Terms of reference
On 18 September 2008 the Senate referred the following matter to the
Community Affairs Committee for inquiry and report by the last sitting day in
This date was subsequently extended till 25 June 2009.
Progress with the implementation of the recommendations in
the reports by the Community Affairs References Committee, Lost Innocents:
Righting the Record, a report on child migration tabled in August 2001, and
Forgotten Australians, a report on Australians who experienced
institutional or out-of-home care as children tabled in August 2004.
Conduct of the inquiry
The Committee's inquiry was focussed on the implementation of the
recommendations from the earlier reports. The terms of reference did not
provide scope for the Committee to undertake or reopen the broad range of
issues that were covered in the earlier reports.
The inquiry was advertised in the Australian and on the Internet.
The Committee invited submissions from Commonwealth, State and Territory governments
and interested organisations and individuals.
The Committee received 64 public submissions and 13 confidential
submissions. A list of individuals and organisations that made a public submission
or provided other information that was authorised for publication by the
Committee is at Appendix 1.
The Committee held five days of public hearings in Melbourne (30 March
2009); Perth (31 March); Brisbane (6 April); Sydney (7 April) and Canberra (8 April).
Evidence was also taken by teleconference from Tasmania and South Australia.
Witnesses who give evidence at the hearings are listed in Appendix 2.
This report is divided as follows; Chapter 1 provides the background to
the Lost Innocents and Forgotten Australians inquiries; Chapter 2 provides an
outline of the evidence provided in relation to the implementation of
recommendations dealing with national leadership, apologies, reparation and
redress, and judicial inquiries and Royal Commissions; Chapter 3 outlines the
evidence relating to delivery of services, preservation and access to records,
and the operation of support groups; Chapters 5 and 6 provide a listing of all the
recommendations made in each report and the former government's response to
each recommendation and a comment on progress with implementation; Chapter 6
provides a discussion of the evidence on the major issues and contains the
Committee's conclusions and recommendations.
30 August 2008 was the 7th anniversary of the tabling in the Senate of
the Lost Innocents report and the 4th anniversary of the tabling of the Forgotten
Australians report. The Community Affairs Committee agreed that it was time
to update progress with the responses to its recommendations in these reports
and sought the formal reference from the Senate.
Both of these inquiries had been established on the motion of former
Senator Andrew Murray. He regarded the reports of these inquiries as rounding
off a trilogy of reports on the treatment of children in Australia following
the earlier report Bringing Them Home by the Human Rights and Equal
Lost Innocents: Righting the Record
Lost Innocents: Righting the Record was the Committee's report on
child migration to Australia under approved schemes during the twentieth
century in which the British and Australian Governments entered into agreements
for the migration of children to Australia. The schemes also included child
migrants from Malta.
The operation of the child migrant schemes and the impact upon those
involved had remained unknown to the general population for many years. Throughout
the 1980s and 1990s, a growing number of concerns about the welfare of children
who had been, or were still, in institutions and other child care arrangements
were investigated. In 1985, the Senate Standing Committee on Social Welfare
tabled its report Children in Institutional and other Forms of Care: a National
Gradually, details of the history of child migrants were coming to
light. A number of books were published on child migration, its history, the
impact on the lives of former child migrants and the stories of individuals who
were migrated to Australia, Canada and New Zealand. Empty Cradles by
Margaret Humphreys (1994) was a seminal work in this area. Child migration was
also the topic of the television documentary Lost Children of the Empire
(1989) and the mini-series The Leaving of Liverpool (1994). These
publications led to a growing awareness and understanding of the history and
issues surrounding child migration.
In November 1996 a Select Committee of the Western Australian
Legislative Assembly tabled an Interim Report on child migration to WA, though
an election intervened before further action was taken. In July 1998 the UK
House of Commons Health Committee reported on an inquiry into aspects of child
migration. The UK Government accepted the recommendations from the inquiry,
resulting in some assistance for child migrants including support for a travel
fund and tracing services.
