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STANDING COMMITTEE ON COMMUNITY AFFAIRS
31/03/2009
Implementation of the recommendations of the Lost Innocents and Forgotten Australians reports

CHAIR —Good morning. Thank you for your patience. I am running a little late now. I start on time but get later through the day. Professor Harries, you are the former chair of CBERS, so is there anything else you would like to say about the capacity in which you appear today?

Prof. Harries —Although I am appearing as an associate member of AFA, I have an individual capacity too, so I am going to struggle with those two, if I may.

CHAIR —That is fine. If there is an area where you wish to be recorded in one way in particular, we will follow it in that way. Otherwise, we will just discuss the issues. Mr Humphreys, do you have anything else to say about your appearance today?

Mr Humphreys —I am also a forgotten Australian, so I think am well versed to represent both AFA and forgotten Australians.

CHAIR —Thank you. You have information on parliamentary privilege and the protection of witnesses. If you would both like to make some opening statements, we will then go into questions. You have seen how it works, so it is very much a discussion process.

Mr Humphreys —Firstly, I would like to thank both past and present members of the Senate, and in particular former Democrat Senator Andrew Murray, for being instrumental in bringing about the original inquiry. His ongoing support is very much appreciated. I have to go into a bit of detail to say who I am. I was a child migrant and in care for 13 years between the ages of four and 17. I left Bindoon to take up an apprenticeship in Toodyay in 1950. Being dissatisfied with that, I headed to Perth, but in a few weeks the welfare people handed me a bus ticket for Goomalling and said that, unless I accepted a position on a farm there, I would be sent to a place called Seaforth. The welfare department, rightly so, did not like us roaming the streets. Seaforth, by the way, was an institution similar to Borstal in England. If anybody has ever heard of Borstal, it is a place where they sent—

CHAIR —How old were you when that happened?

Mr Humphreys —I had just turned 17.

CHAIR —This happened when you were 17?

Mr Humphreys —That is right.

CHAIR —So you were not yet an adult according to the law.

Mr Humphreys —I was under the care of the then child welfare till I was 21. What is urgently needed now for juveniles coming out of care is a resource or drop-in centre, somewhere safe for them to go, just as a young person from a family would call in at home for advice or a chat or just to catch up. Roaming the streets and having nowhere to go is just as unacceptable now as it was 62 years ago, but the difference now is that we cannot send young people to the country to keep them out of danger—nor should we—as was done in my day. Experience has shown that, without someone to talk to or a place to meet, many ex-care-leavers end up back in care, in the care of prison warders. That is why the recommendation is so important.

One of the priorities of AFA is to have centres in each state and territory catering for forgotten Australians’ needs through linked-up services, drop-in facilities and support. A resource centre along the lines of the Lotus centre in Queensland is needed urgently. I am sure it would not only be utilised by care leavers but also by service providers. A centre such as this would go a long way towards fulfilling recommendations from 19 through to 29, which all suggest that the state or Commonwealth fund services for numerous reasons, such as accessing personal records, counselling, education et cetera. Resource centres could enable forgotten Australians to access information from the many services already in existence, such as PHIND, CBERS et cetera. Many recommendations have been made and many studies have been done. Now is the time to act.

CHAIR —Thank you, Mr Humphreys.

Prof. Harries —I set up CBERS at the request of the Christian Brothers in 1994 and closed down that large part of it in 2005. I was invited to do that because I had been interim chair of ACCCA, the Advisory and Coordinating Committee on Child Abuse, following the death of Kath French. Since handing over CBERS to the consulting group, I have become much more involved with the forgotten Australians, particularly as an associate member—I am not a forgotten Australian, so I can only be an associate WA member, along with Laurie, who is the proper member—of the alliance.

We have also been trying very hard to set up an organisation in Perth called FACT—Forgotten Australians Coming Together—which will be the WA equivalent of the other state organisations. Laurie and I, along with three or four others, have been struggling to do that. We are currently in the position where—I think Laurie will attest to this—our letters are not being responded to at all in terms of getting some sort of funding to do that. We cannot do it without resources.

