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

CHAIR —Good afternoon. I welcome representatives from CLAN. We are starting just with me because we want to give as much time to the evidence as possible. I want to put on record that while there are only three senators here, that in no way represents the interest in this hearing; it is just that we have a number of inquiries meeting all over the country at the moment. You can be assured that the Hansard for this inquiry will be studied by all senators and that there will be opportunities to talk. Is there anything you wish to add about the capacity in which you appear?

Dr Penglase —I am the co-founder of CLAN, one of the project officers, an administrator and I wear various other hats.

CHAIR —Absolutely; it is like any community organisation. Thank you. We have your submission and we also know of the work that you do in this area. Would either or both of you like to make an opening statement and then we will go to questions?

Ms Sheedy —I would like to thank you for coming to see the CLAN orphanage museum in your lunch break and for doing the review of this inquiry. I would also like to pass on my thanks to Garry Humphries and former senator Andrew Murray for staying the distance. Those two senators were on the first inquiry and are now having to hear all of this evidence again. I also welcome the new senators.

I would like to start with the apology. It was a bipartisan committee in 2005 and the apology was the number one recommendation. Sadly, nearly five years on we still do not have that apology. I would like to encourage the committee to go to the Prime Minister and ask him to implement this very important apology. I brought a photo of darling Vera, who is 98 in September. She was diagnosed with terminal cancer in January 2008, and I really think that she is hanging on waiting for her Prime Minister, our Prime Minister, to issue that No. 1 recommendation.

CHAIR —Yes. Do you just want to hold there. Senators Fifield and Farrell, we have done the opening bit. I think both senators would like to see that photograph. You were saying that the number one issue for you to start with was the apology.

Ms Sheedy —Yes, and I really would like to see all parties work together, to stand united, to go to the Prime Minister and say ‘We need to implement that No. 1 recommendation.’ This photograph is of CLAN’s oldest member, who will be 98 in September. Vera is dying of terminal stomach, bowel and bone cancer. She is currently in a nursing home. I believe that she is holding on waiting to hear that apology. She was diagnosed with cancer in January 2008. I spoke to her last week when we did our press release, which is up on our website—and I do not know if you have a copy of it—and I read out the statement attributed to Vera. As sharp as a tack as she is, she said ‘That is very accurate.’ I said ‘Yes. You told me that last March.’ I had asked her to do some media interviews and she said that she was not able to. She was worried that she would not be able to hear the journalist’s questions, so she declined. We need to allow Vera to die with some dignity—and I hate the word closure—but with some form of acknowledgement and respect for what she endured in the Nudgee orphanage in Brisbane. I want to see darling Vera hear that apology before she dies.

CHAIR —I am just encouraging people to jump in, but senator Gary Humphries has been asking the question in the other hearings about the apology. His question is whether people want an apology without a reparation scheme. Certainly there has been so much discussion, as there was with the Bringing them home process, that an apology has a purpose but there were calls that it should have been linked to a compensation scheme. I just want to make sure that the issue of the symbolism of an apology is maintained, which you can see in the Hansard from the other inquiries. Is it important for the apology to come before there has been a decision about reparations? Is it important for those issues to be linked or is it not important?

Dr Penglase —Well, we do not want to wait indefinitely for an apology. If we wait for the states and the federal government to work out whether, if and how they were to pay reparations, we could be waiting for a very long time. I do not mean that cynically; I just mean that it is a complicated issue. The apology of course has to be linked with services as well as considerations of a reparations fund. Services are a very big issue. So the apology needs to be stand-alone as well. It has to happen and it should happen soon, because there are many people like Vera who are old and in ill-health and so on. People can not wait around for ever, and we need an apology.

As I said, the reparations issue is difficult and complex. Redress, which is now linked to the states, is a very thorny issue with care leavers because there is such inequity across the states. This is a really major problem, which we raised in our submission. Some states have redress schemes and some do not. Within the redress schemes themselves, there are differences too. For example, Tasmania does not acknowledge you if you were not a state ward. So you can have a brother and a sister, one of whom was a state ward and one who was not, in the same or related homes and one is eligible and one is not. So that is very difficult for people to understand and to come to terms with. The point about redress is that if it is in one state it needs to be in all states, and it is not. Some states show no sign of thinking about a redress scheme. Victoria has come out and said that they will deal with each person on a case-by-case basis and New South Wales has the same approach. This is an extremely cynical approach. The answers that people get, like one of our Clan clients, 90 old Joseph in Queensland who grew up at Yanco boys home in New South Wales, is ‘There is no record of your abuse and you will just have to prove it.’ This is patently absurd and cannot be said in seriousness, but it is said.

