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STANDING COMMITTEE ON COMMUNITY AFFAIRS
30/03/2009
Implementation of the recommendations of the Lost Innocents and Forgotten Australians reports

CHAIR (Senator Moore) —The Senate Standing Committee on Community Affairs is commencing its hearings for the inquiry into the implementation of the recommendations of the Lost innocents and Forgotten Australians reports. I welcome Ms Angela Sdrinis from Ryan Carlisle Thomas Lawyers. Welcome back, Ms Sdrinis.

Ms Sdrinis —Thank you.

CHAIR —I remember your contribution and your submissions in the first round. Do you have any comments to make on the capacity in which you appear?

Ms Sdrinis —I am a lawyer and I have been asked to appear today because I represent about 600 former wards of the state who allege they have been abused in care.

CHAIR —Thank you very much. Information on parliamentary privilege and the protection of witnesses and evidence is available. We have before you your own submission and we note that you are quoted in some of the others that we have.

Ms Sdrinis —Yes.

CHAIR —And your work, because of the work you have done in Victoria, which we know and value. It is important to say that both Senator Humphries and I were involved in the 2004 inquiries, and I know Senator Siewert would have been if she had been there. It is something that we are revisiting. It is committee work that was very important to us and made a deep impact. We think it is going to be an interesting committee. We also think it is going to be a tough one, as you understand because of the work you do, with the stories that you hear and the kinds of emotions that are felt. I wanted to put that on record right up-front, and Gary might want to say something later about that on record as well.

Thank you so much for your submission and also for the work that you do—and that is actually stated many times by other submitters. If you would like to make an opening statement, then we will ask questions. I do want to put on record that, although we have Senator Siewert, Senator Humphries and me today, that does not reflect the degree of interest of our committee in this inquiry. We have a particularly difficult schedule in this break period of the parliament, with senators being required to attend a large number of inquiries. In many ways it actually makes it more friendly just to have a few people together, but I do want to put on record that the three of us by no means reflects the genuine importance of and the interest we have in this inquiry. It is purely availability to attend.

Ms Sdrinis —I will not go over the issues which I have outlined in my submission, except to say that obviously I believe that the federal government—and Kevin Rudd, our Prime Minister, in particular—should apologise to the forgotten Australians; and to the child migrants, although I note that is not specifically part of this inquiry. I also believe that redress funds should be available to all former wards of the state or children who have been abused in care. I call on the federal government to facilitate that occurring in states where it has not occurred. Victoria, New South Wales, South Australia and the Territory should follow the lead of Tasmania, Queensland and Western Australia in setting up redress funds. That is most important, given the legal barriers that former wards of the state and children abused in care face in achieving redress through our courts. That is a given, and I will restate that.

Over and above that, I want to focus on two issues which can be quite easily fixed without expending a great deal of money, because obviously money is always an issue. The first relates to the situation with the churches—the Catholic Church, the Uniting Church and some others. I refer to that in my paper as the Ellis defence, a defence which has been pursued by the Catholic Church, where claimants have tried to pursue cases of historical sex abuse. The Ellis defence, as I have stated in my report, is basically that in these historical cases of sex crimes and, by analogy, cases involving physical abuse and deprivation in an historical sense, the Catholic Church cannot be sued because there is no legal entity that can be held liable for those atrocities—and I will call them ‘atrocities’.

Mr Ellis was a claimant who alleged that he had been sexually abused as a child. He was not a ward of the state or a child in care, but the principles in that case apply to the vast majority of claimants who seek to pursue the Catholic Church in cases of historical abuse. I will not say that the Catholic Church admitted the allegations, but they certainly conceded that the church might have a case to answer on the liability issues. But they argued that there was no legal entity that Mr Ellis could sue, because the way in which the Catholic Church have organised themselves is that, apart from the current archbishop—and there is an argument about whether the archbishop can be sued, but I will not go into that; we will accept for present purposes that a current archbishop can be sued—the only legal entity that exists in the Catholic Church is a property trust, and that property trust has been incorporated for the sole purpose of owning and disposing of property and, some cynics would say, the amassing of wealth.