I also have some connection with CREATE, which is an organisation funded by state governments in each state for young people up to the age of 25 leaving care. I am very aware of the difference between what CREATE can provide and what something like FACT can provide. My long-term concern, and one of the reasons I am involved in this area, is with the outcomes of children in care and what I call the iatrogenesis of the care system. It is a public policy practice arena which is grounded in minimal evidence. We have increasing evidence that the outcomes are pretty appalling. They were appalling and they continue to be appalling.

Indeed, it was Senator Murray who drew my attention, when the inquiry was commenced so many years ago, to the fact that this was not just an inquiry about the needs of forgotten Australians of the past; it was, as he said, an opportunity to do things differently in the future. That is what continues to drive me and it certainly drives a lot of the forgotten Australians that we work with on AFA.

This relates to one of the points that Andrew Murray made in terms of the numbers of children in care. In the last 10 years there has been a 100 per cent increase in the number of children coming into care. We now have approximately 35,000 children in care and the number of Indigenous children is seven times that of non-Indigenous children.

We have had a 115 per cent increase in out-of-home care of children in the last 10 years. That relates to our next point, which is that Morgan Disney did an extraordinary report, which was funded by FaCSIA and CSMAC, looking at the cost of post-care. They indicated that every year 1,150 young people leave the care system. They did an analysis and said that the cost of those 1,150 people over their lifetime was $2 billion, which means a cost to the taxpayer of $46 million per annum for 1,150 people. This report is available and I have copies.

Finally, thinking a lot about the inquiries and the outcomes of these inquiries, two things in particular strike me. The first thing, which has come up this morning already, is that this area is terribly uncomfortable for people. It is not just uncomfortable for us but it is not something that the public want to pay attention to. It is not something that child welfare authorities want to pay attention to. This is what we call the failure of our system and we do not want to address failure.

I was at a child protection conference in Singapore five years ago and the minister for the interior stood up and said, ‘In Singapore’—I cannot remember the figure—‘65 children were taken into the care system last year.’ A gentleman, a professor of child protection from the United States, stood up and challenged him at the end of his presentation and said, ‘I think you got it wrong. You couldn’t possibly only have 65 children,’ or whatever it was, ‘in the care system.’ This gentleman, who was much shorter than the professor from the United States, grew about 10 feet as he said, ‘No, I don’t have it wrong. In Singapore we see it as a failure of our services to take children into care. We do not see the statistic as a success.’ I think that is a very powerful image that he was portraying.

The second point around the broader issue is that it seems to me that one of the big things that we are grappling with is the federal-state one. It is not just about whether churches are responsible; it is this federal-state one that you know so well. I have been involved in the FaCSIA development of the child protection framework and I was previously very involved in the development of mental health public policy frameworks. I have also been very involved in the development of the Allen Consulting Group work on child protection in Australia, which is an ARACY funded consultation about to be released by the minister.

They are the public policy arenas that I think are so troublesome at the present time. I know a lot of attention has been paid to the churches and their responsibility, but reading some of the submissions what struck me is this relentless, ‘No, that’s a state responsibility.’ ‘No, that’s a Commonwealth responsibility.’ I think we have to move beyond that. Thank you.

CHAIR —Thank you very much.

Senator SIEWERT —Maybe we should start there in terms of how we move beyond the state-federal boundary. It is not just in this area, it is in virtually all areas that we work in.

Prof. Harries —Absolutely.

Senator SIEWERT —Where do you see that we should be moving then in child protection in terms of that federal-state boundary?

Prof. Harries —There are two elements of child protection. There is the forensic investigatory risk assessment, which for some extraordinary reason the states seem to want to hold onto. I do not know why, because it must be one of the most difficult areas to be involved in. I think that is an important area. Much more important, though, are the broader public policy areas around universal services, which are about providing environments in which children, families and communities can actually thrive rather than suffer.

