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STANDING COMMITTEE ON COMMUNITY AFFAIRS
08/04/2009
Implementation of the recommendations of the Lost Innocents and Forgotten Australians reports

CHAIR —Welcome. You would have information on the protection of witnesses and evidence. If you have any questions on that the secretariat can provide information to you. As public servants, you are not required to answer questions of opinion on policy. I can never guarantee that senators will not ask you those questions, but as public servants you would be well skilled at what you can and cannot answer. We welcome your submission and also your appearance in this hearing. It is so important that we have evidence from state governments and the departments that operate in those areas. So far, we have had great support, with the exception of the Victorian government. I keep putting that on record consistently in our hearings. Do either of you have an opening statement?

Ms Petersen —I do. Senator Moore, do you mind if I press the hands free button?

CHAIR —Please do. That would be much easier for you. How is the clarity of sound?

Ms Petersen —Thank you. That is fine.

CHAIR —The other senators in the room are Senator Gary Humphries from the ACT and Senator Sue Boyce from Queensland. You can now make your opening statement.

Ms Petersen —I understand that you have just taken evidence from Commissioner Mullighan and hopefully I will not be repeating his evidence. The South Australian Children in State Care Commission of Inquiry that Commissioner Mullighan headed had a number of recommendations that were in keeping with those from the Lost innocents and Forgotten Australians reports. The South Australian government is committed to implementing those recommendations, as Commissioner Mullighan hopefully would have already told you.

In light of the recommendations from the Children in State Care Commission of Inquiry, the Premier, on behalf of the South Australian government, made a formal apology on 17 June 2008 in the parliament to those who had been harmed whilst in state care. The government and the churches—the churches being the Archbishop of Adelaide, the President of the Lutheran Church, the Chair of the Uniting Church and the Auxiliary Bishop of the Catholic Archdiocese—signed formal apology parchment. There were 100 people who had been abused in state care who attended the apology ceremony and met with members of parliament. They received a plant and a laminated copy of the apology parchment.

The Department of Families and Communities, Families SA, for whom I work, now provides comprehensive support, advocacy, counselling and referral services for care leavers from 18 years of age with no upper age limit. Post Care Services provide specialist support, when required, to assist care leavers to access and view both state government and non-government records of their time in care. Post Care Services continues to consult with consumer reference groups to ensure that the service is of high quality and responsive to the needs of care leavers.

I do not have the 2008-09 figures completed for Post Care Services, but in our 2007-08 figures we helped over 300 people who were in state care as children and who are now adults with therapeutic, medical, education, advocacy information or assistance, and we have also processed in that year 300 freedom of information requests for historical records.

The South Australian government has demonstrated its commitment to children and young people in care through Rapid Response whole-of-government services. Rapid Response is an innovative model to ensure care leavers receive coordinated and holistic services so that they can achieve their potential in accordance with the recommendations of the Forgotten Australians report. Rapid Response was identified by the CREATE Foundation as ‘outstanding’ in its commitment to improving educational opportunities—it is not only educational opportunities, but health services and so forth—for care leavers.

Care leavers in South Australia had access to Respond SA, which is a dedicated counselling service to adults who were identified as having suffered abuse whilst in out-of-home care. This service is and was free to those persons who participated in the Children in State Care Commission. Post Care Services, as delivered by the Department of Families and Communities, continues to provide ongoing support and referral, and these remain a free service. That is the end of my address.

CHAIR —Thank you. Mr Ramsey, do you want to add anything at this stage?

Mr Ramsey —No, that is fine.

CHAIR —Senator Humphries.

Senator HUMPHRIES —I would like to thank Ms Petersen for that opening statement and commend the South Australian government for a number of things that it is doing. Mr Mullighan was flattering of some of the initiatives that have been taken by the government. They do appear to be steps in the right direction, so I commend you on those.

Ms Petersen —Thank you.

Senator HUMPHRIES —He spoke particularly about the child centres. I am trying to find the name. I understand five have been set up or funded already, and another 15 are expected.—

Ms Petersen —Children centres.

Senator HUMPHRIES —That is the one. Can you tell us a bit more about those? Are they operational yet?

Ms Petersen —Yes, they are. I think we have eight operational and there are another 12 or 13 to come. They are a joint initiative of the South Australian government. The three main departments are Health, Education and the Department of Families and Communities. They are located in schools. They are an early intervention process where they are available to children that are not attending schools, through kindergarten and other things. They are a community hub. They provide health care, education, and disability services and advice. They are staffed by a family support worker that will help connect families into any services that they might need to strengthen the family. These 20 centres will all be located in socially disadvantaged economic locations. The first one has been going for about two years now and we are starting to see good connected care results. It is a similar concept to the federal government’s Communities for Children. Is that enough information?

