Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
STANDING COMMITTEE ON COMMUNITY AFFAIRS
31/03/2009
Implementation of the recommendations of the Lost Innocents and Forgotten Australians reports

CHAIR (Senator Moore) —Good morning everyone. The Community Affairs Committee is looking at the reference we have into recommendations on the Lost innocents and Forgotten Australians reports. I welcome representatives of the CBERS Consultancy. Information on parliamentary privilege and the protection of witnesses and evidence has been provided to you. Dr White, you gave evidence in the previous inquiry and I remember that you gave a large submission to that inquiry.

Dr White —I did not give evidence.

CHAIR —You did not give evidence?

Dr White —No.

CHAIR —Dr Rosser, have you given evidence in one of these things before?

Dr Rosser —Yes, I have.

CHAIR —That is fine. You know how the system operates. They say it is always easier after the first time. We have your submission, thank you very much, and we also have some general information about the changes that have happened with your organisation. We would very much like to hear from you, if either or both of you have an opening statement, and then we will go into questions.

There are only three of us here today: Senator Siewert, from Western Australia, Senator Humphries, from the ACT, and myself. That by no means reflects the interest in this inquiry. It is just that there is a very tight schedule with Senate inquiries at the moment and the senators are all around the place. All the evidence and your submissions have been read by the full committee and the Hansard record of your evidence will be read as well. The full committee is intensely interested in this inquiry. I wanted to make you aware that having just three of us, and Mr Humphery and Mr Powell from the secretariat, does not mean that this is an inquiry that does not have the full attention of the committee. I think it is important for people to know that, because sometimes you see pictures of Senate inquiries with eight, nine, 12 senators. The numbers are not that important; it is the interest in the evidence. I invite you to make a comment.

Dr White —Thank you. We do have a brief opening statement. We would like to thank you for this opportunity to contribute to the inquiry and to highlight some of the issues raised in the CBERS submission, which was prepared by Debra and myself.

I am the coordinator of CBERS Consultancy and have operated the service in Fremantle since the closure of CBERS’ services in Subiaco at the end of 2005. Debra was a committee member of the former agency and has had considerable involvement in broader care leaver initiatives.

Our work with care leavers has given us insight into the human face of the policies and practices arising from the Lost innocents and Forgotten Australians inquiries. Some key areas include family reunification work with former child migrants, issues surrounding formal apologies and methods of reparation, the significance of records and personal documentation for care leavers, clinical issues in working with survivors of trauma and abuse, and the importance of facilitating peer support networks and communication networks amongst care leavers. We are particularly concerned to discuss the above in the context of equitable access to information, services and support across Australia.

In the four months since we prepared our submission, further information has emerged as we respond to a broad population of care leavers applying for the Redress WA scheme. We believe it will be useful today to discuss issues such as the considerable degree of trauma associated with reparation processes, as well as the very positive outcomes observed so far; key problems experienced by care leavers as they move out of the system; and the particular difficulties faced by people living in rural and interstate locations. We are happy to talk about those or any other issues you would like to discuss with us.

CHAIR —Thank you, Dr White. Dr Rosser, do you want to add something at this stage?

Dr Rosser —Not at this stage, thank you.

CHAIR —We are in the wonderful situation of having time today, which is often a restriction in these jobs, so I will not be closing senators down at all. So go for it!

Senator SIEWERT —I would like to start with the redress scheme, which you have touched on. Have you been assisting a lot of people with that process? How do people feel about the current scheme in Western Australia and what lessons have you already drawn from the process so far?

Dr White —That is a very broad question. So far we have had about 560 individuals contact us in regard to the scheme, and we will be preparing applications for a large number of those—probably 400 all up. CBERS’ redress service is one of the tendered support services to Redress WA. Our role is to assist people with their applications and provide supported counselling through that process.

In relation to the second part of your question, we have been taken aback by the degree of distress and trauma that this process has raised for applicants. When you look at it, it makes sense that that would happen, but we have been quite taken aback by the strength of it and the widespread volume of symptoms amongst applicants, who almost all find it really distressing. Some will revert to former symptoms that they have recovered from and experience flashbacks. It is really very difficult for people.

The other thing we have noticed very much is that people tend to minimise the impact on them of what happened or do not actually recognise the impact of it. The low self-esteem that is associated with child abuse and neglect really comes through in statements like, ‘Kids like us deserved it,’ or, ‘That’s what we got,’ or, ‘That was how it was then,’ and that sort of thing.

