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Thursday, 17 August 1989
Page: 359


Senator JENKINS(11.10) —Yesterday evening, Senator Panizza delivered an adjournment speech in which he described certain of the remarks that I had previously made in regard to child migrants as completely untrue. Unfortunately, Senator Panizza is indulging in wishful thinking because what I said is all true. Senator Panizza chose not to show me the courtesy of advance warning; so yesterday I heard only the latter part of his speech. But today I have the advantage of having read the first part in Hansard. Mrs Sheila Pearce, the President of the Child Migrant Friendship Society of Western Australia, telephoned me today after reading about Senator Panizza's speech in today's West Australian. Her distress was on a number of counts. As I stated yesterday, a lot of work has been going on behind the scenes to assist the former child migrants to trace their records and to recover from the suffering that they underwent.

Mrs Pearce is particularly concerned that Senator Panizza has raised the matter at this delicate stage of negotiations. If Senator Panizza has been in contact with the Christian Brothers, as he stated, he must surely know that the Catholic authorities with which Mrs Pearce and other members of the Child Migrant Friendship Society are in contact and the Society are working together to trace the records. Members of the Society were particularly requested by the authorities not to involve the media further at this stage. Mrs Pearce feels that Senator Panizza's speech last night has probably set them back some months. However, she has appealed to me to speak tonight to set the record straight. This is the reason that the child migrants have not dared to speak up publicly before. They were afraid that the denials of the authorities in earlier years would be repeated. Mrs Pearce reiterated to me today that she and other members of the society had previously approached Labor and Liberal members of Parliament in Western Australia, but these members were not willing to give them support. Senator Panizza in his speech certainly confirmed that situation. I now address some of the specific remarks that Senator Panizza made. He said:

Contrary to Senator Jenkins's statement, the scheme was well known.

It certainly would have been well known to Senator Panizza at the time, as boys from Bindoon have worked on the Panizza family property. He is not the only Western Australian senator on whose family property they worked, but I chose not to allude to that because I had no reason to address any personal remarks. But Senator Panizza has forced my hand in this case. I am surprised that he did not mention it himself yesterday. The scheme was not particularly well known to other Australians present in Australia at the time; nor was it well known to many of the hundreds of thousands of others who were later migrants.

Senator Panizza said that I stated that they were `transported like convicts'. In fact, I said that the scheme had been labelled `the last of the transportations', but even that phrase was in inverted commas as it was not mine. I used the phrases which had been used by people who described the events to me. I will quote now the words of Mrs Pearce herself. She said:

We were treated like convicts-taken from our mums and dads and shipped like cargo to Australia.

John McGillion spent ten years at Bindoon from 1947. He said:

We, the young kids, built the place with our own hands-it was slave labor, doing things that men should have been doing.

We suffered plenty. We were treated cruelly. I saw boys being raped.

Lionel Welsh said:

We were flogged, nearly to death, by a strip of leather, or a fan belt or an axe handle.

Flogged! And we were only eight or nine or 10 or 11.

In every sense, we became twisted. Most of us have spent our entire lives trying to untwist. Our families have suffered terribly.

Joe Norman was also at Bindoon from 1947 to 1953. A newspaper report quotes him as saying:

`We were always underfed,' he said. `We used to go into the bush to find and eat goannas or blackboy bushes'.

The same article in the West Australian reports that Mrs Pearce's two brothers were sent to Bindoon. One brother was raped when he was only seven. He committed suicide 10 years ago.

Senator Panizza objected to my phrase `interned in various institutions'. The Immigration (Guardianship of Children) Act of 1946 reads:

An Act to make provision for and in connexion with the Guardianship of certain Children from outside Australia.

Section 4 of that Act includes the following definition of `immigrant child':

. . . a person under the age of twenty-one years who comes to Australia as an immigrant otherwise than in the charge of, or for the purpose of living in Australia under the care of, any parent or relative of that person.

Section 6 states:

The Minister shall be the guardian of the person of-

. . .

