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Implementation of the recommendations of the Lost Innocents and Forgotten Australians reports

CHAIR —Welcome to the inquiry. Information on parliamentary privilege and the protection of witnesses and evidence has been provided to you. As public servants, you will not be asked issues about policy development. It will be more about the implementation of that policy and senators will try very hard to keep their questions within that range. Sometimes we fail. We have your submission, thank you very much. I invite any or all of you to make an opening comment and then we will go into questions.

Ms Withers —I am following on from the submission. As you aware, the applications opened on 1 May and will close on 30 April this year, so very soon. The intention is that we will process and close down by the end of 2010. At the moment, that is dependent on how many applications we get and how much we can crank up the process, but we honestly do not know.

At the moment there is a bit of a debate but I think there are 2,062 applications registered on the database. I understand there are a couple of hundred waiting to be put in. We are getting about 200 a week at the moment. It looks like we will make three to 3½ thousand. Of those, at the moment—and these figures are very interim—there is a good representation of Indigenous people. At least 922 people have identified themselves as Indigenous. There is also quite a large group who have not ticked the box either way, so it is hard to know where that group will fall. Four hundred and sixty-two are child migrant identified. The age range is markedly in the 40 to 80 range. There is a very big skewing in that range.

I think you are aware that we are offering two levels of payment, one $10,000 and another $80,000. Our eligibility—and I am comparing with Tasmania and Queensland as the two most relevant schemes—is broader. We will acknowledge anyone who was in care that was the state’s responsibility, so that covers state institutions, foster care and also institutions run by our agents. I am also aware that our $80,000 payment is the most generous in Australia.

I think you would also be aware that support is offered and CBERS, from whom you have had evidence this morning, is one of the agencies that we have contracted. We have contracts with agencies the entire length of Western Australia. We are paying reasonably generously for support for people while they apply. We are also now looking at support for them while they wait. We will probably be looking at a community development model for that support. We will also be looking at the issue of giving people their statements of decision and how that will be done.

We are also offering people $1,000 towards legal costs because we expect them, if they accept a payment, to sign a waiver indemnifying the state and we want to make sure that they do understand what that means. I do not know if you have heard that we have been advertising very widely, including on television, which turned out to be surprisingly more cost effective than I thought. It is, I think, the very best way to get to the group that have been identified as hard to get to.

We believe that the Indigenous applicants are accessible. There are some issues about people in the regions, but the Indigenous community seems in comparison to be reasonably well networked. The child migrants are reasonably well networked. The other groups are not and they are very hard to get to. That is why we were so pleased with the television advertising. We believe that that is a way of getting to people, and certainly once the advertisements started, the calls to the help desk doubled and the applications have been flowing in.

The only other issue that I would like to cover is that we are feeling our way in creating this scheme. The people who created it I think did a very good job. I think that they gave us enough money support to support applicants through the process, and funded us generously for the quantum, depending on the number of applicants that we have. We have some advantages, in that we have a specialist team of records people headed up by a senior archivist who did a lot of the work on the stolen wages report, which is currently being considered by cabinet. Dr Joanna Sassoon is heading up a team who are looking at the records. I was not here this morning but I understand the issue of records came up. They are very complicated and I think there are 13 spots, aren’t there?

Ms O’Reilly —Thirteen different agencies where individuals can go to get information about themselves.

Ms Withers —We have online access to a lot of those databases. We already had a lot of MOUs, but Dr Sassoon has been developing a lot more. She also knows where a lot of records are that we did not know about. So we are accessing the records on behalf of applicants, and we have always made it really clear that people do not need their records to apply for redress but we will get them for them.

There are a constellation of advantages from redress. Money for a lot of people is not that important. What I would like to do is give people in their statement of decision a list of all the databases we accessed and where we found records of them. In other words, it is a little map where they can go and look for their history. A lot of people already have their history, but a surprising number do not. To a lot of people, that is terribly important, as I am sure you have heard from other people.

We are also, as I think you have seen in Marilyn’s report, going to give people a statement of decision, which will lay out our reasons and their story and will explain to a certain extent why we are giving them the amount of money that we are. We hope that that will be a validation and a confirmation of their story. It will also have a lot of historical context in it, so that people can put their story in a setting.