Litigation is not the way to go and I think that people know that. People who are going to molest children or beat them up or treat them cruelly do not have witnesses standing by writing this down in the records of the children in the home or on their state ward files. So that is just a copout. Redress has to be in every state and that is a very major requirement and something that has to be addressed sooner rather than later.

Senator FIFIELD —Through you, Chair, it was put to us by some of the witnesses this morning that it is important to have any reparations scheme managed and funded federally. I put it to the witnesses this morning that that could actually be letting the state jurisdictions off the hook for what happened within them, what happened as a matter of policy and what happened as a matter of practice. Overlaying that is the logistical difficulty of the Commonwealth administering a reparations scheme when the Commonwealth itself does not have the records—those records are in the possession of individual institutions or the state governments themselves. I am interested in your take as to whether it is desirable or feasible to have a national reparations scheme or if the important thing is to have those state jurisdictions which are responsible held accountable.

Dr Penglase —The ideal would be a national reparations fund because it would show a real commitment on the part of the federal government and an acknowledgement of the seriousness of what happened. I think that it can be done. I know it is different in that they do not have states and so on, but the Irish government showed that it can be done. Anything like this can be done if there is the political will. It would have to be a joint exercise between the federal and state governments and, probably, the past providers of institutional care. And why should they be let off the hook? They can argue, ‘We were just running the homes for the government’ and so on, but the way they conducted the homes was their own responsibility. So I think that it can be done, but it requires really quite an enormous effort of political will to do it. I do not think it lets anybody off the hook if everybody comes to the party and that is a requirement of it.

Senator FIFIELD —Would you envisage the states themselves funding the reparations?

Dr Penglase —That is something that would have to be worked out. There has to be some federal input; after all, child endowment went to the home.

Quite apart from issues like that, I think that there is an issue of leadership here such that—even if child welfare was a state jurisdiction—there should be something that goes beyond that to say, ‘We acknowledge that these policies were allowed to operate in this country.’ The federal government finds ways to intervene when it wants to and so, again, it comes back to political will. I think that it does need to be both federally and state funded and seen to be a national enterprise. Am I answering your question??

Senator FIFIELD —That is fine.

Dr Penglase —I think there is a very big implication there for churches and the charities to take responsibility as well.

Senator FIFIELD —I can certainly see an argument for a nationally managed scheme. I do wonder whether, if the states were not required to fund such a scheme, it would encourage state governments to the mindset that someone else will always pick up the tab and someone else will always sort out the problem.

Dr Penglase —It has to be joint. Something needs to be worked out. It could be in relation to the funding which comes through the federal government to state governments for current agencies to operate in the area of children’s services. I am sure there are ways it could be worked out, but it certainly should be seen as a state government issue as well. The states cannot be let off the hook. Western Australia is the one state that did not have to have an inquiry. They said, ‘We’re going to do something.’ They did. They allocated that huge sum of about $118 million, some large sum, towards a redress scheme. There are lots of questions about whether services are related to it as well. It is not just redress. Western Australia has set an example that other states could follow. In both Tasmania and Queensland whatever redress schemes there are—in Tasmania it is not called ‘redress’—came out of state inquiries. But in Western Australia it was simply a decision by government. So it can be done.

Senator FIFIELD —So are Western Australia, Tasmania and Queensland the model states in terms of reparations?

Dr Penglase —I do not think there are any real models here. I think we can learn and do better as we go along perhaps.

Senator FIFIELD —If you would not mind ranking them in order.

Ms Sheedy —I think Ireland is first.

Senator FIFIELD —Could you rank the states within Australia? If we are to look at a model, it is helpful for us to know which models are better than others.

Dr Penglase —I would say Western Australia so far. It is a good model in that there is quite a lot of money allocated. They have done quite a lot of advertising. They have allocated money for advertising and to try to find people in other states. It is fairly well resourced. The issue that is so far unresolved is whether there will be follow-up services. That has to part of any model. They have also tried to get funds through to people who are ill or dying. There is some compassion there. The Tasmanian scheme seems to have been divisive at times. I think it is probably better always to have a certain sum allocated because in Tasmania people would get together and compare, ‘My abuse was worth this much, and yours was worth that much,’ which can be very divisive. We heard quite a few stories of pain and more suffering coming out of that. The Tasmanian scheme is now open indefinitely; I am not sure whether they still pay—

Ms Sheedy —Up to $35,000.