Senator HUMPHRIES —That is a good basis for understanding what is being done there. We are interested in ways of preventing the sorts of abuse of children that this inquiry has largely dealt with. Thank you for that initial information. We would like to find out more about it, and perhaps it is possible, not necessarily in the context of this inquiry, but in later work to obtain more information.

Ms Petersen —Would you like the South Australian government to provide you with some further written information about the centres?

Senator HUMPHRIES —Yes, that would be useful. I would like to visit one of these centres and perhaps we can organise that when I or the committee as a whole are next in South Australia. Some written information would be very useful in the meantime.

Ms Petersen —I will provide you with written information and provide you with a contact.

Senator HUMPHRIES —Thank you very much. We understand that the government in South Australia is still formally assessing what to do about recommendations arising from the Mullighan report and the task force that was established.

Ms Petersen —The government has made a commitment to a number of the recommendations and some of those processes are in place. For example, as I mentioned in my address, a formal apology has been made on behalf of the government and there are a number of other things like that that have been done. I know one, for instance, is the guardian for children. The South Australian government has appointed a guardian for children and now all incidents or complaints have to be reported to the guardian. She becomes the child’s advocate. Those processes are in place.

Senator HUMPHRIES —That is good. There seems to be a wide expectation that a reparation scheme will be set up in South Australia, along the same lines as Queensland, Tasmania and Western Australia.

Ms Petersen —There is currently a task force investigating that. I cannot tell you where they are up to, but they are exploring a number of different options. They are exploring what the Tasmanian and Queensland governments have done, and I think they are also looking at what the Irish government did a number of years ago. They are exploring those options to see what fits best.

As we put in our submission, and I cannot remember exactly which recommendation we were addressing, but the state government has set up a guarantee to access children in state care who have been abused to the Victims of Crime Fund and they are not needing a conviction, prosecution or criminal process before they can access the fund.

Senator HUMPHRIES —That is right. It is recommendation 6 in the response on page 3.

Ms Petersen —Thank you very much.

Senator HUMPHRIES —You also refer in that same part of the report to investigating the possibility of a national approach to the provision of services. I assume that there is some sympathy on the South Australian government’s part to the recommendation for a national reparation scheme that was recommended by the original Senate inquiry and that, if that occurred, you would be willing to consider cooperating in making it work?

Ms Petersen —We would certainly be willing to have discussions with the other states and the Commonwealth government.

Senator HUMPHRIES —You mentioned further on that Families SA has permanent staff to assist those who have been in care to locate and access predominantly state records.

Ms Petersen —Yes.

Senator HUMPHRIES —How many staff do you have doing that?

Ms Petersen —I think there are seven staff.

Senator HUMPHRIES —Has there been a lot of activity to access records since that facility was established?

Ms Petersen —I do not have the current figures. I am getting them next week for estimates. In the 2007-08 year we processed over 300 requests for support, whether they be education, therapeutic care, counselling or medical, and we also provided over 300 people with access to their historical records. That was only in that one calendar year. I would think that the numbers would be quite similar for this year.

Senator HUMPHRIES —On the subject of the statute of limitation legislation in South Australia, Mr Mullighan mentioned that you amended that some time ago to make it easier for an out-of-time prosecution to be taken against people who abused children. Can you give us a description of how that works? Is it actually expressed in those sorts of terms or is there a general exemption for crimes against children? How does that operate?

Ms Petersen —I am sorry, but the Attorney-General’s Department facilitates that part and the legislation. I am happy to ask them to provide that to you in writing, but I do not have that information immediately in my head.

Senator HUMPHRIES —I understand that. I would be grateful if you could ask the Attorney-General’s Department to give us that information. It would be very useful. Thank you.

CHAIR —When you get that information can we find out how many people have taken up that option? Certainly, one of the things that we heard from some governments at the last inquiry is that they were concerned about doing that legal amendment because they could be ‘flooded’ with people trying to bring actions. I am always interested when you have that kind of statement to see when someone has done it, whether in fact you have been flooded by people. When you get the information from the Attorney-General’s Department can we see how many cases there have been in the long term and what the response has been to that change?

Ms Petersen —Certainly. I will request that from the Attorney-General’s Department and supply it to you in writing.

