Mr GRIMLEY (Western Victoria) (14:44): I move:
That this house:
- notes that:
- child sexual abuse occurred extensively within government institutions, notably in schools between the 1960s and 1990s;
- the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse (royal commission) heard evidence of abuse that took place in Victorian government institutions, even though it was heavily focused on religious institutions;
- since the royal commission’s conclusion, more victim-survivors have come forward to share their story and some have sued or are suing the government for sexual abuse suffered in schools;
- the national redress scheme has received 1639 applications in relation to abuse that took place in Victorian government institutions and of these applicants 318 have successfully claimed redress for abuse that took place in education facilities and this number is in addition to the many survivors who have sued the Department of Education and Training;
- of the survivors who are suing, many endure breaches of the model litigant guidelines (MLG) and the common guiding principles (CGP) by the state government as the defendant;
- calls on the Premier to publicly apologise to victim-survivors on behalf of successive Victorian governments before the state election;
- calls on the government to immediately begin complying with its own MLG and CGP when dealing with child sexual abuse complaints, such as that it:
- acts fairly, consistently and without unnecessary delay; and (b) avoids litigation.
I rise to speak on motion 851 standing in my name. As you all walked in this morning I hope that you saw the colourful ribbons tied to the fence outside Parliament. I hope when you saw those colourful ribbons you knew the meaning behind them. As is their intention, I hope you reflected on the impact of child sexual abuse. This is a Loud Fence, and I believe it is the first time one is being displayed at Parliament.
Child sexual abuse is a core issue for Derryn Hinch’s Justice Party. Our party leader went to jail twice for standing up against paedophiles. It was 1986—almost 36 years ago—that Hinch exposed Michael Glennon, a man who had already been jailed for the rape of a young girl and who then went on to abuse children within the church. The church covered Glennon’s tracks, much like they did for Ridsdale and several other prolific paedophile priests.
Mr Hinch said in 2012:
I make no apology for attacking those cover-ups year after year, decade after decade.
Derryn wanted to see the offenders jailed for good. Fast forward almost four decades and we are still fighting for the same message, attacking the cover-ups of child sexual abuse, but this time it is not the church, it is successive state governments in Victoria. A lot of progress has been made over the years, which is great, but there is still some way to go. An apology would be a fitting next step.
That brings me to today. Where do we begin? When you think of a primary school, I am sure you picture a playground and kids running around having fun, laughter, your favourite teacher, reading books and so on. When the survivors of sexual assault at Beaumaris think of their primary school, they see an institution that failed them. They get feelings of guilt, shame and anxiety from an institution which led their lives down a path of depression, drug and alcohol addiction, crime and other complex mental health challenges. It was not a playground. To them it was hell.
Earlier this year I met a survivor, Glen, who was abused at Beaumaris Primary. He told me one of the hardest things he has had to grapple with in his journey is that he has never received an apology for the sex offending that took place at the school. Not just that, but in some cases convicted paedophiles and in other cases offenders who were known to the principal, the teaching staff and members of the community kept offending. I could not believe it was true at first. However, upon investigation I found out it was entirely true.
The Victorian government has never apologised for the atrocities that took place not just at Beaumaris but at all government schools. Scott Morrison made an apology post the royal commission in 2018, and most other states have apologised since then. In Tasmania, coincidentally, they are currently conducting a commission of inquiry as they realised the royal commission was limited in scope. The government and its departments were being flooded with new stories and lawsuits, and so the inquiry began. I anticipate the Victorian story is the same—that the royal commission did not properly investigate abuse in government institutions given its focus on religious bodies. Victoria had the Betrayal of Trust inquiry in 2013 in this place, but it did not look at government organisations. The ACT, Queensland and Victoria are the only states that have never apologised. So what are we asking the state government to apologise for? As I mentioned, the abuse that took place in health facilities, prisons and youth detention but predominantly schools was abhorrent. More importantly to the survivors, it was the systemic shuffling of alleged and convicted paedophiles which enabled more children to have their innocence taken away from them.
Russell Jackson, a journalist with the ABC, has spoken to over 100 survivors of government sexual abuse from the bayside area alone. He estimates conservatively that there are over 500 survivors in that area. Of the 1639 applications made to the national redress scheme about abuse in government settings, 318 were from government schools. This is in addition to the many private civil claims made. We are potentially talking about thousands of children who have never had their experience recognised by the institution that allowed their abuse to take place.
My office has spoken to one of 12 survivors from one perpetrator in the western region of Hamilton and Ballarat. I am sure 12 is a conservative number, but it demonstrates that this is so much bigger than any of us could simply imagine. Further, many of those who were abused will never be able to share their story because they are no longer here with us. This is why an apology is so necessary. Offenders who sue the state can often get a direct apology as part of their settlement, but what about those who cannot afford to sue? What about those who have committed suicide or died young due to the effects of their abuse?