The evidence is very clear that the children we remove, we are removing from poor households, single-parent households, Indigenous households, households in which there are mental health problems and drug and alcohol problems. We are not removing children from psychopaths who have them in order to kill them or torture them. A huge number of the children that we are removing are coming because of the failure of our community systems, our systemic systems, to actually deal with the issues of poverty, unemployment, homelessness, drugs, alcohol et cetera. It is a funnel that is profoundly obvious. Of 100 children that are reported, around three per cent end up somehow in the care system. The other 97 per cent are from families who are struggling, who get no help at all. It is a very significant funnel.

I think the Commonwealth is responsible and has done some extraordinary work more recently—and I am thinking about the Communities for Children work that was done—acknowledging its role and, at the first level, providing infrastructure, early intervention, work with nought to fives, nurse visitors—all of the stuff that actually works really well. Best Beginnings and ‘early beginnings’, various things they are called in Australia, are very similar to the United Kingdom models in which nurses visit new mums, particularly in areas of great disadvantage, providing much more positive outcomes than waiting for the child to be hurt when mum goes out to work et cetera and you get an investigation from a child protection worker. So that universal service arena is profoundly important and we need to turn on its head the idea that child protection is about protecting children from psychopathic, dangerous parents. It is often about taking children from parents who are just struggling badly. I am not saying it should not happen, but we have to rethink that at a Commonwealth level. That is what the framework is trying to do, by the way.

Senator SIEWERT —You mentioned earlier the study about the costs.

Prof. Harries —By Elizabeth Morgan and Helen Disney. It was requested by CSMAC and, I think, funded by CSMAC and FaCSIA. I am not sure where the funding actually came from. It is 2006 and I think it is called #’The post-care costs of children’. It is very significant.

Senator SIEWERT —We were given a study yesterday from the Centre for Excellence in Child and Family Welfare from Victoria called It’s not too late to care. It talks about the experiences that impact on care leavers and their very poor outcomes in a whole lot of areas compared to the general population.

Prof. Harries —Very significant.

Senator SIEWERT —Have you seen that?

Prof. Harries —Yes, I have seen that. The other one that is really interesting is the report by Access Economics, along with Monash University, on the costs of the child protection system, which I think was released early this year.

Senator SIEWERT —I think it was, yes.

Prof. Harries —It is around the cost of the child protection system as we have it. This one and that one are both interesting in terms of the post-care costs.

Senator SIEWERT —Has a similar study been done in Western Australia?

Prof. Harries —No, not that I know of. It is very hard to do these sorts of studies. It is very hard to access data.

Senator SIEWERT —That is the point that has been made in the past—yesterday as well—about accessing data specifically on care leavers. There is not a lot of data around.

Prof. Harries —No. I think accessing records came up a lot earlier. The whole area of child protection—entry to care, in care and post care—is poorly evidence based. The evidence has been paltry in the past. It is very hard to get access to data or research to get it done. State government departments that are involved in child protection are, understandably, very sensitive.

Senator SIEWERT —I would love to pursue that, but I will get into trouble if I do not stick to the terms of reference. I will not even mention the school requirements.

CHAIR —The truancy bill.

Senator SIEWERT —The truancy bill. I will not ask questions about it, although I would love to. I would like to go to the provision of services to care leavers. I am particularly interested in the areas around counselling. I think you were here this morning when I was asking about that. What sort of access to specialist counselling services do Western Australian care leavers have? Are there specific services available?

Mr Humphreys —CBERS in Western Australia has been going now for some 15 years, I think it is, in terms of the counselling services originally for former residents of Christian Brothers institutions and, in recent years, those services have been extended to Nazareth House, Joey girls and Mercy girls. I believe now, with the redress coming in, there will be forgotten Australians who will be requiring and getting the same counselling.

I have had counselling myself in the past, and that was going back 15 years, so I can assure you it is well and truly available for those people, but for the people who have been in care in other than those three institutions, I do not know where they get counselling from. Quite honestly, it is something that does concern me. I especially wonder about the ones coming out of foster care at the moment. I wonder where they turn to. That is one of the reasons why I so strongly want a drop-in centre or a resource centre so that they would know where to obtain this stuff. I do not really know—Maria might know more—whether there is much counselling taking place out there in the other areas.

