following remarks are made in addition to the report, not in opposition to it. Throughout
the Committee hearings, I have been deeply moved by the stories of many
witnesses. The following remarks propose what I believe are more effective
means of achieving the same objectives as the recommendations which are
included within the body of the report.
In my opinion, the objective
of any report such as this should be to achieve the best possible outcome for
the aggrieved group concerned.
As such, I believe that
addressing the issues of reviewing governments’ procedures, the actions of
individuals over time, the culpability of individuals and organisations and
reforms to be undertaken to prevent further abuse are best dealt with through a
protocol developed by the Council of Australian Governments.
A Royal Commission could be
counter-productive in terms of the allocation of resources and the outcomes it
would achieve. Addressing these issues through COAG would provide governments
with the opportunity to work with each other and develop appropriate methods of
addressing the concerns of former children in institutional care.
Royal Commissions are
exceptionally expensive exercises in the context of the fact that that money
could be better spent assisting victims themselves. Also, the objective of
establishing a Royal Commission is to encourage State and Territory governments
to comply with the Committee’s recommendations. Yet it is doubtful that a
proposed Royal Commission, without the support of any government, which is
recommended by a Senate committee would have any impact at all upon the actions
of the State and Territory governments.
The work of the Senate
Community Affairs References Committee has been significant, in depth and
wide-ranging. We have held eight days of hearings, received 440 submissions and
produced a detailed report with a long series of recommendations which reflect
the evidence we received. Establishing a Royal Commission would duplicate the
Committee’s work (and also the work of judicial inquiries in some states). For
some people, providing evidence to the Committee was a draining and emotional
experience. To ask them to do so again would, in many ways, indicate that what
they have already put on the public record is not enough. Resolution is
required, and a Royal Commission would simply serve to prolong a period of
uncertainty which has already continued for decades.
On the other hand, a
protocol established through the Council of Australian Governments would be an
effective means of developing cross-government methods of achieving the desired
objectives of the Committee. As such, I would suggest
that the following procedure be followed:
That the Council of Australian Governments develop a protocol which
outlines steps and target dates to achieve the following objectives:
- to review comprehensively the child
protection policies of the relevant government, from the starting point of
those policies’ implementation until the present;
- to consider individual cases and
complaints which are currently outside the statute of limitations. The
objective would be to determine whether abuse has occurred, and if so, how
compensation can be provided through the compensation fund established and
managed by the Australian Government;
- to examine the responsibility of all
institutions which have operated in the past, with a view to urging them
to contribute to the national fund; and
- to develop and implement a series of
reforms to ensure that abuse does not occur in the future.
In addition, I am
concerned by the recommendation that State and Territory governments should
review the applicable statutes of limitation in their respective jurisdictions.
Firstly, any Federal body has a limited right to intervene in the work of a State
or Territory. Secondly, reflecting my point regarding the Royal Commission,
COAG is in a unique position to develop a co-ordinated approach to the
Committee’s concerns regarding statutes of limitation. As such, I would suggest
that a review of the effect of these matters be discussed and acted upon by the
next Council of Australian Governments.
Party, New South Wales