There are a lot of issues that we have not worked out. We are looking at our scale and how we will make the payments. We are gathering our panel and they will validate the work. The way our system will work is that, when people apply, we seek their records. We have senior redress officers—and Marilyn is one of them and Trish is their supervisor—who will contact applicants. We will gather material from applicants. The applications of course vary dramatically in their quality. Some of them are almost complete when they arrive; others are three lines, like, ‘I was hit in care.’ We do not want the quality of people’s applications to dramatically determine how much money they get, so we are trying to level the playing field.

We have a team of lawyers—and Peter is their head—who will take the material given to them, which will include a psych report for people who are to get more than the $10,000, so we will be looking for evidence of psychological damage and post-traumatic stress. All of that material will go to the lawyers. They will make up a statement of decision. That statement of decision will go a panel for confirmation. Peter and his team are the decision makers but the panel will validate, oversight and QA their work. People will then get their statement of decision and an offer, and the money to see a lawyer. They will get a couple of months to make a decision to accept the offer or not. Once they have signed the waiver and accepted the offer, they will get a letter of apology from the minister, laying out our regret at what occurred to them. We are aware that that whole process is, as I say, traumatic and difficult and we are looking at options to support people through it.

Senator HUMPHRIES —What if they do not accept the offer?

Ms Withers —That is their right. Our scheme, because it is ex gratia, is not appealable in the normal sense of the word. However, we are very conscious of our obligation as public servants to be both transparent and accountable, so we hope to tell people why we have done what we have done, and we expect and welcome scrutiny. There is actually no appeal on the quantum. People can say that they believe that we have made an error and that we have not taken certain factors into account. We will have a complaints process where, if they do not believe our offer is appropriate, they will be able to lodge a complaint. We will look at that. If we believe that it is justified, well, obviously we have made an error. If not, they will have the right to go to the State Ombudsman, but that is only on a matter of administrative error. However, I suppose that a Supreme Court judge can decide to hear anything that he or she wants to. But the scheme is not appealable in the true sense of the word. That is my understanding at the moment.

We are hoping that people will take our statements and believe that they are both a validation of their story and a good piece of work. I think you are aware that we paid out 82 interim payments. We are refining and improving the process all the time. Did anybody else want to add anything? Have or missed or underemphasised anything?

Mr Bayman —The independent review panel will have a senior legal person as the presiding member. It will include people with social work and psychological experience and also support group representatives. That is really the first line of appeal. If that group of people, who will be very independent, feel there was something wrong and that we did not cover a particular area, they will send it back and say, ‘Look, we don’t think you got it right.’ So in a sense, although there is no appeal on quantum ultimately to the court, there is the independent review panel, the internal redress complaint process and then the complaint process to the Ombudsman.

As Ms Withers said, it is arguable that somebody could lodge an application in the Supreme Court. They could not have the quantum reconsidered but they could possibly, if a judge felt it was reasonable, have the decision sent back to the department to be redone.

Senator HUMPHRIES —On an ADJR basis, presumably.

Mr Bayman —Yes, very much so.

Ms O’Reilly —I wanted to reiterate that it is a 12-month scheme, and what we have tried to do is learn from the international schemes and the national schemes and ensure that we are providing a healing process. Certainly with Redress WA, we are saying that we acknowledge that, for each individual, that’s how it was for them. Then we are also saying, ‘Give us your information and we will make it better; we will try and put some healing and compassion back into this experience.’

Dr Rock —One point I would like to raise, which I think is of concern to the scheme, is the incredible skew that we have with the ages of applicants. There are a lot of people who are going to miss out, but this seems to reflect what we found in the inquiries, which is that it is not until decades later that people really hit the wall, so to speak, when their experiences of care come back to haunt them. Eighty-seven per cent of applicants, as Stephanie said, are above the age of 40. Below that, from 18 to 40, the figure is only 13 per cent.

CHAIR —Was that a surprise?

