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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 —I welcome back Dr Wayne Chamley. It is always good to hear from you, and we recognise the work that you have done in the past on this issue, and in our previous inquiry. I notice that you are holding the previous document close to your heart there, which is wonderful. You have information on parliamentary privilege and the protection of witnesses. We have before us your submission. I invite you to make some opening comments and then we will go into questions. I know how bad this room is for acoustics, but they have asked us, if we possibly could when we are talking, to yell because some of the people in the back have hearing issues. Dr Chamley.

Dr Chamley —Thank you. First of all, let me express my gratitude that this Senate committee has convened again to look into this matter. As our submission indicates, as an organisation we would have liked to have seen a lot more progress than appears to have been made. But I did bring the two documents because I just thought, ‘What’s it all about?’ as I thumbed through. To me it is all about something which occurred in this nation’s history which should never have taken place. The primary thing was an inability of the country, essentially, to recognise the rights of women and then their children, and so we had the removal of children from Indigenous mothers, the removal of children from English and Irish mothers and brought to Australia and then, often, the removal of Australian-born non-Indigenous children from their mothers, plus a whole lot of other situations with that third category.

The Senate committee estimated maybe 500,000. Talking to people, I think that is the lower estimate of the figure. If we had all the records, it probably would go to 650-odd thousand. It is the highest number of children put into institutions of any nation-state in the world. It is five times as many as in Canada; it is three times as many as in Germany; it is eight times as many as in Romania; it is three times as many as in Ireland. It is not a great piece of social history that as a nation we ought to be proud of. It is an appalling chapter.

I believe it has had consequences now through two generations of people who were released into the community with poor education, low self-esteem and very poor social skills. They became mothers and fathers and tried to stabilise and form families. We have had a whole plethora of problems socially arise out of this thing.

What struck me when I looked at the list of organisations and persons who have made a submission to this inquiry—and there are some 26, I think—is that there are three key ones missing: the Salvation Army, the Anglican Church of Australia and the Catholic Church of Australia. Yet, when you read—and I did—the almost 1,000 submissions made to these two inquiries, on page after page those three organisations stand out for their failure to supervise their staff and their membership and to give a whole lot of children a quality of life that the families believed they were getting, and there was a systemic failure by the states, in terms of state governments, to inspect; a systemic failure to recognise that charity was one thing, but having people actually caring for children was something else.

The other point I would make is that I do not believe it was all charity. I believe that some of these places ran at substantial profit. The Abbotsford Convent, just in Collingwood, was a highly profitable venture, with a Magdalene laundry and the sewing operations and kids doing piecemeal work. You can see that in place after place around Australia. The churches and religious organisations obtained great revenue from it and bought property, so they have invested and had all the capital gain from this; yet we have a group of Australians, forgotten Australians, who are still essentially ignored by these major operators. Thank you.

CHAIR —Thank you, Dr Chamley.

Senator SIEWERT —In terms of the recommendations, you make comments that basically there has been little change since the report was released. Do you think there has been more change in some states than in others?

Dr Chamley —We have had more inquiry. I think we have only really had change in Queensland. The responses by the Tasmanian and South Australian governments have been pretty token. They do not realise what is needed. Let me give you an example. I noticed that Minister Neville had written about what Victoria is planning: $7.1 million. I would not know how many forgotten Australians are in Victoria, but it will be hundreds, if not thousands. Because I meet so many of them, and I work two days a week in psychiatric clinics, my judgement is that 60 per cent of them have serious mental illness. It is often either post-traumatic stress disorder or borderline disorder. If a veteran comes back from warfare—and this is highly topical.

Senator SIEWERT —I was just going to say that.

Dr Chamley —When I looked at the cost of treating a veteran for post-traumatic stress disorder a few years ago, it was something like $84,000 per veteran, so how far is $7.1 million going to go? I have raised this with the minister.

Senator SIEWERT —From what we can find out from this morning’s discussion, the $7.1 million is more for providing advice rather than guaranteeing service. They are talking about advice on where to access services. I am open to somebody else saying something different, but it does not look like a lot of the money is actually being provided for improving or guaranteeing access to services.