The positive side of it has been that people, when their stories are read back to them and are framed in a compassionate way, find it very validating to get that feedback and to have their complaint in writing. Even before we have got to the acknowledgement and apology stage, there are really positive outcomes in that regard, and in people showing that document to family members and those family members realising for the first time that that is why their loved one is the way they are. So there are some very positive outcomes, as well as the obvious distress and trauma this creates for people.

Senator SIEWERT —Are the counselling services that are being provided meeting people’s needs? Do you have enough resources to meet people’s needs?

Dr White —Often they are meeting people’s needs. Often people will say they do not want counselling.

Dr Rosser —That is common.

Dr White —Yes. Some will not have a bar of it and then proceed to engage in counselling.

Senator SIEWERT —Yes.

Dr White —Really all we can offer in the context of our funding and our approach to working with applicants is the supportive counselling through the process and then referral to mainstream services. Where there are areas of particular need, we can apply for additional funding and additional sessions, and that has always been granted so far. But there will undoubtedly be a need in the interim period between the lodgement of applications and the offers of payment and apology where people will be left in limbo and will be worried that they are not going to be believed and that kind of thing. So I can see a need for counselling in that time.

Senator SIEWERT —Are there resources available for what you are calling the interim period?

Dr White —There is not a framework in place as such, but in our communication with Redress WA I am certainly aware that they are investigating needs and setting up proposals for frameworks to support applicants during that period. We are not yet sure what shape that will take.

Senator SIEWERT —We can find out some more about it. But they have got that in their planning processes?

Dr White —Yes, I believe so. That is what we have heard.

Senator SIEWERT —What has been people’s response to the design? Some states do not have redress schemes—and I will come back to the question of a national one shortly—but in the states that do have them, they are all different.

Dr White —Yes.

Senator SIEWERT —What has been people’s feedback and response to WA’s scheme?

Dr Rosser —The one issue that is the most difficult for people is that they may not, and mostly will not, have access to their records of their time in care before they prepare their applications. This poses real difficulties for people. Take the example where I might have been in care as a young child at St Joseph’s Orphanage and I really have not much memory of that. I bounced between home and an orphanage and back. If I was male, I may have gone to Clontarf for a short period, but there was always this bouncing back between the institution and home with family. I have grown up not knowing whether I was a ward of the state. Then awful things happened to me in my adolescence, while I was still at home but while I was under the age of 18 or 21.

Had I been a ward of the state, I would qualify during that period for Redress WA. If we ask Redress WA for records, the backlog is so enormous that it is impossible to get people’s records in a timely way to determine even whether they were a ward. If they were not, their story of all the horror does not count for redress. So you would be putting people through a process of reliving, which causes great distress to many people, for no extrinsic benefit.

Senator SIEWERT —Yes. How many people would you say are in that position?

Dr White —We have probably encountered 30 to 50 who are in that position. Other people may be proceeding on an assumption that they do know something and actually it is incorrect.

Dr Rosser —I think there are a few. I have a case load at the moment of 21 and, from that, I would say that there are at least 50 per cent whose narratives do not make sense in terms of the practices of child care institutions of the time. So I think that they will find, when Redress WA actually accesses the records, that there will be fairly significant errors of fact about who was responsible for them during that time. It would be good to know.

Senator SIEWERT —Those people have still suffered trauma, which has obviously had a significant impact on their lives, despite the fact that they may not turn out to be wards. What happens for them?

Dr White —We are funded to offer non-eligible clients two sessions of counselling and then referral on to mainstream services. If they are partly eligible, then of course they can receive the full amount of counselling that is allocated to any client, and any counsellor would include the non-eligible areas in their work with that applicant. Probably the saddest instances we get are of people who were in care in other states who ring us and assume that Redress WA is for all Australians and then discover that they are not eligible.

Senator SIEWERT —It is only for WA.

Dr White —Yes.

Senator SIEWERT —I will come back to those that are covered in a minute, because I want to go to the records issue, but those who are not eligible get two counselling sessions and then go to mainstream services.

Dr White —Yes.

Senator SIEWERT —How are they supported through mainstream services? Are they just like everybody else? They join the queue for mainstream services?

Dr White —Yes, basically.

Senator SIEWERT —We were talking about this extensively in Melbourne yesterday and one of the many issues that came up is that there are no mainstream services that are specifically targeted at the needs of care leavers. How are we in WA for the provision of those services?

