Tag Archives: Royal Commission Child Sexual Abuse

Svetlana Alexeviech didn’t make it to the Royal Commission

A brilliant essay given by Maria Tumarkin at the University of Melbourne on Wednesday 7 September 2016.

A short version was published in The Conversation on Friday 9 September – reprinted here with permission.

Among other things, Maria asked: “Have we outsourced the witnessing of child sexual abuse in Australia to the Royal Commission?” Some say yes.  Others, like Maria, asks: Who is the ‘we’ in the question?

What is the  link to Svetlana Alexeviech and Chernobyl? Child sexual abuse, says Maria,  is like radiation poisoning, omnipresent and invisible.

 It stays in people’s lives like radiation stays in the soil for thousands of years. It stays in families and physical places. It kills people. It makes people sick for generations to come. It is that future that is already here. No colour. No smell. Nothing to tell us it’s here.

She draws on the words of Psychiatrist , Paul Valent, to introduce  another startling metaphor:

Some people call child sexual abuse ‘soul murder’. It is a real destruction of a person’s value and dignity … Generationally too … It interferes with love. It is the opposite of loving.

Maria argues that, if ‘we’ are outsourcing the witnessing of child sexual abuse in Australia to the Royal Commission,  it will count for nothing in the end ‘if we continue relying on it to do the work of public reckoning with the history of systemic sexual abuse of children in this country’. It’s our work.

Mismanaging Expectations: The dominance of sexual abuse at the royal commission

This is the final draft of my paper for the Biennial European Social Science History Conference of the International Institute of Social History to be held in Valencia, Spain 30 March to 2 April 2016. Read more about the Conference here

Given that there are several papers being presented on related issues, I will revise my paper after the Conference in the light of feedback and discussion. 

As well, I would value any feedback from readers on this site.


Mismanaging Expectations: Sexual abuse as the dominant form of child abuse (DRAFT – a work in progress) © Frank Golding, March 2016


In late 2012 the Australian Prime Minister announced a royal commission into the institutional handling of child abuse and Care Leaver advocacy groups thought they had finally won what they richly deserved after years of lobbying. They expected that the commission would lead to a national independent redress scheme for abuse and neglect in institutional ‘care’. They were soon disillusioned. This was not the Royal commission they had expected. The commission’s terms of reference were both too narrow with a focus on sexual abuse only, and too broad in encompassing a wide range of institutions which had never before been the subject of official inquiries. This paper explores why the terms of reference were framed with that agenda and why this commission was established at this time when Australian governments had rejected previous calls for a commission. The answers are complex. Even within the survivor advocacy sector there were competing voices with some stakeholders advocating for sexual abuse only. More importantly, Care Leavers advocacy groups were outweighed by the stronger forces lobbying privately and in public for an inquiry into sexual abuse—particularly clergy sexual abuse—rather than all forms of child abuse. Widespread concern that the church had done itself immense reputational harm by ineptitude, cover-ups and denials of clergy sexual abuse led some to interpret the commission as an anti-Catholic campaign. But sober voices both within the church and elsewhere have argued that child sexual abuse could no longer be regarded as a sin to be handled internally within institutions but a crime for which the state and civil society must carry superordinate responsibility. The emergence of well-publicised inquiries contributed to a momentum that finally left the government no alternative but to intervene. In the process, the interests of Care Leavers became subordinate and ultimately this royal commission has let them down.


Expectations raised

Despite the political impediment that child welfare is a matter for the states and territories and any legally sanctioned inquiry under the Australian constitution and would require all jurisdictions simultaneously to enact enabling legislation, Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard announced on 12 November 2012 that her government would establish a national royal commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. This was an extraordinary political achievement. It was also probably the most popular decision of Gillard’s term in office: the Sydney Morning Herald splashed a front page with a Fairfax/Neilson poll showing a record 95 percent support.[1]

Six days after her announcement, Julia Gillard wrote to the peak body Care Leavers Australia (now Australasia) Network (CLAN):

The Royal Commission would not be a reality with[out] the advocacy and dedication of organisations like the Care Leavers Australia Network (CLAN) who have made sure that survivors’ stories have been heard...[2]

