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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 —Our first witnesses are from the Department of Immigration and Citizenship. I welcome Mr Templeton and Ms Montgomery.

Mr Templeton —I am pleased to be here today to provide you with an update on the outcomes of recommendations relevant to the Department of Immigration and Citizenship in relation to the Lost innocents and Forgotten Australians reports. These important reports outline a number of issues but, most importantly, issues to do with hardship and mistreatment experienced by many post-World War II child migrants and children in institutional care. The reports contain 33 and 39 recommendations respectively. The former Australian government responses to these reports identified that some of these recommendations were directed to state governments, sending and receiving agencies and those organisations that ran institutions in which former child migrants were placed.

A range of recommendations were also directed to the Australian government. Some of those, mainly from the Lost innocents report and a couple from Forgotten Australians became the responsibility of the immigration portfolio. Just to clarify, at the time of the report’s publication the immigration portfolio was the Department of Immigration, Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs or DIMIA. As you rightly point out, we are now known as the Department of Immigration and Citizenship, or DIAC, and for ease of reference in my statement, I refer to the portfolio by its current name. Obviously that means anything to do with the portfolio under its previous name relates to DIAC.

You would be aware that DIAC lodged a formal submission to this inquiry in February. The submission provides an update on the department’s implementation of relevant recommendations. I propose just to provide a general statement on DIAC’s activity since the publication of the reports, rather than address each recommendation individually. I am happy to help with any specific questions following that.

Before I discuss DIAC’s activities in implementing relevant recommendations of the report, it is worth noting that DIAC’s responsibilities have related only to issues relating to former child migrants, rather than the broader group of people who were placed in institutional or out-of-home care. For this reason, DIAC’s responses relate mainly to the recommendations contained in the Lost innocents report, as I said previously.

Since the committee released the Lost innocents report, some seven years ago now in 2001, and the Australian government’s formal response in 2002, there have been some significant developments in the area of providing assistance and support for former child migrants. Since 2002 the Australian government has committed some $6.5 million to a package of assistance and support for former child migrants from the United Kingdom and Malta. This package included funding for family tracing and counselling services, contributions to state initiated memorials to commemorate former child migrants, and the establishment of the Australian travel fund to provide financial assistance for travel and accommodation expenses for former child migrants wishing to return to their country of origin to reunite with surviving family members or to visit family grave sites.

The initial package of assistance, when delivered in 2002, totalled around $3.5 million over three years. However, due to continuing demand, additional funds to the order of $3 million were allocated in the financial year 2004-05.

The Australian Travel Fund was established in 2002 to assist former child migrants undertaking reunion visits in the United Kingdom and Malta. Three million dollars was initially allocated and, due to continuing demand, an additional $2.5 million was allocated in 2004-05, bringing the total Australian government funding to $5.5 million. Over its period of operation, the Travel Fund assisted 771 former child migrants, with 703 reunion visits completed. That was approximately twice the number of equivalent United Kingdom child migrant travel supported by that fund, which facilitated 325 reunion visits for British former child migrants in Australia. The Australian Travel Fund’s higher access rate may have been due to its eligibility criteria, which were significantly less restrictive than those set by the United Kingdom Child Migrant Support Fund.

Following the first three years of operation the time period for travel under the fund was extended to 31 May 2006. However, between 1 September 2005 and 31 May 2006, of 77 applicants approved to travel, only seven completed their travel for myriad reasons, including health and some concerns over the security situation in London. With the decline in the number of approved applicants travelling, the Australian Travel Fund was ceased by the former government in June 2006.

The Australian government committed $100,000 in total to erect memorials in the six states that received children under the child migration schemes, noting that the Territory did not receive any form of child migrants. State governments committed funding and also consulted with former child migrants on the form and locations of the memorials. All six memorials have been completed and unveiled.

