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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 —It is Claire Moore here. In the room I have got Senator Gary Humphries from the ACT and Senator Sue Boyce from Queensland. We have your submission. As you know, as a public servant you will not be asked opinion on government policy. We will try to keep to that. We always make that statement and then we ask you questions that are particularly your opinion on government policy, but you do not have to answer them.

Ms Jacob —I appreciate that.

CHAIR —Do you have an opening statement?

Ms Jacob —We would like to emphasise the fact that Tasmania, particularly in relation to the Forgotten Australians, has tried to implement many of the recommendations of the original report. We are now in our third round of applications for ex-gratia payments. We have also made a commitment recognising that there would still be some people who, for whatever reason, have not made an application during the first three rounds of compensation. The government has also established a trust fund that would allow an ongoing process for any person who subsequently comes forward to be able to have an application dealt with according to the same processes, although those payments would be capped at the average payment that has been made up to date, which is $35,000. I thought it would be useful to update the committee on that.

I would also like to emphasise that the memorial that was unveiled by our minister in November last year, which is a rose garden at our botanical gardens, has been a very successful recognition of the pain and suffering of Forgotten Australians. Certainly, the feedback that we have had is that gesture, if you like, of providing that memorial as a contemplative place for people to go if they want to just see the garden or they want to see this memorial, it is up to them, but that it has been a very suitable memorial to those people. We just wanted to acknowledge the contribution of the Australian government to that as well.

CHAIR —Thank you.

Senator HUMPHRIES —In your submission you do not provide a lot of detail about the way in which your redress scheme works. You said that you are capping payments to $35,000. Is that the previous average payment?

Ms Jacob —I should clarify that. I probably skipped over it too quickly. At the moment we have a third round of applications being processed, but applications for that round closed on 31 July in 2008. We are in the process of assessing those claims, and those payments will be made according to the independent assessor’s assessment of what those people might have a claim to. Recognising that there might be people who did not apply, the government has established a trust fund for dealing with any subsequent claims which might come forward, and those claims will be capped at $35,000.

Senator HUMPHRIES —Was it the government’s original announced intention to have three rounds of applications for this process, or has that been an ad hoc decision that has been made as time goes by?

Ms Jacob —It certainly was not the original intention to have additional rounds. I suppose what it heard was that applicants continued to come forward after the rounds had been closed and the government was persuaded by their legitimacy and thought that in the interest of fairness and equity they really needed to be able to offer a process for people who might have not have heard about the initial round for some reason.

We are also aware that there were some people who had been either out of the country, in hospital, prison or whatever else. There were some very good reasons for allowing people who may not have known about the first rounds to then come forward. One of our learnings has been that, however widely you publicise such programs and however many claimants you might have, it always seems that there are more there who will come to the fore when that process has finished.

Senator HUMPHRIES —Indeed. That is a quite likely experience to be replicated in other places. It leads me to ask that if for some reason a national reparations or redress scheme were to be adopted, as was the original recommendation of this committee, I presume that there is some potential for Tasmania to participate in that on the basis that, firstly, it would deal with states where there has not been a redress scheme and, secondly, deal with that mopping up exercise in the states that have had a scheme but where people have come forward later who might not have known or had a good reason not to approach the government about the grant.

Ms Jacob —That is a difficult one for me to comment on. The only response I could really make to that is that we now have in place a continual process, if you like, for being able to take applications from people who may have missed out in official rounds. In a sense, to use your words, we already have in place a mopping up process that will continue to exist.

Senator HUMPHRIES —Who can apply under your scheme? Is it the people who have only been in state care? Can it include people who have been in care of non-government organisations? Does it include child migrants? Does it include children of the stolen generation?

Ms Jacob —I will ask Ms Wagner, who is the manager of that program, to answer that question because she can do that in a more detailed way than I can.

Senator HUMPHRIES —Thank you.

Ms Wagner —The answer to your question is yes. We look at cases of migrants, children who have been placed in non-government, in particular church-run organisations, and other institutions. However, we would only look at those cases where those children were placed there by the state. The underlying criterion is that they were placed in state care. The state may then have put those children into one of those institutions.

