Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
STANDING COMMITTEE ON COMMUNITY AFFAIRS
30/03/2009
Implementation of the recommendations of the Lost Innocents and Forgotten Australians reports

CHAIR —We now move to the Alliance for Forgotten Australians. Welcome back, both of you. Do you have any comments to make on the capacity in which you appear?

Miss Harrison —I work at Families Australia and for 1½ days a week I provide secretariat and project support to the Alliance for Forgotten Australians.

CHAIR —You have information on parliamentary privilege and the protection of witnesses. We have your submission. Thank you very much. I would invite both of you to make an opening statement and then we will go to questions.

Miss Harrison —We begin by acknowledging the Wurundjeri people and paying our respects to them and to their ancestors. I would also like to acknowledge the other members of AFA who are present in the room, all of whom are also giving testimony of their own: Mr Frank Golding, who is a member of the inner voting shell of the Alliance for Forgotten Australians, as a forgotten Australian; and Ms Coleen Clare, Dr Wayne Chamley and Ms Maureen Cleary, who are members of the advisory group. Caroline will begin.

Ms Carroll —We are here today as representatives of the Alliance for Forgotten Australians, AFA. We would like to thank the committee for this opportunity to add to our submission. We thank you also for initiating this inquiry. Too many good recommendations from the original report have been ignored. Forgotten Australians and their families are still suffering, growing old and dying, without the responses they deserve. It is our hope that this inquiry will put pressure on governments and past providers who have delayed responding or whose responses have been unsatisfactory.

It is our fear that it will produce another round of defensive statements and not much action. We have already been waiting a long time. We are critical of all governments to varying degrees. We would like to see national leadership that will draw cooperation from state and territory governments and help them move beyond the political. We want all governments to focus on the fact that we are Australians. We do not necessarily stay in the state that failed to care for us. We need assistance wherever we go.

As we said in our submission, we believe the Australian government has an obligation to apologise and respond to forgotten Australians because of their role in overseeing state and territory child protection responsibilities, because of the war and the post-war causes of institutionalisation of children and because of the family support payments made by the Commonwealth to governments, agencies or institutions that failed to care for those children. As we also said, the current government’s approach to building a national framework for protecting Australia’s children seems to us to serve as a possible model for a national response to forgotten Australians. All state and territory governments are heavily involved in putting the framework together, as are non-government organisations, academics and research entities. We would like to see the Australian government take a similar lead role in addressing the recommendations of the Forgotten Australians report.

AFA is the peak national group of organisations and individuals from across Australia that promotes the interests of the estimated 500,000 people who experienced institutional or other out-of-home care as children in the last century, many of whom suffered physical, emotional and/or sexual abuse. AFA members live in all states and territories. Some are members of existing support groups. Others are working to set up support groups in states and territories where they do not exist. AFA has a steering committee of forgotten Australians and an advisory group. AFA works to advance its objectives at all levels of government in Australia.

AFA appreciates the funding and support it has received from the Australian government. With that funding, we have now operated for over two years and have been able to produce and distribute the information booklet Forgotten Australians: supporting survivors of childhood institutional care in Australia. I believe all senators were sent a copy of this booklet, but we would like to table it now if that is permitted. We have distributed over 89,000 copies of this booklet. We also greatly appreciate the support we receive from our auspicing and secretariat body, Families Australia.

Miss Harrison —It is important for us to stress the inclusive policies of AFA. The term ‘forgotten Australians’ for us includes those Indigenous children and child migrants who languished in institutions or in foster care. AFA has one member who was a child migrant, Laurie Humphreys from Western Australia, and one who was raised in foster care, David Jackson from South Australia.

Early in our existence, and with the wholehearted support of all AFA members, we approached the Secretariat of National Aboriginal and Islander Child Care—SNAICC. SNAICC is the national non-government peak body in Australia representing the interests of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and families. We were seeking an Aboriginal forgotten Australian. SNAICC sent us Natalie Hunter, who is the daughter of a stolen generation woman and who was running the Link-Up Service in Darwin. Natalie has been a valued member of AFA ever since.

