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Monday, 18 June 2018
Page: 3041


Senator HINCH (Victoria) (13:32): Let me say from the outset that I am honoured and proud that Prime Minister Turnbull and opposition leader Shorten agreed that, even as a modest, small party crossbencher, I should be appointed chair of the joint parliamentary committee overseeing the long overdue introduction of a National Redress Scheme to provide compensation and counselling for victims of institutionalised sexual abuse, including some of the most vulnerable young Australians. There have been decades of abuse, as so heartbreakingly revealed by the royal commission that was announced by former Prime Minister Gillard; a national investigation for which she and her government must be rightly acknowledged. There will not only be compensation and counselling but, finally, official recognition of the cover-ups and lies and the obstruction of justice by some truly venal, cruel and hypocritical people in authority who abused Australia's trust, as other members of their churches—hiding piously behind their clerical raiments—plus government entities and others, abused the bodies and minds of innocent children entrusted into their care.

When it was reported that Hinch would chair the committee, Neil Mitchell, on Melbourne's 3AW, told the Prime Minister that it was like putting a fox in charge of the chicken coop, and that he may regret it. But, as chairman of that watchdog committee, my job will be to protect the chickens. And if anyone is to regret the appointment, to be honest, it may well be me.

Last week Prime Minister Turnbull announced that a national apology will be made here in Canberra on 22 October. He proudly said that his government had accepted nearly 100 of the royal commission's recommendations, and more would follow. He also said they had rejected none. Sadly, that's not quite true. The royal commission recommended a maximum payout, as you've heard, of $200,000. By the time the government's Commonwealth bills, the National Redress Scheme for Institutional Child Sexual Abuse Bill 2018 and the National Redress Scheme for Institutional Child Sexual Abuse (Consequential Amendments) Bill 2018, became public—after the state governments of New South Wales and Victoria had passed their own legislation—it had been reduced to $150,000, which—surprise, surprise!—was the Catholic Church's preferred position all along. What a coincidence! The average payout, I'm told, will be around $76,000, and some people may only get $10,000, but that's not the point today.

I am chair of this bloody committee and, in recent months, I've been unable to find out not only who suggested the 150K but also who lobbied for it and who signed off on it. I presume it was the cabinet. They've done it in such a sneaky way that, even though I've promised at public hearings to fight hard for the restoration of the $200,000 maximum, I'm now being wedged and my committee is being trapped by what I call the James Hardie defence. The company's defence was over asbestosis and mesothelioma. Their strategy was to stall as long as they could. In the James Hardie scandal, they even took their company overseas. They used the old Canberra three d's: delay, delay and delete. In the James Hardie case, a lot of those victims died before their much vaunted day in court, and that's what will happen if I now try to amend the Commonwealth legislation. That's what the government are telling me. They are saying it'll have to go back to the states, and that could push everything back into next year—maybe longer. Ageing Australians owed redress may die before they get it. To me, that's really dirty pool.

I'll tell you another reason why I am angry about this and why I feel my committee has been doublecrossed. To do that, I want to mention two amazing Australians: Anthony and Chrissie Foster. Two of their daughters, Emma and Katie, were victims of a paedophile priest at a Catholic primary school. Anthony and Chrissie campaigned relentlessly for victims of child abuse. They diligently appeared at commission hearings all over the country, even though the raw evidence brought back all the pain that saw one precious daughter die and the other confined for life to a wheelchair.

Sadly, tragically and unexpectedly, Anthony Foster died a year ago last month. He was a Wikipedia for me on redress. Ten days before he died, Anthony and Chrissie were in my Melbourne office talking about victim strategy and realistic compensation for those victims. I will admit I have in the past gently pointed out to Anthony that a union would describe his original target of $500,000 as an ambit claim. He came down to $300,000 but later told me personally that around that roundtable discussion with Commissioner McClellan and the churches and other interested parties—as they say—the commission convinced disparate and desperate people at that table to accept $200,000 as the maximum because, 'The Catholic Church has indicated it could wear that; it could accept that.' That was the figure that, reluctantly, people like Anthony Foster agreed to. And what happened? Well, the undercutting $150,000 suddenly popped up from somewhere. At a public hearing in Melbourne earlier this year, I got the Catholic Church witness Francis Sullivan to agree that, if my committee got the number back up to $200,000, his church would agree to it and sign off on it. It didn't happen. I do intend to move a second reading amendment, which is being co-sponsored by Senators Pratt, Griff, Siewert and Storer.

Next, before I finish, I want to tell you about another massive group of victims who I know will feel dudded come the October apology, no matter how sincere the words are. To do them justice, before I wrap up, I want to go back to March this year, when the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee had a public hearing in Melbourne. We were hearing evidence about the Commonwealth Redress Scheme for Institutional Child Sexual Abuse Bill, and at that public hearing I had an epiphany. I will concede it was forced on me by one of the stalwarts of CLAN, the Care Leavers Australasia Network. Frank Golding was the CLAN man. He was a passionate, eloquent vice-president of CLAN, but he appeared before us in a private capacity. He really jolted me. In fact, he more than jolted me; he extracted a confession and an apology, because Golding and CLAN CEO Leonie Sheedy graphically pointed out that for years all the headlines and all the attention had been on sex abuse victims in institutions when, in fact, about 500,000 Aussie kids had been in state and church care and thousands of them had been emotionally and physically abused. They'd been used as child labour. They'd been used as child slaves cleaning the orphanages and working in the veggie gardens.