Senator HUMPHRIES —I assume that means that, as you have had these various rounds of applications open in Tasmania, people have come forward who have been placed in care voluntarily by parents or relatives or who otherwise do not fit the criteria where you have had to say, ‘I am sorry, but we can’t entertain an application from you.’

Ms Wagner —That is correct. Children that have gone into those institutions under what we call a private placement were often the avenue that they would find themselves in, and they would not be eligible under our scheme.

Senator HUMPHRIES —These are the sorts of gaps that a national scheme might be able to pick up. Do you also provide services to people who have been in care through state government agencies that are on an ongoing nature and do not hang off making a grant of redress to those individuals?

Ms Jacob —We do have an ongoing process which we call our After Care Support Program, which is run out of our Department of Health and Human Services. It really does provide for file review, an initial capacity for any applicant to be able to see their file, to be walked through the information in their file and to be referred on for counselling and support if that is deemed necessary. Obviously, that does not involve any ex-gratia payment.

Senator HUMPHRIES —Do you provide a service to help care leavers obtain access to records in either non-government hands or in government archives?

Ms Jacob —Yes, we do provide that service.

Senator HUMPHRIES —Is that in the nature of advice or is there a streamlined access pathway to government records? Is it only online? How does that work?

Ms Jacob —Is it all right if I ask the manager of the service to answer that question?

Senator HUMPHRIES —Yes, it is.

Ms Jacob —Ms Hobday can answer that question.

Ms Hobday —Our After Care Support Program works in two ways. First of all, for people who are 19 to 24 we have support for them after they have got their Commonwealth grant, and that support can go to some funds up to $2,000 for them to be able to access education and training that maybe they did not want to access when they first left care. For those who are older, after 24, we can search their records for them. We can try to find family members, if that is what they want. We can give them copies of their full records. We can talk them through the kinds of differences there were in communities at those times, which seems to be the thing we do most. We talk to them about what it was like in the sixties and seventies for families, so that we put their file into context, if you like. Then we offer them opportunities to go and get more thorough counselling, if needed, through a raft of psychologists or counsellors around the state.

Senator HUMPHRIES —These are people who offer a support service to care leavers to help them fish out information in the files and generally provide them with some guidance and counselling?

Ms Hobday —Yes. Our staff does that fully, whether you are in the north, south or west, so all of their information will be received from us, but any ongoing support they would need to be purchasing through counsellors outside our staff.

Senator HUMPHRIES —Is that support to people in all kinds of care, or only those that were referred by the state into care?

Ms Hobday —Yes, for those who have been referred by the state into care.

Senator HUMPHRIES —Do you know if equivalent services are provided by non-government organisations and churches of the same general nature?

Ms Hobday —If they were referred to care through Centrecare then they are, but I am not sure about other agencies.

Senator HUMPHRIES —Centrecare is the Catholic agency.

Ms Hobday —Yes.

Senator HUMPHRIES —Roughly how many homes for children were there in Tasmania in the twentieth century?

Ms Hobday —I am trying to get an assessment of that.

Senator HUMPHRIES —I do not need an exact figure. An approximation will do.

Ms Hobday —Probably 10 or 12, with some very small group homes as well.

Senator HUMPHRIES —We did have some evidence in Victoria, which I must say was in the nature of hearsay and was not very clear, so you might not be able to respond to it. We were talking about access to records. Someone made the assertion that in Tasmania there was particular difficulty with care leavers being able to access their records, with some point blank refusals to make access available. It sounds as if this might have been access to non-government records. Are you aware of concerns expressed by care leavers about getting access to their records in relation to any agencies that are or have been in Tasmania?

Ms Jacob —Yes. We are aware of some concerns. I might ask Ms Hobday to respond to that.

Ms Hobday —We have had that said to us, but if someone came to our office we would enable them to access their records, and always have done that. Sometimes people go to the wrong place or they are not sent to the right place by other communities. Certainly, in the last two years or so I have not heard that complaint at all.

Senator HUMPHRIES —Are you saying that it is not a big issue in the care leaver community down there?

Ms Hobday —No, not at all.