She and the Minister for Families, Jenny Macklin, also sent separate hand-written messages to CLAN. ‘The Royal Commission is a tribute to your efforts,’ wrote the PM.[3] Care Leavers saw it as their peak achievement after years of struggle during which CLAN had met Commonwealth and State Ministers, lobbied political parties, courted key advocates inside and out of politics, conducted monthly public protests and orchestrated a letter-writing campaign.[4] The initial reaction of Care Leavers to the announcement of the royal commission was rapturous. Messages of congratulations flooded in.[5]

In what has been variously described as the age of testimony, the age of regret and the age of apologies,[6] Care Leavers in Australia saw themselves as part of what Johanna Sköld and others have called the ‘global chain of inquiry’[7] across more than a dozen nations in the past fifteen to twenty years. Shurlee Swain’s analysis of 83 previous Australian inquiries into institutions providing out-of-home care for children held between 1852 and 2013, identified a distinct shift in emphasis from the 1990s—as in other nations—towards hearing evidence from victims or survivors. As Sköld correctly points out:

What is new about the inquiries from the 1990s onward is that the victims themselves have been given the opportunity to tell their stories; that the stories have gained the attention of the media; and that there have been expectations that these testimonies should influence the national historical narrative and national identity and that this, in continuation, would lead to a process of reconciliation and redress as well as actions to prevent future abuse.[8]

In Australia, a chain of national inquiries produced more than 1400 submissions, most of them survivor testimony. These included:

  • The separation of Indigenous children from their families (1999) which produced 535 submissions;[9]
  • Child Migrants (2001) 253 submissions;[10]
  • Australians who experienced institutional or out-of-home care as children (2004) 614 submissions.[11]

Fred Powell and Margaret Scanlon (2015) assert that the emergence of survivor groups has been perhaps ‘the most impressive development within Irish civil society in relation to children’s rights’.[12] Such a claim might equally be true of Australia. The voices of Australian Care Leaver survivors are now being heard with a compelling force not heard in previous eras.[13] Not only have survivors’ testimony created a new national narrative, or counter-history, but survivor advocates have been instrumental in bringing these inquiries into being. Senator Andrew Murray, a leading member of the two Senate inquiries—and now one of the current six royal commissioners—declared that the Senate Forgotten Australians (2004) inquiry ‘would never have seen the light of day’ had it not been for the persistent lobbying of concerned activists.[14]

On the basis of the powerful testimony provided to the 2004 inquiry—‘a litany of emotional, physical and sexual abuse, and often criminal physical and sexual assault…neglect, humiliation and deprivation of food, education and healthcare’[15]the Senate inquiry concluded that the evidence:

warrants a Royal Commission into the extent of physical and/or sexual assault within institutions and the degree to which criminal practices were concealed by the relevant State and/or Church authorities.[16]

However, the Australian Government under John Howard in 2005 rejected the proposal by quarantining moral leadership at state borders:

The offences…are offences under state/territory law. Any investigation of the nominated institutions is, therefore, a matter for state and territory governments.[17]

Care Leavers refused to give up. They lobbied the Senate Committee to review the progress on the Child Migrants and Forgotten Australians reports. Senator Murray raised a theme that would resonate into the future: it was not just a matter of bringing individual perpetrators to justice but investigating how institutions allowed rampant abuse to occur unchecked.

I remain a supporter of a royal commission…Amongst the tens of thousands of religious people who are in churches and agencies that deal with children in care, there is only a minority that are criminals, but the majority protected the minority.[18]

However, the Senate Committee decided not to re-endorse its earlier recommendation because it doubted a royal commission would succeed in exposing and prosecuting perpetrators. Moreover, the Committee sensed ‘that there may be unrealistic expectations held by many as to the outcome of a Royal commission’.[19]

‘Unrealistic expectations’. Prophetic perhaps. Five months after the release of that Senate report, the Australian Government (under Kevin Rudd) issued a national apology; and, three years on, Julia Gillard coupled the royal commission genealogically with the national apology. She told CLAN:

It is fitting that I announced this Royal commission in the same week as we remember the third anniversary of the National Apology to Forgotten Australians and Former Child Migrants on 16 November 2012.[20]

The language of that apology had been carefully crafted after consultation with Care Leaver advocacy groups. An audience of 800 Care Leavers and former Child Migrants in the Great Hall of Parliament House, with countless thousands watching live telecasts around the nation, heard Prime Minister Rudd say:

Sorry – for the physical suffering, the emotional starvation and the cold absence of love, of tenderness, of care…We look back with shame that many of these little ones who were entrusted to institutions and foster homes instead, were abused physically, humiliated cruelly, violated sexually.[21]

Malcolm Turnbull, then Leader of the Opposition (now Prime Minister) wholeheartedly supported the Prime Minister.[22] The apology agenda was the broad spectrum of abuse and neglect with no pre-eminence given to sexual abuse.

