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Monday, 18 June 2018
Page: 3150

Senator LINES (Western AustraliaDeputy President and Chair of Committees) (19:30): I rise tonight to make a contribution to the National Redress Scheme for Institutional Child Sexual Abuse Bill 2018, which is before the Senate. I do so because I feel strongly, as many senators—I think all of us in this place—do, that the time is overdue for us to really confront the issues of abuse in institutions and make sure that redress is dealt with quickly so that we can finally put to rest a very sad part of our history.

I want to start by talking about my dad. For those of you who have not read my first speech in this place, I talked about my dad on that occasion. My dad, sadly, passed away last year at the age of 94, but he was sent out to Australia as a child migrant and he lived for a significant period of time at Fairbridge. Thankfully, my dad was not sexually abused, but to suggest he had an easy life at Fairbridge, even given that it was the 1940s, would be completely wrong. He had a very tough life at Fairbridge because those children that were sent out as unaccompanied child migrants by the UK government were really sent here to be farm labourers and domestics, the boys as farm labourers and the young girls as domestics. Dad, thankfully, never had his name changed. He was 11 when he came out, so he well and truly knew who his parents were. It was his stepfather who put him into a home in Birmingham in the United Kingdom because he didn't want him and it was easy enough to do in those days. Dad spent two years in that home in Birmingham from which on many occasions he ran away and went back to Coventry where his family lived. His stepfather would take him back to the institution on every occasion that dad ran away.

Dad willingly came out to Australia, but you'd have to ask if an 11-year-old in the late 1930s would have absolutely understood what that meant. Many years later, I met some of my father's sisters. He came from a very large family of 16—not all of them with the same father, but 16 children—and dad was a bit of a troublesome lad, along with his brother, Arthur. They were the older boys, so I guess it was easier for the stepfather to put them into a home than to consider dealing with them himself, as they were not his children. Dad's sisters who were older than my father clearly remember the day that dad left. They talked about dad being put on a train and him waving goodbye, and they knew that they'd never see their brother again. They knew that, but I don't think it had really dawned on dad that he was going to spend 10 or 11 weeks on a ship. He came from the inner city of Coventry and went from the inner city to these wide-open spaces out at Pinjarra in Western Australia when he landed at Fairbridge. I'm sure he had no idea of what was about to happen.

Those kids would have to get up very early. Dad had to milk cows and do a whole lot of farm work before he went to school, and they were never dressed appropriately. In this day and age we would say what happened to my father was abuse. He milked cows in bare feet, and they had a very strict houseparents who did not think twice about sparing the rod if children were naughty. As I said, dad's records were not hidden. He knew his name. He knew his parents. He knew his sisters and his brother. Indeed, I suppose at one level dad was fortunate, because his brother was sent out two years after he was sent to Australia, so at least he had a relative with him eventually.

When you read dad's school records, dad had been at school for one week when the teacher said: 'William'—that was my dad's name—'will never really amount to much. He's a pretty quiet child.' Gee whiz! Even though I laugh about this, this is quite serious. You've been put into a home—where you will spend two years—by a stepfather who really didn't want you, you've spent 10 or 11 weeks on a ship, you've come from inner-city poverty in cold, dark Coventry to these wide-open bush spaces at Fairbridge in Pinjarra and, after one week, a teacher makes this assessment about you. Actually, my father was a very successful person. He was a carpenter and he led a great life. He wasn't particularly good at marriages and he wasn't the best dad in the world, but he was my dad and I loved him, and I'm proud of his achievements. When you consider where he came from, I think he did really well for himself. And for a teacher to put that on dad's record—that he'll never amount to much—when he'd been in this country for one week is astonishing.

When you think about that and you then think about the thousands of children who were abused, many of them sexually, and who didn't just have the hard life that my dad had growing up at Fairbridge—they had the hard life, plus the beatings, plus the sexual abuse—it's something that we should know more about. It is a shameful part of our history and, yes, it's really good that we are now at the point where we are going to acknowledge that. It should never be brushed aside, because these children were wards of the state; the state was responsible for my father's wellbeing. And if that was taken to its ultimate extreme, nobody could say that my father was looked after well—nobody could say that. There's nothing to suggest that he wouldn't have equally thrived if he had been left in the UK.