The Australian government committed $375,000 over three years in 2002 for the Child Migrants Trust to provide family tracing and counselling services for former child migrants who were sent to Australia up until 1967. In 2004-05 additional funding of $450,000 was allocated over the next three financial years to bring the Australian government’s contribution to $825,000. That contribution was mentioned in our submission to the inquiry. It should be noted that reports earlier this year from the Child Migrant Trust indicated that 845 former child migrants accessed its services in 2007-08. In recognition of that client demand, further funding of $150,000 has been allocated to the Child Migrant Trust this financial year. This funding has been allocated following DIAC’s lodgement of its submission. In total since 2002 some $975,000 has been provided to the Child Migrant Trust and the total assistance package in response to the Lost innocents report is $6,575,000. Thank you.

CHAIR —Thank you. Ms Montgomery, do you wish to add anything at this stage?

Ms Montgomery —No.

Senator BOYCE —There was one query that came up out of the evidence given earlier this morning by the Migrant Child Trust. They brought to our attention the cases of five people who went back to the UK before the inquiry and so missed out on the citizenship requirements that were available then. Are those five cases known to the department? These are people who are seeking to come back to Australia as citizens.

Mr Templeton —I do not have details of that. Their circumstances may well be known to the department. I do not have in-depth knowledge of those individual cases. I may be able to talk generally about something, or if I have the names I can go back and get some information.

Senator BOYCE —I do not have the names. I am trying to verify if these are under active consideration by the department?

Mr Templeton —I am not aware if they may or may not be.

Senator BOYCE —Is it possible for you to find that out?

Mr Templeton —With names I could, yes.

Senator BOYCE —We will attempt to give you that.

CHAIR —Because of the sensitivity of the issues around child migrants and the fact that we have had these serious concerns for many years, is there a protocol within the department that all issues to do with child migrants are noted by any particular area, or do they just take their chances when they ring through with any inquiries?

Mr Templeton —There is not a specific area that deals with it in terms of active individual casework. Yes, to a degree they take their chances. If they are applying for visas under the Migration Act, as with everyone else, they are considered on a case-by-case basis against the criteria set out in the Migration Act.

Senator BOYCE —Would there be no sense of these people having the opportunity to put forward their special circumstances?

Mr Templeton —It depends on the case that they may be lodging. Certain cases in the Migration Act and regulations attract review rights that can be heard through the Migration Review Tribunal. Should a case be refused, the Migration Review Tribunal can be appealed to. Beyond that appeal, there is an appeal to the minister over specific individual circumstances.

Senator BOYCE —I need to know the process of it.

Mr Templeton —There is not a specific pathway for former child migrants, per se, through the Migration Act and regulations.

Senator BOYCE —I will approach your offer with some caution, because at this stage I do not know if these people want their names to be made known. We will see where we go with that. Probably in the same line in terms of the process, you note in your report that you did offer to undertake special citizenship ceremonies for former child migrants, but that none have been requested. Again, would you be confident that you would know about every former child migrant who became a citizen?

Mr Templeton —Yes.

Senator BOYCE —Are they categorised as such?

Mr Templeton —Yes. Since 1995, for instance, British child migrants have been able to seek citizenship with fee waived. Following the Lost innocents report, Maltese former child migrants were able to access the same. There would be a way to identify that. With the issue of special ceremonies, the department was prepared to do special ceremonies should the need arise and should the request be made, but the records do not hold any evidence to suggest that such a thing has been sought.

Senator BOYCE —Are you confident that anyone who came into this criteria would have been aware that they could ask for special citizenship ceremonies?

Mr Templeton —Part of the work that the Child Migrant Trust has been doing is in relation to citizenship. I cannot be 100 per cent confident, obviously, but I would like to think that information was available.

Senator BOYCE —How many former child migrants have become Australian citizens?

Mr Templeton —I do not have that figure with me, but I can take that on notice and try to get that for you.

Senator BOYCE —We have received in evidence your letter to the Child Migrants Trust talking about future funding arrangements.

Mr Templeton —That is right.

Senator BOYCE —Can you give us any update on your letter of 3 March?