At AFA’s request, Natalie has been searching for an Aboriginal forgotten Australian who would have a vote on AFA. She nominated Sharon Greenoff from the Northern Territory, who was welcomed as a voting member in September 2008. Unfortunately, Sharon has been unwell and unable to attend meetings so far. Helen Moran, co-chair of the National Sorry Day Committee, will address the next AFA meeting, and she and Natalie Hunter will lead a discussion on building stronger relationships with Indigenous groups representing adult survivors of childhood out-of-home care.

AFA believes that working together rather than fragmenting is vital for the success of our cause. This belief has driven us since we formed. While there will inevitably continue to be differences among AFA members and among the organisations they come from—which is not uncommon where there is not enough money to go around to provide all the services that are needed—we are dealing with those differences in a constructive way, recognising the importance of cooperation at the national level in the interests of forgotten Australians.

Ms Carroll —Our submission outlines some of the weaknesses we see in government and past provider responses. We have a couple of things we would like to add. Firstly, our response to recommendations under the heading ‘Addressing legal barriers’ needs expanding. We are aware that survivors find it particularly difficult to take action against state and territory governments, churches and agencies, for reasons relating to trauma, cost, lack of self-confidence and lack of education. These barriers are being compounded by what we view as harsh responses from some state legal divisions.

While we understand that states must establish the bona fides of a particular case, we are disappointed by the long delays they initiate in cases, which can stretch out for years. We also have concerns about the letters sent to some forgotten Australians; letters saying that the plaintiff should pull out of the case because they cannot win and will lose their house when the government pursues costs. This has had the effect of intimidating people who have had to struggle all their lives to achieve home ownership, and many of them do withdraw. We do not believe this is justice.

The second matter is a statement from forgotten Australians in South Australia, who met last week and asked us to express this view on their behalf: Forgotten South Australians have gone from a year of outcomes and promise in 2008 to being suspended in limbo, with no tangible commitments to date from any of the achievements of that year. The tabling of the Mullighan report, the most comprehensive, systematic inquiry of its type in Australia to date, in May 2008 and Premier Rann’s well-worded apology in June 2008 have long passed now. Forgotten Australians in South Australia have been listening to redress commitments in Queensland, Tasmania and Western Australia, and additional financial support in Victoria, and none of this is happening in South Australia.

Forgotten Australians in South Australia continue to be marginalised and pass away from their shorter life expectancies, without the national apology required, without the required financial support from both government and churches required to complete our memorial, without the representation from a minister who facilitated the achievements of 2008, without the required redress scheme, healing centre and serious financial commitment and resources to support a post-care service, which is currently auspiced by a government whose failings saw the abuse of innocent children whom it was elected to protect. Our people have now become fractured adults, who locally are getting more respect and support in parliament from Independents, who do not alone have the power to enact change. The lack of visitation by the Senate review committee to a state which foreshadowed some serious commitments in 2008 towards forgotten Australians is a very worrying sign.

We need our current federal government, which has been applauded on the international stage for its apology to our Aboriginal people and its commitment to and leadership on the environment and economy, to provide a national response and blueprint towards recompense and healing of forgotten Australians. We are happy to speak about any matters in our submission that require explanation or elaboration. Thank you.

CHAIR —Thank you. We have had a request to take some photographs, and I am checking that people are comfortable with that. That is fine?

Ms Carroll, before the senators start asking questions, usually Senate inquiries are driven by the number of submissions we receive from state to state, because that is what determines the travel pattern. From South Australia we only received one submission, and that was from the government.

Miss Harrison —I will pass that on.

CHAIR —We have passed it on to one of the members of parliament down there, who has written. When we looked at the limited time we had and we looked at the states which had provided submissions, there were none from South Australia, so it makes it a little difficult. The same advertising process occurred across the country. We did not do specialised advertising in Victoria as opposed to any other state, just so that they know that.

Senator SIEWERT —I wanted to pick up the discussion that you went to at the end of your comments firstly. You touched on the Mullighan report but you also in your submission mention the recommendation about the royal commission. Submission after submission and also people today have all said that the church organisations are not fully cooperating. I am paraphrasing what was said, but I think that is a fair summary. Do you in that case think that there should now be a royal commission into the activities of church organisations and how they are cooperating or not cooperating? Is that the point that you are making?