Dr White —Pretty much the same as Victoria. There are not, that I know of, any specific services or programs that are for care leavers. There may be some youth programs.

Dr Rosser —There are child and adolescent clinic type programs, but I do not really know.

Dr White —Yes. For specific subgroups of care leavers, there are organisations like CBERS Consultancy which will provide free counselling to ex-residents of Mercy, Nazareth and Christian Brothers institutions. If you belong to one of those groups, there are services. The broader population of, say, foster care leavers who do not have that collective identity and are just dispersed in the community, and who may not even identify their adult functioning problems as an outcome of their care experiences, are not captured anywhere.

Senator SIEWERT —Another point that has been made fairly strongly is that there will be care leavers who will not want to have anything to do with the organisation that was responsible for their care in the first place.

Dr Rosser —Yes.

Dr White —Certainly.

Senator SIEWERT —I imagine there would be a lot of people in that category. What you are saying, if I understand you correctly, is that there really are no specific services available for those people. They join the queue like everybody else.

Dr Rosser —Yes. We thought with CBERS, in the old days when CBERS was running as a full agency, that there were probably a lot of people who did not come to us and were being picked up in the mental health system more generally, or not being picked up at all.

Senator SIEWERT —I was going to say ‘or not’.

Dr Rosser —Yes, for the reason that you mentioned. We were not primarily a counselling service, although that was a necessary adjunct to what the program had been set up to do.

Senator SIEWERT —I will hand over to Senator Humphries in a second, but I wanted to go back to the issue of the records. Access to records is a common issue around Australia, as I understand it, and WA seems just as bad as everybody else. Is that correct?

Dr Rosser —I do not know whether that would be fair to say. WA historically—at least since the mid-nineties—would probably have put more resources than some of the other states in the government sector, and in the private receiving homes, into trying to index their records so that at least you could locate them. So I doubt whether our backlog would be comparatively worse. Nonetheless, I think if you are designing a scheme, again one of the lessons to learn is to try and get your records house as much in order as you can before you start and perhaps have a longer lead time. They will probably talk today about the lessons they have learnt in terms of how to promulgate the scheme in terms of public awareness, but if there were a long lead time and the records were right, then people would be able to access their records prior to making their applications.

Senator SIEWERT —I am aware of Aboriginal people having particular problems getting access to their records. I understand that there has been a slight improvement but there are still big problems there.

Dr Rosser —They would probably be one of the better serviced areas. So that really says something, because probably more resources have gone into Link-up and other programs for Aboriginal people than they have for non-Aboriginal applicants.

Senator SIEWERT —That does not say a lot for non-Aboriginal applicants then, because I am aware there are still significant problems with access to Aboriginal records in Western Australia. I have lots of other questions, but I will hand over and maybe we can bounce back a bit later.

CHAIR —In relation to the institutions that CBERS works with in particular—the Christian Brothers, the Sisters of Mercy and the Sisters of Nazareth—are their records fully up to date and accessible?

Dr White —A lot of effort has gone into being able to access them and there are systems in place so that we can find out where records exist. Of course many records have been destroyed. The indexing system PHIND that Debbie had a role in developing is a great asset in terms of being able to see at a glance where records might be available. Then we can go through the process of applying for them, and we have contact people in each of those locations who will provide us with whatever is available.

CHAIR —It seems that your work has been specialised in that area over many years.

Dr White —Yes.

CHAIR —It is not like you are a new organisation. If there is one area where you should be confident that records are either there or not, and clear about what was lost, it should be with those institutions in WA. If it is still fragmentary or uncertain in those areas, that gives a reason to be concerned about the other institutions.

Dr Rosser —It is just so hard to believe that there is nothing more that can be found.

CHAIR —Absolutely.

Dr Rosser —I have crawled around in the dirt, through rat droppings and dust and things, for years looking for records, particularly over at Mercy. They moved out of their site, and every single thing on that site would have been picked up and moved.

CHAIR —Has been moved?

Dr Rosser —I could not find anything there, apart from a paltry amount of material. If they did not find any records during the big shift out of that site at Wembley, then there must not be any, but you always live in hope. You live in hope that surely somewhere they will find another box of records.

CHAIR —It is eight years since the original inquiry and four or five since the second one. The records issue was a key recommendation in both of those inquiries.

Dr Rosser —Yes.

CHAIR —One of the big issues was that records were difficult to access—there was that and all the FOI stuff about which there was much concern—but the other thing was the genuine fear that whole lots of records from institutions had been destroyed and—

Dr Rosser —Yes. I am sure that is true.