One of the other things that happened to my dad, and this would have happened to thousands of other children, is, finally, the British government made an apology in the parliament to the children it had shipped off to Australia, Canada and other parts of the world, and it made available a scheme to enable those children to go back. So, at the age of about 92, my dad did go back. His older sisters had passed by this stage, but he met a sister who wasn't even born when he left the UK. Sylvia was not even born then. Yet, it was if she and dad had this bond of brother and sister that had always been there. It was quite incredible, and beautiful to watch. Dad, at 92, and Sylvia, in her late 60s, meeting for the first time just clicked. They look alike. A missing piece for my family fell into place when suddenly we had these records of the Lines part of my family: my father looks like my grandmother. I had always wondered who my dad looked like. Well, he was the spitting image of his mother. So, now I've got this new extended family in the UK, really thanks to the fact that dad went back at such an old age and he and Sylvia created a bond—one that had been denied them all of their lives—in the short time that they were together.

Again, these are the sorts of things that happened to children in this country in our name. We should never forget that. We need to try and put ourselves in their shoes and try to understand what it was like for them. As I said, dad was never abused sexually, but to suggest that he had some free and easy ride would be beyond the pale. Fairbridge also sought to control dad's life even after he'd left Fairbridge. They placed him as a farmhand, where he was really abused—he wasn't paid and all sorts of things. He would constantly have to report back to Fairbridge, and Fairbridge, by this time, saw my dad as a troublemaker. Dad was a bit of a lad. He liked to have a few drinks, liked to go out with young women and liked to party. He got labelled as a bit of a troublemaker. I think that's one of the other things that happen to children in institutionalised care. It happens to children in our education system. Make a few wrong steps, and suddenly you're labelled as difficult or not to be believed or all sorts of things.

So I want to thank Julia Gillard for having the courage to put together the royal commission. The kinds of truths that we've seen come out of that royal commission are horrendous. Those stories are now on the public record, but there are many stories which we'll never hear, because people are still so ashamed of what happened to them. I want to thank the Labor senators in this place and senators from the government, senators from the Greens and other crossbenchers who have personally followed this issue for many years. I heard Senator Moore's contribution, where she thanked people personally by their first names. If you feel some sense of justice, some sense of concern, some sense of people's wellbeing, you can't help but become involved to a much greater extent.

I want to just re-emphasise that these were children we are talking about, children who the government was responsible for, for whom it had a duty of care, and yet that was overlooked. For many, many, many years the stories of survivors of sexual abuse were not believed, and institutions fought back. The Catholic Church and many other institutions denied that anything ever took place. They protected the bishops and the priests, and yet we saw horrific abuse finally emerge. I think there are now very few people in Australian society who don't believe that very bad things happened and that children were sexually abused.

But children weren't just sexually abused. I guess that's where Labor is disappointed, and it's unfinished business. It's clear that the royal commission was set up to deal with sexual abuse, and it's dealt with that in the best way it can, but I think we've got to also acknowledge that there are many out there who won't ever be able to tell their stories, so we don't really know the full extent of it. There are children who were clearly abused much worse than my father. We know some horrific stories coming out of Western Australia in relation to abuse that children suffered, not sexual abuse but other sorts of abuse. They were told they were worthless. We see that.

There's a case at the moment where children were abused in a hostel in the suburb that I've lived in for most of my life, in Victoria Park. That carer told those children that nobody cared about them, and he told them over and over again. He told them all the time, and he sexually abused those children. Now, thankfully, some of those children have had the courage to stand up and to take him on, and he's now waiting to be sentenced. But imagine: as a vulnerable child, you're in a home; you may or may not know why you're there, but you know you're not with your parents for whatever reason—and, yes, sometimes there are good reasons to take children. I'm not shying away from that. But when the carer, the person who is responsible for your wellbeing, tells you over and over again how worthless you are and that nobody wants you, what a shocking thing to say to children. Imagine the long-term damage that that is doing to those children. Imagine the shame they feel—the confusion. And then, on top of that, to sexually abuse them! It is unforgivable.

