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STANDING COMMITTEE ON COMMUNITY AFFAIRS
06/04/2009
Implementation of the recommendations of the Lost Innocents and Forgotten Australians reports

CHAIR —Welcome. We have your submission. I invite you to make an opening statement and then we will ask questions.

Mr Collins —My name at birth was actually Vincent Tough. I was born in September 1953. In May 1954, my father chose to place me at St Vincent’s Home for Children at Nudgee because he felt that he could not look after me or my brothers and sisters properly. I suppose that is the best way of saying that. He placed me in there again in 1955, and then in 1957 the state decided that we would become wards of the state. I spent close to 10 years at Nudgee Orphanage. There I was abused in ways that I do not think any real person who has never been abused can really understand. It was emotional; it was physical. It was a lot of different abuses. That is what it boiled down to.

In 1967, I was fostered out to a Mrs Kane. I was physically, emotionally and sexually abused. This was at the behest of the Queensland government. Sorry, I will have to call it by its right name: the State Children’s Department decided that I should be fostered to a Mrs Kane, who was well into her 60s. Previously, she had fostered out another boy, but at that particular time her husband was alive. I do not know what happened there, but the fact is that her husband was alive so that boy probably got better treatment. I believe Mrs Kane assumed that I would be like the other boy; I was not. Morally, sexually, physically or whatever, I was a little boy—as tall as my little finger. I was not ‘that’ tall. You know what I mean.

CHAIR —I do.

Mr Collins —She had quite a few expectations, and I could not live up to those expectations. I stayed there for almost 15 months and then I was eventually returned to Nudgee Orphanage for a few weeks, and then from Nudgee Orphanage I went to BoysTown. I did not stay long at BoysTown. I did not like the place. I absconded. In fact, I did more than that. I actually did a break-in at the local golf club, and I was charged with being uncontrollable. From there I went to Westbrook Boys Home. I have to seriously say that at Westbrook I felt more in charge than I did while I was under the governance of the Sisters of Mercy in foster care. There was a man—and it is going to be interesting to say this name—Terry Sullivan—

CHAIR —Just to put that clearly on the record, I take it that you are referring to another Terry Sullivan.

Mr Collins —He was in charge of Westbrook at the time, and he gave me the right to start respecting myself. But I do not want to go into that. I am going to read this statement word for word, if you do not mind.

CHAIR —Of course not.

Mr Collins —I was finally released as a ward of the state on my 18th birthday. But I do know what abuse is, and I do know what the abuse of power is. I do not want to speak to this inquiry about what happened to me in my former years. That is not what this inquiry is about; it is about what is going on today. I do not see institutional abuse as just bricks and mortar. I see institutional abuse within the more sociological framework of family, church and government, for example. When I talk about abuse in this context, I refer to the actions, policies and tactics used by people who are in positions of power and who act in an abusive self-seeking manner. Within the structure of Lotus Place there are people who abuse their power and who are given unbridled support by the Australian Labor government here, in Queensland. I have already made mention of one such person in my previous correspondence—Mr Terry Sullivan, former chair of the Board of Advice, Forde Foundation. The other person is Ms Karyn Walsh, who is the coordinator and matriarch of Micah, the Esther Centre and the Historical Abuse Network—better known as HAN. I believe it would be fair to say that she is also the guiding force behind Allan Allaway, the Queensland representative of the Alliance of the Forgotten Australians.

I consider two of these three people I have just mentioned—Mr Terry Sullivan and Ms Karyn Walsh—as morally and ethically corrupt. Furthermore, I believe the Queensland Labor government, under the leadership of Premier Anna Bligh and her ministers, has acted in a morally and ethically corrupt manner by supporting the continued abuse of former residents by those I have mentioned above. These people, and hence the organisations they control, have implemented a very simple strategy: treat them like mushrooms; keep them in the dark and feed them bullshit—sorry about the language. If any former resident should question or disagree with them, they are ignored, ostracised or, as in my case, victimised.