Trevor Foster was abused at Beaumaris Primary School. He is no longer with us. He went on to have a life impacted by the offending. Trevor’s coroner’s report could not conclude how he was killed, but it was not a very nice way to go. Ian Walker is another one who I have spoken about before, and his sister Karen carries on his legacy and is admirably fighting for change. There are many others who have died in their darkest moments, inevitably due to their abuse. They and their families deserve an apology just as much. At Beaumaris the offenders included Gary Mitchell, his brother-in-law Darrell Ray and Graham Steele, and there are allegations against David McGregor and others.
This was a sizeable chunk of the teaching staff, so helpless children could not escape it. In fact some of these abusers infiltrated the local little league clubs to continue their offending. One survivor recounts that the coaches would offer to drop the boys off to their homes after training and everyone would fight for the back seat. You can only imagine why. They would get told off by their parents for coming home all muddy, but they could not tell their parents the reason they did not shower at the clubrooms. The teachers in some instances abused their victims in front of the entire class. There was no discretion. I will not speak to the specifics of their abuse because we have some survivors here with us in the gallery and I think that it is unnecessarily retraumatising. I will just place on the record that the abuse was horrific.
Gary Mitchell has been sentenced in 1996, 1999, 2000, 2005 and 2018. I do not think that will be the last time he sees a courtroom, either. More broadly across the education system these sex offenders include Brian Sword, a principal who worked at many schools including in Bendigo. In 1999 his victims reported their abuse to police and he then committed suicide. I think it is safe to say that I hope he is rotting in hell.
Vincent Reynolds was reported against by a parent of a child in 1980. The Department of Education’s psychiatrist said at the time:
It was absolutely … stupid sending you back to the classroom because you will just keep on— offending against children’.
He went on to teach at a new school in 1981. He then got to teach at four more schools following this. In 1992 he was finally charged and convicted for offending against 14 boys and he received a $16 000 fine. In 2019 he was charged with 42 offences against 38 child complainants aged between just five and 12 years old. He got nine years non-parole and the victims got a lifetime of pain and trauma.
Bob Morris taught at Cranbourne and Ringwood primary schools and across western Victorian country schools between 1966 and 1980. Several reports were made by parents and, in one case we know about, to a senior department employee. Morris kept on teaching and kept on abusing children. Rightside Legal’s Michael Magazanik said:
… even after police became involved in 1978 and charged Morris, he was acquitted, but he was sent back to teaching and immediately resumed offending.
The Education Department shuffled a paedophile from school to school for years, effectively supplying a child abuser with new victims year after year.
More tragedy could not be spoken.
In my region Gerard Coffey, the brother of the disgraced Bryan Desmond Coffey, taught at Forest Street Primary School in Wendouree, Kent Road Primary School, Urquhart Primary School in Ballarat and apparently also within the education department itself. He was tried in 1972 and found not guilty. The 12 young female victims were labelled liars, and he kept on teaching. One survivor tells me:
It’s sad that we just weren’t believed when we were kids … for the Education Department to shift the paedophiles around was just disgraceful.
To top off all of this, when whispers were going around the school grounds and to senior staff and principals about the abuse some teachers were sent to the education department into what was known as the paedophile room. Some were then given references of some sort, because they ended up teaching at schools later on. In the case of Darrell Ray, he taught at Tucker Road primary in Moorabbin from 1967 to 1970 and then for five years at Beaumaris Primary School and one year at Mount View Primary School in Glen Waverley. He was then charged with public indecency in 1978 and was sentenced to three months jail, but he went on to teach at a school for intellectually disabled children at Rossbourne School for close to two decades after, and I cannot imagine what happened in all those years. It is just incomprehensible. One prominent child sex abuse lawyer said to me:
It is just rampant. There are so many examples of teachers going unheeded by principals. They are every bit as bad as the Catholic Church was in that day.
In true fitting with their deplorable character, some of these sex offenders changed their name or the spelling of their name so they would be untraceable.
Just on that note I did announce today that if we are re-elected in November I will establish an inquiry into child sexual abuse within government institutions, particularly schools. That is my promise here to survivors across the state.
Something that I still cannot comprehend is that after all these men and women have been abused in an institution that was supposed to be keeping them safe, the government is not complying with their own guidelines when dealing with each civil claim. The Attorney-General has told this place that she expects all government departments to comply with the guidelines, but the reality is they are not. They say it is a big accusation to make, and I agree, but it is not coming from us, it is not coming from me, it is coming directly from those who deal with the government on these cases.
As an example, I have had numerous lawyers tell me that when they are representing survivors suing the state, the mandatory mediation hearing seven months before trial is taken as a joke. Apparently the government solicitors come unprepared, not in good faith and without any preparation to negotiate fairly. In the words of Judy Courtin, a senior solicitor who specialises in child sexual abuse claims:
If you’re not going to negotiate, why are you here?