Senator HUMPHRIES —We had some discussion earlier today with the Child Migrant Trust about its operations. It was making a pitch for ongoing federal government funding. It also made reference to having had negotiations with state governments to support its work. I cited to them part of your submission on page 5 where you say that the South Australian government provided a grant of $30,000 in 2001, but that no subsequent funding was requested after June 2004.

Ms Petersen —Yes.

Senator HUMPHRIES —When I put that to them they reacted strongly and said that was not so, that they had made requests for funding. In fact, they have offered to forward us the correspondence where they made their pitch for some money. I think we would say that the trust still has a large workload in front of it and that its work is worthwhile and valuable.

Ms Petersen —I would need to check that. My staff would have checked that source before making that statement, but I will go back and recheck it. In the following paragraph of our submission you will see that we provide funding to Anglicare South Australia to provide the services that the trust actually provides to the child migrants. Those services are available to them, but it is just through a different source. We could contact the trust or they could contact us and we could pursue it further. Would you like us to do that?

Senator HUMPHRIES —I would appreciate if you could make contact with the trust. They mentioned that they were having difficulty in negotiating with the governments around Australia because there is a bit of responsibility shifting between Australian governments and the British government for responsibility for child migrants and some of the same thing happening between state and federal governments. They seemed to believe that they ran up against a brick wall in South Australia, but I take it from your tone that you are not ill-disposed to further funding, that you simply have not had any request from them. I would appreciate some contact with them.

Ms Petersen —I am certainly not making a commitment to extra funding. I am making a commitment to having discussions. As I said, most of those services are available. We are happy to have a conversation and try to understand what impediments they are having to accessing the services that we are currently funding.

Senator HUMPHRIES —I would appreciate getting some feedback from you on where that leads. That would be most useful.

Ms Petersen —Certainly.

Senator HUMPHRIES —Thank you.

Senator BOYCE —I wanted to ask you a couple of questions regarding the Loss and Grief Centre which I believe you funded Anglicare to establish.

Ms Petersen —Yes.

Senator BOYCE —We did have some evidence along the way that a lot of people did not want to re-engage with any church, but certainly with church organisations that they thought were responsible in some way for their abuse as children. How have you overcome that issue with Anglicare?

Ms Petersen —The Anglicare of today, as you would know, is a very different organisation than the organisations of the past. I know that does not help perceptions.

Senator BOYCE —I do not think that would be the view of some of the people who have given evidence to us.

Ms Petersen —I would just add that we have a particular problem in South Australia in attracting other non-government organisations, particularly non-church ones, to the state. The population basis here is quite small for a number of community services. We do have large problems attracting very different ones, but we do fund Relationships Australia, who are a secular community service supplier, to also provide those services. They are our main supplier of counselling services.

Senator BOYCE —Is the Loss and Grief Centre specifically aimed at former child migrants?

Ms Petersen —Yes. That is for the child migrants. Relationships Australia is funded to provide services for children who have previously been in state care.

Senator BOYCE —I must admit that in other contexts I have heard about organisations, for instance Lifeline, who were funded to do quite specific counselling and discovered that, in fact, they refer that counselling on to much smaller organisations to do. Whilst you have to applaud the efforts to make sure it is done by someone who is a specialist in the field, it would appear that sometimes organisations are claiming to do counselling and they may not be.

Ms Petersen —Again, I point out that we have a problem in attracting a large range of professions and organisations in this field to provide services. We have visited the eastern states and tried to encourage other services. We just have not been able to do that. It is a smaller population base and obviously the other non-governments along the eastern seaboard are not really interested in coming to South Australia.

Senator BOYCE —Some of them are probably quite stretched in providing what they already provide.

Ms Petersen —We do fund the private psychiatrist and psychologist supports and visits as well, on application. We make referrals to them.

Senator BOYCE —You mentioned earlier the task force that is looking at a redress scheme. When is that due to report?

Ms Petersen —I understand it is next year. I know that it is a high level task force and they meet every six weeks at the moment.

Senator BOYCE —Do they have a reporting date?

Ms Petersen —They do, but I am sorry, I do not know that.

Senator BOYCE —If you could provide us with that in the next week or so, that would be helpful. You mentioned that, in the interim, people can claim victims of crime compensation. How many people have claimed under that?

Ms Petersen —Again, I have offered to supply that advice in writing from the Attorney-General’s Department. That is not within my field of expertise so, I am sorry, I do not know the answer. Senator Humphries asked that question so I will provide that information.