Dr Chamley —So forgotten Australians will not get the person-specific services that I believe they need to have. I believe they are entitled to them and I believe the state should be orchestrating that. I am not expecting that the state meet all the costs of this. I think the big religious providers have got out of this scot-free.

Senator SIEWERT —That is what I want to get to next.

Dr Chamley —They have got out of it scot-free. If a person goes to one of these internal processes such as Towards Healing and the Anglican process, they get maybe a monetary sum and six sessions with a psychologist. So what? What they need is a whole lot of support, if they want it—it has to be empowerment; but if they want it—to help them stabilise and get a better quality of life than bouncing around in the public health and housing systems and everything else, always at the end of the queue, always frustrated by their self-esteem, poor reading and writing skills and all those sorts of things.

Senator SIEWERT —One of your comments is about the Commonwealth’s response, basically saying it is the states’ and territories’ responsibility.

Dr Chamley —With the previous government I believe that was the attitude, yes.

Senator SIEWERT —What would you see as the role of the Commonwealth? I will go back to the states shortly, but in terms of the Commonwealth? There have been suggestions, for example, that there should be a national system of redress that COAG should be involved in coordinating and access to files and sharing of information. What do you think is the most important thing the Commonwealth could do?

Dr Chamley —That the Commonwealth gets involved in a redress and some sort of reconciliation program, maybe like the South African program; that it use its powers to force the past providers to be in the ring, because they want nothing to do with it. The Commonwealth’s new programs that appear to be on the books—for instance, Minister Plibersek’s proposals about housing—are great things, provided forgotten Australians can access them. But we have got a situation, as I see it—because I am in Canberra a lot—where, with the department of education, welfare and training, FaHCSIA, and Health and Ageing, the same people are in the ring with the bureaucrats at every meeting you go to—the Anglican Church, Catholic Social Services, Salvation Army et cetera; five of them—because they are major service providers to government.

If any of those people run the housing scheme, there is no way that a number of forgotten Australians are going to go near it. They cannot go near any of these church organisations any more, so they will just be left out. Some wisdom needs to prevail about the appropriate non-government setting in which to offer access to new initiatives. It should not be church based, because it excludes people that are in the room here. Their post-traumatic stress disorder is such that they cannot even walk past a church, so how are they going to go to Salvation Army housing services? They will not even get up to the front step. That needs some very careful thinking through.

Senator SIEWERT —Regarding state provision of services, some states are obviously further advanced in terms of redress. For example, we have heard today about Victoria’s lack of redress. Have you had discussions with the Victorian government about redress?

Dr Chamley —No, the Victorian government will not talk to us as an organisation. We have had a policy of never accepting any money from governments or grants or whatever. On the issue we call it as we see it, and if it embarrasses ministers, so be it. We have embarrassed ministers at times of apologies and whatever and make no apology for that. They just do not want us in the room.

Senator HUMPHRIES —Dr Chamley, in your submission you say that the Australian government under former Prime Minister John Howard decided that it was not prepared in any way to show leadership in this matter. Do you have any indication that the present Australian government is prepared to take a different approach?

Dr Chamley —I would have to be honest and say, ‘Not at the moment.’ But I hope that, when this committee’s report is presented in the Senate, that awareness process will begin to take place. There are some individual backbenchers within this new government who are listening and closely linked in to some of the coalface NGOs—VANISH and CLAN and those sorts of organisations. But as a government, no. There would be an expectation that the Prime Minister might consider some form of apology to these people, as he did with the apology to Indigenous Australians.

Senator HUMPHRIES —But he has not proposed any reparation for Indigenous Australians.

Dr Chamley —We have never had any correspondence or discussions or anything along those lines. We have been focused on the day-to-day providing of advice to people and putting in submissions to inquiries and the like.

Senator HUMPHRIES —Far be it from me to offer advice, but I personally would not be especially hopeful that there will be a decision by the Commonwealth to fund a reparation scheme. I have to say that that is not so much because of politics but because of the Commonwealth being seen to assume what they would regard as a state responsibility in this area.