Senator FIFIELD —Do you think it is important that there is a scale of payment rather than one payment to all regardless of circumstance?

Dr Penglase —For some people, like Queenslanders, it is two-tiered, because some people did suffer horrendous abuses. But being in an institution itself was an abuse. To grow up in that way meant horrendous neglect for any child. So already you have a level of abuse for which, if we are talking about redress, reparation needs to be offered. Yes, there should be a second tier, but it should not just be for sexual abuse. Emotional abuse and physical abuse, sheer physical assault, certainly should be part of the consideration.

Senator FIFIELD —I interrupted you just as you were about to go on to Queensland.

Dr Penglase —I was going to say that in Queensland the amount of compensation offered seemed very small—$7,000. I gather that for the second tier of people who suffered grosser abuses they will be allocated whatever is left. I am not sure how well that model is going to work.

Senator FIFIELD —So Western Australia is No. 1, Tasmania is No. 2 and Queensland is No. 3?

Dr Penglase —It is very hard to rank them. I think I would rather leave the grading and just say that Western Australia to date seems to be setting a model which we can certainly use as a good basis to grow from, but it does need to have services. Queensland has good services that came out of the Ford inquiry.

Ms Sheedy —The good thing about Western Australia is that they cover everybody whether they were a state ward, a home child or in foster care. Whereas, in Queensland, we have a member who is a 54-year-old state ward of Queensland who was not covered by the Ford inquiry. She is not entitled to redress because she was in foster care but her 83-year-old father who was in an orphanage in Queensland was entitled to the redress money. These inequalities are just not acceptable really.

Senator FIFIELD —To be fair to the other end of the spectrum, I have to ask: is there a state which is most problematic?

Ms Sheedy —Go for it, Joanna!

Dr Penglase —Yes. I am afraid I have to say yes to that. I am very sorry to say this but I think that New South Wales is a very long way behind. Victoria has said that it will not have a redress scheme but last year it allocated $7.1 million for a new care leavers service, which is being worked out from the ground up. That is a big commitment. It is really deplorable that there is no redress scheme or consideration, but at least Victoria acknowledges that there is a need for well-funded services. Victoria has quite a long history of providing a service for care leavers through VANISH and other agencies before that. They were not terribly well funded or resourced, but they have made the effort. You get the feeling that New South Wales really just wishes it would all go away. I have read the submission from the department. First of all, New South Wales put in no submission to the original inquiry. When we met with the then minister, I asked her why they did not put in a submission. This was soon after the inquiry.

Senator FIFIELD —Who was the minister?

Dr Penglase —It was Carmel Tebbutt. She said that she did not really know but she thought it was because we do things so differently now. So I guess history has no bearing here and what happened in the past does not seem to be relevant. That was not really an answer. We do not know why. That is one thing. In the submission to this review, the New South Wales department talks about the apology they gave, which was a minimal and basic apology on one day’s notice issued by the minister to—

Senator FIFIELD —A late night apology?

Dr Penglase —No, it was about 4.30 in the afternoon with all the politicians talking while the minister spoke about how they were very sorry if anything bad happened in the past but that we do it so well today.

CHAIR —I believe that was in response to a question on notice, was it not? That was the methodology that was used. It was not a ministerial statement; it came as a response to a question. We have the Hansard.

Dr Penglase —Thank you for telling me that.

CHAIR —It was not a ministerial statement; it was a response to a question.

Dr Penglase —Okay. So there is not the level of commitment compared with, for example, the commitment in both the Victorian and the South Australian apologies, which had a lot of thought and care put into the wording and the arrangements. We have met with the current minister, Linda Burney, and she has committed to a second apology, so there is an acknowledgement that they need to do it better, and they will be doing that. I guess what I took exception to was that in the New South Wales submission—this is in answer to your question about if there is a state that is lagging—they said, first of all, about the reparations fund that it should be noticed that under current arrangements in New South Wales a claim for compensation can be made on an individual case-by-case basis. We know people who have tried to do this. It is a very thankless, difficult and ultimately unsuccessful road to go down, for the reasons that I mentioned before. So that is a cynical exercise—‘Oh, you can always sue us. We’re here to be sued. We will pay barristers and QCs to defend ourselves but you are welcome to do it. You care leavers are so well resourced.’ So the attitude is always there. They say they treat seriously all allegations of abuse. Prove it! They should show me in their records where it says ‘today I abused this child’.