In a later meeting with Golding and Sheedy, I was told about three sisters brought up by nuns in a Catholic orphanage. Their education was curtailed at a primary school level—they didn't get to high school—because they were given the job of looking after disabled kids, but they were kids themselves. They also deserve redress—financial and counselling.

Recently I saw a photo on the web of the distorted, gnarled toes of an older Australian woman. It looked like she'd had her childhood feet bound in China. She hadn't. She had been in care and was forced to wear the shoes marked for seven-year-olds, even though she was a big girl who had the feet of a nine-year-old. She was crippled for life. She gets no redress.

These Dickensian horror stories remind me again of the 2010 movie Oranges and Sunshine after the devastating book about British 'orphans' being sent to 'idyllic Australia' after World War II. A lot of them weren't orphans and they were used and abused, sexually and otherwise, when they got here, especially in WA. Frank Golding argued:

I think it is not just the fact that the royal commission has focused for the last five years on sexual abuse only and has ruled out hundreds of people who want to talk to them about other forms of abuse; it is also that the media has been fixated on this. Headline after headline after headline, radio reports, television reports, hammered home the message of sexual abuse …

I interjected:

Because those stories are so shocking; that's why.

Frank replied:

They absolutely are. Please don't get me wrong, they are the worst of all possible crimes against children. Nevertheless, there are lots of people who've suffered other forms of abuse of the sort that we've talked about, who … had to sit in the background and hope that when the national redress scheme came out that the parliament would have the wit to say, 'We had a royal commission, which looked at sexual abuse but we've had these other Senate reports and so on that looked at other forms of abuse. We can roll this national scheme into a comprehensive redress scheme'. That is why, I think, the bill that you're looking at needs to be scrapped and we need to start again. I know that is not the message you want.

It wasn't, but I did pledge then at that hearing to campaign to get them redress in another form. I even raised the prospect of a new non-specific royal commission. Today I want to take that further. It's not enough for the October apology to recognise these victims—and they were victims. I know that the politicians and vested interests call quickly and easily for royal commissions and they are expensive, but I truly believe that this case is unique. So today I'm calling for a royal commission into the suffering, slave labour and cruel deprivation of the people called the Clannies.

If you think I'm exaggerating, I'll leave you with the story of a 14-year-old boy who was in a Salvation Army institution. He doesn't qualify for redress under the current scheme because he wasn't technically sexually assaulted. When you hear this story you may disagree. Don't you think there's a sexual sadomasochistic issue when an adult is caning the naked buttocks of a young boy? This is the case of a boy from England. I will call him Brian. He was sent to a Salvation Army institution in Queensland. The manager was Captain Victor Bennett, who administered the corporal punishment, who gave him the thrashings. After many beatings Brian stole a bike and ran away. The police caught him and took him back home. He was punished. How? Six of the best, as they used to say about the cane. He was lashed on the hands and his naked backside.

Then Captain Bennett ordered further punishment. He ordered him to spend the next week naked. With welts on his buttocks from the flogging he was to work, line up for meals and sleep on an empty potato sack naked in front of everybody. How perverse is that? Brian still remembers how humiliated and embarrassed he was when one of the female laundry staff saw him without his clothes on. But he doesn't qualify for redress. That is not right and it is not fair.

There are thousands of stories like that one among care leavers. That's why I stress today that they too deserve redress—financial and counselling. I've had to break it to them gently that it won't and can't happen under the current terms of reference of my committee and that calls to scrap the current scheme and start again would be cruel to other victims who've waited so long. But I believe it is our duty and our responsibility to find a way. They can't do it, but they deserve it. They deserve their own royal commission. They are entitled to their own royal commission. They must not remain the ignored Australians, the forgotten Australians. The Gillard, Rudd, Abbott and Turnbull governments have shown that they could find a way to recompense one group of victims from a disgusting and shameful time in our history. It's time to do it again for the Clannies. Later I will move the following amendment:

At the end of the motion, add "but, while the Senate:

(a) welcomes the establishment of a National Redress Scheme and the announcement of a National Apology; and

(b) appreciates that survivors have been waiting a long time for a National Redress Scheme, and that the implementation of such a scheme is urgent and overdue;

the Senate notes its concerns that:

(c) the scheme does not fulfil all of the recommendations of the Royal Commission, which were the product of extensive consultation with victims and survivors;

(d) critical issues, such as the adequacy of the maximum payments and the counselling available to survivors under the scheme remain of concern to survivors and their representatives; and

(e) relevant prior payments should not be indexed under the scheme".