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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 —We have had a request from the media to film this section, and Mr Golding has agreed, but I will check with other people. It is fine with us. I will ask that the cameras not go onto the public witnesses, just in case there is a problem. I welcome Mr Golding back to our committee. You are listed here, Mr Golding, as the national vice-president of CLAN. Is that the capacity in which you wish to give your evidence?

Mr Golding —Yes, it is.

CHAIR —You have information on parliamentary privilege and the protection of witnesses. We have your submission and, I think, a few letters that we have received over the last few years as well.

Mr Golding —Yes.

CHAIR —I invite you to make an opening statement, and then we will get into questions.

Mr Golding —Thank you very much for the opportunity to talk to you today. Congratulations on setting up this process. We believe it has been very important as an initiative to revive the 2004 report and its recommendations, which have not really been thoroughly acted upon.

I should tell the committee that, as well as being vice-president of CLAN, I am a member of the Alliance for Forgotten Australians, and you have a delegation from them this afternoon; a member of VANISH, and you will speak to them too; a member of the Victorian sector working party, and you will have the auspicing person from there; and a member of Wings for Survivors. I have a great deal of interest in all of those bodies, but I have no mandate to speak on behalf of any of them except CLAN.

I thought it might be useful to tell the committee something of the background of care leaver organisations in Victoria, because they have been involved for a long time. In the middle of the 1990s, a group of Victorians set up an organisation for care leavers, which was initially called Innovate and then Lives of State Shame, and that title was chosen very carefully to make the distinction between the state’s responsibility and the individual survivor’s responsibility for the shame that many of them felt. Heather Bell was the founding president and I was the founding secretary of that organisation.

We made representations to the Victorian government over a period of time and the then state minister Denis Napthine in 1997 told us that he would set aside a small sum of money for us to work in cooperation with a group called VANISH, which was an adoption agency in Victoria.

We were given a small office at VANISH in that year, 1997, and began operating to support care leavers, but there were a series of conflicts with the manager—some quite petty, about phones and noise and the like; some much more fundamental, about the notion of help and priorities. This led some of us to believe that we could not operate within an organisation which had a different focus and we determined then that, if care leavers were to make progress towards the things they wanted, they needed to set up their own organisations, stand on their own, speak with their own voice and be independent of other interest groups.

When CLAN was established in the year 2000, not all but many of those involved at that stage joined because it was a single-focus organisation. CLAN’s continuing value to Victoria is evident in the current membership lists. In 2008, of CLAN’s nearly 800 registered members, more than 250 live in Victoria. CLAN is often portrayed as a New South Wales organisation. This is clearly not the case. It is a national organisation with very strong activities in Victoria. We know that many more Victorians, other than members, access the CLAN website, for example, which received over three million hits in 2008.

It is instructive to look at the priorities set down for that organisation that I mentioned was formed in the middle 1990s, LOSS. Its first business plan was in 1997. I have it with me and am happy to let you have a copy. It is remarkably like the priorities of CLAN as of today, and of VANISH and other organisations. It is remarkably like the recommendations which you made in your Forgotten Australians report in 2004. The point I am making is that care leavers have known for a long time the issues that they are concerned about. They know what their wants and needs are and they have been trying to make those wants and needs meaningful to governments for a very long time. While we appreciate the work that the Senate committee did in 2003 and 2004 with the inquiry, I just wanted to make the point that there has been a long period of involvement by care leavers in trying to press for goals over a long period of time.

I have described in my written submission the failure of the Australian government of the day to offer national leadership in response to the Forgotten Australians report. When it did respond, the government essentially passed the buck to the states, churches and charities. This was despite the government’s boldly acknowledging that the history of out-of-care treatment in Australia was ‘a matter of shame for this country’. That is what the Australian government said when it responded to the report.

It also said ‘and we, as a nation, need to respond with appropriate help’. That is what they said: ‘respond with appropriate help’. What help? The Commonwealth’s tangible actions can be counted on the fingers of one hand minus the thumb: a national conference, which for the most part acted as if the 39 recommendations did not exist, went over and over old ground and failed to focus on the 39 recommendations; $16,666.66 for each of the states to establish a memorial in the states; a one-off grant to CLAN for counselling services; an establishment grant to set up a new national body—that is the Alliance for Forgotten Australians—but insufficient funds to employ staff to actually operate it. That is what the Commonwealth government did as a response to the report.

When CLAN and members of CLAN write to the Australian government asking for help, they receive letters back from ministers, and even the relevant minister, which reiterate over and over again these very minor accomplishments, as if they provide substantive help and support to forgotten Australians. Our view is that, while these Commonwealth initiatives may be useful in a general sense, none of them could be said to have helped any of the 500,000 forgotten Australians in any particular sense. If somebody goes to the Commonwealth and says, ‘I have got problems. Can you help me?’ what they get is a letter which simply goes through the same three or four things as if that is helping them.