CHAIR —where does that leave people, which will be a question for the government in terms of the redress scheme, if the whole record of what you were doing, whether you were a ward and how long you were in an institution is actually shredded or put in a dump—or, in Queensland, flooded—and you have lost everything. Records in North Queensland were lost in the floods. Nonetheless, in terms of process, that is a big issue. I am sorry, Gary. I just jumped in there.

Dr Rosser —Can I quickly say in response to that that the records that no longer exist in the residential child-care agencies are only part of the story.

CHAIR —Sure.

Dr Rosser —I encourage you to look broadly across government, because there will be police records, health records and, particularly, education. In the State Records office there are some gems of stories.

CHAIR —Have you crawled around in there, Dr Rosser?

Dr Rosser —As much as I could, and you have to do it with a pencil in there. But there are some gems of information lying in a completely random manner, including school inspectors’ reports. We all had them as children. Some of those exist. They are not kind maybe, but they are something.

CHAIR —There is a name and there is a location.

Dr Rosser —Yes, and there is quite a bit of information. So if the committee could encourage state government agencies who were not involved in child care to care for their records—

CHAIR —That is a very diplomatic verb, Dr Rosser!

Senator HUMPHRIES —Following up on those questions, we were told yesterday in Victoria about care leavers in Tasmania who were just point blank refused access to their records. That was only hearsay and maybe it is not quite the case. Have you got any evidence of that happening in Western Australia; people just being told they would not be shown their records?

Dr White —Not that we have encountered, no.

Senator HUMPHRIES —That’s good! I wanted to explore with you the status in which you come before the committee today. You are a consultancy that was set up originally by the Christian Brothers, and other orders then took on your services as well. You do not, though, speak for the Christian Brothers in this submission, I assume.

Dr White —No, although the Christian Brothers funded the preparation of this submission and, as a courtesy, we provided it to them prior to submitting it.

Senator HUMPHRIES —I do not think we are hearing from the Christian Brothers per se. In fact, I have not seen any orders, so it is—

CHAIR —We are not hearing from anyone from the churches.

Dr Rosser —No. I do not think that they would take issue or be unsupportive of anything that is in this submission. In fact, I would be almost certain of that.

Senator HUMPHRIES —Sure.

Dr White —Yes, and it is the case that we got that feedback prior to submitting the document.

Senator HUMPHRIES —Yes, that is good. It does seem that the process that they have used, or that you have used on their behalf, to deliver services to people who have been in their care, does seem to come close to best practice in the field. Certainly, on my reading of these things, that seems to be the case. You say in the submission, in response to recommendation 3:

We urge the Senators to consider whether “just” outcomes are best pursued through the Courts. A legalistic model may not be the best way forward; there are other mechanisms that currently provide mediated settlements and their very nature means the restitution, or capacity for restorative justice is broadly associated with the complainant’s emotional, spiritual and financial needs—not only the financial dimension.

We have seen, of course, since the report was brought down, that in a sense neither the recommendations about a national redress fund nor the ones about speeding up access to legal redress have really been followed through comprehensively. In some cases they have but not comprehensively. There is a temptation to take your suggestion in this part of the submission and say: this should be the focus of action in the future, to give people a chance, through a redress scheme, to be able to deal with their problems rather than to focus on trying to knock down small barriers that stand in the way of litigation, in that this mechanism is most likely to give people (a) access to money relatively easily, if the Western Australian model is anything to go by, and (b) some sense of accomplishment and closure by virtue of having a resolution within a defined period of time. You would support a recommendation that suggested we emphasise that as a solution to these problems?

Dr Rosser —Absolutely.

Dr White —Yes, always with an eye to the fact that some people may want to seek legal redress and to also have that as an open door, but primarily to focus on the redress approach.

Senator HUMPHRIES —There is a danger if you try and improve the redress mechanism and spread it to other states and at the same time improve the ways in which people can take legal action. It actually exacerbates that problem: which way do you go?

Dr Rosser —Didn’t we in our submission suggest that if, for example, there were going to be a change to the statute of limitations—apart from for serious sexual crime—there would be a compulsory mediation process?

Senator HUMPHRIES —Yes, you did.

