Dr KIEU (South Eastern Metropolitan) (16:15): I rise with a heavy heart to speak to the motion moved by Mr Grimley from Derryn Hinch’s Justice Party about victims of institutional child sexual abuse. In a society such as ours we fully expect that we are able to protect against and redress the most hideous and horrific of crimes, those being perpetrated against the children in our society. The perpetrators should be and must be prosecuted to the full extent of the law. I myself and the Victorian government fully condemn any act of abuse against children. Those victims of child sexual abuse have to endure a lot of suffering, trauma and difficulties in life. Some people who were victims are no longer with us, and those who survived certain abuses have to learn to live with long-term effects from their childhood to their adolescence to their adulthood with all the emotional distress, with all the mental issues and physical health issues, with their personal relationships and with their intimate relationships. They can ever get over and away from what happened to them early in life. And not just them, their families, their partners, their siblings and all those around them also suffer the long-term effects and the traumas that their loved one had to go through. The impact of this trauma is something that our government recognises, acknowledges and has actively sought to address.
Through the federal government’s Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse we have heard absolutely horrific accounts of the abuse of children by adults who were entrusted with their care. The federal government’s royal commission played a critical role in shining a light on the scope of abuse and provided a valuable platform for victims to have their stories heard, considered and listened to. In the scope of reform, we the government welcomed the release of the royal commission’s final report in December 2017 and we published our response in July 2018. In the response we committed to taking the responsibility to make sure no child would be failed again and that the needs of survivors would be prioritised going forward. Every year we continue to report on our progress on the recommendations coming out of the royal commission and have tabled and published four consecutive annual reports on the progress of our implementation of the royal commission’s recommendations.
It has been excellent to see that the new federal government has already affirmed their support for the national redress scheme, with the Minister for Social Services announcing a substantial amount in grant funding to boost support services available to victims, which will go to 28 different organisations that provide redress support services to victims.
The Victorian government was one of the very first states to opt in to the national redress scheme for institutional child sexual abuse. Our work in implementing the recommendations of the royal commission builds on the five-year program of reform to implement the recommendations of the landmark Victorian parliamentary inquiry into the handling of child abuse by religious and other nongovernment organisations, which returned the Betrayal of Trust report in 2013. We have implemented all 15 of the recommendations of the inquiry of 2013, including new criminal offences for the grooming of a child with intent to commit child sexual abuse and a failure to disclose offence, which places a positive obligation on adults to report to police where they have reasonable doubt and believe that a sexual offence has been committed. We also implemented as a criminal offence a failure to protect, which requires people within organisations who know of risks of child sexual abuse to remove or reduce the risks.
In 2015, furthermore, we became the first jurisdiction in Australia to completely remove the statute of limitations for civil claims founded on child abuse, with the Limitation of Actions Amendment (Child Abuse) Act 2015. This means victim-survivors are now able to sue organisations responsible for the abuse they endure regardless of how long ago the abuse took place. This was a critical reform, particularly given that many of the instances of abuse were historical and the prolonged impact that they have had on those victim-survivors. From September 2019 the Children Legislation Amendment Act 2019 commenced, allowing courts to set aside a prior judgement or settlement in respect of damages for child abuse if it is just and reasonable to do so. As recently as the end of last year further legislation was passed to support victims and their families and the loved ones of the victims of sexual offending to have greater autonomy and control over sharing their narrative as a victim impact statement.
In a society such as ours we have rights and the expectation to protect our most vulnerable, our weakest and our children, so recognising any role government’s failings have played for victims is crucially important, as are the actions taken to ensure that such atrocities do not happen again and that Victoria’s children entrusted into state care or non-government care are better, and always, protected. With that, I would like to end my contribution and to acknowledge the suffering and trauma of not just the victimsurvivors but also their families and what their loved ones have had to go through as a result of what happened to them in their childhood.
Mr MELHEM (Western Metropolitan) (16:25): I also rise to speak on the motion by Mr Grimley in relation to the victims of child sexual abuse. In doing so I just want to say from the outset that first and foremost our government unequivocally condemns any act of abuse against children, and particularly those that occurred within institutional settings. These horrible things have been occurring for many decades. It is abhorrent that any child is abused, particularly in an institutional organisation, whether it is a church or a government institution. More, as a government—as members of Parliament, as members of government—when these children are under our care we owe it to them to make sure they are safe and they are not subjected to any abuse. Unfortunately these abuses have occurred and for one reason or the other were not dealt with properly over the years, and the perpetrators got away with it, but the victims of these abuses have to suffer with that. Their families have to suffer, and they have to carry that throughout their lives, and that is not acceptable.