In terms of other non-compliance, they often unnecessarily drag out court proceedings. Many lawyers observe that they do this to either get the survivor to buckle and accept a low offer or withdraw their case. One lawyer stated that they will drag it out until the last minute before a trial. They said:
The day or week before trial—
the government lawyers—
buckle. They know the true value of the claim … Sometimes the state’s not too bad, but other times they fight to the death.
In a call to my office last week it was made clear by the government that they do not accept that their departments and solicitors have been acting in this way. To that I say: listen to those working in this space. The rebuttal that breaches may be accidental is an admission that breaches are occurring. Further, it is not just a few lawyers that I have spoken to. It is a consistent story from four separate law firms, and it was published in the Age last year, so it is not new.
So what is the effect of the abuse and the arduous court process on the victim? In their words, they do not know how to regulate emotion. Some have resorted to drugs and alcohol, some push away people they love, some have thought about suicide regularly since their abuse and some end up in prison. For example, Rod Owen, a very talented St Kilda footballer, celebrated his 20th anniversary of getting out of prison last Wednesday. This stint was caused by the abuse that he had suffered in a number of institutions, including a government school. Suffice to say we are all very proud of the corner that Rod has turned and the help that he is providing others.
I really do not look forward to hearing the government talk about how they have done enough for historical child sex abuse survivors without committing to the apology today. Because actions do speak louder than words, that is absolutely true, but if you cannot apologise are you really doing all you can for survivors and their recovery? This is about acknowledging what happened and the magnitude of how successive state governments have failed these children. The government speaks about how there is litigation on foot, so it cannot comment. I would say that is a double standard. Puffing Billy survivor Justin Drew was suing the state at the time the government made an apology to him and other railway survivors in November 2019. He said the apology means the government are:
… accepting liability, which they didn’t years ago. Hopefully we’ll get it sorted out and I can get on with life. It will be a weight off my shoulders.
They deserve that apology. Today we are talking about hundreds of children in government schools who have never had an apology, and the government’s culpability is arguably much higher. If everyone tries to say, ‘You’re just making this issue political’, I would say my office has been trying to work with the Premier’s office since May on this apology and my adviser had three meetings before I said anything in this place. It was only made public because we were being stonewalled.
We have now had over five meetings and constant contact with their office to try and see how things could be progressed and what we can do to assist, but to no commitment. The member for Bentleigh in the other place has known about this issue since June. It seems we may be on the nose, despite our best intentions. This is not for me, by the way. It is not for Derryn Hinch’s Justice Party. This is for victim-survivors of childhood sexual abuse and their families, nothing more and nothing less.
I wish it did not have to be raised today, because I was hoping this would be the day when the apology could take place, but we are here. Being a former sexual offences and child abuse investigation team detective and having interviewed many survivors of all ages, this is something extremely important to me and I hope the government can do this.
There are several people here today in the gallery, upstairs, that I would like to acknowledge. Glen, Lynn, Rick, Morita, Helen and Brian, thank you very much for coming here today.
Earlier today we had Rod, Tim, Terry and Judy Courtin, of course. Hopefully I have not missed anybody out up there, but I really appreciate them coming in today. They are incredibly brave and they represent themselves not only as victim-survivors but also as family members and advocates speaking on behalf of victim-survivors who are no longer with us. Your bravery is to be commended, and your advocacy is remarkable. I thank you. Without your bravery, this abhorrent behaviour would not be known about and the offenders would still be among us, continuing to perpetuate violence against innocent people.
I would also like to thank Russell Jackson of the ABC, who has done the most incredible investigative journalism on this issue. Your perseverance and friendship to the survivors has been immeasurable. Also thank you to Shannon Deery and Mark Santomartino for sharing their stories to bring others forward too.
But a special thanks to Glen for bringing this injustice to my attention, and I am sure my jaw dropped to the floor when I was told there would be no apology. I cannot imagine how this has made you all feel, and I hope you do get one because, frankly, it is the least you deserve. If it does not happen, still know that you have been part of the change, and for all of that you should be bloody proud.
In what could be one of my final speeches in this place—I hope not, of course, but anything can happen—I just want to say that I am proud of the people and the issues that Derryn Hinch’s Justice Party has stood for. Ms Maxwell and I have only been here for one term, but I feel like we have achieved a great deal, especially for the victims of crime, and I hope we find ourselves back in this place in the next term, because there is so much more to do, including on this matter. On that note, I commend this motion to the house.
Mr LEANE (Eastern Metropolitan—Minister for Commonwealth Games Legacy, Minister for
Veterans) (15:02): Can I first up say that having listened to Mr Grimley on some of the historic horrible events that he outlined in his address to us and some of the individuals involved—some of the perpetrators—I completely agree with him. I am not a religious person, so I do not believe in heaven and hell, but if I am wrong and there is a hell, I hope those people are burning in hell. I seriously do hope they are burning in hell. I cannot think of a more evil thing that anyone could have perpetrated on a child. It is absolutely appalling. I have been in this house a while, and we have had a number of debates around similar issues. It always puts us all back. Whether a member of the government, whether a minister in the government or whether in opposition, all of us in here are humans, and I think we are all good humans. We cannot comprehend what some young people would have gone through—children. Of course, whether a member of the government or not—me being a minister of the government—we feel enormous sorrow for what those people went through. I am not going to pretend to comprehend it. I do my best to comprehend what they have had to deal with since then in their adult lives. As I said, I am not going to even pretend to be able to comprehend what they have had to deal with in their lifetimes, being the victims of evil people that were in a place of trust with their families. It is just appalling.