Dr Rosser —I think that is a good, sensible recommendation. With that pre-court mediation conference a whole lot of things would come into play about disclosure and all sorts of things. You would try to get people not so far on a continuum and try to prevent applicants from putting themselves in the worst possible place personally as they recount the worst possible narrative of their life. That is something that you hold. There is a real tension in that, in that you are asking people, even in Redress WA, to give a very negative account of life but at the same time you acknowledge that these people have survived these experiences—maybe not to a degree that enabled them to reach their full potential, but they are people with value now, and you do not want to accentuate the negative so much that the bottom falls out of their world now. I think court cases do that to people—even to robust individuals in normal society.

Senator HUMPHRIES —I think mediation is a good step in any litigation. It probably should be a compulsory first step.

Dr Rosser —I would agree with that wholeheartedly.

Senator HUMPHRIES —It is particularly problematic in an area where there is a deep personal element of litigation, and sitting across the table from people representing perpetrators—not even being the perpetrators but representing the perpetrators—of serious crimes against them can be very difficult. But I take the point that you are making.

You talked before about the problem of people who have been sometimes state wards and sometimes back in their own homes, and it is not clear whether the harm that was done to them was principally in their home setting or in a care setting. I got the impression that the $10,000 ex gratia payment process was partly designed to overcome that. If a person had been in care and they could demonstrate harm from their childhood, they would be able to access that $10,000 fairly readily. Have I misunderstood that?

Dr White —We are not 100 per cent clear on that point ourselves. The wording is, I think, that people who allege abuse and neglect while they were in care are eligible for the $10,000 payment and then people who have evidence of harm are eligible for higher levels of payment. But we have not seen how that is going to work in practical terms.

Senator HUMPHRIES —The department is coming in this afternoon, and we will ask them.

CHAIR —They do not have to be a state ward, Senator.

Dr White —No.

CHAIR —They do in Queensland. A person is eligible as long as they had gone into care, even if it was what happened a lot with parents just not being able to cope for a while and putting them into care, so it is not a determinant that they actually had formal paperwork for that.

Dr White —No. That is right. That is where this problem arises of determining the periods of eligibility, because if a person who was not a ward had been in a state institution, went home, was abused and went back into care, that period of time is not covered.

Senator HUMPHRIES —Recommendation 6 in the report talks about the need for a national reparations fund, to be funded by the Commonwealth, state governments, churches and agencies proportionately. You broadly welcome the thrust of that recommendation, but of course there has not as yet been any coordinated attempt to get a broad fund which is funded in part by churches or other agencies. Can I read into your support for the thrust of recommendation 6 that the Christian Brothers at least would be willing to contemplate participation in such a fund?

Dr Rosser —I think no, which is not, ‘No, they would not be willing to contemplate it,’ but, ‘No, it would be taking us out of our comfort zone to be representing their views.’ They may well, but we could not say that for them.

Senator HUMPHRIES —You also say that you think there would be value in having a facilitation process where agencies get together and talk about how they build on the best practice that you say you have experienced within your work. What do you think is holding back agencies generally in this area? Is it a lack of access to the knowledge of how well these things can work if they are done properly or is there a financial incentive for them not to want to get involved? What exactly is stopping people doing what you are doing?

Dr Rosser —I do not know that there is anything in particular. One of the problems is that this area is not mainstream agency work any more. Most of the residential care agencies, if they are still in the business of social services broadly, are not necessarily able to fund ‘managing the past’, which is a term the department used in the nineties and it captures quite nicely the concept. These are issues of managing the past. There are not that many agencies doing work like CBERS Consultancy’s. I am not sure what MacKillop is doing over in Victoria. Did they appear before you?

CHAIR —They did not appear.

Senator HUMPHRIES —No.

Dr White —No-one has the mandate for doing that, and each agency has their pool of resources and is proceeding forward and coping with that as best they can. There is not an opportunity to join together at broader levels, apart from on an informal basis.

Dr Rosser —We have participated over the years voluntarily, which is not a problem because we do have a commitment to these issues, but there have not really been any resources. Resources are needed to put people in touch and to share information. There needs to be, at least at the project officer level, someone pulling it all together.

Senator HUMPHRIES —I am asking the question because I would not like to think you would fund a facilitation process of the kind that you are talking about and invite all these agencies to come and half of them do not turn up because they are afraid of where the process will lead—what it commits them to do and the resources involved. Is it realistic to expect that they are willing to come to the table? They just need that bit of encouragement.

Dr Rosser —People do come to the table, for sure.

CHAIR —Is that some of the function of the alliance? Certainly the alliance was developed to be a body that brought people with interest in this area together. There is no compulsion then to act, which is that next step. Having a group where people can contribute and share and learn, I thought, was one of the stimulants to forming the alliance.