So we feel particularly strongly, and I feel so too. It is probably because New South Wales is my state. I grew up in a home that was licensed by the department, not run by the department, for which I am very thankful because I know many people who grew up in New South Wales state care and their experiences—given the degree of cruelty and criminality particularly in the training schools like Tamworth, Parramatta, Hay and Lynwood Hall, which was the step before Parramatta Girls, as the girls were constantly reminded—would truly make your hair stand up. There were the criminal practices that need to be investigated and this department has not wanted to address. There is a lot there. There should be an inquiry in New South Wales.

Child welfare was done somewhat differently in New South Wales, and I have written a bit about this in my book because I think that has not always been understood. There was a great deal more foster care. But, on the other hand, the department had up to at least 30 institutions of its own which no other state had. They had homes for truants and for ‘subnormal’ children. They had a home for every variety of ‘difficult’ child. They did child welfare in what was considered to be a very scientific way. They did not fund the church-run homes because they did not believe in institutional care, yet half the kids in care in the state were in non-government homes. So New South Wales have a lot to address. But they are the state that do not want to.

While I am here I will also say that they say in their submission that they provide significant support services to care leavers. Look, there is $122,000 a year for the ARC helpline. Those workers are run off their feet, and I think you will be hearing from them later today. The department make much of the fact that they gave us $75,000. Basically, they topped up nothing, so that was good! They topped up our funding with $75,000 after three years of lobbying. We had only ever had previously in nine years of our operation $30,000 from them, in $10,000 lots, to fund the 1800 number. It was after three years of heavy lobbying and it was not until we had a change of minister and adviser that we got that money. We did not even get responses to our applications for funding. So they do not fund services well. Their special search service, which is not just for care leavers but is also for people who have run into a brick wall—as they try to find their identity, through their parents, through their siblings, through their cousins, through their relations—is auspiced by the Salvation Army, an organisation which many people suffered severely under and would not go to. Again, that is an insensitivity. We have broached it with the department with no success. So that is the state that we feel needs to do something.

Senator FIFIELD —Thank you for that.

Dr Penglase —Sorry, I should have stopped.

Senator FIFIELD —No, not at all.

Dr Penglase —Leonie can talk now. I will get off my soapbox.

Senator FIFIELD —Ms Sheedy, do you have anything to add?

Ms Sheedy —About New South Wales?

Senator FIFIELD —Yes.

Ms Sheedy —I am glad I was born in Victoria, to tell you the honest truth, and was not raised in a New South Wales institution. I have had to listen to the most horrific histories from all around Australia. They are all terrible. None of them are nice to listen to. New South Wales, the state that I reside in, just continues to hope that we will all die or put a needle in our own arm or get rotten drunk and forget about our trauma. It is just disgraceful. It has an ALP government that is supposed to run on an ALP social justice agenda. That does not seem to extend to their own children that they were responsible for. It is shameful. I want to talk about past providers. This is on a different tangent. Is it all right to go on to that?


Ms Sheedy —These are on my list. I believe that any past provider that gets any government funding today from federal or state governments—and this does include state governments—needs to acknowledge its history on its website. It needs to provide its apology to care leavers on their website. It needs to be supportive of CLAN, the only national support and advocacy group that helps care leavers. It needs to share its history. Those things should all be tied to its funding today. If organisations are not in agreeance to those things, why are we funding these organisations to run services today? It should be in their service agreements that they have to provide these things.