Mr Ellis sued Archbishop George Pell, who was and still is the Archbishop of Sydney, and the Roman Catholic Church Property Trust in his claim of historical sexual abuse. George Pell argued successfully that he could not be sued because he was not the archbishop at the relevant time and proceedings were discontinued against him. The church argued on behalf of the property trust that even though the property trust could be sued—it was an incorporated entity—the property trust had nothing to do with the hiring and the supervision of priests; therefore, it could not be held liable. That defence was upheld all the way to the High Court and that is now the law in this country. That is the binding legal position in this country: that in cases of historical abuse there is no legal entity in the Catholic Church that can be sued.

That is an insurmountable barrier in these claims. I referred before to atrocities that had been committed by the Catholic Church and other churches who are organised in similar ways, and I do believe that they were atrocities. For the Catholic Church and others to hide behind a corporate veil, which is more effective than any corporate veil that James Hardie, for example, tried to cloak itself under—

CHAIR —I saw that comparison in your submission.

Ms Sdrinis —It is a very stark comparison. James Hardie was pilloried—and rightly so—because they sought to avoid their liabilities here by incorporating offshore, and yet, because of who they are, the Catholic Church have got away with, in my view, a more heinous and outrageous artifice or device to protect themselves and very little has been said or done about it. I do not expect the Catholic Church to say, ‘Well, this is wrong. We will change the way in which we are structured so that we will accept that we can be sued in these proceedings.’ They will not do that. They have not done it yet; I do not believe they will do it. I believe that it is a question of legislation. I do not know whether the federal parliament would have the power to do this, but certainly state governments would have the power to pass legislation which establishes that the Catholic Church and all of their entities can be sued.

That does not mean that they will not have the right to defend themselves. Of course they should have the right to defend themselves. If allegations are false then obviously they should have the right to argue that. But this is not a case of saying, ‘Well, the Catholic Church have a view. That view is that these events never happened, and if they think they can prove that, fantastic.’ This is a case of the Catholic Church saying, ‘We will never have to even put ourselves in the position where we have to defend these allegations on the basis of truth, because we can avoid these cases by hiding behind this corporate veil.’

I think that is a very big and important issue and, to the extent to which this committee can influence what the federal government and the state governments do about it, that should be a priority for you. It is a simple thing. It will not cost the taxpayers anything to ensure that churches can be sued in these cases. That is the first point I wanted to make.

I also want to discuss the difficulties that claimants face in bringing perpetrators to justice, and by that I mean the individuals who actually perpetrated these crimes on children. That is particularly a difficulty in states where redress funds have not been set up. In states where redress funds have been set up, there is a process whereby all complaints—provided that the claimant gives permission—are referred to a task force set up by the state police service; a task force which will investigate the criminal aspects of the conduct and, if appropriate, prosecute the perpetrators.

The situation that we have in Victoria—and I have been beating my head against a brick wall—is that currently there is no specific task force or group of police officers to investigate these crimes. You would understand, given the stories that you have heard, that many of these claimants are, firstly, very hesitant about disclosing their abuse. They find it very hard to talk even to family counsellors and lawyers who are on their side, for example. They find it very difficult to go to the police and make a statement. Many of them also have been criminally prosecuted themselves. They have a distrust of police.

The situation in Victoria, though, is that if you want to report an historic sex crime you basically have to walk into your local police station and make a complaint. That is a very difficult thing for many of my clients to do, particularly in country areas, where they are expected to walk up to the sergeant at the front desk and say, ‘You know what? I was sodomised twice a week for 10 years of my childhood.’ That is what they are currently expected to do.

Interjector—That is exactly what you are expected to do.

Ms Sdrinis —Yes. In addition to that, in Victoria, until recently—I do not know if this has changed now, and I cannot speak for the other states—complaints that have not been pursued because of a lack of corroboration have never been recorded in a central database. For example, if someone went to the Frankston police station in 2000 and reported a particular perpetrator and someone walked into Ballarat in 2006 and reported the same perpetrator, those two complaints will not necessarily have been recorded, and the investigating officer in Ballarat may not ever find out that there was an earlier complaint.