So it is really important that we've got to this National Redress Scheme. I know that in Western Australia the McGowan government was very concerned about the legacy issues coming out of institutions like Fairbridge and didn't feel that the state should have to fund that entire cost. I'm pleased to say that WA has managed to get its point across and will actually join the scheme.

But I also want to talk about my mother. She wasn't institutionalised, but she taught in Western Australia at a school called Queens Park Primary School. What's important about that primary school is that that's where the children from Sister Kate's went. Sister Kate's also has a shocking history of abuse, including sexual abuse, and that's of First Nations children. So children from all over the state were institutionalised at Sister Kate's and they went to Queens Park Primary School. Many of them my mum became friends with, and we used to visit them. I remember going with my mum to visit some of those children when they were adults, but also going to the Sister Kate's fetes. My mother must have confronted abuse and sexual abuse in her role as a teacher, because when children are reticent or are not learning in the classroom you know that there is a reason for that. My mother was a highly regarded teacher. People thought she was a pretty good teacher—pretty strict but very fair—and children did open up to her. I'm sure that children at Sister Kate's would have opened up to my mother in the many years that she spent teaching at Queens Park Primary School.

I was particularly moved during the Senate inquiry—and unfortunately I wasn't able to attend all the hearings—to hear the contributions made by Dr Hannah McGlade, a First Nations woman from Western Australia, and Laurel Sellers, another First Nations woman from Yorgum. They talked about the need for a scheme to include the whole of the family and that in Aboriginal communities it's not just one person who's the victim; it's their family and their extended family. They gave very powerful evidence as to why the scheme should treat First Nations people differently. Certainly they both talked about, as Senator Watt has here today, the need for counselling to go for much longer than what's on offer. We know that it can take people a very long time to come forward and acknowledge what has happened to them and then also to see that they may need to have counselling. Not everyone who we may think needs counselling is going to be open to that. These things take a while.

Both Laurel and Hannah gave very strong evidence that it's not just about the client; it's also about their families. That comes from their firsthand experience. Hannah gave evidence that she experienced institutionalised abuse as a child intermittently from the age of three and a horrific sexual assault at the age of 15 perpetrated by people who were members of the Catholic Church. Hannah spent some time also at Sister Kate's. Hannah's an amazing woman. She's put herself through university, she's got a PhD and she is very open about what has happened to her. But her evidence was definitely about families and about the need for First Nations people to be treated differently and that it isn't just about any individual experience. If we look at what happened when children were taken away from Aboriginal communities, particularly in Western Australia—and I'm sure this was the case across the country—they were forbidden to speak their language, they were regimented and they were badly treated as well as being sexually abused. So I do thank Laurel and Hannah for their evidence because it may make a profound difference to how we treat First Nations people.

Senator Watt also talked about the issue of those who find themselves in jail. We know now that we've got very high levels of children in out-of-home care, and there's a very strong correlation between kids in out-of-home care and offending. It almost goes hand in hand. That's something we need to seriously address. We know as well that children who were sexually abused often went on to commit crimes. To deny them is unfair. Labor senators certainly believe that, if you've been a victim of child sexual abuse in an institution, the Redress Scheme should apply to you. It's no longer appropriate to try to box people into categories. It really isn't. If someone has been a victim of sexual abuse when under the care of the state, it is our responsibility to compensate them if that's what they're seeking. It is very simple. For me it is black and white.

The unfinished work, which Senators Moore and Watt raised, is that future governments really do need to look at the issue of broader abuse—at what happened in Australia and is still happening. So, yes, let's get on and do this redress. Let's get it done. But let's not acknowledge that we've finished the job.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT ( Senator O'Sullivan ): Thank you, Senator Lines. That was a very powerful contribution.