Mr Templeton —My letter of 3 March indicated that I am unable to provide surety about ongoing funding for the Child Migrant Trust. The matter of ongoing funding is under active consideration and I would like to think that we would be in a position well before 30 June to let the Child Migrant Trust know.

Senator BOYCE —What needs to happen for you to be able to tell the Child Migrant Trust what the answer is?

Mr Templeton —The matter is something that would be—

CHAIR —It would be subject to the budget deliberation.

Senator BOYCE —Thank you, Chair.

CHAIR —That is the answer I kept getting.

Senator BOYCE —From what you have just told us in your opening statement, any funding under the travel fund stopped in June 2006.

Mr Templeton —That is right.

Senator BOYCE —Am I right in summarising what you said as there was no call for the service any longer?

Mr Templeton —The demand for the service had dropped away. As I said, less than 10 of the 70 or so approved in that last 12 months of the travel fund actually were able to make the trip, so the government of the day took the decision that the travel fund would cease.

Senator BOYCE —Did you not think that the other 70 might want to travel at a later time?

Mr Templeton —I do not have the papers with regard to the background.

Senator BOYCE —You said that some of them were concerned about the security situation, so presumably if that has settled down then they would change their minds.

Mr Templeton —Some of them did not travel for reasons to do with ill health. Some of them had passed on. There was definite fear of travelling after the London bombings and there were some other emotional reasons. There was nothing that would make you confident to say why people did or did not take up the opportunity. Clearly, in that last year the demand for travel dropped away and there was a decision taken, I imagine, in a budget context.

Senator BOYCE —The other point is that, by its very nature, as you point out, by the age of the people involved and by the fact that the ones who could fairly readily find their families did so quite quickly, so you were left with a group who were having great difficulty tracking down families. Was there any sense that some of these people would want to travel for perhaps years into the future, albeit very small numbers?

Mr Templeton —I am not aware of whether that thought process was applied at that point in time. It is not something I was intimately involved in. It is something that bears consideration.

Senator BOYCE —Yes.

CHAIR —My understanding was that the travel funding was linked to actually tracing family. It was a two-part step, that you had to have traced family or found out that family had deceased, so you had a grave to visit. I know that was the difference between your scheme and the one that was handled by the English government. The thing that we are aware of is that the issues around tracing family can take extraordinary amounts of time and if you had not been able to trace your family up until 2006 and if you were still seeking that process, it could well mean that you could become eligible now when you were not eligible up until 2006.

Senator BOYCE —For instance, the 70-year-old man that we heard about earlier.

Mr Templeton —Yes, I heard that case.

CHAIR —The eligibility could have been an issue as well.

Mr Templeton —Just in response to that, my understanding is that the travel fund was slightly less restrictive than the UK travel fund, and it was subject to some criteria. There is no doubt about that.

CHAIR —You put in your submission how the criteria worked.

Mr Templeton —It was not means tested. It was available for former child migrants, including child migrants from Malta, who may have undertaken previous visits at their own expense. It did permit visits to a broader range of relatives, including aunts, uncles, cousins, nephews and nieces. It did encompass a situation where there was a visit to a family grave site. It did provide, in exceptional circumstances, for a spouse, child or other person, as an accompanying carer, to travel with the applicant. They were the criteria at the time the fund was in existence. As I said, it is no longer there.

CHAIR —To apply for the travel fund two main criteria were to be met: firstly, the applicant arrived in Australia under an approved child migration scheme and, secondly, the applicant had either successfully traced surviving family members who welcomed a reunion visit or had traced family and had a grave site to visit.

Mr Templeton —Yes.

CHAIR —It would be seemingly that most people would be able to fulfil part one, simply by tracing what available records there were. The killer would be part two if the trouble with records, of which we have been made aware in our submissions, was as deep as we have been led to believe. That could have been a reason. All of the other things would be right, but you could not do that. We know that you cannot make an opinion on policy, and it was a government decision to cease the funding, but it just seems to me that we are finding more and more people now in the other group of people who were in care, not necessarily child migrants, but we heard the story this morning of the child migrant that there were these issues around records. They were not eligible in the period that the scheme was running. The scheme has now ended and they have found they are now eligible and they miss out.

