impossible to acknowledge.

A sliding morality has developed within the Catholic Church which emphasises the interests of the perpetrator and the church. The Catholic Church appears to have compartmentalised the issues in order to avoid the obvious moral conflicts. This is apparent within the Catholic Church's evidence, presented to the committee. It shows that even today church leaders are to reluctant to fully acknowledge that they adopted policies that gave first priority to protecting the interests of the church. The Catholic Church's submission 'Facing the Truth' barely mentions past church policies and is expressed mainly in the present tense.

Over recent times, and notably since the establishment of this inquiry and the royal commission, religious leaders have been at pains to emphasise their bona fides in this area and their desire to support victims and assist them to achieve justice. This can be easily tested and will be quickly evident.

Whether they are prepared to continue to rely on the legalistic approaches adopted to date or whether they are simply engaged in damage control, hoping the issues will soon fade from public consciousness, will constitute a powerful indicator of the genuineness of their remorse. This must not be permitted to happen.

The notion of justice cannot be confined to the past or the present but must have regard to the rights of children in the future. The recommendations of the committee are directed to achieving these objectives as far as possible. The community must be confident that whatever dangers await children in the external world, the church, synagogue, mosque, temple and school are places they can grow and learn in safety.

We saw firsthand that abuse has ruined the childhoods of Victorian victims and has been an ever present part of their adult lives. Collectively as a society we have failed these children by allowing them to be incarcerated in places and exposed to people who did not cherish them. This betrayal must cease.

 

. . .

 

Mr O'BRIEN (Western Victoria) -- I rise to make my contribution to the debate on the report of the Family and Community Development Committee on institutional child abuse, appropriately entitled Betrayal of Trust.

I join my colleagues in commending all who were involved in this inquiry and in particular the many victims who made submissions or appeared before the committee for their strength, courage and determination. It is their wellbeing and their stories of their pain and their often unsuccessful search for justice and vindication that have remained the focus of the committee's deliberations. I also commend a number of persons who have provided me with the faith, support and guidance to participate in this inquiry.

First and foremost, I commend the chair, Georgie Crozier, who balanced the need to be caring and respectful while also being insightful, efficient and at times forthright. Most importantly, she managed to conduct this inquiry in a way that was fair and balanced for all participants. I must also acknowledge the deputy chair, Frank McGuire, the member for Broadmeadows in the Assembly, and the other committee members for engaging in that work in a non-partisan manner.

I am grateful for the assistance of the committee's advisers, in particular the Honourable Frank Vincent, Clare Quinn, Dr Janine Bush, Amanda Kennedy, Mal Hyde and Ian Dosser. Time does not permit me to mention the many other supporters, but I endorse the remarks of my colleagues that it was indeed a group effort. I wish to express my personal thanks to my family, former Premier Ted Baillieu and Deputy Premier Peter Ryan for having the courage to initiate this important inquiry and for appointing me to the committee.

The rape of children and other criminal child abuse are gross betrayals of trust whenever they occur; however, when they are conducted by members of trusted organisations that then cover up those crimes and in their denials and cover-ups facilitate further child abuse on unsuspecting communities, children and families, it is an abomination.

That much of this abuse was carried out by paedophile clergy in the Catholic Church and personnel in the Salvation Army is a terrible indictment of those organisations, in which much community trust was placed. Up to 25 per cent of the Victorian population identifies, or once identified, as Catholic. Of course there are many committed Catholics and many good priests, such as Father Kevin Dillon of Geelong, who provided much support to many victims over many years. Father Dillon's concluding testimony in Geelong sums up the feelings of many victims who are former Catholics or who attempt to remain devoted. Father Dillon concluded:

I certainly do not want to be interpreted as bucketing on the church. I love my church, I love what it represents and I love all the enormous amount of good and solace and comfort that it provides, but I do believe in this most critical area of its responsibility as well is its ministry that it has failed very badly.