Miss Harrison —Yes. The point that we are making is that a royal commission, while it can be long and tedious and expensive as a process, may well be the only way in which we can compel some people to come forward and talk about their response or their lack of response, and I think the churches are among those. The churches, as Wayne has pointed out, are dodging their responsibilities, are instituting their own processes—which many forgotten Australians regard as totally inadequate—and are in some cases restructuring their organisations so that they can no longer be accused of anything because it is some obscure body that has no face that is actually responsible for everything. Our position is that we think a royal commission may be necessary.

Looking at the responses that have been received so far and at the people who are giving evidence, they seem to be mainly people who are onside, who want something good to happen for forgotten Australians, and not the people who should be putting the response out there. So how do we get them to the table, and name and shame?

Senator SIEWERT —Short of a royal commission, what other measures do you think should or could be taken? We have talked a lot about the federal government taking leadership on redress but I was also thinking, coming back from the discussions that we just had, that when people go into the church processes they are not given any information about advocacy, their rights or where they can get support. What if there were at least a COAG process or a Commonwealth led process that prescribed the approach that needs to be taken for a common agreement on, for example, reparations or redress and the way the various church processes should be run? Have you looked into that in detail or you think that is a waste of time?

Miss Harrison —We think that a COAG process would be enormously useful in getting cooperation from all state governments. The federal government has an important role in brokering common services across all states so that forgotten Australians are not doing relatively well in one state and relatively badly in another. But, as far as we know, COAG would have very limited control over what churches do. I am not sure how a COAG process would help at all in bringing any churches to account.

Senator SIEWERT —I take your point fully, but even if they set what they thought should be the appropriate approach, the best practice?

Miss Harrison —We would like to see some stronger statements from government on this point, absolutely. That would be great. We would also like to see government take a bit of action around this. As we said, government has given at all levels quite a lot of money to churches and continues, through the taxation system and otherwise, to run particular programs. It does not seem to ask anything much for that, apart from the accountability attached to each individual agreement for programs. We would like to see some kind of holding to account of churches, and if what it takes is holding them to ransom on their taxation advantages, then we would be quite happy to support that.

Senator SIEWERT —Ms Carroll, you touched on the issue of what used to be called child endowment. It has changed its name. Are you suggesting that that is a level of accountability; that the Commonwealth also has paid out a lot of money which then went to state or church organisations and therefore they have a level of accountability through that?

Ms Carroll —Yes, I am. I think the previous federal government said that it was not a federal responsibility because we were wards of the state, so it was a state responsibility, but they did have their hand in it and they did take those endowment payments and pay them to the institutions. So, yes, they do have. And, first and foremost, we are Australian citizens. They seem to be able to just push that under the carpet as though we were state citizens. We were Australians first and foremost.

Senator SIEWERT —Have you looked at any records that they may have in terms of their knowledge of what went on?

Ms Carroll —I have not.

Miss Harrison —It is very difficult to track anything down. We did make an attempt. I should say that I formerly worked for the Commonwealth government in FaHCSIA and at that stage there were care leavers, forgotten Australians, who wanted to get information from the Department of Veterans’ Affairs and had a lot of difficulty in doing so.

Senator SIEWERT —We are all doing multiple inquiries. One I was recently involved with was stolen wages. The reason this issue touched a chord with me is that it has come up there as well, in terms of their knowledge around what went on and their payment of child endowment which was stolen, certainly in Western Australia. There are records of the Commonwealth knowing that it was and, in fact, providing advice to the states about how it could occur.

Miss Harrison —It would be interesting to see if there were anything like that.

Senator SIEWERT —Yes, but the same issue—access to records—has come up through there as well, so I was interested when you raised that issue. Thank you.

Senator HUMPHRIES —You make comments about the federal government considering establishing a children’s commissioner and how that would have to be carefully structured. You say:

… its role would need to be carefully defined if responsibility for past wrongs and for adult survivors is to be included in its mandate.

Are you suggesting it should be included in its mandate or it should be only included on a limited basis?