Three years later, when Care leavers heard a new Prime Minister say that the royal commission’s ‘main focus will be to investigate systemic failures within church and state-run institutions in preventing and dealing with child abuse’[23] they could be forgiven for thinking that this would be a more rigorous re-run of ‘their’ Senate inquiries. This Prime Minister was telling Care Leavers, ‘We want your voices to be heard.’

Even if you felt for all of your life that no one’s listened to you, that no one has taken you seriously, that no one has really cared, the Royal commission is an opportunity for your voice to be heard. [24]


Expectations dashed: sexual abuse only

When she confirmed the Terms of Reference, on 11 January 2013, Gillard announced: ‘[T]he Royal commission… will not deal with abuse of children which is not associated with child sexual abuse. [25] The Prime Minister went on:

Of course physical mistreatment, neglect, are very evil things. Anything that stops a child having a safe and happy childhood is an evil thing.

But we’ve needed to make some decisions about what makes this a process that can be manageable and can be worked through in a timeframe that gives the recommendations real meaning.[26]

Gillard knew that the only survivor voices this royal commission would hear were those of the survivors of sexual abuse. Other survivors would be silenced, again, and many would nurse, again, the feeling their own stories of horrific abuse are considered not worthy of public testimony, their abuse somehow inferior.

Care Leavers were most particularly distressed by the commission’s final recommendations in regard to monetary redress—‘the most controversial element of the inquiry process’—which were tabled mid-way through the commission’s time-table.[27] At the public hearings and in submissions, CLAN and others made repeated but futile attempts to have the commission consider the broad range of crimes against children and repeatedly urged it to extend its recommendations on redress.[28] The New South Wales Bar Association agreed: ‘It would be arbitrary and, in our view, irrational to exclude physical abuse’.[29] CLAN was blunt: ‘We want Redress for all Care Leavers who suffered abuse while in the child welfare system. For Care Leavers this is not just about sexual abuse.’[30] CLAN sought to influence matters by taking a case to the UN in Geneva in 2014.[31]

The royal commission rejected these pleas. It would consider other forms of abuse or maltreatment, such as physical assault, exploitation, deprivation or neglect only when they were also associated with incidents of sexual abuse.[32] The commission acknowledged that its final recommended model for redress was narrower than other forms of redress that have existed in Australia because ‘most previous and current redress schemes cover at least sexual and physical abuse. Some also cover emotional abuse or neglect’.[33]

In effect, the vast majority of Care leavers who experienced physical assault, exploitation, emotional abuse, deprivation, or neglect are now excluded under the royal commission’s proposal. The commission was well aware of the impact on Care Leavers of their advice.

We appreciate that this approach will disappoint a number of those who have participated in our consultation processes to date, some survivor advocacy and support groups and some of the broader groups of those who experienced institutional care.[34]

Jesuit academic lawyer Father Frank Brennan believes that the royal commission had been too focused on financial compensation and in doing so, ‘it has set up unreal expectations for victims and their supporters…’[35] In March 2015, the then Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, announced that he did not support a national redress scheme, but on the very day of the release of the commission’s report (25/9/2015), Abbott lost the Prime Ministership to Malcolm Turnbull, a Patron of CLAN. (Not that these events are in any way connected!) At the time of writing this paper, the Labor Party and the Greens had endorsed a national scheme in principle, as have the Catholic church and some other churches, but the Turnbull government’s long awaited decision, announced on 29/1/2016, is timid: a national scheme would be a good thing, it declared, but we won’t initiate one.[36]