In these cases of historical sex crime, corroboration is everything. You are not going to establish beyond reasonable doubt that a crime occurred if you are relying upon the memories of a child and if the perpetrator is flatly denying that these events ever occurred. You are not going to be able to prove it. But where there are two or three or four or more complaints about a perpetrator then the likelihood is that the police will prosecute and the likelihood is that they will get a conviction because of the corroboration.

It is just not happening in Victoria. I am finding myself in a situation where, if I have got two or three or four complaints, I have to try and get my clients to report to the police stations and they have to report to different police stations, because they are told, ‘You need to report in the area of your locality.’ There is not even a system where you can say, ‘Go to one SOCA unit’—a Sexual Offences and Child Abuse unit—‘and make your complaint. They will deal with it.’

Even today, I believe that there are many perpetrators who are still at large and who are probably still committing offences, because my own experience in this work shows that they do not stop. I can give you some case studies. Recently, as a result of our referring a number of claimants to the police—and, indeed, the police had already started their own investigation coincidentally—a perpetrator who was at the Bayswater Boys Home was convicted of a number of offences. I think there were up to 12 victims who had lodged complaints. Bayswater Boys Home closed down in the early to mid-eighties. He then went to the Ringwood Basketball Club and continued to groom and abuse young boys through his work at Ringwood. When the police found him, he was living in a caravan park. We all know that caravan parks are places where disadvantaged families—single parents; vulnerable children—often live. Chances are he was still doing it in that caravan park.

That man was prosecuted and convicted, but how many more of these perpetrators are out there? And it is not just a question of justice for the claimants to have their perpetrators prosecuted, even though that is extremely important to their healing. It is a question for all of us—as parents, as decent people—to know that these perpetrators are being caught and dealt with. It would be very easily remedied by a specific task force being set up in each state to deal with perpetrators. I wrote to the Victorian government about this on two occasions last year. I met with the Department of Human Services, who promised me that the minister would do something about it. This has been going on now for more than six months. I have written to the police minister. I have not had a response. I think that is really an outrageous state of affairs.

Of course, New South Wales and probably the territories are even more behind than Victoria in trying to deal with these probably ancillary but still very important issues in terms of justice for children who were abused in care. I understand that a lot of these issues are state based and, to a large extent, the federal government is limited in what it can do in terms of legislating and ensuring that they are dealt with, but you obviously have a very strong influential role and I do call upon the federal government to ensure that there is a nationwide response to these issues and to coordinate a nationwide response, and that can happen through COAG and a number of other forums.

They are the two things I really wanted to talk about just in terms of highlighting some of the frustrations but otherwise, as I say, the issues are as outlined in my submission from a legal perspective or from my perspective of dealing with claimants.

CHAIR —Thank you.

Senator SIEWERT —I want to go back to the Ellis defence first. You used the Catholic Church in the example, but you also, in your first comment, mentioned the Uniting Church. You have mentioned those two churches, but are they all doing the same thing?

Ms Sdrinis —No, they are not. I cannot give you an exhaustive list of which churches pursue this defence and which churches do not. I have not sued every church. Some churches were more involved in the care of children, obviously, than others. I can tell you that the Catholic Church and its religious orders and the Uniting Church pursue these defences, because I have sued them and that is how they have responded in their defences. As a rule, most of the Anglican Church’s homes, in Victoria at least, were run by an entity which is now known as Anglicare, and Anglicare can be sued; it is an incorporated entity. The Lutheran Church is incorporated and can be sued. I have sued the Mormons and the Buddhists. They have been incorporated in such a way that they can be sued.

In terms of the churches that I have sued, I can tell you that the two which repeatedly use this defence are the Catholic Church and the Uniting Church. Indeed, the Uniting Church has another twist, because that was a church which was formed I think in the eighties.

Senator SIEWERT —Yes, it was.