The opposition and the government do not always acknowledge good work, but I applaud the LiberalNationals for the Betrayal of Trust report, released when they were in government. I think it might have been Premier Baillieu who championed and led it. I absolutely applaud them for that. I think that was a trigger for a royal commission; I really think it was. I think that was a sign of leadership from the government of the day, and as I said, I cannot applaud them enough.
I think we may have been to some degree naive about the extent of these horrible criminal acts back then. I think we might have been a bit naive as to their extent. We did not really understand how widespread this was and how many of these evil people there were. I think we were naive about what institutions these criminals were acting in and how widespread the amount of evil activity was. We have not always known the extent. I will give credit to the Baillieu government of the time. A series of governments and our government have grappled with good intent to try to do the right thing by these people, and we will continue to do that with all good intent. We commit to that. I am sure if Dr Bach is a minister in a couple of months time, he will be doing the same thing on behalf of his government. I will not say we have tried; it been a partisan effort to do the right thing by these people whose lives have been shattered by evil—the worst type of human beings. I cannot even comprehend that someone could be that evil.
I thank Mr Grimley and everyone in this chamber. I do not think it is just Mr Grimley; I think there have been a number of people. I know over the years Mr Finn has been very vocal about how evil these people are and how they should be treated. There are members of the opposition, members of the government and members of the crossbench—many people have been vocal. I understand the government of the day has responsibility, but the Parliament does as well. I think these debates are important. We all need to strive together and have good intent. We in no way can take away what happened. We have not got time machines. We wish we did. We cannot take away what happened, but I think we all can have the best intent to acknowledge, support and do whatever we can for people that have found themselves victims of these evil, evil—I was going to say human beings; I do not know what they are—betrayers of such terrible, terrible acts, which I know none of us in here can comprehend.
The ACTING PRESIDENT (Mr Bourman): Before we go on, I would like to acknowledge the presence of a former president, Bob Smith, in the gallery. Welcome.
Dr BACH (Eastern Metropolitan) (15:09): It is good to follow Minister Leane and Mr Grimley, and I find myself in deep agreement with both of them. I would also like to acknowledge the presence of numerous victim-survivors with us today for this important debate. I wholeheartedly concur with what Mr Leane said. It is only over the very recent past—actually through processes that Mr Leane spoke about—that we have come to even a superficial understanding of the ubiquity of some of the appalling practices, unspeakable practices, that are the subject of Mr Grimley’s motion. I actually think as a former teacher myself, the son of a state schoolteacher and the grandson of a state school principal, that there is something particularly evil about the perpetration of abuse by teachers and other educators. I say that as somebody who is proudly supportive of our teachers and educators.
That is because as teachers and educators we have access to so much important information about the children in our care. I was teaching 2½ years ago, before I came into this place, and it was really important for me in seeking to teach my year 7 English class effectively to have access to a whole series of very personal pieces of information about the girls in my classes—information about their mental health, information about their family status, information about whether they were going through particular gender issues. So the idea that somebody in that position would use their significant power over children and misuse the information that they had at their fingertips that was supposed to be used to safeguard the wellbeing of young people first and foremost is something uniquely horrific.
It is interesting Mr Grimley talked about Rossbourne School. I went to a state school down the road from Rossbourne School and knew some kids who started off at my school and went to Rossbourne. Shane Kamsner, the principal of Rossbourne, is a mate of mine. I used to work very closely with him. He is a child psychologist. I have been to that school recently, and again there are vulnerable kids at that school. My wife’s former principal was recently released from prison after having been found guilty of raping a child at his school. So I concur with what Mr Leane said, that I am afraid the sorts of appalling crimes that we are talking about happen far, far too often—certainly historically they happened more often. And then Mr Grimley spoke about the kinds of practices that so many institutions engaged in to cover up, shift people around—practices that were designed to protect perpetrators rather than give justice to victims.
I appreciate what the minister said about the role of the Liberals and Nationals in the Betrayal of Trust report, but truth be told that report was so powerful because of the wonderful engagement of members from all parties, most certainly members from the then Labor opposition and independent members as well. I remember there were people who said at the time, ‘Well, this is the wrong process. Members of Parliament should not be the ones to engage in this process’. It was actually a fantastic thing that the work of that report, as harrowing as it was, was carried out in such a strongly multipartisan way. Mr Leane is right, of course; most people’s analysis is that it was only because of the Betrayal of Trust report. It was most certainly not a Liberal and Nationals achievement; it was an achievement of the Victorian Parliament and something that was advocated for by so many victims and survivors which then led to the royal commission.