During the late 1990s there had been a number of calls from different
groups and individuals for an independent national inquiry into child migration
to Australia, including calls for a joint or select parliamentary committee
inquiry. The outcome of these calls was for the issue to be referred to the
Committee in June 2000.
The Committee found that at the basis of the child migration schemes the
Australian Government was the legislated guardian of the children but it then
transferred responsibility for their care to State governments. In turn, the State
governments transferred responsibility to receiving agencies.
While responsibility may have been transferred, the Committee heard
during the inquiry that in many cases the duty of care and protection was not. Some
child migrants made positive comments about their time in institutional care. Many
others could only recall childhoods of loneliness, great hardship and
privations. While under the custodianship of receiving agencies, there was a
complete disregard for the needs, the safety and wellbeing of many child
The Lost Innocents report recognised that while some former child
migrants have prospered in this country, have successful relationships with
partners and children and never lost contact with family, many others are not
in this position. The report illustrated the consequences of emotional
deprivation and abuse in childhood, and the struggle such children face as
adults to cope and contribute and to live fruitful and constructive lives.
The Committee detailed that the cost, both human and economic, of
treating our children as described in the report is great. Equally grave, was
that the damage done is passed on to subsequent generations.
Many of the submissions received by the Committee contained the most
appalling stories of abuse and torment. The evidence received by the Committee
overwhelmingly emphasised the dark, negative side of child migration—the
brutality of life in some institutions where abuse and assault, both physical
and sexual, was a daily occurrence and where hardship, hard work and
indifferent care was the norm. Living such negative experiences led some child
migrants into a life of family and relationship breakdown and domestic
violence, of crime and violence, and of substance abuse.
The child migration scheme is now universally recognised as having been
fundamentally flawed with tragic consequences. Many of the sending and
receiving agencies now recognise that the effects of the Scheme were profoundly
damaging to many of the children involved and that they now share a continuing
moral responsibility to the well-being of the former migrant children affected
by their experience in the agencies’ care.
The Committee acknowledged in Lost Innocents that child migration
is a very emotive issue and that there is a diversity of strongly held views by
individuals and groups. While the Committee was mindful that there were
positive outcomes for many children from the child migration schemes, the
overwhelming evidence of abuse and assault outlined in submissions and earlier
reports remained the primary focus. The fundamental imperative for former child
migrants of the recognition and acknowledgment of their past experience was
constantly emphasised in evidence to the Committee.
Loss of identity, a sense of belonging and the loneliness of being far
from home affected all child migrants. Thus, even though the report contains
recommendations directed to the support of the most damaged former child
migrants, there are many other recommendations such as those dealing with
identity through access to records, family tracing, travel and reunion that
will assist all former child migrants, their families and descendants who wish
to access such information and services.
During the child migrant inquiry, the Committee also received
submissions from Australian-born children who had been in institutional care;
many of whom had lived in the same institutions as the child migrants. Whilst
they were not removed from their country and culture, many suffered the same
abuse and deprivations as child migrants in these and other institutions. Calls
were made in evidence that a further inquiry should be conducted into these
In March 2003 the Committee duly received the reference on the
Australians who experienced institutional or out-of-home care as children. The
report Forgotten Australians was tabled in August 2004 after an
The Committee received hundreds of graphic and disturbing accounts about
the treatment and care experienced by children in out-of-home care. Like the
child migrants before them, many care leavers showed immense courage in putting
intensely personal life stories on the public record. Their stories outlined a
litany of emotional, physical and sexual abuse, and often criminal physical and
sexual assault. Their stories also told of neglect, humiliation and deprivation
of food, education and healthcare. Such abuse and assault was widespread across
institutions, across States and across the government, religious and other care
But the overwhelming response as to treatment in care, even among those
that made positive comments, was the lack of love, affection and nurturing that
was never provided to young children at critical times during their emotional
The Committee concluded that upwards of, and possibly more than, 500 000
Australians experienced care in an orphanage, Home or other form of out-of-home
care during the last century. However, it is now considered that this figure
may be an underestimate. As many of these people have had a family it is highly
likely that every Australian either was, is related to, works with or knows
someone who experienced childhood in an institution or out-of-home care
Children were placed in care for a myriad of reasons including being
orphaned; being born to a single mother; family dislocation from domestic
violence, divorce or separation; family poverty and parents' inability to cope
with their children often as a result of some form of crisis or hardship. Many
children were made wards of the state after being charged with being
uncontrollable, neglected or in moral danger, not because they had done
anything wrong, but because circumstances in which they found themselves
resulted in them being status offenders. Others were placed in care through
private arrangements usually involving payment to the Home. Irrespective of how
children were placed in care, it was not their fault.