Ms Sdrinis —Three churches got together and formed the Uniting Church, and so I believe there is another defence there, which is that they do not necessarily accept that they are the successor in title of those churches anyway. Of course, they were more than happy to accept the wealth of those churches, but they do seek to distinguish themselves in terms of the liabilities and say, ‘We don’t necessarily accept that we are the legal successor in title.’ I have focused on those two because in my experience they are the two who were most involved in the running of these institutions and they are the two who regularly pursue that defence.

Senator SIEWERT —What about the Salvation Army?

Ms Sdrinis —The Salvation Army also has been known to use that defence. I have sued the Salvation Army and they do use that defence. I am sorry that I forgot about them. The Salvation Army also had employees. They had officers, who were actually their ministers of religion, but they also employed laypeople to work in the homes. I think there is an argument that the entity that employed those laypeople—and you would discover that through group certificates and taxation records—can be sued for employees. But the same argument applies in terms of their officers or ministers of religion.

Senator SIEWERT —In terms of the redress funds, I want to go back to the coordinated approach, but have you had a look, firstly, at the way each of the state systems work?

Ms Sdrinis —Yes. I have pursued claims in relation to each of the systems. You would know that the Tasmanian and Queensland funds have closed and that the Western Australian fund will close on 30 April of this year.

Senator SIEWERT —I am from Western Australia, so I know that one the best, and there is quite a bit of criticism about it in the west in terms of it not being comprehensive enough.

Ms Sdrinis —Yes. Of course you could always do better and ask for more. I personally think the Western Australian scheme is the best one so far. It is the most generous, simply in terms of monetary compensation. It is very straightforward in what it seeks. It asks for evidence or information about the abuse and then it asks for proof of injury, which is quite straightforward—medical reports, statements from family members and that sort of thing, in terms of the effects of the abuse. They could all be better. The Irish fund, for example, which had no monetary maximum—but the average was A$150,000 in terms of pain and suffering—was criticised comprehensively in Ireland as well. Obviously, you always want more, and things could be done better, but—I do not know; maybe I have been beaten into submission—to go through litigation and everything that that involves—the cost and the trauma and the delay and the feeling that you are on trial rather than your perpetrators—compared to that, redress funds have got to be better. There is no comparison.

I am not saying there are not issues. There are. In Western Australia, for example, we are not getting documentation under freedom of information. The delays are extraordinary. Even though the fund has said that they will allow further submissions for up to six months after the closing date, you really cannot put forward a comprehensive submission without the documentation. I imagine your FOI people in the west are under a lot of pressure, but they are becoming very strident and unpleasant to deal with, because we are pressuring them to get the information, and they are screaming at us and saying, ‘Look, we can’t do it.’

That is a problem, and a problem that should have been thought of and dealt with. There was not a lot of lead-up time leading up to the establishment of the fund, but there was enough. It is not rocket science: people were going to be asking for their records. That is a very basic issue.

Senator SIEWERT —We are in WA tomorrow, so we will be pursuing that. I have had more dealings with Aboriginal people’s access to the files. You are absolutely right. We have been struggling for quite some time. In fact, there was a problem before the program was announced.

Ms Sdrinis —Yes.

Senator SIEWERT —It is interesting to hear that everybody is having the same problem.

Ms Sdrinis —Indeed. Of course, the record-keeping itself is a very big issue in these cases of historical abuse. Victims’ cases often fail because there are no records. Whose fault is it that there are no records? You feel like saying, ‘That of itself should constitute a cause of action rather than a defence.’ But, of course, our law does not work that way. The claimant has to prove their case. That is how our law operates. The fact that they may not be able to prove their case because of the wrongdoing of the perpetrator does not necessarily get them over that barrier. The whole issue of record-keeping has been and continues to be a real issue and the getting of your records has been and continues to be a real issue.

Another issue that claimants grapple with in terms of records is that large parts of their records are exempted; blanked out. Names are not provided because of privacy issues. That makes it, again, more difficult to prove their case. Many of the victims do not remember the names of their perpetrators necessarily. If they could get comprehensive records then they could find out the name of the perpetrator and they could pursue their action. It becomes a circuitous ‘the chicken or the egg’ sort of argument. Record-keeping is a big issue in these claims.