CLAN, the leading support organisation at a national level, is not assured of ongoing funding and must go cap in hand to ask for money just to keep their doors open. I draw your attention to the fact that the Commonwealth department FaHCSIA’s submission to this committee, when dealing with recommendation 20 on funding CLAN and other support groups, is absolutely silent on funding for CLAN.

Unlike care leavers agencies in Queensland, New South Wales, South Australia and, for the moment, VANISH in Victoria, CLAN is not a government funded agency. CLAN finds its own funding—it has to do this—each year. It has got no guaranteed ongoing funding. It never has had. Its funding comes from memberships—$20 a year if you are employed, $10 a year if you are not; small annual grants from some of the states; donations from a very few past providers and occasional donations from individuals. The state government grants are usually in the order of between $10,000 and $15,000 each. The past provider grants are usually $5,000. Occasionally we get a big one, $10,000.

Queensland gives CLAN no funding at all, not even reimbursement for the 1800 telephone number which is used by Queensland care leavers. It would be wonderful if CLAN could drop the membership fee and provide services for everybody who wants them but, without continued and assured government funding, CLAN will be required to continue to charge fees to people who can ill afford them. We have recently had to terminate the employment of one of our staff members, and two others we determined to give notice to, but a late announcement of a small grant from the Commonwealth in the last week or two may have saved their bacon for the time being. But that is a one-off grant, again, with no assurances about next year, and that letter came with a requirement that we should develop an action plan, a forward plan, on the basis that they will give us some money once and no assurance that they will give us anything else.

The CLAN written submission includes the volume of calls received by CLAN on a daily basis. Thirty per cent of those calls come from this state of Victoria. The volume of calls makes it clear that, whatever state services are available for care leavers, they are demonstrably not adequate for the demand—which brings me to progress in Victoria. What has the Victorian government done about the 39 recommendations?

I take the point that was raised already, symptomatic of the state of affairs here, that the Victorian government declined to provide a submission. You have counted it as a submission but, if you look at the last paragraph of their very short letter, they are saying, ‘We don’t have the time or energy or inclination to actually provide a submission.’ It is a matter of great disappointment and concern that the Victorian government is not here today to give evidence; that it declined the opportunity to provide a submission to this committee, when every other state and territory has done so—some of them good and some of them not so good, but at least all the other states and territories made an effort.

The one good thing that we can say about Victoria is that the government did offer an apology. It was delivered by the Premier in parliament in August of 2006, accompanied by one-off grants to CLAN and VANISH to deal with counselling, which was necessary because it peaked in that period immediately after the apology. Many people thought the way the apology was delivered, with the tent at the back of the parliament building crammed with hundreds of care leavers viewing small TV screens, was pretty unimpressive. Others were very pleased to have the apology. It acknowledged the wrongs that were committed. But many care leavers and others agreed with the sentiment of Peter Ryan, who was the leader of the National Party, who called in his speech for a compensation scheme. He said, ‘We think the job is only part done,’ and we think he is dead right.

The other thing that the Victorian government has done is to provide some funds, $30,000, to go along with the Commonwealth’s $16,666.66, but the process is painfully slow and complex. Those grants were made years ago. There is no memorial that we can take you to in Victoria today and there is no decision about where that memorial will be, despite having met with the Melbourne City Council and the state government and others on numerous occasions. I cannot tell you the number of times we have met to talk about the memorial, but there is no memorial. We are told to be patient. That is the theme that I really wanted to put to you today: that we are simply running out of patience. Some are literally dying. Our oldest member is 95 years of age. Will she see an apology? Will she see compensation? Will she see a memorial? One doubts it.

There has been some improvement in allowing access to ward files and other records by agencies like the Ballarat Child and Family Services and MacKillop, but there is still a long way to go in that regard. Work on a comprehensive guide to out-of-home records, which was started several years ago, remains unfinished. That has simply been put on the backburner because there are other things that the officer concerned with has to deal with. Hopefully the ‘Who am I?’ project—and you are talking to them today—will accomplish what the Victorian government has not been able to achieve in that regard. This is no criticism of the fine people managing the ‘Who am I?’ project, but it is a three-year project. Those of us who are supporting that know that we will not see any real tangible outcome for another three years. How many of our members will still be around then?

Other states have had such guides for years. I have prepared a paper for another purpose dealing in detail with the continuing problems care leavers confront. They do confront many problems when trying to access their records still. I am happy to table a copy of that paper or answer any questions that you have on that matter.