I just hope that perhaps in some small part my offering might go some way towards a much better treatment for victims along the way.
A glimpse of the extent of the abuse can be gained by simply listing the towns in the Ballarat diocese of the Catholic Church where reported abuse took place. The Ballarat diocese corresponds with much of Western Victoria Region, which I represent together with some of my parliamentary colleagues, many of whom took the time to attend hearings in Ballarat and Geelong.

I have complied this list as a testament to all the victims, who in many cases include not only the children who are now adults themselves but also their families and often tight-knit and small communities.

Secondly, this list refutes any suggestion that this abuse was not systemic or endemic, at least in the Ballarat diocese, without for the moment adding the systemic abuse that occurred in Melbourne, other parts of regional Victoria and indeed interstate and internationally.

In alphabetical order, based on Broken Rites research and the evidence presented to the committee, towns in the Ballarat diocese or the western region affected by Catholic clergy child abuse include:

Apollo Bay, Ararat, Ballarat, Bannockburn, Camperdown, Colac, Edenhope, Geelong, Inglewood, Hamilton, Horsham, Kyneton, Maryborough, Mildura, Mortlake, Ouyen, Penshurst, Portland, Port Fairy, Sea Lake, Swan Hill, Tatyoon, Terang, Warrnambool, Wendouree, Werribee and Winchelsea.

I should add that many of these towns contained numerous victims and numerous offenders, sometimes offending during the same or over successive time periods. Several more prolific offenders offended in a number of these towns after having been moved on, when a proper intervention would have prevented further abuse of innocent communities and innocent victims, many of whom remain nameless. Nevertheless, one can see by this raw list of towns and communities that these crimes affected the whole Victorian community, and for that the church stands condemned. Having facilitated rape and child abuse across much of western Victoria, it is appropriate that the church hierarchy stands condemned for its actions and inactions at the highest levels in Victoria over many years.

It is also appropriate that this inquiry was conducted by a tripartisan joint house committee of the Victorian Parliament and that this report now be considered by the Parliament as whole. Whilst this report represents the culmination of this committee's work, the task for victims and their families will go on.

The more serious task remains for the offending religious and secular organisations to genuinely commit to working with the government and the Parliament to implement the committee's recommendations, embracing the cultural change sought by so many submitters, providing genuine reparation for all victims and seeking to ensure that the systemic child abuse that betrayed so much trust can never occur again.

 

. . .

 

Mr JENNINGS (South Eastern Metropolitan) -- It is my humbling responsibility to speak on and welcome this report on behalf of the Labor Party.

I do so by thanking the resilience, determination and depth of compassion, commitment and resolve of care leavers and people who have had to endure pain and suffering for the many decades that have led us to this position -- a position where the Parliament of Victoria is behaving at its best.

The Parliament of Victoria is rising up to meet the sheer enormity of our responsibility to be custodians of the care and wellbeing of our citizens and to make sure we protect them now and into the future, where we have sorely failed them in the past.

I wholeheartedly congratulate the government on commissioning this inquiry. I wholeheartedly thank the government for having the courage of its convictions and to undertake this work, which had been ignored for decades by all jurisdictions across this nation and which has led to a building of momentum in other states and across the nation to finally open our hearts and minds and listen to the testimony of those who suffered at the outrageous hands of people who abused them in a fashion that was systemic, as has been referred to by members of the committee.

I thank the people who had the courage to appear before this inquiry and to share their stories and place their personal circumstances -- their pain and suffering -- in the hands of a political process that has largely ignored this issue for decades. That in itself showed great courage. I congratulate my colleagues -- and they are my colleagues in the best and broadest sense of the word -- across the Parliament of Victoria who opened their hearts and minds to listen to and seek the wise counsel of people within the Parliament and across the legal and community services sector in Victoria to highlight the important lessons that need to be learnt and to take the steps that have been taken today.

I have not had the opportunity to read this report, but I certainly give my undertaking to do so.