Dr Rock —No, not so much to me, because I had quite a bit of experience on the committees. But it is a point of concern, because there are so many people who are missing out. Once again, Aboriginals and child migrants make up the bulk of the applicants, so it is that core of people who are non-child migrants and non-Aboriginal community members who are missing out, because they are not ‘organised’. They do not have organisations like the trust. Of course, the stolen generation are resourced quite handsomely in comparison to the others.

Senator SIEWERT —In terms of the group that is missing out—and I may be asking a policy question, and I will get pinged—has any consideration been given to expanding the deadline, recognising, as it sounds as though you do, that there is a group that you have not got to yet? I am not saying you have not tried, because you obviously have.

Ms Withers —Our minister is quite concerned about this issue. At the moment she is taking the very strong stand that we should close down when we said we would, process the applications and move on.

Senator SIEWERT —I realise I am now venturing into an area—

CHAIR —You are.

Senator SIEWERT —where I am going to get pinged, but I want to clarify the concern. She is concerned that there is a group that is missing out?

Ms Withers —No. She is concerned that we administer the scheme tightly, that we close applications on the date advertised, that we do a prompt and competent job of processing those applications and that the scheme terminates at the time planned for.

Dr Rock —Even if the scheme were to be extended, I think this group of people will still miss out.

Senator SIEWERT —I appreciate what you are saying. You were here, I think, when Associate Professor Harries was saying that they are trying to get other groups going to provide access or advice or become a contact point for the group that sounds like it is specifically missing out. I think Tasmania has just extended their scheme. I am not here lobbying for you to extend yours—that is a different job—but it is being recognised in other states that perhaps the deadline needs to be extended to help the particular group that is missing out.

Another point that CBERS Consultancy made this morning was about the records. It sounds like people are hesitating to put in their applications because they feel that they have not been able to get access to their records. What you are saying is that people should be encouraged to put in their applications and then you will find the records later.

Ms Withers —And we have made that very clear and all of our material says that. I can understand why people want their records, but I do not think the system is resourced to provide them all before the closing date, whereas we are resourced to find them all for people post the closing date and we have made it clear we are willing to do that. We have no reason to hide anything. I should also add that there is very little on file that either confirms or denies a lot of these stories. We almost never find any corroboration, which you would understand.

Senator SIEWERT —They are not exactly going to put a lot of that abuse on record, are they?

Ms Withers —They are not.

Senator SIEWERT —But the point that was made was that the records would confirm whether you were a ward, for example.

Ms Withers —Most of the time we do find evidence of that because, apart from anything else, you can find the financial records for the subsidies. We are finding that we have terrific cooperation from all the religious bodies. Where they have the information, they are letting us have access to it in a very generous way, so we can almost always find a record that a child was in the institution that they say they were in. We may not find admission and departure records, but we will find something that corroborates that they were there. We will find quite reliably the records of people being made wards of the state and we will find subsidy records. We are not looking for every last little piece of information about every person. We obviously have some basics. We need to know they were in care; we need to know roughly the dates; we need to know identities. But we are not having that much trouble finding that.

Ms O’Reilly —We are saying, ‘Give us what you’ve got and we’ll make it better.’ It does not happen that a government department says that, and I think people are finding that really difficult. That is why, as part of our scheme, when we have found that information, part of the senior redress officer’s role is to take that back to the individual. We are not here to cause more trauma, we are here to try and make this process as compassionate and as healing as possible. It is a very different concept for people to get their heads around.

Ms Withers —We have had one instance that particularly sticks in my mind, which I cannot be too clear about because of confidentiality, where one of our senior redress officers found out a whole pile of really very important information for a woman who was dying. It was about things that would make her feel a lot better—let’s put it that way—so we made an arrangement with the Department for Child Protection to process an application from her for access to her records on the same day. We were able to give her that information, which I think was a great comfort to her. So, yes, we are finding out things that are very significant to people and we are sharing them with them when we believe that it is really important for them to have that information about themselves.

CHAIR —Ms Withers, I have got one question to follow up on the relationship between the office and the organisations who actually did provide care. Is there a legal requirement for them to provide the information to you?

Ms Withers —No.

CHAIR —Why not? It is a very direct question: why not?

Mr Bayman —I suppose I should answer that.


