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Monday, 3 November 2003
Page: 21826


Ms GRIERSON (9:00 PM) —I rise in support of a constituent of mine in Newcastle, Mr Chris Gorman, who is in the chamber tonight. Chris has achieved something extraordinary. He has sufficiently overcome the emotional distress caused by his personal experience as an innocent victim of child abuse to publish a moving book outlining his life's journey. This journey winds through a childhood characterised by poverty, neglect, grief and sexual abuse, fortunately towards stronger friendships and more loving family relationships but most importantly toward some understanding, acceptance and self-respect. But the journey has been a troubled one, punctuated by depression, mood swings, emotional break-downs and relationship failures—nothing atypical for those people traumatised in their youth by abuse.

Chris was born in Limerick, Ireland, just after the end of World War II. When he was four, his mother died and although he had a father it would be reasonable to say his father was an ever-absent one who basically abandoned his parenting role. What Chris may not have understood is that the loss of one's mother before the age of 12 is considered to be the trauma most likely to leave a legacy of emotional scarring. But of course there was more for Chris.

His book is titled A Hole in My Hearta hole and an emptiness created by the loss of his mother at such a tender age, a hole that has taken a long time to fill. Chris experienced sexual abuse from the age of seven in both the home of relatives and an orphanage—that is, in places where children should be both secure and safe. Last week everyone's ABC televised a Welsh movie based on child abuse. It was truly a moving and revealing exposition of the reality of child abuse. At the end of that movie a silent statement was shown telling that, of the 52 council areas in the UK, 42 were undergoing investigations into the abuse of children in council institutions, a terrible indictment on the caring role of government in Britain, which is of course where Chris grew up. Regrettably the movie was shown just before midnight, not really a popular viewing time—but then child abuse is not really a popular subject, although it is experienced by so many.

In his 20s, Chris had what he sees now as the good fortune to come to Australia, where his new life began. Although he would be grateful to call Australia home, his time here has had its struggles too, particularly with his emotional health and the health of his relationships. But Chris was eventually assisted by a TAFE counsellor after enrolling at TAFE to take on the challenge of improving his literacy and numeracy skills, which were affected by his disjointed education and the troubled times of his youth. I must say this illustrates the wonderful spin-offs for students of all ages provided through our public education institutions.

In his book, Chris urges others who may have had the same experiences as he has had to take up counselling opportunities. Although counselling has allowed Chris to confront his past and his suffering at the hands of adults, it has also brought to life again—as it does—the dreadful memories of domination and brutalisation by adults, betrayal by adults who should have listened and believed him and helped him, the lack of trust he then had for others, the fear of rejection living with him forever and the guilt and shame no child should ever feel. I quote from Chris's book. He says:

I've had to grapple this `hole in my heart' for most of my life—in writing this book I am closing the hole and look toward a healthier future—with clarity, strength and pride.

I commend Chris on his achievement in publishing this book, which I am told is a sell-out, and for his attempts to help others. Chris's challenge now is perhaps the most difficult one, and that is to find ways to let go.

Recently in Australia we marked Child Abuse Week and poverty week. Chris's story reminds us that Australian children are still at risk of abuse and neglect, and it is to our shame that we as a nation have not sufficiently responded to protect our most vulnerable and to help those who have been harmed to recover and heal. Having spent three decades in schools as a teacher and principal, I know the pain and grief when a child discloses their experiences of abuse. We must as a nation make more concerted efforts to protect our children and ensure their early lives are ones of wonder and joy instead of struggle and harm. I therefore recommend to the House Labor's plan for a national commissioner for children and young people and encourage the government to do more to protect our children wherever they live and whatever their circumstances.