Expectations dashed: ‘this is not our royal commission

There was a second shock in store for Care Leavers. The earlier Australian inquiries had focused on abuse and neglect in closed institutions – orphanages, children’s Homes, foster ‘care’ and residential ‘care’ where children were managed full-time without their families. However, the Letters Patent of this royal commission defined an institution in a completely different way:

…any public or private body, agency, association, club, institution, organisation or other entity or group of entities of any kind (whether incorporated or unincorporated)…that provides, or has at any time provided, activities, facilities, programs or services of any kind that provide the means through which adults have contact with children, including through their families; [but]…does not include the family.[37]

Day schools and boarding schools would be included; so too would sporting clubs, scouts, children’s services, churches, youth groups, as well as orphanages, foster care and residential care.[38] This made the case for a national redress scheme more complicated; and Care Leavers who were sexually abused in closed institutions would have to join the long queues of those who were sexually abused by the Scouts, the YMCA, sporting clubs, in private schools and by priests in the confessional or in the choir stalls.

I can find little significant lobbying for a royal commission from open institutions apart from the religion and education sectors. Taking a post-factor view, the royal commission’s first two case studies in public hearings focused on the Scouts and the YMCA and after 38 such case studies were completed or announced by March 2016 fewer than a third related to closed institutions. There is also a mismatch between the commission’s case studies and the proportions of survivors who have come forward to tell their personal stories in private sessions. Of nearly 5000 survivors in private sessions, 46 percent were abused in closed institutions. Schools (27%) and places of worship and church facilities (15%) made up the next two categories of abusive institutions. Survivors coming forward from other institutions such as recreation, sports and clubs are a minority group.[39]

After viewing the publicity attending the airing of scandals in wealthy private schools Care Leavers have expressed a sense of disillusionment. ‘This is not our royal commission,’ some said.[40]


‘The core transgression of childhood innocence’?

Shurlee Swain reports that before 1990 it was rare for sexual abuse to be directly addressed in inquiry reports but in more recent times the weight of survivor testimony about sexual abuse led to the issue being singled out in most of the final reports.[41] Yet, while sexual abuse was now being freely mentioned in these more recent reports, the majority of Care Leaver testimony was not about sexual abuse. For example, in their submissions to the Forgotten Australians (2004) inquiry, Care leavers itemised 889 incidents of abuse. Of these, only 21 percent were about sexual abuse. The other 703 were:

  • Physical abuse 36 percent,
  • Emotional abuse 33 percent,
  • Child labour exploitation 6.7 percent, and
  • Neglect 3.3 percent.[42] [43]

Scant attention has been given to testimony received by the Senate inquiry from some Care Leavers that ‘sexual abuse was the least of our worries’. One put it this way:

In a place so full of brutality, sexual abuse did not rank as highly as other forms of abuse—such as mental and emotional torture…and the strings of punishment that never seemed to end.[44]

Among these other forms of abuse were medical experimentation and neglect of health, neglect, child labour, and placing children in adult mental health facilities. Contemporary child protection statistics also shows that a focus on sexual abuse alone distorts the problem of child abuse. In Victoria in 2012-13, 10,048 children were the subject of substantiated investigations of whom

  • 5,537 (55 percent) were substantiated cases of emotional abuse
  • 2,709 (27 percent) of physical abuse,
  • 1,319 (13 percent) of sexual abuse, and
  • 483 (5 percent) of neglect.[45]

Powell and Scanlon remind us that the Ryan inquiry in Ireland examined 2,694 reports of abuse, of which only 381 (or 7 percent) were about sexual abuse. But, as in Australia, it was sexual abuse which dominated the media.[46] Why then did sexual abuse become to be perceived as the ‘core transgression of innocent childhood’?[47]

Survivor advocacy organisations in Australia do not speak to government with one voice. The Senate Committee of 2004 cited three survivor support and advocacy groups that pushed hard for a Royal commission: CLAN, Broken Rites and Bravehearts.[48] The current royal commission named these three groups and four others which had lobbied for a commission.[49] Of these seven groups, five[50] focus on all forms of abuse and neglect in closed institutions while two[51] focus primarily on sexual abuse in open institutions. Bravehearts, for example, asserts that the offences of child sexual assault are different in nature from offences of child abuse and neglect and bundling child sexual assault in the suite of matters referred to collectively as child abuse and neglect was harming efforts to prevent child sexual assault.[52]

