Legal Identity of Defendants (Organisational Child Abuse) Bill 2018

Written on the 24 May 2018

24 May 2018

COUNCIL 

Second reading 

GEORGIE CROZIER (LIB - Southern Metropolitan)

 

I am very pleased to be able to rise this afternoon and speak to the Legal Identity of Defendants (Organisational Child Abuse) Bill 2018.

Before I commence what I want to say in a more substantive manner, I would just like to acknowledge those thousands of people that watched the work of this Parliament, the work that I had the privilege to chair as others have referred to, the work of the Family and Community Development Committee the thousands of people who have been affected and, more importantly, those victims that came before us and the hundreds of people that submitted to our inquiry, because I have no doubt that without the bravery of those many people throughout the course of that inquiry we would not be standing today discussing this very bill.

As Mr Rich-Phillips said and he said it very eloquently; he explained the purpose of the bill, the origins of the bill and the impact that it had on this Parliament never before has a parliamentary committee had such an impact where the issue that was being dealt with did not just cease at the borders of this state; it has gone national. In fact I would say it has gone further than that; it has gone international, because the eyes of the nation were on this Parliament on the day that I had that enormous privilege to table the Betrayal of Trust report in this very chamber on 13 November 2013. It was four and a half years ago, and we are here this afternoon discussing this bill, which closes a loophole for access for victims to be able to sue organisations.

I want to make those points because this has had a profound effect on many, many people, as it certainly has on me and as I know it has on many people in this Parliament. I do not think there is a week that goes by when it is not raised with me in some manner, whether somebody contacts me through my electorate office or whether somebody stops me in the street. As Mr Morris reminded me, I visited someone, a family member, at St John of God on the weekend, drove past the Catholic Church in Geelong and saw the loud fences. I saw all those ribbons still hanging on those fences. It still gives me goosebumps to think of the enormous impact that we had in not only Geelong but, as Mr Morris stated, Ballarat, where a lot of people were very grateful for the opportunity that they had for the very first time to come out and speak to be able to speak, to be listened to, to be heard, to be believed and, importantly, to be believed for the first time.

Ms Patten mentioned in her contribution that this was an issue for her and that she had raised it in 2000. I want to make that point, because it was a very courageous move by former Premier Ted Baillieu, together with Ms Wooldridge, who is in the chamber this afternoon, and former Attorney-General Robert Clark in the Assembly, who actually put this issue into the Parliament. There had been years in which governments had ignored this issue, Ms Patten. They had ignored it. The former Labor government had years, as you rightly said, to acknowledge the abuse and

Ms Patten Labor and Liberal.

 

Ms CROZIER Well, you are talking from 2000. The Labor government was in here and they spent a lot of time talking about the issue and travelling overseas looking at the issue, and they did nothing. So I am very proud to have been part of a government that did do something, and I am very pleased that this government is continuing on with that work.

I want to make just a few references to the point, because in my foreword to the report I said:

Our inquiry marks the beginning. Having confronted and exposed hidden truths in trusted organisations, we look forward to seeing our recommendations implemented and non-government organisations actively reforming their approaches to protecting children and honouring their commitment in this inquiry to participate in any new schemes or monitoring structures that may be established.

I wrote those words in this report's foreword because we wanted organisations to come forward, and they have. And they acknowledge the work that we did. Of course we had the national Royal Commission into Institutional Child Abuse, and I acknowledge the work that was conducted by the national royal commission that really followed our inquiry. We set the way and they followed, and I am very pleased that the many victims' voices from around the country were able to go before that important royal commission and be heard as well.

As other speakers have spoken about, this is about closing a loophole in the legal structures so that victims are able to sue. In our inquiry we heard a lot about the Ellis defence, the John Ellis case, John Ellis's bravery, what he did, how he took on the system and how he exposed what had actually occurred when he, as a young altar boy, had been abused. As an adult he was not able to sue the entity the church because of how the church was set up. I just want to speak to the house about that, because we took a lot of evidence on this. We looked at the issue very thoroughly. As we state in the report, and I will just refer to it, we heard about the legal structures of non-government organisations here in Victoria and how they operate. We heard how some religious or non-government organisations whose representatives actually perpetrated criminal child abuse were not incorporated entities and therefore could not be sued in their own name, which goes to the point of the issue around the Ellis defence and the issue that John Ellis highlighted in New South Wales. In our report we went on to say:

In Victoria, most not-for-profit non-government organisations are incorporated. This means they have a legal identity independent of their members and can be sued in their own name.