CHAIR —One of the real issues—and I am really interested to get your comments, and I am sure Senator Farrell has some questions as well—is this. We heard from a legal practitioner in Victoria who specialises in this area. She spoke at length about how the providers who in some way, shape or form are still in existence—and we know many have closed and disappeared—have effectively separated their lines of business so that funding to an organisation that did have a history of providing this form of care now goes to a separate part. She said that in most cases the assets and money of the organisations are linked to property trusts, so that it is very difficult for anyone to actually make that direct link. She spoke fully of her experiences with the Catholic Church. But she also said that similar arrangements were in place with the ones that she mentioned—and you will be able to read the Hansard—being the Anglican Church, the Salvation Army and what is now the Uniting Church, which is actually the Methodists and the Presbyterians, who in the times that we are mostly talking about operated as separate bodies. It is difficult in terms of current funding arrangements to say that, if you are giving money for childcare services or for aged care services or any other areas that are church based, it is actually clearly delineated. You would have seen that and struggled with it. Do you have any comments on that?

Dr Penglase —I am not sure about the legal aspects. I can understand that times have changed and that what used to be a charity can now be a business. In fact, it has to be a business to survive. I also know that children’s services organisations today always say that they are under-resourced for the immense work and so on and so forth that they are trying to do. However, it is the same issue: if there is a will to address these issues then there are ways of allocating funds within an organisation. It is a matter of commitment. I can see that legally it is difficult if the organisation is structured in such a way that the two do not connect. But it comes back to whether an organisation wants to. The Catholic Church, which you have mentioned, argues if it is taken to court that it is not a legal entity. This is a cynical determination not to be held accountable; this is what it is. So an organisation has to be prepared to be accountable, I suppose, in order to then decide to do something about it. That is what does not happen.

We know of people who have sued these various church organisations, and that can literally go on for years. We know of one person who started his claim against the Salvation Army at the same time that CLAN was established, and he is still going. Those organisations have the resources to fight court cases; he is just a brave man—and good luck to him. It is interesting that religious organisations and also governments are often prepared to allocate hundreds of thousands of dollars or more—millions perhaps—to fighting court cases, but they will not acknowledge what happened and set up a fund with that money. That would be a much better way of spending it. This comes back to a failure of acknowledging that really serious and terrible things did happen. That is one of the most disappointing aspects.

It is disappointing to even be here today and to have to talk about how little has happened since the Forgotten Australians report was handed down on that very momentous day. You all remember that very well, as we do. The senators were deeply moved by the experience of hearing the stories of people who had been through this childhood. You would think that would open up something. But it still seems to come back to unwillingness on the part of past providers, including state governments, to really bite the bullet and say: ‘Yes, that was a shocking system and we regret it. Although we wouldn’t do that now, we know that the effects of it are still with us today.’ I think there is a desire to say, ‘Because we don’t think like that anymore, we don’t have to worry about it.’ But what we see day after day at CLAN are the effects on the people who grew up under that form of care—they are indelible and lifelong effects. This is why we need services, which is something that we need to talk about.

Ms Sheedy —It also passes onto the next generation of children. Nobody seems to care about the intergenerational effects on families. We have members in CLAN who have had three generations in care—

CHAIR —And continue. We hear that in our evidence. When people talk about their own experiences, they often throw in that they are having trouble with their grandchild who is in care, for instance; they are similar stories. It is sprinkled through the Hansard.

Senator FARRELL —Thank you for your hospitality in showing us through your centre earlier today. I want to ask a couple of questions about the Mulligan report and where you think that is at, at the moment. In particular, I want to ask about the suggestion that you were able to make a claim through the victims of crime fund that the state government has set up. I was not clear about whether you were saying that it was now available or that you are still waiting for that to happen.

Ms Sheedy —I think that has already been set up. It is for people who were sexually used or abused in South Australia. That is a way for people to get justice in South Australia. We presented evidence to the Mulligan inquiry. I had really high hopes for that inquiry. There need to be inquiries into each state of Australia. This is how you get people to come forward, to tell their stories and to deal with some of this pain. I was in Adelaide when Justice Mulligan handed down his report. The South Australian government said that they would set up a redress task force and that they were due to report before Christmas on that task force. I think I made about 12 phone calls before Christmas. We were trying to get the newsletter done and we kept holding it off so that we could let our members know what the outcome was. We are now into April. I have tried many times during 2009 to find out what happened to the redress task force, and I have not been able to found out.

Senator FARRELL —Which particular minister is responsible for that?

Ms Sheedy —Michael Atkinson, the Attorney-General. I have tried the current minister, Jennifer Rankine. I got a phone call from an ALP member in South Australia, and their electoral staff said that they would try and find out for me what had happened to it. The latest is that it is with the Solicitor-General. There has been no announcement from the South Australian government, and people need to know what is happening.