Ms Jacob —I would have to say that as deputy secretary who would normally see any complaints or any of those issues or concerns that came through any channel, I am not aware of anything that has come through officially in that regard.

Senator HUMPHRIES —Are you aware of people attempting to use the FOI system to access records or some other means of accessing records about not necessarily themselves but siblings who might have also been in the care system and who have been denied access for privacy reasons? If so, is there any consideration being given in Tasmania to amending your FOI legislation to provide an exemption for people in those situations who are seeking identifying information about their own past?

Ms Jacob —Again, I am not aware of any particular examples, but that is not to say that they did not occur. I can say that there is no current proposal for a specific amendment, although I am aware that there is a general review of our FOI Act being undertaken at the moment. It is possible that issue might be raised during that review.

Senator BOYCE —If a complaint was brought to you about a non-government agency that was not willing to provide information, what would the department do?

Ms Jacob —That is a good question. Given that has not occurred, to my knowledge, I am not sure what our channel would be. I assume that we would contact the non-government agency and just see if there were any particular issues that could be resolved and to try to provide some negotiation on behalf of whoever raised it. At the end of the day it would really be up to that non-government agency and whatever rules governed their processes.

Senator BOYCE —We are seeing that as part of the problem, that it is unfortunately up to those individual agencies. Are you saying that to the best of your knowledge that situation has never occurred in Tasmania?

Ms Jacob —I am saying that it has not been brought to my personal attention. I am not aware of that. Obviously, I would not be privy to any complaints or issues that might have been raised with non-government agencies. That simply would not come through my office.

Senator BOYCE —Thank you.

Senator HUMPHRIES —Thank you very much indeed.

Senator BOYCE —Perhaps I could follow up on that. You said the information about non-government agencies and their dealings with people does not come to your office. Is there any mechanism whatsoever within the Tasmanian government to oversight what happens with regards to people approaching non-government groups?

Ms Jacob —Ms Wagner might have a comment on that.

Ms Wagner —I was going to make a comment in relation to claimants under our current process. If we have a claimant under our current round that comes forward and wants to access information which might include a mix of state government welfare files and/or files from outside organisations, we will work with them to assist them in getting access to the forms, help them to fill out the forms, or even on occasion write to the organisation on their behalf. We do that on behalf of people that come to see us.

Senator BOYCE —In your view how would you characterise the response of the outside organisations?

Ms Wagner —It has generally been reasonably good to date. My sense of it is that organisations vary in the extent to which they retained information. As Ms Hobday said, Centrecare, the Catholic organisation, seemed to have kept reasonably good records, but other organisations, particularly when you are talking about non-government or community based in the broad, the information is very patchy and often not kept. We had one example where we understand some records of a former home may be kept in someone’s garage. It is really the nature of those organisations in the long run.

Senator BOYCE —Who are the major players? You have mentioned the Catholic Church and Centrecare. Who are the other major non-government players in Tasmania?

Ms Wagner —The Salvation Army is another big organisation down here that were involved in a number of homes. We work with them through their regional offices in Victoria to get access to information. We also have contact through the Church of England as well to some of their former orphanages. They have been quite helpful as well. We have links and are able to help people in that. My sense is that the information that is kept by many of those organisations is simply not as comprehensive as that kept by the state.

Senator BOYCE —Would your view be that organisations are being as helpful as they are able to be?

Ms Wagner —Yes.

Senator BOYCE —I am going through your submission. You talk about the reparation processes carried out for the Lost Innocents. Can you tell us what that reparation process was? We have the information here about the memorials, accessing files and so on. What else was involved and how many people benefited?

Ms Jacob —I will ask Ms Hobday to address that one for you.

Ms Hobday —It was interesting in that we advertised this in all of the newspapers as well as all of the tiny newspapers in towns. We advertised it through churches and school communities. The uptake was not large. I do not have the file with me, but we had about 48 or 49 people. Of those people, some found a few more of their friends who were in homes, but a lot of people did not come forward because they either did not want to remember that time or felt that their time was good. There were quite a few people who told us that they actually had a good time and it was good for them to have been brought out.

Senator BOYCE —Do you know how many child migrants were sent to Tasmania?