It says on the website that Emmaline Harris represents former residents of institutions. Emmaline has never been in an institution. She cannot represent us. She was a foster child. There is a little bit of anger here, isn’t there?

CHAIR —As long as we link it to the recommendations that we are looking at, Mr Collins.

Mr Collins —As a former resident, I ask the inquiry to seriously consider the very serious concerns before you release your report. Terry Sullivan does not understand. He is a teacher and a politician. That is what Terry Sullivan is. Karyn Walsh may have a heart of gold, but she has become a matriarch. That is the reality of it.

I note that many recommendations of the forgotten Australians inquiry are very similar to those of the Forde inquiry. They are good recommendations, but they can only be enforced if we, the forgotten Australians, can trust those who are responsible for the implementation of those recommendations. Unfortunately, at this time I do not.

Furthermore, I wish to make this inquiry aware of one extremely sensitive fact. The majority of us forgotten Australians are not of the stolen generation. The majority of us former residents of institutional abuse are white Anglo-Saxon European children, yet we were treated as harshly as, if not more so, those of the stolen generation. It was our people who inflicted such heinous abuse on their own and still do.

I do not like being critical simply for the sake of being critical. Indeed, given the time and resources I prefer to seek other options that may work more satisfactorily. Institutional abuse has and will always be a reality. Unfortunately, that is the nature of man. To minimise the long-term effects of abuse is our challenge. I have pet theories, many professional people have pet theories and many more just do not give a damn, but the harm caused by institutional abuse must be minimised.

The Queensland government has not adhered to the spirit of the recommendations of the Forgotten Australians inquiry. Indeed, it has not the ability to adapt to the changing circumstances of the recommendation of its own Forde report. Over time, former residents’ priorities will change. It is, I believe, time for us former residents to take control of our own lives, but we will need the same financial and moral support, at least in the short to medium term, as given to those who could never relate to those of us who were institutionalised. The Alliance for Forgotten Australians will fare no better in meeting the needs of the forgotten Australians than has the Queensland government. I used the term ‘morally and ethically corrupt’—actually, I almost like it—because I believe that the people we are talking about, Terry Sullivan and Karyn, have lost the plot, and that is really what it boils down to. I believe that we have to take charge here. It is time for us to take charge.

CHAIR —Thank you, Mr Collins. Is that the end of your opening statement?

Mr Collins —That will do, yes.

CHAIR —You do realise that your statements are now public and that Mr Sullivan, Ms Walsh and other people who are named will have the ability to come back.

Mr Collins —Certainly.

CHAIR —You knew that when you started—I know that.

Mr Collins —I did.

Senator HUMPHRIES —You make reference in your submission to $2 million of the Forde Foundation’s money being squandered. What do you mean by that?

Mr Collins —Before the financial downturn, going back about 12 months—in fact, it was just after the first financial downturn had happened—I wrote a letter to Terry Sullivan asking that we protect our principal. We had $4.5 million, and I said, ‘Terry, we need to protect that principal.’ Terry basically said, ‘It’s not something that we are interested in.’ I am not sure of the exact words; I wish I had the paperwork. He basically said it was up to the Public Trustee, but we had the right to at least make the recommendation. That is what it boils down to. We had the right to say to the Public Trustee, ‘We wish you to freeze our funds.’

Senator HUMPHRIES —Did the board of the foundation look at that issue?

Mr Collins —Terry refused to call a meeting.

Senator HUMPHRIES —You would have noticed that this morning we had a number of witnesses from the Historical Abuse Network who came to talk about the good work that the network is doing and, I think, were genuinely complimentary about the things that were happening.

Mr Collins —You are talking about the staff of HAN. You are not talking about the people who are here.

Senator HUMPHRIES —The people who came here are members of the network. I do not think they are staff; they are people who are members of the network.

Mr Collins —I will back off.