Prof. Harries —My response is ‘minimal’, and it is broader than that: it is minimal for so many people who need it, because counselling costs money, and very few people who need it have the money. For a huge group of people—young people et cetera, and for this group of forgotten Australians—all that I know of in WA is CBERS Consultancy, which continues to offer support to the people it can. A couple of the church groups try very hard, but they are not funded to do it, and not-for-profit church groups are really struggling, as we know, in the current economy. DCP—the Department for Child Protection—indicated that it would provide counselling for ex-wards. The response from ex-wards, by and large, is that they do not want to go to see a psychologist in the department which they fled from. And they can go to private psychiatrists or, under the current Medicare arrangements, private psychologists, who can now cover their costs for a certain number of visits. But, by and large, the forgotten Australians that we know do not have anywhere to go apart from CBERS.

Senator SIEWERT —The other recommendation of the report that the centre tabled yesterday was a health card for care leavers—and this is from a Victorian perspective—that enables them to access physical, mental and dental help; health care help, in particular. Has anything like that been considered in Western Australia? Do you think it is a good idea that those sorts of additional services be provided?

Mr Humphreys —I think it is a good idea. It certainly is not locally known, if it is happening. Throughout my life I have been in a health scheme, but I would say the majority of ex-leavers I know are not. I can also tell you that last year we had reason to have a process where there was some money going to become available for ex-Bindoon boys for something that happened years and years ago to do with allocation of farms et cetera on Bindoon. They said there was money available, ‘What do you want to do with it?’ None of those boys wanted cash. They all wanted either some health service—‘Pay us into a health service’—or, indeed, a funeral service. That just gives you an example.

There is a crying need out there. For some unknown reason, for ex-residents there appears to be a surge in cancer. In fact, I can count myself as one of them. If they are not in a health scheme, access to an immediate operation or immediate help is nonexistent. I know personally of someone that is still waiting for a hernia operation, for instance, which, along with bowel cancer, is a very sad situation. But, with the health system, they keep getting their operation put off for various reasons. I do not think we are necessarily in favour of the gold card which goes to veterans. I think a health card which could be administered through Centrelink, somehow or other linked to Centrelink, would be the way to go, and I can assure you it would be very much appreciated.

Senator SIEWERT —So instead of doing it on a state-by-state basis, you would do it on a national basis?

Mr Humphreys —On a national basis. Like Maria said, in a case like this, where we were brought up by a federal government in the first place, I believe the federal government has got to accept that they are an integral part of what happened to us in the past and what is happening to the forgotten Australians at present. Whether this goes to all forgotten Australians or those of a certain age, I do not necessarily concern myself with, but I believe a health card of some sort would be a definite advantage.

Prof. Harries —If I can just add to that, I know that AFA is very supportive of the notion of a broader card, whether it is a gold card or a health care card, so I support that. I think that there is another potential for this card. Noticing some of the submissions, I was interested in the negative aspects put about that. As Andrew Murray was saying, this a very fragmented, fractured community of people, the forgotten Australians, although we try to represent what we can.

Such a card provides an opportunity for a focal point for helping people to identify themselves as a group that we can then get access to. Stephanie Withers will talk more about the redress and the difficulty of getting access to people who should be claiming redress. When we were in the middle of the CBERS work, we tried desperately in all sorts of ways to get access to Australians, rather than child migrants, who had been in the Christian Brothers system, but they are spread far and wide. We do not know where they all are.

We do not know where the forgotten Australians are, but if there were a carrot like this, it may well help us to identify a group of people who want to be identified. Hopefully the rest will be dealt with. You do not have to do this. It is not going to breach any confidentiality or whatever if you have this for people. You do not have to pull them in. People who apply will get it. If they do not, fine, they cannot be forced to. But I have been thinking about how we generate more awareness. One of the purposes of developing FACT was to send out the message that there is a place for people who are currently feeling lost. They do not have a place to identify at the moment. That is a spin-off, for me, of a health care card.

Senator SIEWERT —Senator Humphries, you asked that question yesterday. Do you want to follow it up?