Ms Hobday —It is 365 in total, but a lot of those child migrants are no longer in the state. In fact, we advertised as well in Western Australia, Victoria and New South Wales. When the memorial was dedicated we had some people travel down from New South Wales and across from South Australia to that memorial dedication.

The second part of that process was for those who had not got their files; we assisted them to receive the files that we had. Some of it was fairly scant, depending on where they came from and what home they went to, but most people managed to find something about their families. For some of them we helped find families in conjunction with the British scheme and some went home to Britain and met up with families.

Senator BOYCE —Did the Tasmanian government contribute in any way to that travel?

Ms Hobday —No, I do not think so. It was the British government travel scheme that we hooked into.

Senator BOYCE —We also had evidence from the Child Migration Trust who were administering a travel fund that was funded by the federal government, with some input to the trust from some state governments. Has the Tasmanian government contributed to the Child Migration Trust in Australia?

Ms Jacob —We are not aware of any contributions.

Senator BOYCE —Are you aware if you were ever asked for any contributions?

Ms Jacob —No, I am sorry, I am not aware. We could take that on notice.

Senator BOYCE —If you could try to check that out, that would be good. Are there any other funds provided to people under the Lost Innocents process?

Ms Hobday —There were no other funds provided. It was mostly in-kind support. We have one family that, at odd times, is still coming to see us and we will be available for them and their families for the rest of their lives, but no finances.

Senator BOYCE —I note that you say that the number of child migrants contacting the department has dwindled significantly in recent years. We had evidence this morning pointing out that you have an ageing population and that the people who could relatively easily find their families did so in the first few years, but that there will be an ongoing number of people who are going to keep searching. In fact, in some cases they have been looking for their families for 15 years or more. What will the Tasmanian government do to assist people who might—and as you say in quite small numbers—find family or evidence of family in the coming years?

Ms Hobday —We can support them to look for family overseas; we can support them with that knowledge, but we have no financial basis in which to enable them to travel back and do those kinds of things. We write letters for them sometimes and give them that kind of help.

Senator BOYCE —Who do you think should be responsible for funding their travel?

Ms Jacob —I do not think that is something we can comment on. I can just give you one more bit of information. In relation to the abuse in care ex-gratia payment program, we do know that in the second round of that program 13 of the claimants were British child migrants, so they would have had compensation through that process.

Senator BOYCE —I was going to ask questions around the Forgotten Australians about your ex-gratia payments. Some child migrants in the second round received payments.

Ms Jacob —Yes. There were 13 in that round and, because we are still processing the applicants for round 3, we do not know. So far we think there are at least two who have applied.

Senator BOYCE —I was going to ask you about what you call the review process for the Forgotten Australians. As you said, you are up to the third round. Can you give us some details on the first two rounds: how many people and how much money?

Ms Jacob —Yes, we can. There was approximately $24 million allocated. Under rounds one and two there were 878 claims received and, of those, 686 received a payment. As I said, the total of that was approximately $24 million.

Senator BOYCE —Was the $24 million allocated expended?

Ms Jacob —Absolutely.

Senator BOYCE —We have just on 200 who were not accepted. Is that right?

Ms Jacob —Yes, it is approximately that. There were 878 claims and 686 received a payment.

Senator BOYCE —Could you tell us why those claimants were refused?

Ms Jacob —I will ask Ms Wagner to address that for you.

Ms Wagner —There were a number of reasons. The primary reason for many of the claimants who were not eligible under the process is because they were privately placed in those institutions. We also have an age criterion that claims need to meet; a number of claimants were not eligible for that reason as well. Very few—but some—were found not to have a case to answer.

Senator BOYCE —By which you mean they had not actually been in care?

Ms Wagner —Yes, or they were claiming for some place that was outside the network of approved children.

Senator BOYCE —Is that outside the criteria?

Ms Wagner —Yes.

Senator BOYCE —In what way? Could you explain how?

Ms Wagner —For example, there are a number of claimants who were placed in holiday camps; they were not in out-of-home care. They were in temporary arrangements, like holiday care.

Senator BOYCE —Did they live with a family, went on a holiday camp and were abused whilst at the camp?