I take Mr Grimley’s point, and I agree with his point that of course there has been a particular focus in these discussions on abuse in religious institutions, and that abuse is appalling. We know that, I am afraid, historically—please God let us hope it does not still happen, certainly not to the extent that it did—there were dreadful processes, criminal processes, in state institutions and state schools that actively facilitated the ongoing abuse of so many children. I agree with Mr Grimley that there has not been the sort of focus on abuse in these settings that there has been in other settings, so I very much appreciate the opportunity to speak on this important motion. It has a huge amount to commend itself. I think Mr Grimley, after listening as I know he has done to so many victims and survivors, is most genuine in his desire to see better outcomes. We can do that working together, and like other members I sincerely hope that I am here with Mr Grimley and other members of this place post November to continue that work together.
Ms TAYLOR (Southern Metropolitan) (15:15): Thank you to Mr Grimley for bringing forward this motion, and also thank you to members of the gallery who are here with us today. That is incredibly brave, to say the least. I know that everyone here is determined for this to be very much a collaborative and bipartisan space, as it really needs to be, and that is the only way that the best possible outcomes can be achieved in this space. I concur with all who have spoken here today that it is actually excruciating to even contemplate the sheer betrayal of trust, because every child—every student— should have the right to be able to turn up to school each day and expect that those in charge will respect them in return and honour their boundaries and their right to be able to learn free from any kind of untoward interference whatsoever. So to have that trust, for want of a better word—and I do not want to be presuming how different people respond or feel, but ‘obliterated’ I think might hopefully go some way to encapsulating what that might be like. I am not here to presume what it is like. Only those who have been through that would know authentically what that space is like.
I did not have a long career like you had, Dr Bach, in teaching. I did teach for a brief period of time and I can recall—and this debate is not about me and my teaching; I am getting to the point—my goal each day was to make sure that I kept the class calm, that students had interesting work, that they actually learned something, hopefully that they were happy and that they got something out of that hour or whatever that I had with them. To imagine any outcome other than that is horrifying to me as someone who did have that position of trust when I was a teacher. As I say, it was only a year or so in my life, but to contemplate that anyone could abuse the privilege of having that kind of auspice over a room of young and vulnerable children is absolutely horrifying.
I can only imagine, and as I say, I have to imagine; I am not here to presume how different people would experience that kind of betrayal and that kind of abuse. It is abuse, obviously. I can only imagine how one gets over that. How do you recover from that kind of extraordinarily painful—and I would say also it must be incredibly confusing, because as you say you should be able to go to school or the relevant learning institution with hope and with joy and with aspiration for a positive future. To have that space completely, for want of a better word, destroyed, the space of trust and faith that you will give your best that you can each day and have that returned and respected by the member of authority that is the teacher or otherwise in front of you—that should be the minimum that you should expect from that experience.
Learning about the horrifying things that have taken place and were never, ever the fault of those who have experienced the abuse—never—there is no excuse for it. There is no excuse for it, so I hope having this debate today one of the elements that may be born out of it is enhancing the awareness and understanding of what victim-survivors of abuse have been through.
Obviously there are many, many other very complex elements to this debate that are warranted, and this is one of the many spaces where such things can be discussed in a very respectful way. But, yes, it is horrifying to think of the extent and the prevalence of it as well. I know this is not actually relevant to this discussion here, but even from having friends and relatives who were victims of abuse that the prevalence is pretty shocking. I am not saying anyone in the chamber is not aware of that, but I am just reflecting here as we have this debate. It is mortifying to think that there are those who have severely crossed and betrayed the trust of vulnerable young people in our state, and certainly it has to be and is a priority to make sure that does not ever happen again. I would say another relevant element to this debate is also the preventative element of protecting children into the future, but also obviously it is critical to be very up-front and frank about what has happened—I do not think anyone here is resiling from what has happened—and to make sure that those who have been through such horrors are absolutely believed, because there is nothing worse than having those kinds of traumatic experiences not believed as such. I would have thought that is absolutely vital.
The final point I was going to make—and it is further to a point that Minister Leane made—is I think as parliamentarians we would seek to come to the chamber with good intent every day for every debate, but I think a debate of this nature really brings out that very human element and that most vulnerable element that I would like to think we are relating to in this very sensitive moment that we are having with this discussion in the chamber right now. Again I will thank all the victim-survivors for coming here today. It is incredibly courageous, but I think it is certainly very much appreciated. I would just like to say that authentically. I think, speaking for everyone here in the Parliament— although it is probably best that people speak for themselves—that this discussion is absolutely approached in earnest and with sensitivity and compassion for the extraordinary pain that so many victim-survivors have been through, which they should never have had to go through. It is extraordinarily unfair, to say the least. I might leave my discussion there.