Senator BOYCE —Thank you. Recommendation 16 is about releasing information. There certainly have been concerns put to us by victims about the difficulty in getting any meaningful information and the amount of time and effort it might take from people who are often ill-educated because of their childhood experiences to access information. You have stated that you ‘identify family background as much as possible without releasing information that contains the personal details of other people’. I am just interested in what constitutes family background if it does not have details of other people in it?

Ms Petersen —That would be governed by the freedom of information and what information we could release.

Senator BOYCE —Can you give me a practical example of what that might mean?

Ms Petersen —I am sorry I cannot, but I can ask the officers who support the migrants through this process to provide an example, if you wish.

Senator BOYCE —It seems to me that if I was someone wanting information about my family background and I was getting information that had no personal details about other people in it, then I would not be getting very far down the track.

Ms Petersen —I can provide that information in writing, as much as we can.

Senator BOYCE —Does your service seek to write to people to ask them if it is all right for their details to be given out? How interactive are you in attempting to find family information for people?

Ms Petersen —I am sorry, I do not know that. That is in relation to child migrants. I would assume that a lot of the people whose background was researched are now deceased.

Senator BOYCE —I am talking about what you have referred to here as Post Care Services.

Ms Petersen —Post Care Services are different. I thought you were referring to recommendation 16 of the Lost innocents. Are you referring to the Forgotten Australians?

Senator BOYCE —Yes. Our inquiry is into both and I sometimes find the issues are so similar that I cross backwards and forwards.

Ms Petersen —Post Care Services have seven officers that support care leavers in exploring their family background if they wish. We are governed by the Privacy Act and so forth, as you would be aware. They would be providing and supporting post-care leavers to find out as much as they could within the acts. Yes, they would write and ask if people would give consent to be contacted in circumstances where that was appropriate.

Senator BOYCE —We have had evidence, not necessarily relating to South Australia, that sometimes the attitude towards being as helpful as possible is less than desirable. I guess that is a polite way of putting it.

Ms Petersen —I am disappointed to hear that. The team that we have working at Post Care Services are all well qualified social workers with a particular empathy to people that have left care. I have not heard that from South Australia.

Senator BOYCE —As I said, it does not necessarily relate to South Australia. The other area where we had evidence regarding Forgotten Australians, but in some areas it could equally apply to Lost innocents, was the issues that happened if you had moved away from the state where you had been in care as a child. How is South Australia dealing with that matter?

Ms Petersen —We have had a number of inquiries from people who have since moved interstate for their background records, support or in fact therapeutic counselling or medical care. It makes no difference to us where they live now. If they were in care in South Australian then they are fully entitled to the support services from Post Care Services.

Senator BOYCE —When you are speaking to the Attorney-General’s Department would you mind asking them if there are any people who have received compensation from the Victims of Crime Fund who fit that category?

Ms Petersen —Who currently live interstate?

Senator BOYCE —Yes, who were victims as children in South Australia, but now do not live in South Australia.

Ms Petersen —Certainly.

Senator BOYCE —Thank you. The other issue that has come up is virtually all the reports around the topics of the Lost innocents and Forgotten Australians speak a lot about what is sometimes referred to as the faith based agencies, the churches’ involvement in this. I noticed that one of the recommendations in your report talked about funding from the churches being included along with federal and state government funding.

Ms Petersen —Was that to do with the memorial?

Senator BOYCE —Yes, there was the memorial, but I am also looking at recommendation 9, which talks about the churches publishing data and the amounts of compensation paid to complainants.

Ms Petersen —We have not replied to recommendation 9, given that we cannot speak on behalf of the churches.

Senator BOYCE —That is the point I am getting to. The churches appear to be wiggling their way through this without a lot of accountability on the basis that the government cannot speak on their behalf and yet, as it is pointed out, churches receive a vast amount of federal and state government funding to undertake their activities. Is there any requirement in South Australia for the churches to report in any way about what they are doing in regard to complaints of sexual abuse?

Ms Petersen —Absolutely. Every service contract that we have, regardless of the organisation, has very clear complaint mechanisms.

Senator BOYCE —Is that regarding a current claim of abuse?

Ms Petersen —It is. Commissioner Mullighan took evidence from all of the church organisations and recommendations were made in his report on how we go in the future in collecting or taking complaints and so forth to guard against that happening again, regardless of who the service provider is. We have addressed that. Commissioner Mullighan took evidence from the churches on that. They certainly were not able to not commit to their responsibility to provide information to Commissioner Mullighan’s inquiry.

Senator BOYCE —Is there any government body in South Australia that would know what the churches and their agencies have done about abuse complaints from people in the child migrant and Forgotten Australians category, and what that action was?