Ms Wagner —Yes.

Senator BOYCE —We also had evidence in a couple of places about the difficulties that people had if they had moved interstate since they were in care. Can you tell us how many people from interstate or overseas were included in the 686?

Ms Jacob —Yes. I am not sure that we can in the first two rounds.

Ms Wagner —I would need to work out what the exact figures are for the first two rounds, but I can tell you in relation to the current round.

Senator BOYCE —Yes, that would be fine.

Ms Jacob —I will read those for you. The figures we have relate to 994 claims in the third round. Of those, 788 are from Tasmania; 68, Victoria; 47, New South Wales; 55, Queensland; 12, Western Australia; three, ACT; and three from overseas.

Senator BOYCE —The number of applications for the third round is equal to the total of the first two rounds. Is that correct?

Ms Jacob —Yes. In fact it surpassed it. It was over 1,000 by the time that it closed.

Senator BOYCE —That is interesting that the numbers are going up. Are people finally becoming aware of what is available and finally feeling that they have the right to speak up?

Ms Jacob —It is a difficult thing to assess. We made every effort that we possibly could to advertise through every possible channel, and we think that possibly meant that more people were made aware of the program. It is also possible that simply word of mouth and relatives of initial claimants who knew that a particular relative had received a payment then came forward. It may simply be that people just thought that they were emotionally and psychologically capable of coming forward at that time. It is really difficult to know. It is certainly true that the third round surpassed the first two rounds, and we have had more since it closed.

Ms Wagner —There have been 114.

Ms Jacob —Yes, 114 have come forward since the third round closed.

Senator BOYCE —Would this be a fairly unusual reaction to first, second and third round type grant applications? I am trying to think of another situation with presumably a finite sized group where you would get increasing levels of application rather than dwindling levels.

Ms Jacob —It surprised us as well on one level, but we also flooded the advertising, in terms of really trying to reach as many people as possible because we did not want to have to do another round; we really wanted to make sure that we had reached as many people as possible. It is very difficult for us to know whether or not it was simply that people had prepared themselves psychologically or emotionally to come forward and maybe were not prepared to do that in the first two rounds. It is just not possible to know that.

Senator BOYCE —It would be very interesting to know. It may follow other abuse type situations where the fact that one or two people are prepared to speak out validates a person feeling that it is acceptable for them to speak out, especially when perhaps they have quite low self-esteem and have not been used to people listening to what they have got to say.

Ms Jacob —That is probably true. It is also probably true that they would have had contact with people who did receive a payment in the first two rounds and recognised that it was actually a genuine process.

Senator BOYCE —My next question was going to be a qualitative one, too. We have taken evidence in a number of places from people in the Forgotten Australians cohort about how beneficial they find the existence of what you call a review process. Could you comment on how people who have received your payment and found out their stories and so on have responded to the existence of this program?

Ms Jacob —I will comment first and then I will ask Ms Wagner to comment. My comment would be based on the response to the rose garden memorial where we invited a lot of people who had been recipients of our program to attend that dedication. It would be fair to say that there was a mixed mood, but a number of the recipients indicated at that time that they felt that at least they had been heard and, to some degree, the validation of their suffering was a comfort to them. That is not to say that there would not be a proportion of people who, regardless of whether or not there was a program, continue to feel extremely hurt, angry and upset about what has happened to them, and probably for good reason.

Ms Wagner —Our current oldest applicant was born in 1926, so we have had some people who come through the process who are getting fairly elderly and in some cases they are telling us their stories for the first time. It has been a great comfort for them that finally someone has listened and acknowledged what occurred to them as children. We have our fair share. We have our mix. We often see people who have travelled through different routes through their lives, through the justice system, and remain very angry and bitter at what happened to them as children.

Senator BOYCE —I have come to the view during this inquiry that it seems unfortunate and probably unacceptable that there is no organisation that is currently oversighting what is being done to assist people in the areas of both the Lost Innocents and the Forgotten Australians by the federal government, state governments and especially the non-government organisations who were initially responsible for some of the problems in these people’s lives. Is this an issue that the department has looked at and do you have a view on how that might take place?