Going back to the redress funds, the Queensland scheme was obviously the least generous of them all, and probably not enough for people to feel that they had recognition. On this whole issue of payment of money, there is not enough money in the world on the one hand, but, on the other hand, in our society the money is the only way in which that wrongdoing can be recognised. The apology is important, but the money is the thing that costs the giver, the wrongdoer, something. That is what is important to the survivor or the victim. What happened to them has cost them a great deal. It is important for the wrongdoer to have to experience some cost. That then gives value to the apology.

So I do think the money is important. I obviously think it is important because I am a lawyer and that is what we do and that is how we get paid, but I do think that it is very important for the victims to have that sort of acknowledgement, which is why I say an apology is really not enough. I think that that is a theme. Wayne Chamley, who is one of your speakers today, was the one who first put it that way in an article in the Age. When I read that I thought, ‘Yes, he’s absolutely right. An apology is not enough.’

Senator SIEWERT —I want to follow up the issue of the coordinated response through COAG. You have already said you have not had a response from—

Ms Sdrinis —The Minister for Human Services and the minister for police in Victoria. No, I have not had a response.

Senator SIEWERT —I am presuming from that that you do not know whether they are taking it to COAG and putting it on the agenda.

Ms Sdrinis —I would be almost certain they are not. I have not actually asked them to take it to COAG. What I have said to them is, ‘This is something you can do in Victoria, which is so easy.’ I do not know why they are not doing it. It is so easy. But I am saying to you that it is something that COAG should look at so that there is a coordinated response amongst all of the states.

A lot of perpetrators move interstate if they are caught here. The usual thing is that they are sacked and told, ‘Go away and we won’t tell the police,’ and they often do go away—to another state, where they continue to do the same thing. So I do think that a nationwide response is required, but I cannot see why that step cannot also be taken in Victoria. To me, it seems to be a very obvious and easy thing to do. I will follow up with the Victorian government, although, sadly, the thing that they most seem to react to is media. If the media follows up, we might get something happening. In terms of what can be done nationally, a push through COAG to coordinate what is happening in each of the states and to facilitate information sharing between the states would be very useful.

Senator HUMPHRIES —I am told the Victorian government will not be appearing today. They were invited.

Ms Sdrinis —Doesn’t that really underline the way they approach this whole issue?

CHAIR —I have got to say, the Victorian government has never turned up to one inquiry that I have been involved in—not one.

Ms Sdrinis —And I have seen their submission. I cannot remember whether it was one or two pages.

CHAIR —One.

Ms Sdrinis —One page. I thought that was such a slap in the face to all of the victims who have suffered so much in their institutions.

CHAIR —Ms Sdrinis, we are following up with the Victorian government. It is possible that they will come and give evidence at some stage, but they are not coming today.

Senator HUMPHRIES —Listening to what you have had to say about the lack of options for people to get that redress, I think you are quite right. Money does not wipe away what occurred, but it does give people a sense of having won something back, having had the hurt acknowledged. There is real value in having money on the table. The previous report emphasised the national redress system and, listening to what you have had to say about the cost and trauma and delay involved with litigation, it seems to me that, if we had one option to pursue and to make happen, the best thing would be to make that national redress system happen, with Commonwealth leadership I think, to force the various perpetrator organisations, including churches and state governments, to contribute to a fund so that there was some real action. I am saying that because I have some misgivings about the idea of changing the law to allow legal action against churches. I think it would take us down a path where lots of people inevitably, because of the legal tests that would still have to be overcome, would miss out.

Ms Sdrinis —Indeed, and that is a big one. In many of the church cases, we now act for so many people, because so many people have come forward even though these events occurred a long time ago, and they are still facing the statute of limitations. Indeed, that is another area where there could be legislative change to recognise the unique nature of these claims as opposed to all other personal injuries claims.

Senator HUMPHRIES —We recommended that, of course, in the earlier report, but it has not happened.