Incorporation only gives members some protection from personal liability.

We went on to look at how a number of Victorian statutes the purpose of which is to establish trustee corporations to hold property on behalf of religious organisations were actually working in this state, and we identified those. So it was really very clear how those victims had tried to sue trustee corporations that held property. We have heard in recent times of the extent of what some entities have in their property portfolios, and it is significant.

The cases we have highlighted involve many terrible situations and terrible, horrendous sexual abuse. Often it was physical. It was very brutal. We heard account after account of some of that abuse of little children who were five, six, seven or eight years old or in their teenage years. It was very brutal abuse. It was graphic, and it was absolutely inexplicable. It is just extraordinary that it was perpetrated by people in trusted positions. So it is important that those children who suffered that abuse have got an ability to access the justice that they rightly deserve.

Our findings as a result of this inquiry were very clear. Finding 26.3 was:

Trusts are used widely in Victoria in the for-profit and not-for-profit sectors. Amending specific statutes that establish trustee corporations for some organisations is unlikely to resolve the issue of establishing the legal identity of unincorporated associations and ensuring appropriate governance structures to address civil claims for criminal child abuse.

It was very clear. And then we made recommendation 26.1:

That the Victorian government consider requiring non-government organisations to be incorporated and adequately insured where it funds them or provides them with tax exemptions and/or other entitlements.

As Mr Rich-Phillips highlighted in his contribution, what the government has undertaken is slightly different.

I want to acknowledge the work of the former government because once we had made all these recommendations following this inquiry, the former government, which I was a member of, started working on protecting children immediately. Within a month we had legislation in the Parliament to protect children from grooming. Grooming was one of those issues we heard very extensively about how it affects not just the child but also the secondary victims.

We went on to introduce criminal offences in relation to those people who hold a position of responsibility and who fail to protect a child from sexual abuse when they know someone associated with their organisation poses a risk of sexually abusing children. We introduced a new offence for individuals who fail to inform police if they know that a child has been sexually abused. The government laid out its priorities very clearly. Its next priority was to ensure that children are safe by strengthening the approach of organisations to preventing abuse and responding to abuse, and there is a whole raft of recommendations around that.

The third phase of the government's response was to really look at this issue around options for civil law reform and redress. Noting that the royal commission was being undertaken at the time I tabled the report and when the government made its response, the government said it would continue to explore options for implementing the committee's recommendations and would follow closely the work of the royal commission in its consideration of how to best provide access to justice and redress at a national level.

Obviously once the royal commission had come into play there needed to be an approach, and I am very pleased that Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has led the way in this and that Victoria and New South Wales have been approaching this in the manner in which they should be. I am very pleased about that, and as I said I am pleased that the current government is continuing on with the former government's responses in relation to this particular issue and that we are debating and looking at this legislation to give those victims a greater right to be able to access the justice system and to sue entities. I think that is a very positive move.

I want to put on the record again, for all those victims and some of them still contact me or see me in the street and still speak to me about the work that they are always so grateful for the work that this Parliament has done. The Victorians who have been affected know who they are. They know the work of this Parliament. It has been a collective effort by all of us. It was not just me in the committee; it was everyone. It was the clerks, it was Hansard, it was the attendees. It was everybody in this Parliament who demonstrated the commitment to what we were tasked with doing, and I am very proud of the work that we were able to do. It is certainly a legacy that I will rightly think of when I think of my time in this place.

For all those victims who may be watching today, this is partly because you had the bravery and courage to come before our committee to tell your story, to get this issue exposed not only on a state level but on a national level with the royal commission, and today we are supporting an issue that will close the loophole and give you the justice that you deserve. With those words, and with my colleagues, I wish this bill a speedy passage.

 

 

 


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