Ms Jacob —The only comment that we would really want to make is that any of these programs are immensely complex. I would have to say that establishing the programs down here has been complex; that is the word I would use. There seem to be so many things that you have to sign off on; you have to think through; you have to employ the right mix of staff; you have to ensure the independence of your assessment process; you have to be mindful of the politics and the different players. I suspect to have an oversight capacity that covered everybody who might have some claim of having been abused or some ill treatment or whatever across the whole of the country would be just so complicated and there would be so many people you would almost wonder whether it would be possible to do. I am only saying that from the point of view of just how much time, effort, money and staffing that it has taken us to simply do what we have been able to do for the cohort that we have dealt with.

Senator BOYCE —Nevertheless, I have the feeling that perhaps the churches are certainly not pulling their weight in a lot of areas regarding this, and that is partly because there is no-one looking over their shoulder making sure that they are doing so. Thank you.

CHAIR —Are you confident that the records that the Tasmanian state government keeps are accurate?

Ms Jacob —Anyone who has ever dealt with state government files, in terms of people who are our client group, would always have to acknowledge that there will be inaccuracies. We cannot ever guarantee total accuracy. In our assessment processes around the ex-gratia payments, the assessment process has taken a pretty liberal view that we do not rely on everything being evidenced in files, because if we did that clearly that would have been an unrealistic expectation of the file system. We work with the paper files the best we can, but we also take very seriously the story that the applicant tells us. It is that story that is assessed. We tend to err on the side of being as expansive as we possibly can in terms of what the person is telling us, rather than everything having to be validated by what is in the file.

CHAIR —Within the record area, which is a very sensitive area with all the evidence that we have received, is there special understanding of the needs of care leavers? Are there protocols in place with people who are going to the archives or going to the registry with requests about how to handle that?

Ms Jacob —Yes, there absolutely is. I will ask Ms Hobday to add something to that.

Ms Hobday —Through this process with the migrants and the abuse-in-care group we have learnt a lot about record keeping and certainly in years to come when people look at the records that are there I would be much more assured that they are accurate.

The second thing that we need to say is that there is a very solid protocol about who searches, what they search and how that search information is translated for other people. For the searching for files, for example, it is done by a small group of people who all sign a confidentiality statement. The files come up to our office and they are double locked in the office before they are returned to archives. Everything is kept as securely as you could possibly keep any files. We do not give originals. We photocopy the files for people so that we have always got files. We have had a couple of instances where people were given files five years ago, moved and lost files, and we are able to go back in and get them another copy. We take our responsibility very seriously when it comes to searching of files and keeping the whole filing system confidential.

CHAIR —I am pleased to know that there is that protocol because it seems to me that anything that came out of the previous inquiries was that this is a special group of people who have a reliance on these files for their existence. Is there anything there in terms of the sensitivities of how you handle people who may or may not be totally confident about getting the information that is on the files?

Ms Hobday —I would guarantee that anybody who handles files in this state is competent to get the information. The comment that we must make is that, because the information is scant, I spend a lot of time talking to the staff about giving that information to the people in context of the day. Some of the words used in files are not words that we would perhaps use if we were writing a report today, but they are words that were used about people and for people in the context of the day. Our staff, and I know Ms Wagner’s staff as well, feel very good at putting those files into a context before they are left with the people. We never send up a file and let them look at it; it is always shown to the people and put in context for them so that nowadays the file does not look like that.

CHAIR —That is really positive that that is in place. Does the Tasmanian government give any funding to CLAN?

Ms Jacob —Yes, we do support CLAN. You are going to ask me how much. I think it is $10,000 per annum.

CHAIR —Is that ongoing funding of $10,000 per annum?

Ms Jacob —Yes.

CHAIR —I think that is all. There are many other things that we could talk about. We have asked you for some follow-up information on some issues. The secretariat will be in contact with you to get the exact wording of what we have asked for. Thank you very much for your time. The committee is now adjourned until our next meeting, which is yet to be determined. Thank you to Hansard, the secretariat and also the people who have taken the time to listen in and watch the inquiry today.

Committee adjourned at 3.58 pm