Senator HUMPHRIES —Yes. Some other witnesses have made a similar suggestion for a kind of card like that. Obviously some people—and we have seen some of them in the earlier inquiry—are in a state of denial or wish to separate themselves as much as possible from any labels of that kind. I imagine some would have hesitation in flashing a card in front of a bureaucrat or a doctor or anything saying ‘care leaver’. But what you say describes the benefits of that process. Having some means of capturing people and giving them access to information and services is quite a strong argument for that. We need to consider whether that should happen.

The question that springs to mind from that is: how many people are entering the system all the time, even today, who are in need of these sorts of services? It reminds me that we have been spending much of our time in this inquiry looking historically back at what has happened to people in care in the 20th century. There are still people who are graduating from care today.

Prof. Harries —Absolutely.

Senator HUMPHRIES —We really do not have any idea as to their state of mind when they come out of care; whether they face the same kinds of problems that their antecedents did or whether they are in a significantly better position because of changes that have happened in the meantime. Can you give us any sense of enlightenment about that?

Mr Humphreys —I will give you a small example. My son has two teenage boys. A couple of years ago I was visiting and there were two strange lads there aged about 16 or 17. They were children that had come out of foster homes and had nowhere to go, and they literally dossed there until they got a job. I know the feeling. I know what it is like when you come out—the circumstances. Do they want to go home to the house from where they were taken in the first place? It might be a single family. They might not want to go home. There are all sorts of reasons why they might not want to go home. As a lot of us did in my day, we forgot what home was or where it was.

The health card is a tremendous idea. It depends how long they have been in care as to how this applies, but I still believe that there is a need, as I said before, for somewhere that they do not call home but at least they call it a drop-in centre, where they can go and have a coffee and they can meet up with like kind, whether it is to find out if there is any employment around or if there is any accommodation.

It is somewhere they need. The last thing they want to do is go back to the department they have been in the care of and ask for help. They do not want to do that, but if there is a place where they can get help, services, counselling and access to health needs, then I believe we will be going a long way to help them.

I do not think it has to do with age. I think it has to do with what is happening at the present moment. Many are going into care. That means many are going to come out of care and they will need looking after—not for the rest of their life but certainly in the interim, in the first few years of coming out until they settle themselves.

Senator HUMPHRIES —The experience of a lot of people that we have spoken to is that, on leaving care, they have wanted to get as far away from that care as possible, have nothing to do with the organisations that provided them with care, even try and shut that period of their lives right out of their minds. In those institutions they were in, they were with other children, mixing with those children, and presumably had some sort of connection or remembrance of those children. If they were in foster care, presumably they would not have that connection with other children. Do you think it is still the case that they would access a service like this, where they would come and want to talk to other people who had had a similar experience and try and access information and so on in a drop-in centre of some kind?

Mr Humphreys —I would say it would be a case of necessity rather than want. They are looking for help, they want somewhere to go, and that is where that would come in. Referring to the old, as I call us, care leavers, there is an example now where the Joey girls and the Nazareth girls are two separate groups. They meet often and they congregate. They are like brothers and sisters because each of them is their own family. They all belong to the same family. There is a lot of that to this day.

I have only heard recently, and I was surprised to find out, that in the suburbs around Perth there are three or four families of former child migrants or former care leavers that congregate. They are looking for something to hang onto because they have no family except their own now. But if they do not have family—and there are a lot, believe you me, that have not married or have fallen out of marriage—they are looking for company, and that is what I am saying in the case of the resource centre. Yes, there is a need.

Senator HUMPHRIES —Do you think these tend to be young people who have had a positive experience of being in those institutions, or are they people with misgivings and concerns about their time there, who look for reinforcement and support from other people who have been through that?

Mr Humphreys —Whether you have had a positive experience or not, you still need company, you need someone to talk to. You need someone you can confide in, and if it is someone in a like position so much the better. I do not know. I can tell you straight that, as far as I was concerned, I spoke to no-one for 30 years after I left the institution. It gives you an insight.