Mr Bayman —We have no legislative base. So we have no way of requiring anybody to produce any information to us. What we operate from is the applicant’s signature to give us permission to go to another government agency or a non-government agency and request information from them. That is all we have. We have no other power to compel.

CHAIR —So the whole system of redress is based on the issue that an applicant comes to you with a statement that they were in care and they are seeking redress. Part of the deal that you have promoted is that you are going to provide these records to them, but you have no legal right to go to an organisation and say, ‘We must have these records because we are doing this service as part of our job.’

Ms Withers —No, we are not providing the records to the applicant, we are accessing the records to—

CHAIR —From what you have told us—and I have been listening very carefully—I got that you as an organisation, in giving your decision, were going to provide to the applicant the information about the records that were kept and where they were.

Ms Withers —We will give them a list of the databases we have accessed and in which database we have found a record of them, so they can then go and look for themselves.

CHAIR —Okay.

Ms Withers —We are not giving the records back to the people, only insofar as they will be part of a statement of decision which says that the records show that Mary Smith was in the home of the Good Shepherd from this date to this date et cetera, which is part of our audit trail to make an appropriate payment.

CHAIR —So you can provide that. This record stuff has the devil dust from the first time we started getting involved in this inquiry, in my case and in Senator Humphries’ case, five years ago. People have told us that they have difficulty in accessing any records, and the way that you are describing your system indicates this is going to be a step in giving them this information. My ears pricked up when I heard you use the term ‘provided generously by organisations’. I now understand why it is described as ‘generously’, because they do not have to. It comes back down to how you get these records. There has been an agreement in some way at the state level that organisations are providing those to the state government, but they do not have to.

Ms Withers —No.

CHAIR —So if you are seeking information about someone who has made an application and you cannot find that record because the organisation says they do not have it, that is the end of the story as far as the redress goes?

Ms Withers —No, because we have access to a lot of information that is not dependent on the churches, who we are talking about by and large here. There is a whole pile of other records which are actually state government records which we have online and easy access to. Trish, you are probably better qualified.

Ms O’Reilly —Redress is an option for people. They can go through the court system or they can come to Redress as another option. But what we do at Redress is acknowledge their story. We acknowledge what it was for them. So we actually do not need to go to records to find proof that, yes, they were sexually abused four or five times or 100 times. It is not in the records anyway.

CHAIR —That will not be.

Ms O’Reilly —What we use the records for is to confirm that they were in a placement that was funded or recognised by the state government.

Dr Rock —Just to build up a whole picture of their time in care.

Ms Withers —Yes. There is an enormous amount of material about what happened in those institutions, and some of it you have heard mentioned this morning. For an historical context, we do not have to go very far. One of the jobs that senior redress officers are doing is establishing an historical context for each institution for each 10 years, so that we can slot people in. If people come along with stories that are roughly the same—although they do vary; they are not suspiciously the same—we know what happened in various places at various times. It is not a surprise to us what they tell us.

As Trish said, we believe people. Our experience is that people are telling us the truth. The whole point about redress is that so many of these people were not believed, which is quite astonishing when you read their stories about how many people they told and no-one believed them. One of our very important issues is to say to people, ‘Yes, we know you’re telling the truth.’ We are not asking for corroboration, for proof, because we are not going to get it. Where people are, for instance, in foster placement or less historically established situations, we will probably try harder, because we need to leave an audit trail and we need to look like we have done a decent job of accessing whatever is available. Nevertheless, our first response is to say, ‘Yes, we believe you.’

Senator SIEWERT —How will you be determining the scale?

Mr Bayman —I should preface my answer by saying—and I will not use the word ‘Bibles’, but guides—that the previous Senate inquiries have provided really the major bulk of what I would call evidence, of a kind, that we will use as a basis for our decisions, because when we say that we cannot find on the records proof of abuse—the abusers did not write down in their logbook for the day, ‘I sodomised Johnny,’ or, ‘I belted the hell out of this child’—we do not have that evidence, but what we do know from the hundreds, possibly thousands, of people that have been interviewed—and the evidence has been collected by the Senate committees—is that there is a huge amount of information.