CHAIR —Thank you. If we can get that tabled, Mr Golding, it will be very useful.

Mr Golding —Thank you. I have only one copy here but I will make sure you have it.

CHAIR —We will copy it. Thank you.

Mr Golding —Policy advice on the implementation of the 39 recommendations has been developed by a Victorian sector working party. You have the auspicing convener here later today from the centre for excellence. The working party brings all the key stakeholders together to discuss how things move forward. It is a great idea, but it has to be said that the tangible outcomes on the ground have not been sufficiently evident to care leavers in Victoria. That is not a criticism of the goodwill of the committed people involved or their strong desire to bring about change, but it has to be said that the power to make significant changes that would make things better for Victorian care leavers lies principally in the hands of the Victorian government. You can gauge their interest by their activities in response to your invitation.

In particular, I referred to two matters: the need for a scheme for redress, which Angela has been talking about, for those care leavers who were abused or badly neglected while in care, and the funding of targeted services for care leavers in desperate need. I have been part of CLAN delegations on a number of occasions to successive Victorian ministers. We spoke at one stage to Premier Bracks. But the government’s unwavering position is that, notwithstanding the acknowledgement of the harm that has been done, they will only deal with compensation on a case-by-case basis, even though they know that this is harmful and quite painful for the persons concerned.

Because of the confidentiality clauses built in, which Angela mentioned, we have had to rely on Victorian government information, precious little as it is, to know the extent of these out-of-court settlements. Some months ago the Premier conceded that it was something like $4.3 million over the whole period in which this activity has been taking place. When you consider the sums made available in the other states where redress schemes are available—Western Australia $114 million, Queensland $100 million, Tasmania $75 million—$4.3 million sounds pretty mean to me. It may well be that you could take a cynical view about the purpose of taking that approach rather than opening up a redress scheme—it simply saves money.

In the last few months, when the matter of redress has been raised with the government, the government’s invariable response is to divert attention towards the $7.1 million over four years that it has allocated in its budget for a new service for care leavers. Again, many of the Victorian members of CLAN—and I am sure other care leavers too—take a pretty cynical view of this initiative. If you place the total allocation of $7.1 million over four years alongside the redress schemes of the other states, you see the perspective.

It is very late. Since that announcement was made in early May of 2008 not one single service has actually resulted from that announcement. There has been a long period of consultation. Many of us felt the consultations had been conducted through the Senate inquiry. Your recommendations 20 through to 33 deal in detail with those sorts of services that should be provided by the states. Nevertheless, they said they should consult with care leavers about this and we are no wiser and no better served at the present date, as I sit here before you in March of 2009, than we were when the government announced $7.1 million to be spent over four years. In other words, the action is extraordinarily slow.

In the consultation, the care leavers demonstrated again their very broad range of needs that you identified back in 2004. They talked about fast-track access to universal services such as housing and medical and dental treatment, medication, legal assistance, accessing records et cetera. Many were very fond of the notion of a care leavers card which would fast-track services or provide concessions. Again, I come back to where I started. We have been working on this since the middle of the 1990s. We knew then what the needs were. We have perhaps refined and got a clearer picture of some of them, but in many instances we are no closer than we were all those years ago. That is my opening statement.

CHAIR —Thank you. We have not got too much time for questions because of all the issues that you have raised, but nonetheless we will go there.

Senator SIEWERT —We might as well start where you left off with the support services. When you say there has been consultation, what form of consultation and why do they need to keep talking about it? As you said, I would have thought it was fairly obvious by now what is needed. What reason do they give?

Mr Golding —The Victorian government said that the consultations were important, and one always thinks that consultation is important, but I must say that the consultations were carried out in good spirit and with good intent. There were care leaver organisations. CLAN and VANISH, for example, were involved in calling groups together and facilitating the discussions. This is one of the values of the consultation process that might have been unintended, but it certainly became clear: a lot of care leavers made the point that they did not even know in 2004 that the Senate inquiry was hearing their stories, or they missed out on telling their stories, and they used the consultation as another opportunity to tell their stories.

A lot of people felt that they were being listened to through that process, so there was some value in that. But at the end of the day, May of last year was the announcement, and here we are in March and tenders have not yet been called for. We are a long way from actually doing anything. People have let off steam, they have been listened to et cetera, but they have not been offered the services.

Senator SIEWERT —You went through a few just then. What types of services are they talking about providing?

Mr Golding —Very much like those which are provided by CLAN and VANISH at the moment: access to records; counselling; an opportunity to tell their story, to be in groups of like-minded people, to share experiences et cetera—the sorts of things we were talking about in 1997 that you raised in your recommendations 20 through 33. They are very similar.