I am not arguing that the royal commission’s terms of reference were determined by any superior case put by the sexual-abuse-only advocacy lobby, but it may have been one factor. As Julia Gillard told the media, ‘There’s been debate between some of the groups that represent survivors about how broad this Royal commission should go.’[53]

It could be asserted that media managers and consumers will always preference an interest in sexual abuse of children over other stories of child abuse.[54] It’s emotionally magnetic.[55] What other crime against children could generate such an extensive international sexual abuse literature including more than 50 feature films or documentaries in the past fifteen years (the latest being this year’s Oscar winner, Spotlight)?[56] You know it commands public attention when the royal commission deemed worth of screening live on a giant screen in Melbourne’s Federation Square that is usually devoted to live sports and music.

There can be no doubt that clergy sexual abuse and what the church does—or does not do—about it exercises the minds of people in high places more than any other form of child abuse. It is, to use Ronald Niezen’s term, ‘the worst-of-all-possible-scandals’[57]

It may be not so much a question of why stories become media fodder so much as the practical impact of media exposure—what sticks in the mind after the stories are told. Key people acknowledge that media stories and their ‘take-away’ messages influence their judgment as to what must be done—or not done. For example, Julia Gillard responded to a question about what tipped the scales in her seemingly sudden decision to establish the Royal commission.

The impact for me, clearly, over the past few weeks we’ve seen revelations in the newspapers and more broadly which really go to the question of cover-up, of other adults not doing what they should have done…[58]

Commentators make a similar point: it was not so much the media stories about sexual abuse itself but the scandals about cover-ups and protection of abusive clergy. Ray Cassin argues that the chief impetus for the Royal commission was the disclosure of the appalling record of concealment of abuse in Catholic institutions, and the protection of perpetrators by church leaders:

If that record did not exist, the royal commission would not exist. And Catholics — especially bishops and major superiors — cannot evade this fact by complaining, as they sometimes do, about malicious reporting by hostile secular media. If the abuses had not occurred, the reports could not have been written.[59]

When Cardinal Pell told the Victorian Parliamentary inquiry that his church had covered up abuse for fear of scandal and that his predecessor Archbishop Little had destroyed records and moved criminal priests from parish to parish to cover up their crimes, he should not have been surprised that the media had a bonanza. The stories the media missed earlier became the story.[60]

In 2013 Cardinal Pell told the Victorian inquiry that there was a major problem with paedophilia within the ranks of the church in the late 1980s, but ‘I do not think anybody then had a recognition of the full extent that would emerge, but it was in the press.’[61] Patrick Parkinson argues that the claim that Catholic church leaders were on a steep learning curve in the 1980s and 1990s is a ‘convenient fiction’.[62] Catholic church leaders were well aware of the problem because they dealt with 142 claims of child sexual abuse in the 1970s, all handled in-house.[63] The problem they sought to manage was not the crimes but the minimisation of scandal. Church leaders are aware of the power of mass media. Pell complained to the Victorian inquiry about ‘25 years of intermittent hostility from the press…’; although he had the wit to claim a positive side to media hostility. It had, he said, ‘a beneficial effect of encouraging us to deal with it’.[64]

It has to be said the church did not ‘deal with it’ very well. A spate of high-profile cases, all of them involving child sexual abuse, were so bungled by church leaders that media attention was prolonged with increasingly aggressive headlines like ‘Let’s hound evil clergy’.[65] Some of these notorious cases—John Ellis, the Fosters, David Ridsdale and St Alipius—have subsequently been examined in detail by the royal commission, with the media given another opportunity to excoriate the church again.[66]

George Pell’s own conduct in some of these matters—characterised as ‘hostile to victims and protective of the church’[67]—has become a matter for public controversy. However, the personalisation of the discussion can distract us from significant issues related to the relationship between church and state in Australia.


State intervention in ‘the ultimate collective shame’

A Catholic spokesman expects that by early 2017 the commission will have held 50 public hearings and that around a third of them will have focused on Catholic schools, dioceses, parishes, homes and other organisations.[68] By contrast, as I write, fewer than a third of the public hearings have focused on closed institutions to date.