So people present their stories and we compare that with the information, as Stephanie said, that we are collecting in terms of what happened in particular periods of time, because often an institution might have run very well with a particular superintendent for a very short period of time and then a new person turns up and it all goes bad again. So we put that all together and essentially say, ‘On the balance of probabilities, it was very likely this person was abused.’ Once we are over that hurdle, then we look at, ‘What was the severity of harm?’ I am not sure whether the committee has seen our redress guidelines, which we had published to the web. It is this document. Essentially it covers how we operate as an agency.

Once we get over all the issues about eligibility—obviously you have to have been over 18 and been in care before a certain time in 2006, and we need evidence that you were in a particular facility—and look at what we have found and establish on the balance of probabilities that it was likely the person was abused, then we ask the person, if they have not already provided it, if they are willing to go for a psychological assessment. If they do not want to, then we can only consider them up to $10,000. If they are happy to do that, they will go off for a psychological assessment and then we will use that information, along with all the other information that we have collected, to determine what the severity of the harm and the impact on them was. That is extremely difficult.

CHAIR —Who pays for that psychological assessment?

Mr Bayman —We do.

Senator SIEWERT —Do you take into account their past, if they have already been accessing counselling and psychological support?

Dr Rock —Yes.

Senator SIEWERT —You take that into consideration? We have met a number of people who have been seeking support for some time and have made very significant progress through counselling. They could have been addressing the harm previously.

Mr Bayman —Yes. I arrived at Redress after the basic drafts had been written for the guidelines. Cabinet had already approved the cap on the level of payment and the two options, level 1 and level 2, so we did not have any discretion in terms of that. We had no discretion in terms of how we were going to assess people, so it was based on, very typically, a legal model of pain and suffering.

If you have a motor vehicle accident and you take your matter to the court and say, ‘I had whiplash, I had this, I had that,’ the court will be able to take into account things that they call ‘special damages’, which are medical, hospital and physiotherapy. But all the other things about how that accident has affected you, which is generally called pain and suffering, are called ‘general damages’. The way a court looks at them is in terms of the severity, so the most severe impact gets the most amount of money.

Some people would suggest that that is not a fair way of doing it. That was approved by our cabinet, so we do not have a choice in that. I researched the Irish and Canadian schemes, as well as those in Queensland and Tasmania, and looked at the various scales that they were using. They all use a scale based pretty much on a severity of minimum to maximum. Each of the scales can be criticised. I do not think anybody has done any research on the scales to see whether they are internally valid, as a psychologist may consider looking at scales of such a kind.

The Irish scheme has a greater weighting on the actual abuse that occurred. From memory, it is up to 30 per cent for the type of abuse and then the rest of the scores are broken into the sorts of impacts that occur, such as psychological illness or loss of opportunity and those sorts of things. The Canadian schemes use various models. Queensland, I think, are still trying to decide what model they are going to use. Tasmania uses a model which we have favoured because it tries to look at the whole application holistically. In other words, if you are a person who is very resilient, and you experienced the same thing as your brother or your friend at a particular institution, you might have dealt with that in a different way because you have a different personality type or you may have had more support. It is very hard to compare people, even when they are in the same place at the same time. So we are not giving a greater weighting to the type of abuse. We are looking at the overall story of what happened to you, what were the impacts and what you might need in the coming years.

We are still working on the final scale. The scale which we have published, and I will hand up a copy, is fairly simple. It is from one to 10. We are talking to people who have a great deal of expertise in this area. We have child protection specialists and others. We are looking at the latest research. What we want to do is come up with the fairest system that we can. Unfortunately, we have to put somebody somewhere on the scale, and that is a very difficult thing to do. We certainly hope that the final scale that we come up with, which will match the scale in our guidelines which the minister has approved, will be able to meet those goals.

Ms O’Reilly —We have to do that, because it was decided in cabinet that this was the type of scheme we would have. We look at Queensland, where, if you have been in care, you get a flat rate for the initial payment. There are lots of different schemes and lots of different pros and cons for doing something like that. As Peter said, it is very hard when you have to put an individual on a scale. It is very subjective.