Senator SIEWERT —Going back to the issue of redress, we have talked about it a bit this morning and you are aware of that. I want to go to the issue of the Commonwealth’s involvement particularly and where you think the Commonwealth should be pursuing this issue.

Mr Golding —There are many problems with the three redress schemes. The most important problem is that they do not, of course, apply in all states. There is the problem that some people are getting it and others are not, even within the same families. We have had members say to us, ‘My sister is getting compensation through Tasmania because she was a ward of the state there, but I was a ward of the state in Victoria. It makes me sick to think she’s getting all that money and I’m getting nothing.’

There is a need for a universal scheme so that people can have access regardless of where they live. There are those difficulties associated with location. The Western Australian government scheme has employed CLAN on a fee-for-service basis to do some work with people who live out of Western Australia, to make sure that they are aware of it. But there are major flaws with the way in which those three systems developed in terms of eligibility. In some states you have to be a state ward; in others you do not. In some states you do not get compensation if you were voluntarily placed; in others you do. There are things of that kind—major inconsistencies—which do not make any sense to real people on the ground. It might make sense to the individual jurisdictions who have made those rules. As Angela said, there are variations in the amounts which are paid and inconsistencies in the access to records in terms of making claims and so on. There are major problems there.

I think the Commonwealth should make a major contribution by bringing together the various players in this area and talking about some common guidelines—not necessarily mandating them but at least getting that discussion going about the need for common guidelines.

Senator SIEWERT —So you would use the COAG process for basically a coordinated approach.

Mr Golding —I would use whatever process is available. If that is the one that comes to mind, that would be great.

Senator SIEWERT —In terms of the records, there is certainly an issue in a number of states. How serious an issue is it in Victoria?

Mr Golding —I have been working since 1993 on my own personal records. Last week I got another FOI request back with some further information. This is 2009, and I started in 1993.

Senator SIEWERT —So it is a very serious issue.

Mr Golding —There are still these problems of treating you as one individual, looking in your one file, instead of treating you as a member of a group and looking in a number of files. At one stage a very useful thing happened, which was that my two brothers’ files were looked at to see if there were references to me, and there were. I got something like another 20 pages of information from my brothers’ files. Those problems still exist. I have now discovered that my mother’s three sisters were state wards and that my great-great-grandfather, at the age of 11, was charged with the same offence I was charged with—that is, being neglected. He was sentenced to four years on a training ship. I did not find that through a search of the files; that was through other sources of information.

There is no body that can actually sit you down and make suggestions like, ‘Have you looked at the police records? Have you got your army records? Have you looked in electoral rolls and Sands and McDougall’s street directories for those eras to help you put that together?’ I have spent well over a decade trying to piece together this story.

The point I am trying to make is that we could do things a great deal better. There has been some improvement. The attitude to files in Victoria has improved remarkably in the last five years, but there are still great hold-ups, great delays. You have to be very patient and you have to learn to deal with the surprises and shocks that you get when you finally have these files disclosed to you.

Senator SIEWERT —There is no approach that says, ‘Okay, this is how we’re going to deal with these records for care leavers or people that were wards.’ There is no approach from the government that says, ‘This is your entry point and this is where you go.’

Mr Golding —A working party has been trying since 2005, to my knowledge, to put together such a guide, which would take you through the steps and say, ‘Look, you can go this or that way,’ and so on. That is the point I was making. Maybe the ‘Who am I?’ project will achieve that. I have seen some preliminary work that suggests that that is what they will try to achieve.

But there are difficulties with understanding the files. What does ‘boarded out’ mean? What is the difference between a voluntary placement and being a ward of the state? People do not necessarily know all those things, and they need assistance in understanding the records. They need to understand, too, the historical context: why were there so many children put into orphanages in the 1940s? Was there a connection with the war? ‘Did your father desert you or was he fighting for the country?’ There is a whole lot of stuff that I think could be done much better to help people understand the story, put it into context and make sense of their childhood. Many are still taking their childhood into their adulthood, feeling this tremendous sense of shame, of rejection, because they do not understand, even when they get the records, what it necessarily means. Lots more help is needed.

Senator HUMPHRIES —Can you tell the committee, Mr Golding, how the demands being made of CLAN have changed since the report of the committee was brought down in 2004, or are the services of the same nature as they were before?

Mr Golding —I do not think you can say there is any particularly new thrust to the CLAN work, so the main activities have remained the same, but the volume has certainly increased dramatically.

Senator HUMPHRIES —As a result, you think, of the report?