Ms Sdrinis —Yes. I understand what you are saying and I agree that it is a very heavy-handed approach and, in terms of our society, to impose something on an organisation in that way is a degree of government intervention that we would normally find objectionable, yet I do not know what other solution there is to that. I believe it remains the biggest barrier to suing the churches. I think we have sufficient evidence now to be able to argue to overcome the statute of limitations and we have sufficient evidence to be able to prove our cases because of the systemic nature of the abuse that we can show occurred in so many of these church-run institutions. But you are right: that would only be one part of the solution. Many people would still miss out because of the statute of limitations, because of proof issues, because of all of the other problems that we face in these cases.

Senator HUMPHRIES —If you established a national redress system or at least a coordinated redress regime where, in any jurisdiction, you were able to access a fund and it was reasonably generous—let’s even say it was based on the monetary amounts available in Western Australia—would that be sufficient, do you think, to deal with this issue without further reform to personal litigation, or do you think people must have access to litigation as well?

Ms Sdrinis —I do think that people need to have the choice to sue. One of the issues for many of my clients is that they have always felt that they have had to go cap in hand begging for something—‘Please look after us.’ ‘Please don’t hurt us.’ ‘Please look after us now that we’ve left the institution.’ They would not have had to do all of that if they had been cared for properly in the first place and been given the skills that they needed to look after themselves. The thing about saying, ‘Well, here you are. There’s a redress fund. That’s it. You have no other recourse,’ effectively, is that that again is imposing something on them.

Ninety-nine per cent of victims or survivors, I think, would prefer to access redress, but there will still be some cases where claimants should have the right to sue. Indeed, none of the redress funds that have been set up stop claimants from suing. All of the redress funds give claimants the option of accepting redress or having their day in court. As I said, 99 per cent of those people will choose not to have their day in court because of the difficulties they face but, for that one per cent who may wish to pursue that option, I think it should be available to them. I do think that, if the redress funds are set up throughout Australia, that will address many of the issues for many of the survivors.

Senator HUMPHRIES —You mentioned Ellis’s case, which involved an assistant priest.

Ms Sdrinis —In the Bass Hill parish in North Sydney, yes.

Senator HUMPHRIES —You could argue that priests are in a particular, unique position within the church.

Ms Sdrinis —Yes.

Senator HUMPHRIES —Is it clear that other employees of the church—people employed in these homes, for example—couldn’t be sued on the basis of Ellis’s case?

Ms Sdrinis —That is the possible exception which I referred to in the Salvation Army cases: that if it is an employee, not a priest or a brother or a sister or whatever, if you can find out which entity employed that person then presumably that entity could be sued for vicarious liability for the actions of the employee.

Coming back to the churches and whether you can sue them, the churches actually argue that priests are not employees, so there is a whole other issue of only being able to sue an organisation if it is vicariously liable for the conduct of its employees. If a priest is not even an employee then that adds another degree of complexity to whether or not you can sue them.

The short answer is that I have not come across the Catholic institutions employing laypeople in these homes. It seems to me, from everything I have been told, that other than the odd gardener or somebody like that, it was very much the priests, the sisters, the brothers who ran these institutions.

Senator HUMPHRIES —You are not suggesting that the church took up this non-incorporated model—

Ms Sdrinis —For this purpose?

Senator HUMPHRIES —for this purpose.

Ms Sdrinis —No. The property trust is incorporated through Victorian legislation. I cannot remember the date of the act, but it was well before these claims arose. It just happened to be a happy coincidence which their lawyers have exploited to the max.

Senator HUMPHRIES —The 600 care leavers that you are dealing with at the moment: what is the status of those matters, roughly?

Ms Sdrinis —The Victorian government—despite the fact that I pilloried them earlier—have come to the party to a certain degree. In the last 12 months or so they have agreed to meet with us and to try and settle claims without forcing claimants to litigate, to go to trial. I have settled only three cases against them so far, because the process is a slow one, but they seem to me to be finally accepting that, where we can show that there has been abuse, they will offer compensation, although of course they reserve the right to defend the actions if we go to trial. That has been a good development, although it is not enough.