Senator FARRELL —If it is with the Solicitor-General, one would think there is a proposal that is being looked at, I guess.

Ms Sheedy —Yes; it is interesting. I would like to talk about our survey; I saw you looking through it.

CHAIR —The survey is very well done.

Ms Sheedy —Thank you. Of the 291 respondents to the survey, 44 per cent had a father—mostly fathers—in the armed forces. One of the great things the federal government have agreed to, after much lobbying to the Minister for Veterans Affairs, is that we can now get a care leavers father’s military records for free, and that is a saving of $25. The file comes to CLAN and then we send it out, and these elderly care leavers are getting photographs of their fathers for the first time in their lives. They are also striking some problems about getting their father’s military medals. What has to happen is that you have to prove that your father is dead, that he did not remarry and that he did not have any subsequent children who might have a claim on the medals. It is battle after battle after battle. We need help through the Department of Veterans’ Affairs. Many of these people do not know where to go to find out whether their father is dead or alive, and Veterans’ Affairs can help these care leavers, because they keep records on veterans’ pensions. I sent a file to a CLAN member in South Australia, and I did not realise what I was sending. This fellow found out from that file that his father had died in Victoria in 1973. It was really quite distressing to take that phone call. He had not seen his father since he had gone to the orphanages in Queensland and yet, on his father’s military service records, it said that he had died in the repat hospital.

CHAIR —Do you have any links with Veterans’ Affairs now?

Ms Sheedy —Yes, I have put in a submission to them.

CHAIR —So you have a link there and an appropriate person to speak to who understands the issues you are raising?

Ms Sheedy —Yes, the media adviser there, Lauren Ryan, has been very, very helpful. But we need help in getting the military medals. How can people find out whether their fathers have remarried and had subsequent children? I have a very strong point of view on this. I think that, if a veteran marries for a second time and goes on to have more children, the second lot of children should be entitled to the medals if they were raised by the father. I think the child who ended up in the orphanage deserves the medals. They should get first claim, as far as I am concerned. They did not get the dad; they should get the medals.

Senator FIFIELD —A fair point. I want to return to the issue of an apology. Do you think it is important that an apology be made in each of the jurisdictions in each of the state parliaments or would a national apology suffice—or all of the above?

Ms Sheedy —As an Australian citizen who listened to my Prime Minister apologise to the stolen generation, I welcomed that apology. I sat in my driveway and bawled my eyes out, especially at the term ‘and they were separated from their brothers and sisters’. I had very distressing phone calls from all over Australia on that day. People could not even bear to leave their names on the answering machine at CLAN. They said: ‘What is the difference between the Aboriginals and us? It is great that they’ve had their apology but the only difference is the colour of our skin. When are we going to get our apology?’ I want my Prime Minister of my country to stand up in the federal parliament of this country and say ‘sorry’ to me, my six siblings and my dead sister and her family. I want to hear my Prime Minister, in the highest land, in Parliament House—and I want the nation listen—make an apology to us. It is so important that my Prime Minister acknowledges all of us here—that we all get acknowledged in the federal parliament. That is how I feel.

Senator FIFIELD —I think we all agree that symbols are important and that they do matter, so something of such significance—the nation stopped and those who suffered were aware that the nation paused in acknowledgement—was important. Thank you for clarifying that; I appreciate it. We would not want an apology that was tucked away at an obscure hour in a state parliament. It needs to be something of significance, something that is meaningful to those who have been affected.

CHAIR —I want to ask a question about the royal commission. You know it was a very vexed point in the original inquiry, and the members of the inquiry had diverse views about whether that was the way to go. I note in your submission that you also talk about it again. You have also mentioned that you think there should be inquiries in every state, and there have been in a few. You have also mentioned the significant expense that goes towards things like inquiries, which can take away from services that are desperately needed, and that we do not always need inquiries to know what needs to happen. Given those three statements that I am throwing back at you, can you take us through your current views on the issue of a royal commission? You would understand from our first inquiry, the one we did on forgotten Australians, the recommendation that, should there be no action on the issues that needed it, there could be a royal commission. Where do we stand now?