I am sure my colleagues on this side of the house will want to be fully apprised not only of the testimony and recommendations in this report but also of the momentum that Ms Crozier outlined in terms of the legislative reform that is required in the state of Victoria to protect children and all our citizens into the future. Those reforms sound to me like the sorts of things that will bring out the best in this Parliament -- the best of any politician in this state -- if we rise to the challenge the committee has laid before us today by responding appropriately to the recommendations that have come through this inquiry.

On behalf of the Labor Party, I acknowledge that this was work that we left undone. My colleagues and I will do our best to make sure we rise up to seize the opportunity that the government and the parliamentary inquiry has provided us.

We will try to walk the steps of justice into the future so that the resilient, committed and determined people who have left care -- what an ironic term that is -- but survived may walk their own paths of restitution and justice. We will walk together in future. All Victorians will be better for that if we can focus on the way we can protect children and citizens and help them live fulfilling and enriched lives and ensure that the pain and suffering that has been borne by people for years leads to circumstances where, under Victorian law, such suffering will not occur in the future.

Hon. D. M. DAVIS (Minister for Health) -- I speak on behalf of the government when I say this is a seminal day. I thank Mr Jennings for his generous contribution. I particularly thank Ms Crozier, chair of the Family and Community Development Committee, and all other members of the committee. I thank all of those who have contributed to this inquiry.

I thank Ted Baillieu, the former Premier and member for Hawthorn in the Assembly, for the courage he showed, along with Peter Ryan and the cabinet, in leading forward with this. But most of all I thank those who contributed to the inquiry. I hope that good comes from this, as outlined by Ms Crozier, Mrs Coote, Mr O'Brien and Mr Jennings. After consideration of the report the

Parliament will have an opportunity to look at it in great detail and debate it in full. I see this, as Mr Jennings has outlined, as a time of hope and response and a time to look into the future.

Ms HARTLAND (Western Metropolitan) -- On behalf of the Greens, I would also like to thank the Family and Community Development Committee. I was unsure whether the committee would be able to do everything it had been charged with at the beginning, but quite clearly it has done a magnificent job. Having read a number of the transcripts, I do not know how committee members sat in that room, day after day, looking into the eyes of people who had been abused by the Catholic Church and whose trust had been betrayed. As someone who was raised a Catholic I understand oh so well the power of the Church and the fact that it would not admit to what it had done. All I can say to committee members and to anyone who kept this going for decades and said, 'I am not going to accept this treatment from the Church', is thank you.

I thank them, and I thank all the people who gave evidence. I particularly thank the police.

If anybody reads just one submission, I would suggest they read the submission from Victoria Police, which clearly outlines the kinds of barriers they came up against.

Again, I wish to thank members of the committee. I know the Hansard staff have already been thanked because at times it was particularly difficult for them as well, but they did a magnificent job.

Motion agreed to.

 

. . .

 

The PRESIDENT -- Order!

I was going to make some remarks, but I think Mr Jennings stole my notes because he eloquently expressed some of the comments I wanted to make, which were to congratulate Georgie Crozier, chair, and Frank McGuire, the member for Broadmeadows in the Legislative Assembly, deputy chair, and members of the committee for the work they have done on this very difficult inquiry.

The fundamental responsibility of a Parliament is obviously to protect the rights of citizens and to ensure their safety and security. Perhaps for far too long this Parliament as an entity has overlooked its responsibility to ensure justice for people who have clearly been abused and suffered a betrayal of trust, as this committee has highlighted with its work. The Parliament is often derided and sometimes even ridiculed, as are its members, for the work we do, and yet, as Mr Jennings rightly said, the work of this committee has demonstrated the Parliament at its best.

Congratulations to the committee on the work it has done.

On behalf of all members of Parliament, I join the leaders of the respective parties and members of the committee in thanking those people who opened their hearts, and opened their wounds in some respects, in an inquiry that was very confronting and difficult and has perhaps been too long coming. Hopefully now there is a measure of justice in what has been achieved by this committee, and the work it has done will ensure that the laws and processes in the future are much more responsive to the needs of our citizens.

 

 


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