Dr Chamley —I think I did say in my submission that I do not see that the Commonwealth needs to part with a lot of money in a reparation scheme so much as use its muscle to make sure that the state governments and the former church providers stump up the money. The Irish government did it. It conducted a royal commission and then it said to the Catholic Church, ‘That’s it. Put up the money.’ The Irish government did put money in as well. But national governments can exert enormous pressure. These organisations are major service providers. New service providers can be found if they need to be. Listen to the brouhaha that is going on about employment services and putting that out to tender.

Here is the Catholic Church’s submission to the Senate Standing Committee on Economics. They can write submission after submission where it involves income and they cannot even put a piece of paper together to respond to this committee. It is an appalling insolence on their part.

Senator HUMPHRIES —You talk about the Victorian government making an apology and you emphasise that a lot of people saw that as a media stunt more than anything else.

Dr Chamley —Yes.

Senator HUMPHRIES —What exactly was the problem with that? Are people angry because there was not money attached to it, or was it really the way in which it was delivered that caused the problem?

Dr Chamley —Other people might have their own ideas, but we saw that all this expectation was raised, people were flown in from Queensland and all over the place. Elderly ladies were left standing outside the parliament for 1½ to two hours in the hot sun. They believed that they were going to see a parliamentary process, but that did not happen. They were ushered around to the tent around the back and the whole thing was a catastrophe. I thought, ‘This is appalling.’ We did not get an invite by the way. That is okay. But I thought, ‘What a way to treat people.’ They put out press releases and organised TV cameras and everything else and treated people abominably on the afternoon itself. Forty chairs for 200 to 300 people. It was just appalling. This goes on.

People go every Saturday down to Abbotsford Convent and there are conducted tours of the convent. I am in a row with the board of the convent at the moment. The tour guides tell the public that the girls in there were the daughters of prostitutes, alcoholics and women who could not look after their children. This goes on every month. Maybe some mothers were in that situation, but why? That is the issue. Why were they in that situation? Because we had nothing in place to support mothers and their babies.

I want them to change that and they see that it is not their responsibility. I want them to have some audiovisual where former inmates call it as it was: that their mothers were caring mothers and came to visit them and everything else. But do not say, ‘The girls were here because their mothers were prostitutes.’

This is the undercurrent that we as an organisation are hearing all the time. I gave you all those inadequacies of the internal process. Before I finish I want to give you a little cameo of some of the stuff that actually goes on. We go in hard every time we hear it. If people have had a life experience of always bowing to authority and not knowing what their rights are and those sorts of things, there is a risk that they will just accept it. Two women took family members to one of these tours and heard that they were the daughters of prostitutes and one said, ‘My mother was not a prostitute.’ This is the stuff that is actually going on.

Senator HUMPHRIES —You make the point, talking about recommendation 6—

Dr Chamley —National reparations fund.

Senator HUMPHRIES —Yes—should a reparations fund be established? Some groups in Australian society will ask why one group of Australians has access to reparation while others do not. The answer is simple: contributors to the fund would be the past providers of so-called care and the owners and operators of the institutions. Presumably you could have the same arrangement for reparations for the stolen generation, couldn’t you?

Dr Chamley —Yes, you could.

Senator HUMPHRIES —What is the difference then between them?

Dr Chamley —Unfortunately, I believe the Prime Minister and some ministers have said that there will be no reparation for members of the stolen generation. I think it was an unfortunate decision. It may have just been said in passing; it may be a decision that has been made. Forgotten Australians are not in that situation—they have not heard of a decision yet—so I think that is a small window of opportunity.

Senator HUMPHRIES —There is no philosophical reason, though, why one should be different from the other?

Dr Chamley —No.

Senator HUMPHRIES —Thank you.

Senator BILYK —Attached to your submission are a couple of other pages talking about the legal barriers to suing for institutional abuse and you are talking there about the Irish model. Can you expand on that for me so that I understand the Irish model.

Dr Chamley —Ireland had 147,000 boys in industrial schools and 32,000 girls in laundries. This issue brought down a Labour government in Ireland about 12 years ago. I think it was the John Reynolds government. Then a conservative government came into power. They ran on a platform that there would be a royal commission. There was a royal commission held and then there was a redress scheme established, and it went worldwide. They came to other countries looking for all these former residents, and residents had until, I think, Christmas of 2007 to put their case. Many people do not want reparation. Many people do not want anything to do with it again. But they received something like 13,700 cases. They are still being worked through in terms of settlement. I think it is all due to finish at about the end of this year. They set up very sophisticated counselling and job support services for people who had had these experiences.