Dr Rosser —I think it is a starting point.

Dr White —Yes. The work that the alliance is doing is a great start, and the booklet that they produced is used widely by us, particularly with redress applicants. It just needs to grow.

Senator HUMPHRIES —You recommend that a national children in care clearing house and research body be funded. I can see some value in that process of bringing people up to the mark of what can be done to help. How do you think care leavers would respond to a recommendation on our part along those lines, particularly when some of them are complaining about there not being action on redress schemes or apologies and action by some agencies that were perpetrator organisations?

—I would take responsibility for being the architect of some of the passion around that. I will come back to you with a question about how Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people feel about the Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies and whether people in the communities actually find that a useful device. I use that site a lot and it would be wonderful, certainly for agencies like ours, to have access to a pool of information and knowledge about care leaver records, schemes for peer support—all sorts of best practice in all sorts of areas.

Senator HUMPHRIES —You could say that IATSIS was a little bit different, though, to what you are talking about. This is an agency to help the providers sort themselves out, isn’t it, rather than everybody in the sector necessarily?

Dr Rosser —Yes, although the internet has that capacity for democracy. If you set up something that sits in an office and then goes out to certain other offices, that is not as broadly inclusive as something that exists in a virtual environment as well.

Senator HUMPHRIES —I can see the value in it. There is no question that it would be, in that respect, useful.

Dr Rosser —I do not think it needs to be. The time has come when we need to look at cheap solutions to some of these things. There is no need to have weighty infrastructure, resource-heavy solutions. We have found with CBERS, with the peer support programs that are running, that we can do a lot with a little.

Senator HUMPHRIES —Okay.

Dr White —Senator Humphries, are you sensing that care leavers would have an objection to agencies being funded?

Senator HUMPHRIES —It is not so much I sense it. I am afraid that if one of our recommendations was to say that we should fund provider organisations to sort themselves out, to go and have a clearing house and to conduct research, I could imagine some care leavers saying, ‘You are asking for money to be put into providers when they should be putting money into care leavers.’

Dr White —Yes. It is useful to be aware of that in any planning process.

Senator HUMPHRIES —Perhaps we can deal with that by asking care leaver representatives what they think of the idea.

Dr White —Yes.

Senator HUMPHRIES —I would like to do that.

Dr Rosser —Yes, but to participate in the design, if you decide to go further down the track.

Dr White —Yes, that it is inclusive.

Senator HUMPHRIES —Yes, that is right.

Senator SIEWERT —I want to go to a couple of issues about the records. I am still hung up on the records.

Dr Rosser —Good.

Dr White —Yes, so are we.

Senator SIEWERT —We heard of an innovative program in Victoria yesterday that is being funded to the tune of $800,000 for four years called the ‘Who am I?’ project, which had four different strands to it. It is internet based. So any entity, which could be a former institution or a person even—not if you have made a complaint, but if you have written something et cetera—is accessible. One of the strands is to look at archiving and start getting all the records in order and doing exactly what you said before, which is looking at police records, education records, health records et cetera.

Dr Rosser —Great.

Senator SIEWERT —I asked them whether there was any move to take it nationally and they said they did not have the funding. But it seems to me that that sort of project, if it was taken nationally, would save a whole lot of reinventing of the wheel.

Dr Rosser —Yes.

Dr White —Yes.

Senator SIEWERT —Have you spoken to the Dr Cathy Humphreys, who is the lead person on that project? Have you had anything to do with them at all?

Dr Rosser —No, I have never heard anything about it. That is something for your clearing house, a ‘news for the nation’ type of thing.

CHAIR —We have got all the details on our website because we had a submission from them.

Dr Rosser —Okay. So that is something that we can follow up. Can you tell me the name of that program again, please?

Senator SIEWERT —It is called ‘Who am I?’

Dr Rosser —‘Who am I?’

Senator SIEWERT —It has got the University of Melbourne, the Centre for Excellence in Child and Family Welfare—it is funded by the Victorian Department of Human Services—

CHAIR —There is some other group.

Senator SIEWERT —the Victorian Aboriginal Child Care Association and the Australian Catholic University.

Dr Rosser —Great.

Senator SIEWERT —We could even maybe give you a photocopy of this, if we can get one. I would suggest that you have a look at that.

Dr Rosser —Yes, that is excellent. We can follow that up on the internet. That will be fine.