Mr Golding —As a result of the inquiry. I do not know how many requests your secretary has had from CLAN for copies of the report.

Senator HUMPHRIES —I think a lot.

Mr Golding —It probably runs into hundreds, maybe thousands.

CHAIR —I have just been told, Mr Golding, that it is over 6,000 copies.

Mr Golding —That has been a wonderful resource for people to try to understand that broad context of the historical sweep of things. From there, they often then say, ‘All right, I understand now. I know what I’m looking for,’ and they will go and seek services of a particular kind. Certainly the volume of individual calls—requests for counselling and so on—exploded after the first report was tabled.

Senator HUMPHRIES —Is CLAN still getting a large number of, for want of a better term, new clients—people who are just coming to terms with the need to get access to records or to deal with past hurts?

Mr Golding —Yes. That is one of the staggering things. There are still, I would think, hundreds—perhaps thousands—of care leavers who do not know about the Senate inquiry report. They say, ‘No, I know nothing about Forgotten Australians. I’ve heard the title, but I know nothing about it.’ Yes, there are lots of people who have yet to put their toes in the water. We know them. We have monthly meetings—I will call them meetings but they are really protests, often on the steps of parliament, outside ministers’ offices and the like—and lots of people come up and say, ‘I was in a home.’ ‘Oh. Do you know about the Forgotten Australians report?’ ‘No.’ ‘Would you like a copy?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘Do you know what we do?’ ‘No.’ ‘Do you know what VANISH does?’ ‘No.’ They are complete newcomers, and yet they are interested in their stories. They have not had the opportunity to actually participate in any of these sorts of activities until they see us on the streets.

Senator HUMPHRIES —In relation to the memorials, have they given you reasons why a memorial has not yet been—

Mr Golding —Part of the problem is the process, where our minister writes to the lord mayor, for example, and after six months the lord mayor writes back and says, ‘No, we won’t put up a memorial but we’ll help you set up a fund for future care leavers,’ which completely misses the point. Our minister then has to be advised by her officers that that is not the point at all; that the Commonwealth has given $16,666.66 and the Victorian government has given $30,000 for a memorial, not for some other project.

And so we go back, and it just takes forever. We have had three or four different sites allocated, identified by the council, and each time they go to a subcommittee—‘Oh, no, we can’t do that because of occupational health and safety reasons. Cyclists go along there.’ So we go to another site, and it goes on and on and on.

We think we have got a site now which everyone likes and agrees upon. We have got an artist who has been commissioned to do something, but we are not guaranteed that that site will pass the Melbourne City Council approval process. We are not in a position to offer land for a memorial to be put up. It has to be someone like the Melbourne City Council.

Senator HUMPHRIES —Given what you have said about the disappointment and anger that making an apology without compensation attached to it has generated in Victoria, do you think that it is appropriate for the Commonwealth to contemplate an apology at this point in time, if it is not yet prepared to put the bones on a national redress scheme?

Mr Golding —I think our members would like a public apology from Kevin Rudd. They really appreciated the stolen generations apology. That was a massive occasion for many of our members. For many of them it brought tears that there had been an acknowledgement for those people, but it also brought tears of the other sort: ‘Why not us?’ There are a vast number of people who would like to see a national apology from someone like Kevin Rudd, but I think there would also be a large of number of people who would say, ‘Well, it will be shallow and hollow if it isn’t accompanied by some services.’

There are many things in the Forgotten Australians report which the Commonwealth government could have done and could still do. It is not too late. It could go through those recommendations again and say, ‘Yes, we could have done that,’ ‘We can do that,’ ‘We can advise this and that and that and that.’ If those two things went together—an apology, with a review of the sort you are undertaking which has got ticks from government in terms of, ‘Yes, we will do this,’ and not, ‘This is not a matter for the Commonwealth government’—that would be of enormous benefit.

CHAIR —Thank you, Mr Golding, for coming to the committee. I have just one request of you. I know that you have done a lot of work in this area, but you talk particularly about your own attempts with your own files, and you did mention that in your submission in passing. If you could give us a more detailed account of your own personal struggle and the efforts you have made in that area, it would give an example of the kinds of things that we heard about five years ago and that we have seen in some of the submissions about the difficulty with records.

I know that you have been working on this a long time and you have a lot of support—a lot more than other people have—but if we could just get your story about your struggle with the records and the impact that has had, that would be very useful. I also think our next witnesses would be able to use that in their project. In terms of someone’s own experience that personalises that issue, if you have the time to do that, we would all find that very useful.

Mr Golding —Yes. I would be happy to do that.

CHAIR —Thank you very much.

Proceedings suspended from 10.30 am to 10.55 am