Ms Sheedy —I want to start by saying that all governments need to take the taking of children seriously. To take a child from a family, however dysfunctional—it is still that child’s family and that child deserves and is entitled, under the United Nation’s Convention on the Rights of the Child, to know their family, however dysfunctional. I do not care whether the father is a paedophile; that child needs to know that and they need to know their family. I do not think that in this country we have taken the taking of children seriously, and we need to start with that. I think we do need to have a royal commission. That is the only way we will get this country to take this issue seriously. We have 30,000 children in care today. How many of those children have parents or grandparents who have been in the care system? Nobody ever bothers to do the research.

CHAIR —It is not a standard question?

Dr Penglase —No.

CHAIR —My understanding is that we have records that show that people have second, third and, in some cases, forth generations of people in care. To the best of your knowledge, it is not a standard question?

Dr Penglase —No. We feel that the census should have that question about care and there could probably be a family one as well. People can choose not to answer, if they wish. We made some efforts at one stage to get the Centrelink forms. I notice that on any form through Centrelink if you are Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander they say that you do not have to tick it, only if you wish to, so it could be the same. Someone at Centrelink pointed out that the reason they have that box is that there are services. If they are no services, there is no point in having a box. So that shut me up. I could see the point; that is fair enough. It would be one way of finding out how many care leavers are going through Centrelink. I understand it is not their job to collect statistics, but the ABS perhaps could—certainly the census, which I gather is difficult to achieve. If someone took up the cause to get that, I think it would be interesting to find out what the care history is. Given that there are 30,000 kids in care today in Australia, it is obviously an ongoing trend. Then you would have the basis for tracking what care does to kids—what sorts of adults they become—and that is important.

Going back to your point, I think there needs to be a royal commission. I think it is the only way where it looks as if we are taking it seriously and where you can subpoena people. People who do not wish to talk about these things can be subpoenaed. I think the level of criminality and cruelty will only come out in a royal commission, but it is mostly that it shows the government is taking it seriously.

On the issue of support services, inquiries, costs and so on, what I usually say about this is that people say to us, ‘Oh, inquiries are so expensive; that could go into services.’ It is a real catch-22; you do not get the services unless you have the inquiry. So you need both. If you look at Queensland, which really is the exemplar here, you see they have good services and a one-stop shop. Going back to state governments and the comparisons of what they put in, they put $3 million or $4 million into Lotus Place and they have topped it up in the subsequent years. They have had a Redress scheme. That came out of the Forde inquiry, and that is what happens. There is a drawback, and it brings me to the question of services. The one drawback with the Queensland services is that they are for people who grew up in Queensland care. This is also where this intersects with the issue of states dragging their feet. The organisation—I cannot remember whether it is under the Micah Projects; they have various names, such as the Esther Trust and so on—make the point that until services are comparable in every state it is very difficult. Why would a state that has reasonable services say, ‘Yes, it’s fine; it’s open slather’? They know that people who grew up in Queensland care who live in, say, New South Wales are going to get very little, so there is a parity issue there, which is why the states all have to come to the party.

So I think you need an inquiry to get the services. It is interesting, perhaps, to consider what will happen in Western Australia, where they have not had an inquiry but have set up a redress scheme. There has not been anything much said about services, and we have been trying to find out. Lindal, our Western Australian redress worker, has been trying to find out what is going to happen with the services that are there now—you can get a small amount of counselling and so on—when the scheme closes. We have not had any answer on that one. Given that Western Australia does not fund CLAN either, although we help Western Australians, these are the questions that come up.

There need to be much better services than there are now in Australia for care leavers, and they need to be cross state. Again, the research has not been done, but we feel that it is possible care leavers are more migratory than other people. Often people say to us, ‘I had to leave Victoria’—or New South Wales, Western Australia or wherever—‘because I could not stay in the state that failed me and abused me.’ So they fled. But, again, the research has not been done; that is just anecdotal evidence on our part. So cross-state services are essential and services need to be of a much, much higher standard than they are now.

One of the things I noticed about the New South Wales submission was where they talk about suicide and how it is rare. They say it is ‘an infrequent and complex event’. Our survey showed that up to two-thirds of the people who responded had thought of or attempted suicide or knew someone who had killed themselves. Obviously the people who had killed themselves could not respond to the survey; that is the figure that we will never know. When I was analysing that survey, I was trying to get some normative statistics so I could say, ‘Compared to the norm in the population, this is 40 per cent higher,’ or whatever. I have never been good at maths so I thought I must be doing something wrong. The figures for care leavers of suicidal ideation, as I think it is called—thoughts or attempts, anyway—were so far off the radar compared to the norm in the population that I could not make any comparisons. I thought I must have done the maths wrong.