Children were placed in a range of institutions including orphanages,
Homes, industrial or training schools that were administered variously by the State,
religious bodies and other charitable or welfare groups.
The Forgotten Australians report outlines not only how complex
and varied the long term impact of a childhood spent in institutional care can
be for the care leaver but also that their children and families have also felt
the impact, which can then flow through to future generations.
The Committee concluded that there had been wide scale unsafe, improper
and unlawful care of children, a failure of duty of care, and serious and
repeated breaches of statutory obligations.
The Committee further concluded that many comments in recent years by
governments, churches and care providers reveal a complete lack of
understanding of or acceptance of responsibility for the level of neglect,
abuse and assault that occurred in their institutions. Actions and statements
by these groups since the inquiry would indicate that in many instances there
remains at best only a rudimentary awareness of these issues and their
The Committee made a number of recommendations. Foremost among them was
that the Committee believed that governments, the Churches and agencies should
issue formal statements acknowledging their role in past institutional care
policies and practices and the impact this had on the lives of many care
leavers. These statements should express sorrow and apologise for the physical,
psychological and social harm caused as a result of the care leavers'
experiences as children in institutional care. The Committee also considered
that these acknowledgments must be accompanied by other positive measures as
recommended in the report to ensure that they are not regarded as merely 'empty
gestures' by the care leavers and the community generally.
Other key recommendations made by the Committee included establishing a
national reparations fund for victims of institutional and out-of-home care
abuse; providing improvements to the transparency and accountability of
internal church processes for dealing with allegations of abuse and their commitment
to address past grievances; a range of measures to assist in identifying,
locating and accessing personal records; providing a raft of services to
address the needs of care leavers, especially support and advocacy services,
counselling and the need for specialised counselling services, and programs to
tackle health and ageing, housing and homelessness, and adult literacy and
numeracy and other education services are addressed.
Comment since Reports' tabling
The evidence received by the Committee during the current inquiry has
shown that the response to the recommendations of the earlier inquiries by the Commonwealth
and State governments, the churches and agencies has been variable. In some
instances considerable work and progress has been undertaken, in other areas
progress is slow or no action has been taken. The discussion on the level of
response by the different jurisdictions is in the following chapters.
Some of the notable developments that have occurred since the tabling of
the earlier reports have been the holding of inquiries in some States, most
notably the extensive Commission of Inquiry in South Australia by Ted
Mullighan; the introduction of redress schemes in some States—though notably
not in New South Wales or Victoria; the making of apologies in some States—though
their content and manner of delivery were variable; and the growing membership
and involvement of care leavers with support groups and the gathering of
individuals to form more self-help and support groups, often through the lack
of assistance from other services.
Since the tabling of Forgotten Australians in August 2004, the
activities of support groups and reunions held by some homes and service
providers has led to many people with a background of institutional care as a
child finding out about the support and assistance that different groups can
provide. Many did not know of the earlier Senate inquiry and as awareness
increases so do requests for copies of the Forgotten Australians report.
As at June 2009 just under 7000 copies of the report have been printed
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