Senator BOYCE —That is a point.

CHAIR —From the evidence we have already taken, it would seem that there will be quite a long tail of people who would now meet those criteria if the fund currently existed, but it is a tail of much smaller numbers.

Mr Templeton —What you are saying is quite clear. Madam Chair, you identified that not everyone who applied for travel at that time was actually approved. The vast majority were, but there were some that were not approved. I would assume that they were not approved because of failure to meet one of those two critical criteria. One is either that they could not identify the actual person or a grave site.

Senator BOYCE —Do you have any records or knowledge of funds expended in this area by state governments and by other agencies that may have had the care of the child migrants at some juncture?

Mr Templeton —Not to any degree of certainty, no. I am aware that the Child Migrant Trust gets some additional funding from a couple of state governments and has got some funding from the UK, but I am not familiar with the entirety of funding that may have been made available through state governments in the last number of years.

Senator BOYCE —In some ways when the travel fund stopped you lost any ability you might have had to have knowledge of other funds that were being made available to people. Is that the case?

Mr Templeton —When the travel fund stopped it ceased to be there and we moved on to other work that we do in the settlement field.

Senator BOYCE —Presumably, if you were applying for the travel fund you might have also been asked to tell the government or the department what other funds were available to you from other organisations?

Mr Templeton —I am at a bit of a disadvantage because I did not work with the scheme. My understanding was that it was not means tested and the government picked up the tab if you were eligible, so I do not think they would have gone into other funding sources. As I said, part of it was that you could be funded under the travel scheme even if you had previously travelled at your own expense.

CHAIR —You could not go if you had access under the UK system.

Mr Templeton —Yes, as I said, if they travelled at their own expense.

Senator BOYCE —One of the issues that I am coming to terms with in regard to both the child migrants and the Forgotten Australians is that there does not appear to be any body that has an oversight of the amount of funding that is put in by respective governments and agencies towards assisting people in these categories. I realise that it is a rather odd activity for the department of immigration to be involved in, and you have no formal or informal ways of collecting information in this area.

Mr Templeton —No. That is right.

Senator HUMPHRIES —You respond to recommendation 6 of the Forgotten Australians report which refers to the ‘Commonwealth government establishing and managing a national reparation fund for victims of institutional abuse in institutions and out-of-home care settings’. You then go on in response to that to say that in relation to former child migrants ‘the amount of reparation for former child migrants who were victims of institutional abuse was for the consideration of state and territory governments, religious orders and sending and receiving agencies’. That does not arise out of the Forgotten Australians report. I assume that is a reference to what was in the Lost innocents report rather than the Forgotten Australians report. Our recommendation was for a national reparations fund established and managed by the Commonwealth. I do not know whether that section was accidentally transposed into this answer or not, but we were obviously looking at having some kind of national oversight of reparations and in the case of up to three states, at this stage, there is no such reparation scheme. Is it possible to get a more direct response to that recommendation?

Mr Templeton —We can try. The recommendation for Forgotten Australians encompasses a lot of people and the child migrants is a subgroup of it.

Senator HUMPHRIES —Not really.

Mr Templeton —We may have misinterpreted it, but we did see what we thought was a link there and we thought that it was important to say that this sort of issue was part of the previous report as well, and that is why our response is as such. Can we refine it and come back to you on it? I think the answer is that we can try our hardest.

Senator HUMPHRIES —All right. Thank you.

CHAIR —What is the rationale for your department funding the Child Migrant Trust?

Mr Templeton —That is a very good question. Historically, we have had a lot to do with the Child Migrant Trust over a number of years. I think it might go back as many as 30 years. It might be linked to that in some way. You would know that our settlement funding programs are really focused heavily on the newly arrived migrants these days, and we try to work in a five-year spectrum.

CHAIR —And majorly focused on language, which I would have thought was not a particular issue for this group.