The then Leader of the Opposition and close personal friend of Cardinal Pell, Tony Abbott, had made it clear that bi-partisan support for a royal commission would only be given if it did not focus on just the Catholic church.[69] ‘This is not a Royal commission targeted at any one church,’ Gillard asserted.[70] But not everyone believed her, or agreed with her. Some make much of Gillard speaking to Pell—and no other church leader—before she announced the Commission. ‘Given the nature of some of the material in the public domain,’ she explained, ‘I thought it was appropriate to speak to Cardinal Pell.’[71] To which Father Frank Brennan replied: ‘Given that Cardinal Pell was the only church leader to whom she spoke, there can be no doubt but that one particular church is in the sights of the Royal commission.’[72] Some made no bones about their target. Labor Senator Doug Cameron wanted the Catholic Church to be the only target of any inquiry because ‘that’s where the major problem seems to be’. Government Whip, Joel Fitzgibbon, said a royal commission would be in the interests of ‘the victims, their families and the Catholic Church’.[73]

There is a plausible case to argue that given widespread knowledge that child sexual abuse was far more common in the Catholic church than any other institution,[74] Gillard bent over backwards not to appear to be witch-hunting the Catholics, and that explains why the terms of reference of the commission defined institutions so broadly. Moreover, those who claim a plot against the Catholic church should be reminded of an earlier campaign to establish a royal commission which gained momentum from late 2001 through a prolonged scandal involving the Governor-General of Australia. Peter Hollingworth was a former Australian of the Year and an official Australian Living Legend. More to the point, he was the former Anglican Archbishop of Brisbane—and his appointment as Governor-General caused some old tensions to resurface around the relationship between church and state in Australia. The bitter public debate about his handling of clergy sexual abuse held the media in thrall.

At the time, the Queensland Premier, Peter Beattie, and other notables, called for a royal commission into child sexual assault: ‘It has to be done nationally – you can’t do it at a state level because pedophilia and abuse don’t stop at the border’.[75] Some church leaders and other State political leaders and parties at the national level chimed in, including the ALP and the Democrats.[76] Ultimately in May 2003, Hollingworth resigned as Governor-General and calls for a royal commission subsided, but the issues arising from the controversy continued to resonate. Andrew Bartlett, Leader of the Australian Democrats voiced this concern: ‘If the organisation responsible for caring for children does not get their act together in this most important of duties, they should not get public funding’.[77]

Jeff Kennett, the Victorian Premier in the mid-1990s has confirmed that he warned Cardinal Pell to resolve allegations of child sexual abuse or possibly face a royal commission.[78] Pell confirms: ‘I was…summoned by the Premier at the time who made it clear that if we did not clean the church up, then he would, and so we made a determined effort to do so’.[79] It is now clear that this church and others like the Salvation Army did not ‘clean themselves up’. [80]

David Marr argues that the Irish scandals ‘left church and state reeling’ in Australia.[81] The political protection offered to the churches began to falter. ‘A few cracks appear, a floor sags, and then one day the whole house collapses.’[82] The metaphor is seductive, but it is too simplistic: it overlooks similar scandals in other countries—‘the global chain’—not to mention politically discomfiting disclosures at home. The Protecting Victoria’s Vulnerable Children report (the Cummings Report, 2012), a somewhat neglected link in the local chain of inquiries, argued persuasively that the state should no longer tolerate the church handling sexual abuse of children in-house as if it were a mere sin.

A private system of investigation and compensation, no matter how faithfully conducted, by definition cannot fulfil the responsibility of the State to investigate and prosecute crime. Crime is a public, not a private, matter.[83]

A few months later, in April 2012, the Victorian Government asked a Parliamentary Committee to investigate the internal processes by which religious and other non-government organisations handle criminal abuse of children.[84] Although that inquiry examined all forms of abuse of children by clergy and other non-government ‘care’ agencies, much of the media again spotlighted sexual abuse in the Catholic church. In particular, there was damaging evidence offered by Victoria Police about the church’s processes which amounted to a substitute for criminal justice and was an impediment in prosecuting suspected sexual criminals.[85]

In the midst of these revelations from the Victorian inquiry, in November 2012, Detective Chief Inspector Peter Fox of the NSW Police, went to the media with the claim that he had been stood down from his investigation of clergy child abuse in the Hunter region of NSW and that, with the connivance of police, ‘the church covers up, silences victims, hinders police investigations, alerts offenders, destroys evidence and moves priests to protect the good name of the church’.[86] The NSW Premier, Barry O’Farrell, immediately announced a Special Commission of Inquiry into these allegations.[87]