Senator HUMPHRIES —We are therefore confronted with a situation where we have people who are quite supportive of the things that have been happening at the Lotus Place centre and are very supportive of the things that have been done there. We have some more witnesses this afternoon. I do not know whether it is significant that the witnesses this morning were all women and the ones this afternoon are all men, but the fact is that we have had this stark contrast in evidence. What can you offer to satisfy us that what you say is representative of the views of the clients of these organisations such as the Forde Foundation?

Mr Collins —As I said to you earlier, I was instructed to only speak on my own behalf. I know that my views are shared by many. What I can say to you is that—I do feel uncomfortable saying what I am about to say—it is female dominated. I told you I felt uncomfortable. I just saw your look.

Senator FURNER —That is not what we have experienced.

CHAIR —Mr Collins, it is your evidence. You put your views on the record because that is what you are here to do.

Mr Collins —I do believe it is female dominated.

Senator HUMPHRIES —As I explained we have the difficulty of having different, conflicting sets of evidence. I can only encourage you perhaps to—

Mr Collins —Actually you do not have conflicting evidence because just a moment ago you saw a guy who is six foot tall, two pickaxes wide across his shoulders, breaking up because of what happened to him. Senator, you are not getting conflicting reports.

Senator HUMPHRIES —I am only expressing a view and perhaps it is not the right view. I would encourage you to speak to any other people who feel that there are some issues that we need to know about and encourage them to make a submission to the inquiry as well so that we can gauge the depth of feeling about these issues.

Mr Collins —I believe we have until 29 June. Is that correct?

CHAIR —We need the evidence before that, Mr Collins, because we have to put our report in on 29 June. We have to have time to pull it together. We have been asking people to submit by the end of May.

Mr Collins —The problem we have in Queensland is that we were not advised that this meeting was going to happen. You put an ad in the Australian. How many former residents read the Australian? We read the Courier-Mail sometimes if we feel like it. We do not read the Australian. How can you give us an opportunity to give our input when you put adverts in something like the Australian?

CHAIR —We are keen to hear from you about what alternative methodology we could use. We have standard processes for advertising our inquiries, we also have a process of letting organisations, and governments know—

Mr Collins —But you are talking about former residents.

CHAIR —I say again, if you have any suggestions about a better way of contacting people, we are keen to know. We are very keen that this inquiry, and it was public from the start, that this was not reopening the major inquiry that we did four years ago. We went to extraordinary efforts with that inquiry to ensure people knew about it because that was the threshold inquiry. This particular inquiry is specifically looking at the recommendations of the previous one. It is a much more organisationally based inquiry.

Mr Collins —The inquiry, if my understanding is correct, is about whether the states have implemented the recommendations of the Forgotten Australians report.

CHAIR —Correct.

Mr Collins —Thank you. The fact is that they have not—that, for a start, they have not had the spirit to do that. In fact, they are going to hand it over to you. That is the reality. They are going to say, ‘We don’t want any more to do with it; we’re going to give it to the Commonwealth,’ and the thing is they are going to put their own people in there. I know I sound angry, but it is the truth.

CHAIR —That is fine. That is your opinion, and that was in your submission as well.

Mr Collins —It is not my opinion; it is the truth.

CHAIR —Okay. The other thing, Mr Collins—and certainly it is something that we have been relying on and we know its limitations—is the website which all the submissions have gone on, and the Hansard that is being recorded today will also go onto that public site. I know that is difficult, and we will take your advice, if you have got some, about how we should promote that as well, but we try very hard in our inquiries to be as open and as accessible as possible. But it is a difficulty; we acknowledge that.

Mr Collins —Minister, may I ask you a question—

CHAIR —I am not there; I am certainly not there, Mr Collins!

Mr Collins —Senator—sorry. May ask you a question?

CHAIR —You certainly can.

Mr Collins —Who here is a Labor senator, who is a Greens senator and who is a—

CHAIR —Certainly. We do not usually put that information there, but we have, from my right, Senator Sue Boyce from Queensland and Senator Gary Humphries from the ACT, who are both Liberal-National Party senators; and then me and Senator Furner, who are both from Queensland and both Labor senators.