Mr Templeton —There being majorly focused on language is a reflection of the change in the migration program over the years.

CHAIR —That seems to be a large bulk of the funding and the ongoing support.

Mr Templeton —As I said, I think it is a really critical question. We have been taking on that role for a long time. There are parallels. We used to take on a great role with aged care work in well established migrant communities, but that has now been dealt with and recognised.

CHAIR —I was just wondering if there was anything apart from history. I will ask FaHCSIA the same thing. It seems to me, from the work that has been done by the scheme now, that it is much more a FaHCSIA responsibility than an immigration one. I will talk to them about that as well.

I am interested in the issues around citizenship. I know that had been finalised well before this particular look at the process. What was the rationale behind the government’s response for not providing automatic citizenship to anyone who had been a child migrant? I am still struggling with that. I would like the formal government reason as to why that was not applicable.

Mr Templeton —In the report we talk about the fact that it may have impacted. Only people borne in Australia automatically attain Australian citizenship. That is the starting point. There are people who do have a nationality. If you automatically override it with an Australian citizenship you may in fact disadvantage them. That does not necessarily apply to UK migrants, but it may have applied to the Maltese group in terms of things that they might have been entitled to and loss of citizenship. If I could I would rather take that question on notice.

CHAIR —I am really interested to get the rationale. This is not just to do with child migrants, but we consistently get cases in our offices from people who are UK citizens who have lived here for a long time and for whatever reason were not aware of the changes that took place, which actually changed that interaction between governments, and have been caught out when they have been trying to go home. We have heard cases from child migrants with similar stories, and the one public case of the person who was deported as a result of the deportation processes after a criminal conviction had lived in the country and had served in the Australian armed forces. I am at a loss as to how someone can live in the country for that long, serve and fight in the Australian army, and still not be considered to have the right to Australian citizenship.

Mr Templeton —Without going into that specific example—

CHAIR —I understand, but it was highly publicised and that is the reason I used it as an example.

Mr Templeton —The acquisition of Australian citizenship is something where there needs to be an active role. For children that is very difficult, and for lots of children it is done with their parents. Child migrants were not in that position, so they did not have that option. To become an Australian citizen, it is not by virtue of living here, it is by virtue of seeking. That is part of the underlying principle. The background to the issue of people who are not citizens being removed from the country after years of residence is section 501 of the Migration Act.

CHAIR —I know section 501 awfully well.

Mr Templeton —It does not have a time limit on it.

CHAIR —It is a confronting thing. I know it was an issue in the Lost innocents report. I think people have come to grips with it more and that has not been as big an issue in this second round of looking at recommendations. In reading the Lost innocents report and seeing the submissions that came to that inquiry, there was a great deal of angst about the fact that these children did not have parental consent. They were sent here without their consent. If they had been part of a family here and the family had chosen to be Australian citizens they would automatically become Australian citizens. They were actually in the care of state premiers who did not take the effort to make them Australian citizens. Certainly, for me, it is one of the most confronting things out of the original report.

Mr Templeton —I was listening this morning when Mr Johnston was speaking. I think you were asking a question about citizenship. It was slightly reassuring to hear him say that citizenship is not the pressing issue that it once was. That does not mean it is not an issue.

CHAIR —Unless you are not one and you do not realise that you are not one. One of the ongoing issues in this inquiry, and I think it happens everywhere, is the clear fact that no matter what process you do to provide information people will always miss out on it. It does not matter what efforts you make to publicise a change or to try to get people engaged, you will have people who have no idea until they are in trouble. Because we have such appalling records, and we cannot be assured at all that we know exactly the numbers and where they are, I have this sense that somewhere bubbling is a potential citizenship issue. I would like to get that formal rationale for the government decision.

Mr Templeton —Yes.

Senator BOYCE —Some would say the current citizenship question worked quite well in the case, particularly of the convicted paedophile who was deported to the UK after living here for more than 40 years.

CHAIR —Thank you Mr Templeton and Ms Montgomery.

[2.02 pm]