. . . every immigrant child who arrives in Australia after the commencement of this Act, to the exclusion of the father and mother and every other guardian of the child, and shall have, as guardian, the same rights, powers, duties, obligations and liabilities as a natural guardian of the child would have, until the child reaches the age of twenty-one years or leaves Australia permanently, or until the provisions of this Act cease to apply to and in relation to the child, whichever first happens.

In the Regulations to that Act, it states:

If an immigrant child who-

(a) has absconded;

(b) has been unlawfully removed from the custody of his custodian; or

(c) has been, without the consent of the authority concerned, removed by his custodian outside the State in which the custodian is registered,

is found anywhere in Australia, any member of the Police Force of any State or Territory of the Commonwealth may apprehend the child, hold him in custody and return him to the authority of the State from which he absconded or was removed.

Senator Panizza also said that it was untrue that the children were fingerprinted. I have it on authority from a number of the migrants that this was the case. That is on record also. Senator Panizza said that I was having a crack at various Catholic institutions. Nothing could be further from the truth. I worked for two years with nuns of the Ursuline Order and I have the greatest respect for them and other Catholic orders. I have not had and am not now having a crack at anybody. I am seeking to address a situation which is worrying a great number of former child migrants now that they are in their middle age. What the migrants want is stated in two main objectives: first, to trace their papers and their families; secondly, to have public acknowledgment that they were wronged. Senator Panizza has stated that he is willing to assist with the first objective, but has signalled that he will not assist with the second. Senator Panizza also stated that I had said that the records were burnt. I have read through my speech a few times and I cannot find a record of that in my speech, so he must have heard that elsewhere. Senator Panizza stated that I claimed that the children were used as slave labour, ill-treated and sexually abused. I believe that I have addressed that already. In my own speech I quoted from a Catholic newspaper, the Universe, which stated on 14 May 1989 in the United Kingdom in relation to the migrant children:

. . . they were treated as slaves in Canada and Australia where they were made to work for a pittance, enduring beatings, privation and sexual abuse.

Sexual assaults and cruel beatings are detailed and are on record. I also described how details of sexual assault were described in a separate article in the same paper, the Universe, but I deliberately chose not to describe details of a sensational nature. Senator Panizza can certainly have all of that information if he requires it. Senator Panizza stated:

. . . the children were visited by officers on a very regular basis. It is unbelievable that 40 years have passed without any complaints about cruelty being lodged.

It is also on record that the realities of the situation of some of the institutions were not revealed to officers representing the Government. Descriptions of that are on record and Senator Panizza certainly can have those when he and I are back in Western Australia. They are in my office in Western Australia. I note that Senator Panizza was assured that all was well in a chance encounter that he had in a shoe shop in Perth. Senator Panizza chose to incorporate in Hansard an article which appeared in the Subiaco Post on 4 July this year with regard to St Joseph's Orphanage, Wembley. In that article a Mrs Dot Patterson is quoted as having stated:

I was brought up by the Sisters at the time the migrants were there and they were wonderful to me . . .

Mrs Pearce emphasised to me today that she wishes me to set the record straight. In a handwritten note that was faxed to me today she said:

Dot Patterson was not there in 1947, she left 10 years earlier so therefore is not able to speak on our behalf. And I was finger printed on my arrival in Australia . . .

In incorporating the Subiaco Post article of 4 July Senator Panizza neglected to mention that the newspaper allowed Mrs Pearce a right of reply the following week which rebuts much of the material in that article. I seek leave to incorporate the whole of the article of the Subiaco Post of 11 July in Hansard.

Leave granted.

The article read as follows-

`No corpse kissing, but we worked like slaves'

Children at St Joseph's Orphanage, Wembley, were worked like slaves, caned regularly and shown little kindness, according to two of those children.

They stole food to supplement their meagre diet and if they ran away there was a $40 price on their head for their return, to what they called the `black hole'.