We have nothing like that. A forgotten Australian, with very special needs, is seen as just another person in the public system. There is no tailoring of what they might find to be of real benefit. As I said, if former churches are running quite a bit of this service delivery, they are not even going to go near it.

Senator BILYK —You also mentioned that you had a cameo of what goes on and you would like to be able to expand on that. I am offering you the opportunity to do that.

Dr Chamley —Yes, and I will be brief. I raised the issue of transparency. I have done mediations. What happens is that someone contacts us by phone and we explain their rights. Often they make two or three phone calls—they are building up trust. We do not charge anything; it is all done voluntarily. There may be a criminal matter or there may be a civil matter. I do the civil cases and another person does the criminal cases. Incidentally, at the moment we have 13 criminal cases in courts across Australia: two Anglican and 11 Catholic. What a statement that is!

Then I meet with them and we get this process going. In the case of Towards Healing, from the church side you can have the same person turning up as the facilitator before we get to mediation. They are then the mediator and then they are a psychologist—the same person—going all the way through, being paid $200 or $300 a day by the church. We have raised this issue time and time again but nothing happens. You will have mediations where there is absolutely no paper trail—not a single document, apart from the deed of release. So there is nothing that exposes them.

Conformity to Australian law? They consistently withhold medical reports. They will even commission psychiatric reports. They refuse to hand copies of those reports to the claimants, even though in law anyone is entitled to receive any medical report about them, or they give them to me on the day of the mediation, when their lawyers have had them for weeks. They use private investigators in the lead-up to these mediations. This is mainly the Catholics who play tough.

The biggest case we had was a former deputy police commissioner in Queensland—a fellow called Blizzard—who was not registered and was out sleuthing people and getting the dirt on them. They will land things on the person in the mediation such as, ‘He’s been a bankrupt,’ or, ‘He was in an armed robbery.’ It will be nothing relevant to what we are there for, but this is the tough stuff that goes on.

A problem with both the Anglicans and the Catholics is that you do not know who you are actually dealing with. Are you dealing with the church official or are you dealing with the church’s insurance company? There will be a couple of lawyers there representing different interests. At the end of the day, if there is an insurance policy, the insurer is going to pay out, but the church describes it as an ex gratia payment or ‘a pastoral offering’. It is simply an insurance settlement as far as I am concerned.

Some bishops in the Catholic Church refuse to comply with their own process, even though it has been signed off on. Caps on compensation is an interesting issue. There is in Melbourne what is called the Pell process, which only deals with claimants making allegations against priests in the Melbourne archdiocese, and for the rest of Australia there is the Towards Healing process. So there are different compensation arrangements.

In the Anglican situation, there is a $25,000 limit in the primate’s diocese of Brisbane, and my advice is that that limit was put in after the current primate, Bishop Aspinall, took his office. You have a $50,000 limit in Melbourne and a $70,000 limit in Sydney and Bathurst. They are all the same church. Alleged paedophiles are all members of the same church. The offences in crime are just the same and yet you have these massive discrepancies. In the Anglican Church you have 22 different processes, because they cannot agree—and no-one will surrender autonomy—so each bishop calls it as he sees it.

They coerce claimants by saying, ‘We’ll make you an offer, but it’s only there for two weeks.’ I would have only seen the psychiatric report 30 minutes or an hour before, but when I read it I may be able to fashion some fairly strong arguments for the person for whom I am advocating. The person is under pressure: ‘If I don’t take this, I’m going to get nothing.’ ‘Out the door, thank you very much, goodbye.’ This goes on time and time again.

The Catholic Church has a review of its own process under way at the moment, and we have submitted all this stuff to Professor Parkinson. Whether anything will change, we will wait and see. My gripe is that people are very badly treated, especially if they do not have an advocate. We know that anyone who is not represented and goes to the Brisbane diocese with a claim will get $5,000. If I turn up with them, I will get them $25,000, and I have pushed a couple to $40,000 because I have threatened to go to the Courier Mail.