Prof. Harries —I co-authored a book, which was published last year, called Reforming Child Protection. One of the chapters in that was around both the success and the failure of the out-of-home care system, and I do not think we should ever forget that there are some very amazing success stories and extraordinary foster parents and great institutional care. I, as a child, was in institutional care in Africa—Andrew and I have had conversations about this—which was very good. My worst experience was in foster care. Some of the members of FACT have made that point to us very clearly—the ones in foster care and institutional care. The ones who were in institutional care say, ‘At least we had each other.’ The ones in foster care had a series of carers, who did not necessarily care, so they had nothing at the end of it at all. But there is no doubt that having anything is better than having nothing.

CREATE does some great work. By and large—and I hope I am being fair to the people I know at CREATE—the people who work with CREATE or are involved with CREATE have had relatively successful outcomes of care. What they know and what I know is that the majority of kids leave the care system before they get to 18 and can be well managed. Each department in Australia is working really hard on that nexus between leaving care and the post-care system. It is a very important issue for all departments. As I heard from Bev Orr when I went to the Canberra FaHCSIA meetings around the new framework, a large proportion—and we do not know the number—of kids leave the care system at 15 and 16 and hit the streets, and they are the ones who have nothing. So anything is better.

Going back to some of the comments made earlier, the more choice the better. Some people actually want to go back to the institutional arena—to the Christian Brothers group, to the Anglican group. Some do not. FACT would hopefully—if we had something like that—be a place that people could come to, as CBERS was. They would not necessarily have to stay there. I would see that a place like FACT would say, ‘If you need some help, there is a group there. CREATE would be good for you’—just letting people know what is available. People do not even know that.

I have a nephew who has lived with me. For his 18th birthday one of his friends from Tuart College came to visit. This young man was 18 and now lives on his own in a little flat in Joondalup, funded I think by Anglicare. He had been in 28 placements as a child and he hit the streets at 16. God only knows how you get 28 placements by the time you are 16. But he had been on the streets and had been rescued, if you like. The reason he was rescued was that he was interviewed as a homeless kid by a television program and, therefore, picked up by Anglicare. This is just a random experience of mine, but it told me its own story about how kids post care are accessing any sort of support—via a television camera under a bridge in Perth. What an extraordinary way to have to find a way forward in life. It was an interesting anecdote for me. He asked me to adopt him as his aunt.

CHAIR —That was in the 1990s.

Prof. Harries —Yes.

CHAIR —I think that is the focus. We are talking the 1990s and the 2000s. We are not talking something historical.

Prof. Harries —Yes.

Senator HUMPHRIES —Is there any research going on at the moment into the health and wellbeing of care leavers today?

Prof. Harries —Yes, there is. There are a number of places that are trying to do that. Fiona Stanley has a whole research team looking at various things. A colleague of mine at UWA, Professor Mike Clare, has been very involved in doing work around the care system. There is a lot of work people are trying to do, but it is hard to get funds. A lot of people are competing for the ARC funding for this work. It is a very significant area.

Senator HUMPHRIES —Without having seen it, are you able to say whether it points to a more successful system of care today than was the case, say, 30 years ago? I suppose that is a very hard question to answer.

Prof. Harries —There are a lot of things that are a lot better: assessment of foster carers, standards for training, support systems. Whether the system that we have put in place is workable in the way we have it, I do not know. They had a foster care conference on the weekend and called for 250 extra foster carers. We have a gross paucity of carers for the kids we are taking into care. An email I got from South Australia said, ‘We’re spending squillions of dollars on housing kids that we take into care in hotel rooms, with 24-hour volunteers, or people that we pay, to look after them.’ The intentions are really good. Whether the capacity is there, we do not know.

Senator SIEWERT —An additional point there is that, where kids then go into kinship care, support from the state is not provided. Even where kids have an association with the system, the kinship care providers are not getting support from the state either. I know that from direct experience.

Prof. Harries —It seems peripheral somewhat to the work we are doing retrospectively, but—and the forgotten Australians tell us this every time we have a meeting—the message is, ‘For God’s sake, let’s do it better.’ I do not think there is a better book, by the way, than Joanna Penglase’s Orphans of the Living. If you have not read it, it is worth reading. The language itself is stunning. Joanna was an orphan of the living.