Ms Petersen —Yes. Again, Commissioner Mullighan would have collected evidence on that for children who had been in state care, but not for child migrants. What actions the churches have done to recompense or whatever will have been recorded in Commissioner Mullighan’s evidence.

Senator BOYCE —Would that include figures?

Ms Petersen —Yes, that would include figures if they were made available to him.

Senator BOYCE —Again, that is my point. Would they have been made available to him? Is there any requirement for the churches to provide those figures?

Ms Petersen —They were bound under the evidence acts to give evidence to the commission. Commissioner Mullighan’s report is a very weighty document and, I am sorry, I cannot answer that.

Senator BOYCE —That is fine. In your view is there currently a body in South Australia, whether it be a government body or another body, that is oversighting how accountable the churches are being for their behaviour regarding the child migrants and the Forgotten Australians?

Ms Petersen —Not for historical child migrants.

Senator BOYCE —I am sorry, I am speaking about the group called the Lost Innocents, the people who were sent here post-war. They often believed they were orphans being sent to Australia.

Ms Petersen —I understand, but I do not know the answer to the question.

Senator BOYCE —Are you saying that you are not aware of an organisation?

Ms Petersen —No, we are not.

Senator BOYCE —Thank you.

CHAIR —Thank you. I have a couple of questions that relate to the FaHCSIA submission. Have you had a chance to have a look at that?

Ms Petersen —No, I have not.

CHAIR —It is on the record and it has, from their point of view, what has been the current status across a number of the recommendations. They say against recommendation of Forgotten Australians 22 that state government funded services for care leavers be available to all care leavers regardless of their states, which is always an issue. It says that a template was provided from all state governments to Queensland. I am just wondering whether you are aware of the South Australian involvement in providing information to Queensland on that issue? There is no date on the FaHCSIA information.

Ms Petersen —I understand that we provided information to that template in late 2006 or early 2007.

CHAIR —Has there been any action across the states since the template was completed?

Ms Petersen —The Forgotten Australians working party that was brought together in Sydney in 2006 or 2007 have met since.

CHAIR —That was the AFA conference

Ms Petersen —They have had some written communication in gathering the information that was requested from there.

CHAIR —There is a similar response against recommendation 18, which was the access to information, and a similar action was that information was provided to Queensland. We are following up with the Queensland department on both those issues, but I was just wondering, from your point of view from the state, whether you were aware of what had gone forward?

Ms Petersen —We would have supplied the information at the time. Queensland were just the collectors of the information on behalf of the group of states, territories and Commonwealth that got together to discuss the issue.

CHAIR —To the best of your knowledge, has there been further discussion amongst all the state governments about those issues since that time?

Ms Petersen —No.

CHAIR —The one thing that I did want to ask you relating to your state, which is in the same FaHCSIA report, was that when we had hearings in your state we were talking about the appointment of Professor Scott to the University of South Australia’s Chair in Child Protection. There was going to be consideration about the whole issue of research and study at institutions; that was going to be taken up as well. The FaHCSIA response, which we will be taking up with them this afternoon, says that they were seeking input from Professor Scott but it was on hold because of the death of Professor Scott’s mother. I take it that was in 2006 as well, so I am just wondering whether there has been any update? I would imagine the South Australian government would be part of any discussion with a statutory officer of your department. Are you aware of any further discussion between South Australia and Professor Scott?

Ms Petersen —Our executive director for Families SA meets with Professor Scott fortnightly, I think.

CHAIR —Because of the way it was presented I knew that there was a very professional and positive relationship there. Are you aware of any further action from the national level as a result of the following: The Australian government agreed with the state and territory governments as a group to write to Professor Scott to seek her input and guidance on this issue. I was just wondering whether you were aware of any further interaction between the Australian government and Professor Scott about research?

Ms Petersen —On this particular issue I am not sure. Professor Scott is involved in a whole range of issues on child protection. Hopefully the Commonwealth will be able to answer that this afternoon. We certainly have a range of conversations with Professor Scott and her whole study in the institute on these issues.

CHAIR —Thank you for your evidence. If we can get the information back that we requested from the Attorney-General’s Department that would be really good. If there is anything else that you think has come up that you need to provide further information on, then please give that to the secretariat.

Ms Petersen —Will the secretariat provide me with written records so I will know exactly what is required?

CHAIR —Absolutely. We will do that next week.

Ms Petersen —Thank you.

CHAIR —The committee is now adjourned.

Proceedings suspended from 12.31 pm to 1.31 pm