You would be aware that, throughout Australia, claimants have been pursuing claims against institutions for the last 10 years or so. The Catholic Church has, for example, set up their compensation panel, where people can apply for compensation. For the purpose of those claims, the Catholic Church, the Anglican Church and the Uniting Church do not argue about the statute of limitations. They do not raise that as an issue, but obviously the amount of compensation they are prepared to offer takes into account that they know and we know that, if we took them to court, we would fail. A lawyer for the Christian Brothers said in one of my cases, when we did not wish to accept an offer of settlement, ‘Litigation is just so far off the radar. What are you going to do about it?’ That was the attitude. It becomes very difficult to negotiate successfully when everyone involved in the negotiations knows that your claim will almost certainly fail if you go to court, and that affects the levels of compensation we can achieve for claimants.

Senator HUMPHRIES —On that point, you say you have settled three cases already.

Ms Sdrinis —Yes.

Senator HUMPHRIES —There are probably secrecy provisions surrounding those.

Ms Sdrinis —The government wanted confidentiality in relation to the claim in its entirety. We declined that. One of the problems in the past was that victims felt as if their silence had been bought, and that whole silence just perpetuated the abuse for them, so we have not agreed to confidentiality in terms of the events but we did agree to confidentiality in terms of the actual settlement sums. But I can tell you that some of the settlements have been six-figure sums.

Senator HUMPHRIES —Right.

Ms Sdrinis —Very low six-figure sums. I do not think that is a matter of confidentiality. The confidentiality attaches to the individual claim and the individual amount.

Senator HUMPHRIES —Are the church settlements you mentioned through the compensation funds of the same order, do you think?

Ms Sdrinis —It is very unusual for them to be of the same order. The Catholic Church compensation panel, as you would be aware, has a maximum of $55,000. You cannot do better than that. The Christian Brothers have been known to pay six-figure sums, but that is in the particularly embarrassing and difficult cases for them. Generally speaking, settlements are between $10,000 and $100,000. The Western Australian government’s range of settlement is squarely within what we have been achieving just through the negotiating process.

CHAIR —Ms Sdrinis, unfortunately we have run out of time. You mentioned complaints that have not been pursued for lack of corroboration, in that no records have been maintained. Is that peculiar to these cases or is that a general police process?

Ms Sdrinis —I imagine it would relate to any historical sex crime.

CHAIR —Or to any other crime? I was wondering in terms of questions to the department.

Ms Sdrinis —I do not know. The most commonly reported historical crimes are sex crimes, because they are the ones that it takes people decades to come to grips with.

CHAIR —To deal with, yes. One of the things we talked about extensively in the earlier inquiry was the definition of ‘abuse’, in that it has such a wide range and it is very personal. But the ones that tend to get the media focus are sex abuse. Have the cases that you have been able to negotiate had a basis of sexual abuse?

Ms Sdrinis —Most of them, but a reasonable proportion were bad physical abuse. The most difficult cases—and these are the people I turn away, and it is heartbreaking—are the people who never had love, who were not educated—

CHAIR —Which is abuse.

Ms Sdrinis —who were separated from their siblings. I will finish up on this, but I have had clients who grew up in institutions with their siblings and no-one ever told them—

CHAIR —That they were siblings.

Ms Sdrinis —that so-and-so was their brother. That is just cruel and unusual punishment, and I can only assume the reason why they were not told was because children with no attachments are easier to manage. If you decide that you want to move one brother but not the other, if they are not attached to each other—if they do not even know they are brothers—they are not going to kick up a fuss. With that sort of abuse, which is not actionable under our laws—I cannot even frame a cause of action which would be recognised in our courts—to have to say to those people, ‘I’m sorry, your abuse just won’t be recognised,’ is very hard.

CHAIR —It is not recognised under the law. Is it recognised under any of the—

Ms Sdrinis —Yes. The Western Australian redress fund recognises neglect as a basis for compensation—

CHAIR —I think the Queensland fund also.

Ms Sdrinis —and that is very important.

CHAIR —Thank you so much for your evidence and also for your work.

[9.55 am]