Miss Harrison —I feel very strongly that there is a great deal of focus at the moment on supporting children and young people leaving care now, and that is terrific. We want to see a lot more support for children and young people leaving care. But we also believe that you cannot draw a line in the sand and say, ‘Okay, you left care two years ago, so we’ll help you. You left care 10 years ago and you’ve still got problems, but we won’t help you because you’re not a young person any more.’ The problems continue. As they continue, in many cases they get worse and the long-term effects on people whose issues and trauma are not picked up early are what you see in many forgotten Australians today.

Setting something up and just saying, ‘We’re going to deal with the issues of today and the people who leave care now,’ is good, it is fine, but it does not go far enough. We think that there should be a continuum of care for people who have been damaged in out-of-home care and it should extend from people who leave care now to all the people who have left care at any time in the past.

Ms Carroll —I agree with that. I often say that we are like a house without foundations. When we left care, we were not given those foundations. So 50-, 60-, 70-year-old people who grew up this way are still struggling with the issues they had at 15 when they were kicked out with nothing.

Senator HUMPHRIES —How does a children’s commissioner address that issue?

Miss Harrison —At a national level, it would be somebody overseeing the whole post-care process, as well as their other responsibilities.

Senator HUMPHRIES —This is for current care leavers, you mean, rather than for those who were care leavers in the past? Or are you talking about having a responsibility for all of those issues?

Miss Harrison —The name ‘children’s commissioner’ is a difficulty, isn’t it? I personally do not believe we will see a children’s commissioner in my lifetime, because neither side of government has ever supported it to my knowledge, but there is a great push from the community sector for an independent body, preferably located somewhere like HREOC, to take responsibility for the welfare of children.

In our view, that ought to include what has happened to children in the past. You cannot just brush them aside and say, ‘That was a long time ago, so we won’t worry about it.’ What happened to these children as children still needs dealing with and it still needs a national response, of which a commissioner would be part, and it also needs to be learned from. It needs to be part of the learnings of us as a nation so that we never go down this path again, as I sometimes fear that we are starting to do.

Senator HUMPHRIES —Since the Alliance for Forgotten Australians has been set up, how well do you feel that you have engaged with those people who are the full constituency of care leavers in Australia? We have heard time and again how difficult it is to connect with many people. Many people are still unaware even of the Senate process and the services that are available. Do you feel that your creation has made that easier to occur or is there a need for mechanisms perhaps paid for or sanctioned by governments to further this process?

Miss Harrison —We are not a support group and we do not operate as a support group. We operate as a peak body, so the opportunities for us to contact and deal with individual forgotten Australians are through our members who are operating in the different states, and CLAN is operating on a national level. The main way that we have made contact with them is through our website and through the booklet, which has a contact number in it. I constantly get calls from forgotten Australians who have seen the booklet or heard of the booklet and want to talk about their situation. Sometimes they are people who have never contacted a support body at all and who are perhaps talking to somebody for the first time, which is a huge responsibility, and sometimes they are people who are already dealing with support bodies but also want to know what the national body is doing.

Ms Carroll —While the booklet was produced mainly for organisations like Centrelink and doctors et cetera, forgotten Australians themselves find it really useful and are very excited when they get a copy of it. They tend to sort of take it wherever they go. They take it to their doctor’s and they take it to housing places and they say, ‘I can’t explain what I’m trying to say but this booklet explains it for me.’ I do not think that we are reaching enough people, but then I do not think any of our support groups in any state reach enough people, because we do not have the money to spend on advertising ourselves. It is a slow process.

When I first started with VANISH, we had three people come to a support group. Now we have on average about 50. When we have big days—special days—we might double that number, and we have a lot more on our contact books, of course. But it is still slow. There are a lot of people out there that do not know that there is any sort of support available, and that is a worry.

Senator BILYK —In your submission you talk about the need for alternative care models to be explored for ageing forgotten Australians. Obviously there are some fairly special needs that would be required in staffing, and that is probably pretty obvious, but do you have any more suggestions about how we might be able to help facilitate that?

Miss Harrison —When the conference in 2006 was set up, this was acknowledged as one of the important issues. There was a woman there—whose name I cannot quite remember, but I can certainly get that to you—who was representing quite a number of groups in the aged-care sector and who was very interested to hear what the forgotten Australians had to say. We have talked to the Department of Health and Ageing about this. Of course, as you would know, it was one of the Senate’s recommendations that this be pursued.