Mr BARTON (Eastern Metropolitan) (15:24): I rise to speak on the motion brought to this house by Mr Grimley. This is very sad, this subject, and I want to thank you for coming here today and sharing. An apology to those who have suffered abuse in government schools is appropriate, and it is needed. We know how important an apology can be in acknowledging the unfair pain and suffering experienced by victims and their families. It is not always closure, but it goes a long way in making victims feel heard and understood and loved.
A public apology allows us to all agree that what occurred was unacceptable and that we must always work to make sure that this does not happen again. There is a precedent for Victorian government apologies, and I can see no reason why this apology cannot be done.
On the matter of governments and departments acting as a model litigant, I have some experience in this. I have stood in this house multiple times and reminded ministers and the Attorney-General of their obligations to ensure departments are acting as a model litigant. Clearly this has fallen on deaf ears. As the courts have firmly held since 1912 it is an expectation that the state and its agencies will act as a model litigant—that is, that they will act with propriety, fairly and to the highest professional standards. In particular the model litigant guidelines also include that the state and its agencies are to keep litigation costs to a minimum and to deal with claims promptly so as not to cause any unnecessary delay. In my experience, when I consider Commercial Passenger Vehicles Victoria (CPVV) and the Department of Transport, they have failed to meet all these obligations. After four years in court, taxi and hire car families—some of the poorest people—in the Supreme Court received a ruling for Commercial Passenger Vehicles Victoria to hand over the requested documents and pay 80 per cent of the families’ legal fees. One year later taxi families were forced to renegotiate. It is obvious that the regulator was trying to run these families out of money. There is no doubt.
Not only is the CPVV trying to cripple families who have already faced discriminatory regulation reforms in the CPVV, but this agency has also behaved questionably in other court battles. I am told the regulator employs over 20 lawyers within their department, yet they have gone outside their organisation to spend big bucks on the government’s preferred secret keeper, Mick Batskos. This was after Victoria’s privacy commissioner ruled in my favour that the documents requested in the freedom of information request should be handed over for a trial in Geelong. Taxpayer money is being used by the ER regulator merely to hide the outcomes of a six-person trial that ran for eight weeks in 2020. With such money involved to fight the privacy commissioner’s ruling, we all wonder what the regulator was hiding at this trial. After multiple hearings at VCAT we have resolved the matter and most documents were released. Imagine how many taxpayer dollars would have been saved if they had just handed the information over, as they are required to do, in the beginning. This causes enormous stress to those families, having to go through this. This is not transparency. This is not accountability. These are not the actions of a model litigant.
Only yesterday I saw the Age report on the secretive nature of the Victorian government’s departments. The Victorian information commissioner revealed that more FOI requests were lodged in Victoria than in any other jurisdiction in Australia, including the Commonwealth. This is unbelievable. Clearly this government and the bureaucracy have a lot they do not want released. In 2021 alone over 42 000 FOI requests were lodged in Victoria. This was a new record, and it is expected we will exceed that record again. It comes down to this getting of information. Who is responsible for ensuring departments behave as model litigants?
I thank Mr Grimley for bringing attention to this issue. It is a very important issue. We need a commitment from whoever is to hold government come 26 November that these departments will meet their obligation to behave as model litigants and operate transparently and with integrity. Certainly much needs to be done to bring the bureaucracy into line with community expectations. I commend this motion to the house.
Mr McINTOSH (Eastern Victoria) (15:30): I would like to start off by acknowledging everyone here with us today. This is not as personal for me as it obviously is for some, but I grew up in Ballarat, so all I can say is that my life and our community has been changed by the events that occurred over many, many decades.
I will just start off by saying that I have recently joined the Parliament, and in my first speech I spoke about the loss of a lot of mates. I have lost far too many mates for my age but also co-workers, and one of those co-workers I will not mention by name. I was a sparky. I worked on construction sites, and there are some pretty tough guys on them. This guy had a big business and a lot of money and ran a lot of blokes and had a nickname that was very bravado, and tragically he took his life. It only came out later—what he had been through when he was young—and at the time we did not have any idea.
I have probably had more exposure to the stories of what has gone on particularly in the church than many, as I have had family who have been in the priesthood and have fought a battle for a very, very long time, for decades. And the cover-ups went on for decades, and we know that now. I do not cry very often in my life, but watching the movie Spotlight a few years ago, it really got to me at the end of the movie in the cinema.
There are a number of things I want to talk about on this, but perhaps I will start with how much admiration I have for survivors. It is sort of interesting—well, maybe ‘interesting’ is not the right word—but over time you become aware of more individuals and more families, and all I can speak to is the courage or the resolve of people who are survivors who are still with us. I am so thankful they are because of the six or seven mates I have lost. I have got my suspicions about why they are not with us, but I do not know that for sure. But I wish that they had either had the support or the capacity to be as incredible as those that are still with us. So I start off by paying absolute respect to survivors.