Senator SIEWERT —In terms of your comments about care leavers from other states not being able to access WA’s process, have you had a lot of people contacting you from other states wanting to find out information?

Dr White —I guess, since the start of the scheme in May last year, about 25. So it is not a large number, but they are people who actually got to the point of making contact to make the inquiry. I assume that there would be a larger pool of people who thought, ‘That should include me as well,’ and then would make initial inquiries themselves and not get to the point of ringing us up.

Senator SIEWERT —There were a lot of calls yesterday from Victoria, as you can probably understand, for a national approach to redress.

Dr White —Yes.

Senator SIEWERT —They still have not got a system in Victoria. Would you support a national approach?

Dr Rosser —Yes.

Dr White —Yes, definitely.

Senator HUMPHRIES —Even if it meant taking the lowest common denominator as a way of bringing people on board and saying, ‘WA gives $80,000, Queensland gives $40,000, so we’ll meet at $60,000,’ or something like that as the national benchmark? Is that worthwhile?

Dr Rosser —You weigh up the inequity. The situation currently is inequitable. I know life is not fair, but we have these artificial elements of unfairness. That is the sort of thing that you have to weigh up yourselves. You go for the least inequity.

Dr White —Yes. A national scheme, even if it were based on a median sort of compromise, would be better than no national scheme.

Senator HUMPHRIES —That is a reasonable point to make.

Senator SIEWERT —I wanted to turn to the issue of child migrants. Do you think there is a need for further travel assistance for former child migrants?

Dr White —Child migrants are an ageing population and travel is not actually all that easy for many of them now. If you asked child migrants if there was a need, they would all say, ‘Yes, definitely.’ In a perfect world, yes, it would be great if there was ongoing funding for sons and daughters and grandchildren and reciprocal visits. Of course that would be really valuable. The saddest part about the family reunification process is that, even in the most successful joinings of families, you still have a situation where people live half a world away from each other. If literacy is a problem, then being on the internet is not as easy. So the modern ways of staying in touch are not as available.

Senator SIEWERT —Yes.

Dr White —So it is a difficult question about where you put resources. But if the resources were there, yes, definitely.

Senator SIEWERT —You touched on my next question. Have you seen any increase in requests for assistance from family members?

Dr White —Not necessarily an increase. There has always been sort of a steady level there of people inquiring about whether a second trip was available or whether their children might be able to be funded to go, but word has got around that the answer at the moment is no. So we do not get many requests.

Senator SIEWERT —But that does not necessarily reflect need or—

Dr White —Absolutely, or desire, yes.

Senator SIEWERT —It is basically because they think there is no point in asking because they will be told ‘no’.

Dr White —Yes.

Senator SIEWERT —Thank you.

Dr White —But if it were available, I think you would get a very large number of people applying.

Senator SIEWERT —I want to turn to the issue of the apology. We discussed this extensively yesterday in Victoria. While I think it would be fair to say that a number of people thought it was good that there had been an apology in Victoria, there was concern that there had not been a national one. There was also a very deep distress from some people about how it had happened in Victoria. The message I took away from there is, ‘If you are going to do it, you do it right or don’t bother doing it at all.’ What are your thoughts on whether there should be a national apology, with or without a national redress scheme? A lot of comments were also made along the lines of, ‘Don’t bother doing a national one if you’re not announcing a redress scheme at the same time,’ and comparisons were drawn with the apology to the stolen generation and the fact that there has not been an announcement of a national reparations scheme. What do you and the people that you have been working with lately feel about it? Where has the discussion progressed to?

Dr Rosser —My view is that Redress WA has brought people into this arena who have not been politicised about care leaver issues. I personally have not heard anyone evince any interest in an apology. To speak for myself, I think it would be a wonderful thing for the nation to make an apology. I would be reluctant to tie that apology to any particular reparations scheme.

I think that a heartfelt apology, like the Australian parliament did for the stolen generations, is very moving and wonderful for a nation. In this arena it would be to children in some way that was inclusive of all children and maybe would remind us of some of the things we have not touched on today about how well people are cared for when they leave care now. That would be my personal statement, yes, but not to tie it to a particular reparations scheme.

Dr White —I would support that entirely; to have it separate from any kind of reparations scheme. The people that I have encountered who have discussed apologies have often said that they would like it to be face to face in terms of when they are offered payment for their redress application. It seems particularly important that it is not just a cheque in the mail. Having observed many Towards Healing mediations, the power of an apology from a representative of the organisation that harmed the individual can be extremely powerful and have great therapeutic value. It is not possible to apologise individually to every Australian who was in care, but another part of that apology is the broad national apology, which I would really support.