I think this is where the federal government can take a lot of responsibility. Ageing, health, the HACC scheme and housing are all federal portfolios. The federal government does a lot of really good work in mental health, particularly for young people. We need it for care leavers, too. Mental health issues are immense for people like us; so, even if people do not want to acknowledge them, the services need to be there. Services are a very big item on the agenda.

CHAIR —We are running out of time, but there are so many things. One of the things that has come up in a couple of areas is the issue of some kind of identity card that identifies someone as a care leaver. That would not just be, ‘Hey, I’m a care leaver,’ but would be linked to services. The comparisons are being made to the gold card of the Department of Veterans’ Affairs. I know that is something you talked about last time. Do you have any comments about that?

Ms Sheedy —I think that it would be wonderful if there were a department. There are going to be a lot more veterans dying—sorry to any veterans in the room. That population is going to reduce, and I would like to see the federal government have a department of care leavers, a federal department just for people who have been in care.

CHAIR —That is a new one. You have not put that one on before.

Ms Sheedy —No, never. People like us could be given priority access to all government services, and that gold card would give us a foot in the door to not start our lives out on the back foot like all of us did. It is time for our country to produce a gold card.

CHAIR —You know that I am going to put this on record. Mr Humphries has just pointed out that the ‘Department of Care-Leaver Services’ would be DOCS.

Ms Sheedy —Thanks, Elton! We can change that.

CHAIR —That one needed to be on record! There are so many questions we could ask. This particular inquiry is due to hand down its report at the end of June. If there are things you think you need to add or come back to us on, please get those to us. I know that you work so fully in the area.

Dr Penglase —Before we finish, we have to say this: please fund CLAN as a national support body. We have AFA, and that is great. That is the national advocacy body, which also is not very well resourced, as I am sure you have heard. We are a support body that has been going for nine years, basically on peanuts. I do not think we are monkeys. We do not need peanuts; we need real money. We are supporting all those people who fall through the gaps, who live in a state where they did not grow up, who do not want to deal with governments, who do not want to deal with past providers, who want to talk to care leavers. We would like not to charge fees. We would still need a bit of a membership fee because our funding is just handouts. Every year, half of our work time is spent scrounging—‘Are you going to renew your grant of $10,000 to $15,000 to us please?’ and, ‘Are you going to give us your $5,000 handout this year?’ We are grateful for everything we get, but it is like being a kid in the home again. ‘Grateful for everything we get’—I hate to hear myself say that. It should be a matter of entitlement. We were all the state’s children, whether we were state wards or not. We were in homes licensed by the states; we were society’s children. It is extraordinary that there still is not the acknowledgement. A national support service like CLAN should not be allowed to fall into the dust for want of funding.

Ms Sheedy —I would just like to say finally that there is another group of people that we support that goes unacknowledged, and that is people who grew up in overseas orphanages and migrated to Australia. They have come from Ireland, New Zealand, Canada, England and Scotland. We also have Australians who cannot bear to live in Australia. We have two members in Holland, New Zealand and America. There are a lot of members in prison, as well. Those blokes get forgotten.

Dr Penglase —A final point. You saw it today at the museum. We are the keepers of the history; nobody else is doing that. It is just something that has to be done. The history will be forgotten.

CHAIR —It is very important.

Ms Sheedy —It needs to be a travelling museum, too, so the country can find—

CHAIR —That was one of the recommendations.

Dr Penglase —Yes.

CHAIR —We did talk about that recommendation—the whole history, maintenance and so on—at length. Has there been any discussion with CLAN about the future of the museum and how it can be linked into the museum status of the Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts?

Ms Sheedy —No, we have not.

Dr Penglase —They would have to be interested first.

Ms Sheedy —But we are going on ABC’s Collectors in June, so that is a wonderful chance for the community.

CHAIR —It is a good opportunity to be seen, and no doubt that will lead to more questions. That is another way. We thank you very much and know we will be in contact. Thank you for your work.

Dr Penglase —Thank you for the opportunity to speak today.

CHAIR —Always. I also want to acknowledge the local member, Mr Jason Clare MP, whom I see in the back of the room. Thank you for coming.

Ms Sheedy —He is a great friend of CLAN, too. Thank you.

[2.51 pm]