We believe very strongly that forgotten Australians are going to have a lot of difficulty with the current aged-care model in this country. It is a model that is largely institutionally based. Although it is true that HACC and other in-home services provided by councils and so on are improving and that there is much more of an emphasis now on keeping people in their homes, still there is a heavy reliance on partners and children to care for them when it gets to a certain point, and those who do not have partners and children who are willing or able to spend a lot of time doing it will find themselves in institutions, and some of them say they would rather be shot first. This is quite understandable.

The sorts of models that we can think of are things like shared houses, institutions which are smaller and which are run by forgotten Australians themselves, places where people feel that they have some control and that they are recognised, places where they know that everybody who works there is informed and educated about who they are and what happened to them, and the issues that arise out of that in terms of being cared for in a group, which are things like trust and suspicion and potential abuse of power and so on.

Helplessness and vulnerability is another big factor, because as children they were completely helpless and as older people many of them are simply shoved around. The relative lack of economic success among this group also leads me to believe that they will not find themselves in the very nicest of aged-care homes—the places where people do actually get treated with a lot of respect and are treated very well—but will find themselves in places that are somewhat understaffed and where their emotional needs cannot be taken into account.

This is something that we have kept on our agenda. We would like very much to work with the Department of Health and Ageing to try to set up some pilots and look at some different models of care.

Senator BILYK —Do you know of anywhere else in the world where there is anything specific being done?

Ms Carroll —No, I do not.

Miss Harrison —No.

Senator SIEWERT —You said you have been talking to the Department of Health and Ageing. What sort of response have you had?

Miss Harrison —It has not been enormously proactive.

Senator SIEWERT —Yes. They have a few issues there in terms of aged care.

Senator BILYK —I am a Tasmanian senator. Do you have contact with groups in Tasmania?

Ms Carroll —Yes, we do.

Miss Harrison —There are no groups in Tasmania that we know of. We do have a Tasmanian member, and he has been closely involved in consultations around the memorial and things like that.

Senator BILYK —Following on from that, I was going to ask what your views were of the Tasmanian experiences and the Tasmanian government’s approach.

Ms Carroll —I think the Tasmanian redress scheme is fine, but they do not offer services along with that redress. They give people money, which is not the answer. I spoke to a woman down there recently who was stunned to think that counselling was available in Victoria. She did not know that. She said, ‘We don’t get any counselling.’ They are expected to go before this redress board and open their souls and their hearts and their pain—

Senator BILYK —Without the follow-up.

Ms Carroll —and then get $20,000 or whatever and off they go and spend it all on a counsellor.

Senator BILYK —Or not spend it on a counsellor, in fact.

Ms Carroll —Yes. I think that is a very bad oversight in Tasmania.

Miss Harrison —They did, after a lot of pressure, agree to keep their scheme open.

Senator BILYK —They did, yes.

Miss Harrison —In that, they are ahead of all the other states that have introduced redress. They have no cut-off point any more.

Senator BILYK —I think they had to reduce the amount of money.

Miss Harrison —They halved the amount, which is a shame.

Ms Carroll —But you are only eligible if you were a state ward and, again, there are families where one was a state ward and one was not. That creates huge problems.

Miss Harrison —There are also problems in Tasmania with access to records.

Senator BILYK —Yes. That is Australia-wide, though, isn’t it?

Miss Harrison —We have been told that there are forgotten Australians in Tasmania who will never be able to access their own files while they are alive.

Senator SIEWERT —Why not?

Miss Harrison —We do not understand why. The government has imposed some rule.

Senator BILYK —Yes, a statute of limitations type of thing.

Miss Harrison —I am not clear on the reasons.

Senator BILYK —I would be interested in talking to you later about what I might be able to do.

Miss Harrison —Okay. We can certainly put you in touch with somebody in Tasmania who can talk to you about it.

Senator BILYK —Great. Thank you.

Senator SIEWERT —I am going to be parochial now, too, since you started the trend. We will be in WA tomorrow, so we will be asking people there, but what is the feedback you have had about the redress system there?