Senator HUMPHRIES —Clearly, it is part of our job to make sure that, if we identify problems of the past, there are policy settings in place to make sure they are not repeated today. That is fundamental.

Prof. Harries —Can I make another point on that, because I was really interested in the notion of the national apology.

Senator HUMPHRIES —Yes.

Prof. Harries —I think that a national apology provides an opportunity to send a message to the people of Australia about the children of Australia. The care and protection of the children of Australia is everybody’s business; it is not just the business of the state government or the Commonwealth government. An apology says, ‘We got it wrong,’ but it also gives the message, ‘We’ve got to do it better, not just as a government but as the people.’ There is a lovely statement that I read about the Masai in Africa, when they meet each other. I do not know if you have heard this.

CHAIR —Go ahead. It is wonderful.

Prof. Harries —The first thing they ask when they meet another tribe is, ‘How are the children?’—not, ‘Has it been a lovely day?’ but, ‘How are the children?’ If we can develop a public policy framework in this country which is around the importance of children and our failure as a nation in the past in that regard, I think we will do more than we expected we could with these inquiries.

Senator HUMPHRIES —In that context, I recall that we did have one witness in the previous inquiry—and I cannot remember who it was now—who said that in their opinion the foster care regime of today has the makings of the next major inquiry in this series, because problems are brewing in that sector as well, which is a chilling thought. That is an issue we have got to turn our minds to.

Prof. Harries —It goes back to your very first question about the role of the Commonwealth. It may well be that we are asking the foster care system to deal with the impossible. These kids that are coming into care are profoundly damaged. How anybody manages, I do not know. It may be that it is impossible.

Senator HUMPHRIES —Your point about the failure of child services and other services in the community is not so much saying that if we identify a child at risk we need to rush services into that family. It is almost too late then, isn’t it?

Prof. Harries —Absolutely.

Senator HUMPHRIES —We need to have better services to pick up those issues long before that point.

Prof. Harries —I worked on a Communities for Children project in Armadale as a research officer. Lots of young people in Armadale, Indigenous and non-Indigenous, would not take their children—their nought to fives—to any sort of playgroup because they were frightened that they would be reported to the authorities. If we have a system like that, we are actually working against the very things we need to have. The only way we could develop services for those people was to guarantee to them that we would not take their names, and then we could work with them. Most mums and dads and grandmas and so on wanted their children to thrive, but they were frightened for all sorts of reasons. But it is getting in for the nought to fives. If we cannot do that early enough, we really will keep on repeating the mistakes of the past. I think I have said enough.

CHAIR —Thank you very much. If there is anything you think we should know, please be in contact with the secretariat. Sometimes you go away and you come across something that you think we should know about, so please be in contact with the secretariat.

Prof. Harries —I wanted to make one more point. It is on the questions around funding from churches at a national level. I could do it then or now.

CHAIR —Now? Certainly.

Prof. Harries —What I should have said at the start was that I am also chair of Mercy Care in Western Australia, so I have some connection with Mercy, and previously with Christian Brothers. When we ask the question of whether churches can contribute, we sometimes forget that the ministries being provided all those years ago were provided by congregations that are now very old. They actually are dying; they are dying off very quickly. One of the reasons you would not get people here from Mercy or some of the others is that the average age is 84. They are in the nursing homes. So it is not about just the Catholic Church or the Anglican Church; it is about the various ministries of those churches, who may have felt very responsible, but now are virtually not in existence. That is a significant issue.

Senator HUMPHRIES —The point was made by some witnesses, though, that it should be the case that there are always successors in title to those organisations, and that they had assets which have been handed down and are used by other areas of the church in the meantime. In subsequent years, as those religions diminished in number, they would pass on their services to other parts of the church. That was more of a lawyer’s comment about being able to access those sorts of things when they were bringing legal actions. But you are not suggesting that, because those particular individuals who were involved in those decisions are no longer in a position to be participants in this process, the question of pursuing them and the organisations for involvement in, for example, reparations should not be pursued?