Jennifer Eddy, of Woodlands, and Sheila Pearce, of Beckenham, spoke out last week after a report in last week's POST in which Wembley resident Dot Patterson said her days at the now closed orphanage were the best in her life.

Mrs Eddy, an Australian, and Mrs Pearce, who was shipped here as a nine-year-old child migrant from England in 1947, had very different memories.

`If I had to describe my time there in one word, it would be `hell',' Mrs Pearce said.

Nightshift

`We were slave labour, from being a brickie's labourer and carrying bricks away, to carrying those old four-gallon drums full of olives about half a kilometre to the crushing sheds.

`I was taken out of school at 13 and put on nightshift for two years, which was working from 6 p.m. to 7 a.m. looking after the babies in the nursery.

`After that, I had to work in the laundry until midday and then I was allowed to sleep until 5 p.m.'.

She also disagreed with Mrs Patterson's claims that the nuns took the children on picnics and went without so the children could have more.

`We had to steal food because we were all starving and couldn't eat the slops they gave us while they were eating hearty breakfasts of bacon, eggs and toast', she said.

`I don't remember any picnics except the orphans' Christmas picnic put on by the `Daily News', and even that was very degrading because we had to parade through the streets and everybody stared at us'.

But Mrs Pearce said it was only a small number of nuns who treated the children harshly. To the others she bears no malice.

``You can never overcome what it was like, but you can learn to live with it,'' she said.

``In later life I felt a bit sorry for those nuns, they were ill-equipped for the job, their way was set and suddenly all these kids were dumped on them.

``I think life could've been a bit easier if they had shown some kindness, but there were some real sweeties who were kind.

``Without them, I don't think we would have survived.''

Neither Mrs Pearce nor Mrs Eddy supported the earlier report in a daily paper that the nuns had locked a child in the room with a corpse because she wouldn't kiss it.

Mrs Pearce said a reporter had rung her to verify that and other claims made by other migrants about the nuns and she had said she couldn't verify that one.

She said the story had made it look as if she had.

``I had never heard of that, all I know is we had to pay respect, which might only have been to file past the corpse, but even that as a child was terrifying,'' she said.

Research by the recently formed Child Migrant Friendship Society, of which Mrs Pearce is a founder, shows there were 12,335 migrant children sent to WA alone between 1928 and 1967.

Documents

All were housed in institutions and were under the care of the Department of Lands and Surveys until they were 16 and the Child Welfare took over, Mrs Pearce said.

Part of the task of that society is to help those children, now adults, trace their families, a task made difficult by the lack of documentation.

``St Joseph's is the biggest offender there, there is not one document available from that place,'' she said.

``If we could find them, we could try and find the families.''

Mrs Pearce said many of the migrants were now undergoing psychological treatment to come to terms with their transportation and institutionalisation.

``When we came here, we were fingerprinted and we came with a 20-pound bounty on our heads,'' she said.

``If we ran away, they gave 20 pounds to anyone who brought us back.

``People say why bring this all up 40 years later, but no-one believed it at the time.

``We are seeking government help to look after the survivors and we were asked to put a case of need, that is why it has come out now.

``But now we have told our story, we just want to be left alone.''


Senator JENKINS —Senator Panizza is correct when he says that it was not the fault of the Australian institutions that children in the United Kingdom were orphaned and abandoned. I have certainly never suggested that. I have quoted liberally from material written by others which described how many unhappy and unfortunate children found no relief in the Australian orphanages in which they were placed. I quote from the West Australian of 29 June:

The British child migrant scheme was ``the most terrible child welfare practice'', according to the Department for Community Services. The department's assistant director, Mr Terry Simpson, said yesterday that all West Australians should be thankful the scheme no longer existed.

``There is no doubt that some child migrants suffered terribly and are now encountering enormous problems,'' Mr Simpson said.

``The department will do all it can to provide whatever assistance is required by the migrants and their families.'' The Child Migrant Friendship Society has received some money to help in the search for migrant birth and transport records.