Senator SIEWERT —I might come back to the scale. I looked at the guidelines earlier on, but I have not looked at them for a little while.

CHAIR —Senator Humphries, do you have some questions? Then we can go back to you, Senator Siewert.

Senator HUMPHRIES —I might start by saying, for the record, that I am very grateful that you have appeared today. We have had some difficulty getting other government agencies to appear.

CHAIR —One, Senator Humphries.

Senator HUMPHRIES —Yes, let’s be fair, one particular government. I am glad we have had the chance to have you. I think you are entitled to come before us and explain a scheme which, frankly, appears to me to be a very good scheme. It is well designed, and the accessing of it seems to be very much attuned to acknowledging the difficulties people have in making the decision to step across your doorstep. I think you have designed this very well, and I want to commend you on what I have seen of it.

I notice that the scale requires ongoing symptoms or problems to be evident. I wonder whether a person who has, in the past, had serious symptoms but has been able to overcome them would be unfairly excluded from access to the scheme on that basis?

Senator SIEWERT —That is where I was coming from with my previous question.

Mr Bayman —We will certainly take it into account. We are trying to design a scale which sits alongside that. We did not want to design a scale and then publish it so that it became essentially a cheat sheet. I am not suggesting that people would do that, because I am absolutely amazed at the frankness of people. People have not embellished their stories and obviously—I will use Mr Humphreys’ example—nobody knew what happened at Bindoon in 1942. People have not told lies about what happened to them. We did not want to have a sheet that made it a bit more difficult for people, so they could say, ‘I’ll get 80,000 if I say these four things.’

So the scale is designed to take account of all the issues. It will be quite complex. It will take account of the age a person was when they came into care, their age when they left care, whether they had contact with their family, how long they were in care and the type of abuse that they experienced. Another section will look at the impacts on people and whether they have had treatment in the past and how that has worked out for them. But, yes, it is difficult.

Ms Withers —Yes. We are not wanting to punish people for resilience, because we are aware that that is probably one of the faults of the very legalistic approach. I must admit we have not been inundated with people who have had successful counselling and got over their problems.

Senator SIEWERT —It is not necessarily getting over their problems but when it has helped.

Ms Withers —We have not been inundated with them either. We may be taking a bit of a dark view, considering we have processed 82 interim payments, because they are the oldest and are really ill. Yes, those 82 really have not been that flash.

Senator HUMPHRIES —It was in the other area of government policy, and you were essentially saying, ‘You can get $10,000 for ticking a box saying, “I was in an institution and I was abused.” No further evidence required.’ You would be in trouble with auditors.

Ms Withers —Yes.

Senator HUMPHRIES —In this area, it is entirely appropriate, in my view, and should be supported. Why do you think you have such a low rate of take-up? You think there are 54,000 people who would have been through institutions and only, what, 2½ thousand have made applications, do you say?

Ms Withers —I am not 100 per cent sure how accurate that 54,000 is, to be honest, when you ask people exactly how they arrived at that figure. I would not swear to that. There were roughly 3,000 child migrants—I think 2,900—and we have been told that at least 1,000 of those have passed away. There were about the same number of classic stolen generation, and at least 1,000 of them have passed away. I am not sure how we can estimate how many applications we are going to get. I met this morning with an actuary to try to work out what the cost of the 3½ thousand applications is, and we were discussing that there are not really any charts or predictive models to tell us. What you are asking is: ‘Of children in care, what percentage are abused?’ Does anybody know? Over a 60-year-old time period, it is impossible to estimate, I think.

Senator HUMPHRIES —Sure.

Ms O’Reilly —We have gone the length and breadth of the state, more so than any other state government in Australia, to provide information forums, workshops and radio and TV interviews, so we have done as much as we possibly can to reach this group of people. For people that have been in care, certainly from my experience—and I think Marilyn said the same—it is not till they get to a certain stage in their life where they are actually ready to look at this and make a difference in their lives. I have had a number of people that have looked at me and have thrown the application back at me, people in their 20s and 30s, and said, ‘Do you think I’m going to fill this in, tell you my story, and you slap me in the face yet again?’ It is a staged process. People have to be ready to actually put in their applications.