Prof. Harries —If you think about MacKillop, MacKillop is a bunch of services that have come together from different congregations. It is now struggling as a not-for-profit organisation trying to provide a range of services, but that is where the assets went, and that is only one example of many.

I think one can take a sinister view that this was done intentionally and that things were given away intentionally so that people would avoid liability. That may be the case. I am just presenting the other view that the very congregations are ageing and new arrangements have been taken up which actually do not involve those church groups any more. The Presentation Sisters in Ireland gave all of their money to Focus Ireland, which is an organisation for homeless people. That is non-religious. It is an incorporated not-for-profit, non-faith based organisation. All of the assets are used for homeless people, so if you wanted them to contribute, they could not. It is just the other side of the picture that I thought would be useful to put, and I think it goes along with what Andrew Murray was saying.

The Christian Brothers put millions of dollars into CBERS—millions—where the state government gave us nothing, so there was a lot of input at some stage. I am not an apologist for anyone but, thinking to the future, like Andrew I am deeply pragmatic about what can possibly be done. You put your energy where it is possible to get the money and I am not sure that it is going to be possible, in our country, to get much out of those communities any more. I might be entirely wrong.

CHAIR —What is your view, then, about a royal commission?

Prof. Harries —I struggle. I deeply resent the fact that people are not called to justice for the appalling things that have been done. There is also that balancing act: is it best to put the money there? I think the Mullighan inquiry was hugely important for South Australia and for Australia. I know that AFA wants an inquiry. I sit on the edge of AFA and so I go along with them, because the forgotten Australians want it, and people who have been terribly abused want it. Will it get what we hope it will get, without more and more money going to investigation and less and less to service? My interest is in servicing the people who are so badly affected. I cannot answer.

Senator SIEWERT —One of the many points that have been made is around needing closure. What price can you put on closure?

Prof. Harries —I am not sure it does bring closure.

Senator SIEWERT —I think for different people it does. Some people were saying, ‘No, it doesn’t,’ and other people were saying, ‘Yes, it’s part of closure for me.’ On the redress scheme, the point people have been making—Senator Murray made the point, too—about the apology and redress is that it is not one or the other. They need redress and services, the inquiry and the services, because it is all part of delivering closure.

Prof. Harries —Yes. If we can have an ‘and’ rather than a ‘but’, it would be great, and I really appreciated Andrew Murray’s comment about separating those two out.

CHAIR —Mr Humphreys, do you have a comment on that?

Mr Humphreys —My comment on the apology is that it would not affect me one iota. The only thing I would like an apology to do is to acknowledge that it happened. That is a big thing. I have given a few talks over the last few years and people just do not believe it or it is hard for them to comprehend. The word ‘sorry’ after all these years does not excite me; just the apology for it having happened; saying, ‘We did it and we apologise.’

I have written a book, which I will recommend to you, as Maria did. It is A Chip Off What Block? with a question mark, because I did not know what block I was a chip off in those days. Anyway, I have written my life story, A Chip Off What Block? To me, the apology does not mean anything except to say, ‘That did happen to you.’ People I have spoken to who have read my book actually say to me, ‘Laurie, I’ve known you for 30 years, and I didn’t know you.’ So that is what an apology says to me.

As far as the redress, the governments that have done it should be congratulated, and I believe the other state governments should do it, but it would be an awfully hard thing to get Commonwealth redress. It is far better for forgotten Australians to come out with something that will help them with their health or their future, rather than getting into a long process, and that includes, in my opinion, the royal commission. We have had enough inquiries. It is evidence. Counsellors will tell you today that new stories and new inquiries getting in the press does not help because it only revives old memories. As far as I am concerned, let’s act on the ones we have already had and all the stuff we know about. You have been told it all. You have got it in writing. Act upon it. Don’t let’s go down the track of saying, ‘Let’s have a royal commission.’ That is my view. You have asked for it, so that is it.

CHAIR —Thank you very much. You did a great job.

[12.10 pm]