The word used there is `transport'. I have only related information given to me directly and backed up by others, all from printed sources. Again I refute-as I did previously today-that I would use such an issue as a bandwagon for a Federal election. This unfortunately is a favourite gibe of the coalition senators and I suppose it fills a void if principles and policies are lacking. I do not challenge Senator Panizza's motivation. I have demonstrated that many of the statements made by him are not true. I presume he has acted in good faith, although it is a great shame that his words have now made a political plaything of the former child migrants. I hope that that situation can be rectified.

I would also like very briefly to address another matter. Senator Crichton-Browne, on the pretext of making a personal explanation to the Senate this afternoon, took the opportunity to reflect adversely on the motives and the integrity of the Australian Democrats in Western Australia and the Party's parliamentarians. It is well known that I am the only Australian Democrat senator from Western Australia. He also reflected adversely on the public protest movement known as the Australian Mortgage Action Association. He stated correctly that he attended a meeting at South Perth where he addressed a public gathering. That was the inaugural meeting of the mortgage protest, held in April this year. The movement's founder, Mr Lachlan Irvine, is a member of the Australian Democrats and at the time was seeking party endorsement as a candidate for the mortgage belt seat of Stirling, where he resides. As it happens, Mr Irvine is also a senior member of the Vietnam Veterans Association. Both of these facts were clearly and unequivocally communicated to the news media before the Australian Mortgage Action Association was formed at the public meeting at which Senator Crichton-Browne spoke. It would be apparent that the honourable senator learned of Mr Irvine's application for endorsement from one of the newspapers or radio stations which announced that fact from information given to them by me. The proof of that fact is in my electorate newsletter, which is and was on that occasion circulated to all major Western Australian media.

Senator Crichton-Browne found it useful for his purpose to restate that fact from the public platform on Sunday, 9 April, when he was deputed to take the place of Senator Fred Chaney, the invited Liberal Party spokesperson. Senator Peter Walsh had also been invited to address the public meeting on behalf of the Government; however, he was unable either to attend or to appoint a deputy.

The nature of the relationship with the Australian Democrats was also fully and explicitly explained in my newsletter. The founders of the Australian Mortgage Action Association in particular will be greatly angered when they hear what Senator Crichton-Browne has said about them today-that they belong to a mere front movement for a political party. The Deputy President, Mr Philip Mayne, is not an Australian Democrat. If Senator Crichton-Browne cares to speak to his colleague in another place, the honourable member for Forrest (Mr Prosser), it can be confirmed that the chairperson for the meeting at Bunbury recently addressed by Mr Prosser, Senator Michael Beahan and me, amongst others, was at great pains to dissociate herself and the members of her group from any political party.

Whilst always being willing to assist the mortgage action group, I have always made it clear that I thought mortgage action could only be weakened by having any party political affiliation. For that reason I have declined to become a member of that organisation. There are mortgage action groups all over Australia. Indeed, in Western Australia in rural areas a National Party member of parliament is a strong supporter. The Liberal State shadow Minister for housing spoke at a rally held recently in Perth. It is quite out of order for Senator Crichton-Browne to make these remarks. Certainly I can provide Senator Crichton-Browne with a list of the conveners of the mortgage action groups all over Australia. I can state quite categorically that these people belong to all the political parties represented in this Senate. Mr Lachlan Irvine, as an active member of the Vietnam Veterans Association, was a representative at a recent major remem- brance in the United States of America. Perhaps Senator Crichton-Browne will next impute that the Vietnam Veterans Association is also a front for the Democrats. I certainly have no intention of belittling Senator Crichton-Browne's knowledge of how front movements can be used in politics. When people came to South Perth to listen to the Liberal Party view, Senator Crichton-Browne told them that they must be living in fairyland if they believed, for a moment, that any government could take any action to bring down interest rates. Senator Crichton-Browne evoked an angry reaction from his audience, which he may remember, over that and several other utterances that afternoon, as he sought to justify the position taken by the Labor Government and the banks.