Senator SIEWERT —Which goes back to my original question: why cut if off in April?

Mr Bayman —I think also with the stats that we have, the large proportion of people are over 40. If you look back 35 to 40 years, the whole residential child-care industry in this state changed dramatically in the early seventies. Groups formed their own residential child-care consultative committee, I think it was called, and the leaders of the non-government groups basically banded together. They knocked down the orphanages, built group homes and put professional social workers and psychologists into the facilities.

I am not suggesting for one minute that children were not abused in the last 40 years but the institutional care, which was terrible, to say the least, previous to 1970, certainly started to improve dramatically, so possibly we are not seeing the numbers of people who suffered what I refer to as institutional care. They tended not to be treated like inmates any more, they were case-managed, and that might have some impact.

Senator HUMPHRIES —We hope that is true.

Mr Bayman —I live in hope.

Ms Withers —Also, you are aware that there is now a new system in this state for dealing with children who have been abused in care and that we cut off at 2006. Effectively, children who make allegations about abuse are given their own lawyers. You know more about that Trish.

Ms O’Reilly —Yes, and we have a duty of care unit set up within the Department for Child Protection, so there is much more individual support for people who allege that they have been abused in care.

Ms Withers —They are automatically referred for legal advice and, because of the statute of limitations, that goes back from 2006. So that new system where children are immediately handed over to their own lawyer will presumably take away the need for redress for those ones post 2006 or in the few years before that.

Senator SIEWERT —I take your point. I still think that there are a lot of people in the system who for various reasons have not yet accessed the scheme. I am not sure if you were here when the issues were raised this morning—they were certainly raised yesterday—about people having a great distrust of, in a lot of instances, the church based care providers. For example, the point was made that they do not want to go anywhere near the service that provided their care and they have also said they do not want to go anywhere near government, because they were wards of the state and therefore they have concerns about approaching the government as well.

I am particularly concerned still about the whole records issue. I appreciate that you are saying you will do the searching of the records, but then there is a trust thing there as well. They are going to the people or the institution that was responsible overall. The government was responsible for them overall and the government is saying, ‘Fill out this form and we’ll look at your records for you.’ The issue of trust has come up again and again. People are not wanting to fill in forms and give them to you. I am not casting aspersions on you or the scheme, but that is about trust. I suspect if they thought they could access the records themselves, that might be a first step for them.

Ms Withers —They can. This state has quite a sophisticated records accessing process.

Ms O’Reilly —Within the Department for Child Protection we have the Family Information Records Bureau, where you can apply to get your records back.

Senator SIEWERT —I understand there is a backlog. You have a backlog and there is a backlog there. I am interpreting, sorry, that there is a backlog, and that may mean that they will not be able to get access to their records to enable them to complete their applications themselves and get them in by April.

Ms Withers —Yes, and we accept that that is a problem. However, they have to accept that we have online access and we will be looking for those records. We have made it really clear to them that we will find those records. Also they need to understand that, in the vast majority of cases, there is not a huge amount to find. We are scratching and we are getting pretty good. Our record-searching people under Dr Sassoon are pretty good, so I think the problem is more apparent than real.

Senator SIEWERT —I understand what you are saying, but you are also dealing with a group of people that are traumatised and have huge distrust. As you said, they have often not had the same access to education as people who were not in care, so they have a poor educational background. They are a group of people that have been distrustful of the system since they have been in care.

Ms Withers —We have also spent quite a lot of money paying agencies to go out and find these people and assist them with applications. A lot of people have used those services which we have provided.

Senator SIEWERT —That was one of my next questions. We have obviously talked to people from CBERS this morning, who were service providers, as I understand it. I presume there are other organisations that you fund.

Ms O’Reilly —Yes, there are many. We have Relationships Australia, the Aboriginal Legal Service, Aboriginal healing centres, as in Dumbartung, Incest Survivors, a number of organisations that are non-government community based organisations. What is the one down in the Great Southern area?

Ms Withers —We can send a list through to the committee, because we have hired a lot of small, quite local providers in the regional areas, because we figured that they would have better access. We have also hired some prison based organisations and some disability based organisations. We can send a complete record through.