Senator SIEWERT —Thank you.

CHAIR —I have many questions, but there is one that I want to get on record. Your submission talked very positively about the Towards Healing process. We have had a number of submissions and evidence yesterday that was not as complimentary about the process and talked about the lack of independence in the process and also the arbitrary nature of it, so that, depending on which area you were in, the quality, value and the whole process varied intensely. I take it that the experiences you are talking about in your submission relate to what has happened in WA?

Dr White —Yes.

CHAIR —So you are saying that the way it has worked in WA has been positive?

Dr White —It has, particularly in regard to the Christian Brothers work, which has been the great bulk of the Towards Healing work in WA that we are aware of or that we have had contact with. Yes, it comes down to how individuals manage the process. There is great variation across the nation and across different religious orders.

CHAIR —That was the kind of evidence we heard yesterday. As you would know, this is their life in terms of the process. As you will see when you read the Hansard from Melbourne—and I do encourage people to read what has been said in other places when they have such great interest in these issues—they were negative not just about Towards Healing, but used that as a particular example because it has had so much publicity, but then went on to talk about the Anglican process also, which varied nationally. There were some negative comments about every church based—

Senator SIEWERT —I think ‘every’ would be fair.

CHAIR —We kept asking and they kept saying, ‘Yes, yes, yes.’ I do not think I have a full list of all organisations, but in terms of the need for something that was transparent, the call was for independence. I note in particular in your submission you talk about your concern that the nature of the Towards Healing process does not lend itself towards systemic and legal issues such as rights of appeal and those things. It is that balance. Would you like to put something on record about how you feel about that, because that was a significant element of your submission.

We had evidence yesterday from some lawyers and also some people who worked in advocacy groups that talked very much about the need to have a systemic process that did lend itself to issues such as independent appeal and review, the ability to have people with you, legal aspects and all those things, whereas your submission has taken a distinctly different approach. So it would be useful to have on record any comments you would like to make about that.

Dr White —There is currently a national review of the Professional Standards Resource Group.

CHAIR —Yes, I read that. I would love to be a fly on the wall in that systemic review!

Dr White —Yes, so would I. We put in quite a substantial submission to that review and our recommendations were that there needs to be, firstly, empirical research to get a clear picture of how participants do feel about their experience, because all we have at the moment is anecdotal evidence. There needs to be greater transparency and there need to be reviews and clear processes that are given to people at the outset that inform them of their rights. We agree entirely with what you are saying.

CHAIR —I am just trying to remember—maybe you can help me—one of the particular concerns about people not having medical information before they turned up.

Senator SIEWERT —They were getting some of their records and their medical—

CHAIR —The psychiatric assessment.

Senator SIEWERT —Yes, their psychiatric assessment, and their representatives would be given it an hour before they walked in and would then be told, ‘Take it or leave it. You’ve got a certain period of time, then the offer is off the table.’

Dr White —Off the table, exactly.

Senator SIEWERT —A typical lawyer approach.

Dr Rosser —It is just so hard to comprehend, although obviously I do believe you, that people would even think of behaving that way these days.

CHAIR —In a process called Towards Healing?

Dr Rosser —Yes.

Dr White —Because when you look at that big red book of principles—

CHAIR —The big book, yes.

Dr White —it is opposite to that.

Senator HUMPHRIES —Some of these comments were made about the practices of the archdiocese of Melbourne and they were saying that this was what was particularly going on there.

CHAIR —This was evidence in Melbourne.

Senator HUMPHRIES —And they were not following the Towards Healing stance.

CHAIR —They had the Pell principles in Melbourne, which still stand outside Towards Healing. The sentiment also did go interstate, but we were talking about how people felt in the rights of redress and we were talking specifically about these various processes. Towards Healing is such a highly publicised process and, because of the volume of cases that go there because of the nature of the care institutions, he was talking about a range of experiences, which is all on Hansard. If you would like to have a look at that, it might be interesting to see what was said. Thank you very much for your time and your ongoing work and the submissions you have given us.

Dr White —Thank you.

CHAIR —If there is anything you feel we need to know, that you think about later, please get in contact with the secretariat. This report is due to be handed down in June, so we have a bit of time.

Dr Rosser —Thank you very much.

[10.00 am]