Miss Harrison —The take-up has been very low, which is not surprising to us at all, because there are no services associated with the redress scheme and there have been no services in the past. The reason Queensland got such a good take-up—in fact, a far better take-up than they ever expected—with their redress scheme was because they had support groups already in place. They had had the forward inquiry and there had been many opportunities for people to come forward and to recognise each other and to form relationships with each other.

In Western Australia the government is asking them to come forward out of the blue, pretty much. There has been CBERS, the Christian Brothers services that have been available, and they have certainly bonded quite a few people. But there are still an enormous number of people out there in Western Australia who have not been able to make contact with a support service and who remain isolated, as so many of this community are. The take-up has been very low and I do not know which way they are going to go because of that; whether they are going to leave it open or whether they are still going to insist on closing it. We could certainly give them some advice about better advertising and better ways of reaching people.

Senator SIEWERT —There has been quite a lot of criticism in Western Australia of the scheme for various reasons, including from a stolen generation perspective, because it is supposed to be covering both.

Miss Harrison —Tell me if I am speaking out of turn here.

Ms Carroll —I will.

Miss Harrison —We quite like the two-tier scheme, which means that people who do not want to go through all the horror of retracing the steps of every awful thing that happened to them and finding what evidence they can can still get a base payment that acknowledges that they experienced harsh treatment in care without demanding too much of them in return.

Senator SIEWERT —Is the two-tier approach taken anywhere else?

Miss Harrison —Yes, Queensland.

CHAIR —For the record, we would like to know about funding for your organisation and what your expectations for ongoing funding are. You cannot tell what the government is going to do, but when your funding runs out, what process will have to be put in place? I am also interested in the relationship between Families Australia and the organisation so that we can get that all clear on the record.

Miss Harrison —The former government made $100,000 available as part of its response to the Senate inquiry for support groups. This was left fairly vague and was supposed to be determined by the conference which was held in June 2006. At that conference the support groups and individual forgotten Australians who were there got together and decided that they wanted to form a national alliance and, as they put it, speak with one voice. That was the beginning of the Alliance for Forgotten Australians. They met again in September that year and a number of people who had attended the 2006 conference came as advisers to that September meeting. Families Australia was one and there were quite a number of others, pretty much all of whom have remained attached to AFA since. Do you want me to list them?

CHAIR —It would be useful to have it all on the record.

Miss Harrison —I am always scared I will leave somebody out.

CHAIR —Are they on the back of the leaflet?

Miss Harrison —No, I do not think they all are.

CHAIR —You could give it to us later. That is fine.

Miss Harrison —Okay.

CHAIR —As the sector is growing it is nice to have a reaffirmation of who is playing in the sector and what their roles are.

Miss Harrison —Broken Rites was one, of course, and the centre for excellence, both of whom are here. We also have Relationships Australia. We have Micah Projects which runs Lotus Place in Brisbane. You see, I knew I was going to forget people.

CHAIR —Were CLAN and VANISH participants?

Ms Carroll —Yes.

Miss Harrison —There is an inner circle and there is an outer circle. The inner circle is forgotten Australians only and they are the only ones who vote. The outer circle is the advisory group. Families Australia was part of the advisory group. The $100,000 funded the first meeting in September in Sydney. That was where AFA was set up. The group looked around the room and said, ‘We’re not incorporated. We’re not likely to be incorporated in the medium term. We would be looking for an auspicing body to manage this funding for us.’ Families Australia at that point took a step forward and said, ‘We’re prepared to do that.’

CHAIR —They were a pre-existing organisation?

Miss Harrison —We are a pre-existing organisation. We are a national peak with about 400 member organisations, most of whom deliver services to families and children around Australia. We are independent and apolitical.

CHAIR —The other tension that has been raised a bit is the involvement of many people whose past organisations provided care and who have varying relationships with people now who are survivors of care.

Miss Harrison —We do not have any past providers as members of AFA.

CHAIR —Not in AFA but just generally, in terms of people who are involved and supporting and tendering for a whole range of things.

Miss Harrison —Okay. Yes, it is an interesting question, isn’t it? In a sense the churches and so on ought to be doing something, oughtn’t they?

CHAIR —I was kind of hoping to get that response.