To those that have perpetrated, I try and disconnect myself from them as opposed to those that have covered up and enabled them for so many years. I am a lot less angry now than I used to be. I used to be very, very angry. I am just glad that steps have been taken over the last decade to expose—and I am talking very much from a Ballarat perspective and of the church there—some of those who did so much wrong. Because the way heels were dug in—from the knowledge I have, my understanding, which I believe to be correct, and as we have heard so many reports of—for so many decades and the increased trauma that put into our communities just boggles my mind. We are here and we believe in equality and equal opportunity and access to equality in communities. Somewhere like Ballarat has just had entire layers of damage put into it, and then there is the subsequent drug abuse and alcohol abuse, which are completely understandable.
That additionally makes my blood boil—that so much trauma, generational trauma, has been inflicted on a community by people who were supposed to be doing exactly the opposite. So many people expected the best, and the best of religion and churches is very good. But the worst, as we have seen, has been atrocious, and that has not only destroyed communities broadly, with the trauma in there, but it has also taken away a lot of people’s faith and a lot of people’s communities of faith. Again, we are talking about these flow-on effects. I am very mindful not to talk about flow-on effects because those who are directly impacted are the people that we need to be directly mindful of.
For me, I just hope that we never again see anything like this inflicted on anyone, let alone at this sort of scale and level. I hope that we never see it again and the lessons are learned that we cannot ignore things like this that have gone on and have occurred. I think by doing so it has just inflicted so much (a) suffering but (b) pain that never should have occurred. It is very difficult to find any words that are adequate, but I just want to say again how much respect I have. I wish everyone all the best.
Mr FINN (Western Metropolitan) (15:38): First of all I would like to commend Mr Grimley for bringing this matter to the house today. It is, I would suggest, long overdue for this matter to be addressed. Secondly, I would like to commend those brave individuals who are in the gallery today— commend them on their efforts. They want what I want, and that is justice. This Parliament is supposed to be about justice. If we are not about justice, then nobody is about justice. This motion will bring a degree—I do not say all but a degree—of satisfaction with regard to justice in this particular matter. I hope that that justice is delivered very soon, because it is long overdue.
I remember some years ago in the midst of the appalling revelations of abuse in religious schools a police officer said to me, ‘Yes, this is bad but wait until you see what’s happened in the government sector’. He was not just talking about schools; he was talking about social services—he was talking about a whole range of government institutions where child abuse, in his view, was rife and had been rife for many, many years. You have got to realise that schools and, well, basically anywhere where children gather are like a light on a hot night. They attract paedophiles like mosquitoes.
As much as I would like to whack the paedophiles like I whack the mosquitoes, we have to find a way to stop them from abusing these kids. We have to find a way of exposing these creatures for what they are. We have to find a way to stop them from getting near the kids. We have to find a way of protecting those children. We cannot allow—if I use the word that I want to use I would probably be thrown out—these creatures. If we could find a way to siphon off these creatures, then I think we would go a long way toward protecting these kids. I spend a great deal of my life, and have for a long time, fighting for children—for tiny children, but children nonetheless. I am appalled by what I have discovered over recent years. As I have said in this house often enough, I am ashamed of myself that I did not actually believe it to begin with. I thought was too horrific. I thought it was too far fetched to be true. Unfortunately what we have seen come out over probably the last 20 years is too much evidence to deny, and I fear what is coming, because I think once we start investigating what has been going on in government institutions we are going to see an enormous additional amount of some pretty horrific activity.
The pain and the suffering of children, of their parents and of their siblings—and the flow-on effect, as Mr McIntosh spoke of a minute ago, through their families and through their friends. I have spoken in the past of a good mate of mine at school who, about a year after we finished up, shot himself. He and I had been together at Rupertswood in Sunbury at school—both boarders. I had no idea what was going on. They left me right alone, which is a good thing in my view. But there were others who were abused horrifically. Some of the teachers that I had at school—priests, if you do not mind—are still in jail. May they rot in jail, and once they have finished in jail, may they rot in hell—that is my view.
Some of these priests were great actors. They should have been in Hollywood. The front that they put up—but at the same time they were committing some of the most evil acts imaginable. They would teach you about the faith one day; then that night they would be abusing the kids—just unbelievable. It took me a very, very long time to come to grips with that, I have to say, and I am not sure that I have completely done that yet. The fact is that I had friends, I had schoolmates, who were being abused at the same time I was living with them. We were sleeping in the same dormitory together. You know, we were as close as you could possibly be to other human beings. They were being abused and nobody knew about it. Nobody could protect them. Nobody could stop what we did not actually know was happening. It was an extraordinarily dreadful experience, a dreadful feeling. When I found out what was going on I felt a sense of guilt, in fact, that I had not known and was not able to do anything to stop it.
And that guilt, I have to say, still lingers with me. It might be misguided, I do not know, but it is there nonetheless.
I am very hopeful that this motion is passed today. I believe the victim-survivors, those here today and those outside of this building, deserve an apology from the state. I can understand that the state would not want to declare liability because they would probably find themselves in court, but the fact is they are liable. This happened in government institutions. Governments control these places. Governments employed the people—and I use the term ‘people’ very, very loosely—the creatures who committed these crimes. Governments employed them and paid them. It is the government’s responsibility. One of the reasons I came into Parliament was to make government responsible for what it did on a whole range of fronts, and this is most surely one where they should.