Mr Collins —That makes me a bit suss.

CHAIR —I would think that is very much a balanced committee, Mr Collins. If you do actually check the website, and I know that you are interested in these things, you will see the structural make-up of our committees and how they are formed.

Mr Collins —Senator, some four years ago, before we had the one-stop shop, I went to ARC, the Aftercare Resource Centre, and there was a lady there—she was a counsellor—who told me: ‘Don’t get involved with the Esther Centre. Do not get involved with it.’ You know what? She may have been right.

CHAIR —She may have been for you, Mr Collins. That is what counselling is all about; you share opinions. Senator Boyce.

Senator BOYCE —Mr Collins, I would just like to try and work out with you where your networks are outside of these sorts of formal structures. You say you know lots of people who feel exactly as you do—

Mr Collins —I do.

Senator BOYCE —How do you know that?

Mr Collins —There are two reasons for it. One is because we have a little network we are trying to set up. Volunteering Queensland is trying to help us set this up.

Senator BOYCE —They have provided someone to assist you to get an organisation happening?

Mr Collins —That is right, yes. It has not been overly successful, but with their moral support I have been able to get in touch with 10 or 15 people. It does not sound like many, but these people do not know us; we cannot talk to each other because—

Senator BOYCE —There is no list out there for you.

Mr Collins —There is no list. So we just have to kind of go by ear. I do have my own domain name; in fact, I have two of them, and I would like to set them up. Now, I understand what has been said before about most of us not being computer literate, but at least it is a bloody chance.

Senator BOYCE —So do you want to put that domain name into the Hansard? Do you have that address now?

Mr Collins —The domain name happens to be The Forgotten Australians. It is theforgottenaustralians.net, and I have got no hesitation in saying that.

Senator BOYCE —Hopefully, it is a way that other people might find you. Would I be right to characterise your primary concerns around Micah, the Esther Centre and so forth as the sense that the professionals have taken over the issues and you do not feel there is anywhere for people who were victims to just be together?

Mr Collins —Yes. What is happening is that there are very few people. Sue is probably going to get a little bit angry with me about this, but the only people Karyn ever consulted were Sue, Beth and Allan Allaway. She said, ‘We did a lot of consultation,’ but they were the only three people she ever consulted with and that is where the anger is. She did not consult with the former residents.

Senator BOYCE —Thank you.

Senator FURNER —Mr Collins, you were a member of the board.

Mr Collins —I was.

Senator FURNER —How long were you a member for?

Mr Collins —Only about three or four months.

Senator FURNER —What was the reason for your departure from the board?

Mr Collins —Terry Sullivan basically forced me out. He used political know-how. On the last page of my submission you will see that.

CHAIR —We do not have some of the attachments to your submission. It is on the website.

Mr Collins —It says:

The reasons for my decision include:

  • Irreconcilable differences between the chair of the BOA its Executive Officer and myself.
  • My belief that both the Chair and the Executive Officer have colluded together with the sole purpose of undermining my effectiveness on the board.
  • That under the leadership of the Chair, the principles of the “The Deed of Trust” has been compromised to the detriment of the Beneficiaries.
  • Concern that should I continue to participate on the Board in the current climate I might further be seen to support the unfounded, incorrect and misleading assumptions of the Board to the detriment of the Beneficiaries
  • That because of the unwarranted and deliberate actions of the Chair and the Executive Officer my health had suffered causing stress, depression and other health related issues.

They were the five reasons that I gave the board.

Senator FURNER —Those grounds are in your resignation from the board—is that correct?

Mr Collins —I have not given you every single thing. The board has a copy of what I have said. It will deny it. I do not want to go into this but the five reasons I gave are fact.

CHAIR —Thank you very much for your submission and the evidence you have given today and as you know there may well be something that comes back on the record from either Mr Sullivan or Ms Walsh.

Mr Collins —I am quite prepared for that.

CHAIR —Thank you for your time.

[3.04 pm]