Miss Harrison —It really seems appropriate to me that they come forward and that they say not, ‘We did this to you and now we’ve got the answer for you,’ but that they say, ‘We want to work with you to make up for what happened to you in the past.’ But they also have to recognise the importance of not, for instance, insisting that people go to a church for the first support group meeting or anything like that. They have to recognise that there are probably some forgotten Australians who will find it very difficult to cross that boundary. How such services are established would be tremendously important, but I do not think we should rule them out altogether by any means. This is one of the things that the past providers should be doing: supporting forgotten Australians to help themselves and to find solutions.

Ms Carroll —In Ireland it works very well.

Miss Harrison —And Canada.

Senator SIEWERT —I took on board what Dr Chamley was saying earlier about people not wanting anything to do with the organisation that is the perpetrator of the abuse. Would it not be better for them to put funding into an independent fund and then they not be responsible for its allocation; that a more independent group be responsible for its allocation, rather than the people that were responsible—and I am not saying the people who are now there are the people that were, but the organisation that was? You could say that people would see that they would have a vested interest.

Ms Carroll —There are some forgotten Australians that would never go anywhere near the organisation that ran the institutions they were in, with good reason. But, given that most of these organisations are still working in the sector, it is difficult to imagine another organisation being able to work with forgotten Australians.

Miss Harrison —Hardly anyone is pure.

Ms Carroll —Yes—or to imagine people outside the sector that works with current-day care leavers or past care leavers having any understanding. We have heard here today that counsellors do not have understanding of the issues of forgotten Australians. Certainly organisations that run charitable things do not have any understanding either. I am not saying that we should give a lump of money to the Salvation Army so that they can run services in Victoria and another lot to the Catholics so they can run it in New South Wales, but I do not think we should exclude them entirely either.

Senator SIEWERT —Yes. I was thinking more of providing alternatives or choice to people if people do not want to go to a faith based organisation, for example. Miss Harrison, you were saying Families Australia is not a faith based organisation.

Miss Harrison —Not at all, no.

Ms Carroll —But then Families Australia do not run those services.

Miss Harrison —We do not provide services.

Senator SIEWERT —No. Okay. But there are examples of non-faith based organisations? People could be given a choice.

Miss Harrison —In an ideal world, yes. If there were heaps of services to go around, yes.

CHAIR —The other issue that I want to get on record is the research. You mentioned in part of your discussion and briefly in your submission that one of the clear recommendations in the first round of reports was that there was some dedicated research done on the issues around how people have been damaged and how services should be framed to best support those people in different parts of their lives. Has there been any involvement with the alliance in terms of talking with governments about an appropriate methodology of support for research in those areas?

Miss Harrison —I would have to say there has not been a lot of interest by government. When these issues are raised, the response tends to be, ‘But that’s going to be enormously expensive,’ and, ‘Why would we collect data when there are no reasons for collecting it, in the sense that there are no targeted services?’ That is a circular argument to me.

CHAIR —It goes round and round.

Miss Harrison —Yes, that is right. If you do not collect the data, you do not know how badly the services are needed and you do not understand the multiplicity of barriers to economic and social participation that that this group faces. We would like to go beyond using anecdotal data and saying we know that forgotten Australians are over-represented in prisons. We know they are over-represented in homelessness, drug and alcohol services and so on; and mental health definitely. But there has not been a willingness to cooperate on that level at all. The research that is being done is being done by support organisations—such as the CLAN survey—or it is being done by individuals in institutions in the different states.

CHAIR —There are so many figures being thrown around. In many of the submissions there are statements made about this percentage of people in prison having a care background, this percentage of people in mental health services having a care background, but I am sure that for all of those the data is not solid. You just know it is true ‘somehow’.

Miss Harrison —Some of them are based on surveys, but they are not large surveys. We would like to see a lot more research done in this area and one of the topics for discussion at the next AFA meeting, which is in Sydney towards the end of next week, is how we work with the research community. We have a woman coming along from the department of social work at UNSW who is going to talk about how we can work better with institutions and how she can—because she is quite keen to get involved in this area—tailor her research to suit our needs as well.