Senator BILYK —Even though there is a cap?

Dr Chamley —Even though there is a cap. He knows that, if it comes to real tactics, then I will spring it on him. The thing about the Anglican Church is that we know that for all those boys abused in the Church of England schools the payments have been six-figure sums, so it is a different set of rules for the boys from private schools than for forgotten Australians.

Senator SIEWERT —How many people would not have an advocate in those circumstances?

Dr Chamley —Most of them. We just give them advice and say we are available. More often than not they want to take a family member. I cannot say, ‘Look, you must get one of us.’

Senator SIEWERT —So when people get involved in the process do the church organisations then give them a leaflet and say, ‘It would be good to talk to these organisations. They can act as advocates’? They do not even need to use the word ‘advocate’. They could just say ‘talk to these people’.

Dr Chamley —No. It is all vertically structured. They have a stable of mediators. The solicitors are all Irish names. The people involved are all Irish names and it is all in-house. Peter O’Callaghan QC runs the whole process. I have been to a mediation with him where he told the woman that he believed he had the powers of a royal commissioner. I thought ‘What? A royal commissioner? What are you talking about?’ That is a process whereby a government gives powers to some person to inquire. He was quite frank that he believed he had powers, he said, ‘not unlike a royal commissioner’. I bit my lip.

Senator SIEWERT —That is unusual, isn’t it?

CHAIR —Dr Chamley, thank you very much, as always.

Dr Chamley —Thank you.

CHAIR —On the whole spectrum of abuse and the definition of ‘abuse’, would the cases that you have been involved in and know of be focusing on sexual abuse as opposed to physical abuse or thrashings or bullying?

Dr Chamley —I would say 60 per cent would be sexual abuse only. Maybe 30 per cent would be physical abuse and sexual abuse. Then a smaller number are just criminal assault. I see it as criminal assault rather than physical abuse.

CHAIR —I have this view that the ones that get the focus and also perhaps have the bargaining potential are often those ones that have the sexual component.

Dr Chamley —That is right.

CHAIR —That seems to be an issue all the way around with that scale.

Dr Chamley —Yes.

CHAIR —One of the earlier witnesses said that she did not believe that there should be any difference: that abuse is abuse is abuse.

Dr Chamley —Yes.

CHAIR —In reparation schemes she did not agree that there should be different amounts paid to different people. Do you have a view on that?

Dr Chamley —I would agree with that. The age at which it occurs is a major determinant of a person’s likely quality of life. These things are imprinted in young children like landmines and they go off around ages 40 to 45. They absolutely explode. They have been trying to deal with this monkey on their back for 30 years and raise a family and be in relationships and all this sort of stuff, and it just unravels.

Senator SIEWERT —From what I can understand, there should be specialist counselling services. You need special training as a counsellor to deal with these issues. Is there anywhere that you know of where those services are provided, especially dealing with these issues?

Dr Chamley —For forgotten Australians?

Senator SIEWERT —For forgotten Australians.

Dr Chamley —No. But you need two strands. You need the strand that responds to people who would be diagnosed to have post-traumatic stress disorder. There are very good programs in the veterans area. The other strand is for people who would be diagnosed to have borderline disorders. Victoria is the only state that has what is called the Spectrum program, which specialises in treating, assisting and supporting people with borderline disorders, because they have very peculiar demands. It trains all the caseworkers. It keeps them up to date. It arranges case management.

After the Cornelia Rau saga we made a submission to that Senate inquiry where we said, ‘Look, every state should set up a Spectrum type of program,’ because you have all these people with borderline disorder and it is not diagnosed. The psychiatrists cannot take too many because they are so demanding of psychiatric consultation time and they have attachments to their treaters and all these very strange behavioural responses, which is part of their condition, but you can train a group of highly professional and skilled psychologists and case managers to deal with a big number. They can carry 10 to 12 people each and they case-manage them and get them back into employment. It is part time and that sort of thing, but they can really turn them around. But if there is nothing there, then nothing is offered.

CHAIR —Thank you as always. If there is anything you think we need to know, please email us.

Dr Chamley —Sure.

CHAIR —We do value your contribution.

Dr Chamley —Thanks for your time.

[2.02 pm]