Whether it be the Andrews government, the Guy government or any other government after 26 November, whichever government it is, one of the first things they should do in the next term is to apologise on behalf of the government to the victims of this abuse. I think that is just so important for the mental health of those who have been abused to know that they at least have a government which accepts that they are telling the truth and they have been telling the truth—because a lot of kids, whether it be in government institutions or schools or religious schools, were told for years, ‘Don’t be stupid. Of course that didn’t happen’. Well, it did. It did, and it is really important that they be told that we as a society, we as a community, accept that they were not lying, that they were telling the truth and that we put, figuratively, an arm around them and hold them and let them know that we are on their side. The government should apologise.
Mr BOURMAN (Eastern Victoria) (15:48): I rise to give my thoughts on Mr Grimley’s motion. Obviously I support it. My experience of dealing with paedophiles was that I struggled to treat them as people, and Mr Grimley will know what I am talking about. We were doing the same thing for a while. It was child protection services back when I did it. I really do not know how you did it in the sexual offences and child abuse investigation team, Mr Grimley. I could not have done it without getting myself in jail. Very early on I learned these people might look like people, they might look human, they might act human sometimes, but they were not. I have stepped in things that have been better than them, and yet they all thought that they had done nothing wrong. That was the thing I struggled with most. But fortunately I managed to get through my time without doing anything to them that they deserved. Whilst I am not religious in any way, I am a bit Old Testament in what I think punishment should be, and I think our legal system has a lot to answer for, particularly in sentencing. Finding people guilty is one thing; putting them away forever, which is what most of them deserve— or more—is another. Nothing makes my blood boil more than watching someone’s sentence get reduced after doing something like this. There was a recent one where someone assaulted, I think, an eight-week-old baby, and they ended up with their sentence reduced for some reason. As the father of a 2½-year-old daughter in my later years, I will give fair notice that if anyone touches her, they will not have to worry about the legal system.
But getting back to business, funnily enough this year some news came out, or I finally found it out, about Beaumaris Primary School in the 1980s.
As it turns out, I ended up at Beaumaris high school in the early 1980s after moving to Melbourne. Beaumaris is a suburb that is affluent, leafy—
Mr Davis: A very good suburb.
Mr BOURMAN: It is a very good suburb, Mr Davis. Unfortunately the primary school had paedophiles there. I was at the high school, to be fair, but I knew nothing about them—my world was fine. Whilst I was never interfered with in any way, people very close to me were. Maybe that influenced my thoughts later on in my various careers.
The cover-ups are what bother me, and it is not the cover-ups when someone is complicit in the act, the crime, it is the cover-ups when it is to hide embarrassment, whether it is institutional or personal. That is probably the most disgusting thing I have ever heard. It is not just going to the religious things where priests were moved around to try and keep them out of the eye of the public; I am sure that happened with some of the paedophile schoolteachers too. But what on earth goes through someone’s mind when someone has done something like that and they try and cover it up? Despite having parliamentary privilege I still have to watch my mouth in this place, because I would have to retract some of the things I would say.
I am going to go to Mr Grimley’s motion, and there is a lot of stuff in there that has been said a thousand times. Let us go to the national redress scheme—of 1639 applications, 318 have successfully claimed redress, and that is not counting the people that sued. Being a model litigant actually should be critical to a government. There are other instances where I know they have been model litigants, and to be frank it has got nothing to do with this sort of thing. But it annoys me—if they can be model litigants in winning cases against interest groups, then they can be model litigants for people that have suffered personal attacks in government institutions. They can do the right thing; it is not that hard. I was listening to Mr Barton talking about his things with the taxi industry. Unfortunately it is not just aimed at these people, it is a problem that the government—in fact I am pointing at both sides, really, opposition and government, because at times they will be either. It is something they need to do. They need to keep an eye on it.
When a government is formed, the government takes responsibility for the people. It governs for the people, and it provides services. Like any service provider, it has a degree of responsibility, and that responsibility is that you can go to school and not get attacked by a pervert. When these things happen and we find out down the line, then it is the government’s responsibility to deal with that properly, to deal with that expeditiously and to deal with that fairly. No amount of money will make up for the harm that people received. I am deliberately not looking at the people behind me because I struggle with these things—their strength, I think, is monumental. But I get so angry at how these people were attacked for doing nothing, that these people were attacked in a government institution and are now struggling to get some form of redress.
Obviously I am supporting this motion, but I would like to think that an apology will be given. We have apologised for all sorts of things in this place, and if being attacked by a pervert in a government institution is not worthy of an apology, then what is? Really, what is? It needs to be done. It is only fair. Basically the government needs to comply with its own guidelines and let these people repair themselves as best they can and get further away from the hell that was supposed to be their childhood.