Absolutely every government, every Premier, every—I apologise even for things that were not necessarily committed under our watch but were committed 20, 30, 40, 50 or 60 years ago. I think an apology is absolutely important. My understanding is that the Premier has apologised, and we all apologise, for these horrible crimes—and I call them crimes—committed against children, innocent people, who were in our care. Obviously that is not acceptable.
As a father, I do not want that to happen to my children. I have got adult children now, but my children went to school in the early days, and I do not want their children to be subjected to the same thing. The point of this motion is to deal with how we can say to the victims that we are sorry that we let you down, that our predecessors let you down, but also—and I think it is important—they want us to make sure that it does not happen again. That is part of it as well. I think there is enough—well, never enough, I suppose, but there are a lot of changes that have occurred, particularly under the Andrews Labor government over the past eight years. Post the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse a lot of changes have been made and implemented resulting from the royal commissions, and I am sure there are more to come.
I am sure we do not have a perfect system going forward, but I think it is important to recognise that a lot of work has been done in that space to make sure we address these issues over the years, in making sure victims are looked after and making sure that they are able to put their evidence and put pressure on the state to make sure we are a model litigant—absolutely. I think the first thing is we should not be going out there—and that was the biggest problem in the past, about how we said no and how we stopped people from advancing their claims. I think the first approach is, ‘We believe you’, and then we go through that. I think the Premier himself has been one of the greatest advocates in that space, and I think that is the right approach to go about that. So definitely we should be a model litigant, and my understanding is we have made a lot of changes to actually reflect that.
In the last 40 seconds I have I would just say I am with you; I believe you. I think this government will continue working with the Hinch Justice party and other MPs—any representative—to make sure we get it right and we continuously improve our response in addressing the issues you are going through and make sure that you are given the support you need and importantly make sure that that it does not happen ever again in the state of Victoria. With that I commend Mr Grimley for bringing this motion to the house.
Mr GRIMLEY (Western Victoria) (16:30): This motion is about two things: firstly, an apology for those children who were abused in government institutions, in particular schools; and also an assurance that the government will adhere to model litigant guidelines. Unfortunately today I have heard very little from the government in relation to these issues, apart from what Mr Melhem just said then. I would just like to point out, Mr Melhem, that the Premier has never apologised for any abuse suffered by children in government institutions. In 2006 Premier Steve Bracks apologised to children that were in Department of Human Services care for their abuse, but there has been nothing for the children that were in government schools. No apology has been made whatsoever by any Premier of any government in Victoria.
Thank you to those who have spoken on this motion, in particular Dr Bach for his personal experiences as a teacher. I do concur. As a teacher myself, I know what you are talking about. Mr Barton spoke on the personal experiences with model litigant disasters that he has gone through. I thank Mr Finn for elaborating on his personal experiences.
Most importantly, thank you to the people up there in the gallery. They have displayed incredible patience today. They have been here all day, from the morning until right now. We have had a few delays, but they have stuck thick and fast, and thank you. A few have had to go home for various reasons, and I thank them as well. Patience is a virtue. Although there has been no commitment made today by the government in the chamber, by the sound of it, which is disappointing, if anybody can have patience, it is people like you. So regardless of what happens from today, we will continue to fight and box on and make sure that that apology does come.
Just on that note, I do note that Premier Andrews said in a press conference a few weeks ago that it was not the right time to make a statement or comment on the apology as the Queen’s death was around that time and that he would have more to say in due course. Today I am hearing that he has said that he would work with victims of crime and look into the issue. Well, I have got to say: victims of crime, victim-survivors of childhood sexual abuse, do not need any more looking into the issue. All right? They just want an apology. He further went on to say:
Today is not the day for me to expand on that but that day may well come.
My question is: why wait? Why are we waiting a single day for this apology to come? I have said it before and I will say it again: an apology costs absolutely nothing. An apology is a regretful acknowledgement of the failures of the system. That is what it is. But it means so much to victim-survivors, their families and the families of deceased victims, like I have said many, many times. I just do not understand why the delay and why the reluctance to commit to making an apology. I just do not understand why the Premier cannot at his next press conference stand in front of the people of Victoria and apologise on behalf of successive governments for the failures in looking after the children who were supposed to be taken care of in government schools. I urge the Premier to make that commitment, to make the apology, and I also urge the government to ensure that the model litigant guidelines are being adhered to. On that note, I commend the motion.
Motion agreed to.