Senator SIEWERT —That would be appreciated.

Ms O’Reilly —We have an officer outsourced in the prisons department, who can take applications in all the prisons. To avoid getting caught up with all the bureaucracy of prisons, we thought we would have people there that they could go and see. We also have a couple of social workers on the end of a 1800 line, so anyone anywhere can ring up and get their application filled out over the phone. We have really tried to do as much as we can.

Dr Rock —On this point, CLAN—the Care Leavers of Australia Network—are one of our service providers too. They deal with people who live out of Western Australia but were brought up in care in Western Australia, so they can access CLAN to get application assistance.

Ms O’Reilly —With our latest stats, there are something like 270-odd people from outside of Western Australia that have applied, so the message is getting out there. We put ads in international newspapers. We have really made a huge effort.

Ms Withers —They deliberately put us in Communities and not in Child Protection so that they were not dealing with the agency that they could blame for abusing them. But, yes, we are the bureaucracy. As cuddly as we are trying to be, we are still the bureaucracy. We accept that, but we are bending over backwards.

Dr Rock —Trust is a very big issue, as you said, and it is one of the reasons why people will not apply, I know. But in my experience as a senior redress officer—so far there are four of us and we often go out and help people with their applications and we actually do applications if they ring through to Redress—people are amazed at the level of support that they get. I do not know how many times applicants have said to me, ‘I can’t believe I am dealing with a government department.’ So the staff are fantastic. They are all totally on the side of the applicants and a great majority of those applicants are really quite amazed at the level of support and compassion they are getting. Yes, it is fantastic.

Senator SIEWERT —You said you were looking at providing support while applicants wait.

Ms Withers —Yes, we probably will be engaging a community development model, which probably plugs into some of the evidence that I heard being given, because we have had a bit of a look at what kinds of models are successful in supporting care leavers. They obviously are community based, trust based, group-strengthening models. We are looking at that to provide group support across the state for people while they wait. It is at the relatively early stages still, but we are negotiating with a private not-for-profit organisation which offers that service across the state.

Senator SIEWERT —Presumably you will make an announcement about that as the application period closes. Is that the idea?

Ms Withers —Yes, we hope to. Now that we have all their names and addresses, we will be communicating very frequently with our applicants, because we are aware that some of them have fairly unrealistic expectations about how quickly we are going to pay them. So we would like to keep up a really constant stream of communication. We will be encouraging the service providers to also communicate with people and manage their expectations.

Ms O’Reilly —We will also keep open the 1800 number and have social workers on the end of that line to offer assistance or counselling over the phone.

Senator SIEWERT —Thank you.

Senator HUMPHRIES —In light of the time, I will just ask one question. When cabinet was putting this together, was any approach made to any of the agencies in Western Australia who had been providing this kind of care—to the partners in the scheme—to contribute to the cost of the scheme?

Ms Withers —No, not as far as we know.

Ms O’Reilly —There was a public meeting that the minister held with all major stakeholders to get input from them. That was in October 2007. Then the scheme was announced in December 2007.

Senator HUMPHRIES —It did not lead to any greater participation in this scheme. Do those providers play any role in the scheme today?

Ms O’Reilly —The interesting thing about this scheme is that our staff has actually changed over about 150 per cent, but we, and especially Stephanie, are making a huge effort to engage major stakeholders and work with them on a regular basis. People have been fantastic.

Senator HUMPHRIES —Thank you.

CHAIR —Through the generous provisions of records.

Senator HUMPHRIES —Yes.

CHAIR —Does anyone from your group have anything to do with the memorial project, or is that totally separate?

Ms Withers —That is totally separate, run by the Department for Child Protection. It is a memorial for all children in care. Those who were abused are a subset of that, so we have contributed, as you saw in the submission, some money but it is being managed out of child protection.

CHAIR —Thank you for your evidence and thank you for the guidelines that you provided today. I know that Senator Siewert in particular will be following the Western Australian experience very closely. The committee is now suspended until Monday, when we will be in Brisbane. Thank you very much.

Committee adjourned at 1.04 pm