CHAIR —We would be really interested in anything that comes out of that, Miss Harrison. If we are looking at the recommendations from the last round of reports, where there are a couple of recommendations that look specifically at research, then we would be interested in anything that we could find that has built on that. That particular issue has not come up much in any of the submissions we have had, except people saying there still needs to be that; but no-one is saying, ‘We are doing it,’ or, ‘This is how it should be done.’ It is a particular interest. Are there any other questions?

Miss Harrison —I do not think that we finished answering the funding question. In fairness to the current government, I have to say that we have also—

CHAIR —Yes, we had the conference and then out of the conference came your organisation.

Miss Harrison —Came $100,000 for AFA.

CHAIR —Is there any money left?

Miss Harrison —Then we got another $100,000 from the current government plus an additional $20,000 to assist with the costs of printing and distributing the booklet when orders became astronomical.

CHAIR —But that was specifically for that task?

Miss Harrison —Yes. So we have had $220,000 all up and we are hoping to make that stretch till July or August.

CHAIR —I just noticed there is a picture on the back of it with all of us in it. What a splendid photo!

Miss Harrison —Senator Humphries is there as well.

CHAIR —Yes, exactly. We were both at the function. That is how we got there. In terms of building for the future, that money is actually finishing in June?

Miss Harrison —We have only had funding on an annual basis and Families Australia has picked up some of the slack in between times. We are talking to the government about what we would like to do. Another session at our meeting next week—

CHAIR —It sounds like it is going to be a long meeting.

Miss Harrison —They are always pretty full—is how we follow this up and what sort of project might we like to do next and what funding would we need for it.

Ms Carroll —I should also say, just in passing, that our advisory group pay all their own expenses when we have these meetings. We are not funded to pay for them, which is much appreciated by us.

CHAIR —Is the advisory group people from organisations? Would there be care leavers, individuals?

Ms Carroll —No.

CHAIR —Because they could not do that?

Miss Harrison —No. One of them actually is a care leaver, I believe, but is not in that capacity.

CHAIR —Wearing another hat? The advisory group is for organisations that could well be budget funded themselves. One bit of the feedback I got from one of the conferences was how valuable that was in many ways but, without the funding that was given, there was no way those people would have been able to afford to travel and stay overnight in places. They just do not have that capacity.

Miss Harrison —No, that is true. Could we also say that an earlier group—Wings for Survivors—pointed out that we did have on our website at one point a ‘members only’. That was never actually in use. It was set up with the thought that we might put the minutes on there, but we realised that it was a mistake and it was taken down in late January, early February this year, so it is not there any more.

CHAIR —You were able to tell them that? Were you here at the same time?

Miss Harrison —No.

Ms Carroll —Yes, we did tell them.

CHAIR —So now they know, because one of the things that has come up in a few of the submissions—and I know you have read them—was a feeling that organisations like the alliance and CLAN that are well known were exclusive, that they were set up for people who had ‘the know’ and anybody else was not engaged. Would you like to make any comment about that, about perceptions and whether there are different levels of engagement and whether the alliance actually does not speak for people and does not engage them effectively?

Miss Harrison —The alliance does not claim to speak for every forgotten Australian. It could not possibly claim that.

CHAIR —You are an umbrella body.

Miss Harrison —Yes, we are. We are a national peak and what we try to do is gather as much information as we can about what the needs of this group are and then advocate for them at all levels.

CHAIR —We did hear in the first inquiry—and this will be the last one, I hope!—that you cannot expect any group to speak for all—particularly for this group of people, given where they have come from—and that to expect unanimity is just stupid.

Miss Harrison —They are a very isolated community.

CHAIR —I think the person who said that used stronger language than that, but that was the theme of what was said.

Miss Harrison —It is true.

CHAIR —Thank you so much, and thank you for your ongoing work. We would like to know what comes out of your meeting next week because it seems to be looking at exactly these issues. Also, if you think of things you want to tell us that you would like to come out of the committee process, that would be really useful. We are due to hand down our report in June, so we have got a couple of months.

Ms Carroll —All right.

CHAIR —And, if you could, get onto your network in South Australia and give them that message. We would love to hear from them.

Miss Harrison —We will. Thanks for the opportunity.

Proceedings suspended from 2.54 pm to 3.15 pm