The two largest states of Australia were now running ahead of the national government and within two days of O’Farrell’s announcement the national government decided it was time to assert moral authority and reassert its public duty to treat the sexual abuse of children—and its cover-up—as a crime. We could interpret this state intervention in the churches’ handling of child sexual abuse as an attempt to assuage ‘the ultimate collective shame’.[88] Alternatively, we could argue that, by now, opinion leaders—including people within the churches—were beginning to see that the state could no longer absolve itself from responsibility because it can never be state policy to allow anyone, however exalted, to sexually abuse children and not be brought to justice. The shame, ultimately, was vulnerable children had been criminally abused and society had let it happen—or worse, had abetted criminals. Father Frank Brennan, who previously opposed the establishment of a royal commission, expressed a widespread view that the state and civil society had to intervene in his church. To fail to do so would be ‘a wrongful invocation of freedom of religion in a pluralist, democratic society.[89]

In that he added his voice to those of academics, journalists, lawyers, and politicians in spruiking the case for an inquiry into sexual abuse, clergy abuse in particular, and in many instances these lobbyists had little interest in other forms of child abuse.[90] The advent of the royal commission signalled ultimately the end of unquestioning state support for the churches.



Care Leaver advocacy groups struggled for years and thought they had finally won the royal commission they deserved. However, their expectations were not met. The commission’s terms of reference were both too narrow with the focus on sexual abuse only, and too broad in encompassing both open and closed institutions. The royal commission has left many Care Leavers feeling disillusioned. Many who had learned as children never to trust authority were re-traumatised by being sidelined and excluded by a government they thought would ‘do the right thing’ by them especially in regard to redress.

This paper raised some critical questions: Why the exclusive focus on sexual abuse when other forms of abuse are more often reported? Why, when previous inquiries examined child abuse in closed institutions, this royal commission was extended to cover open institutions as well? Why now, at this time, when Australian governments were not so long ago opposed to a royal commission into child abuse?

The answers are complex. Even within the survivor advocacy sector there were competing voices with influential stakeholders staunchly advocating for sexual abuse only. But ultimately, the voices of Care Leavers were overpowered by stronger voices both in the media and by other private and public lobbying for an inquiry into sexual abuse and particularly clergy sexual abuse. In places, this debate has been interpreted as an anti-Catholic campaign but commentators both within the church and elsewhere have argued the political and civic necessity of state intervention in the processes used for the handling of child sexual abuse by clergy. The confluence of events over more than a decade built up a momentum that finally left the government no alternative but to intervene.

If CLAN’s political patron, Senator Claire Moore, is right in concluding that ‘the creation of a royal commission into sexual abuse is not the full extent of the support that people who went through institutional care need to have,’[91] then the question remains: what kind of support will bring them justice?



[1] Sydney Morning Herald 19/11/2012: 1. ‘Almost every Australian voter backs Julia Gillard’s decision to establish a royal commission into the sexual abuse of children…:’ http://www.thepaperboy.com/australia/sydney-morning-herald/front-pages-today.cfm?frontpage=22743#sthash.1FuASk9Z.dpuf (retrieved 22/12/2012).

[2] Julia Gillard to James Luthy, President of CLAN, 18/11/2012 (Reference C12/4705).

[3] The messages are reproduced in the CLAN newsletter, The Clanicle, No 76, January 2013: 3.

[4] See www.clan.org.au: and The Clanicle, CLAN’s bi-monthly newsletter.

[5] In the first flush of the news, The Clanicle, No. 75, December 2012, devoted nine pages to messages of congratulations.

[6] Shurlee Swain (2014), History of Australian Inquiries Reviewing Institutions Providing Care for Children, prepared for the Royal Commission, October 2014. See also Olickj, (2007) The Politics of Regret (New York: Routledge); and Johanna Sköld (2013) Historical Abuse—A Contemporary Issue: Compiling Inquiries into Abuse and Neglect of Children in Out-of-Home Care Worldwide, 2013, Journal of Scandinavian Studies in Criminology and Crime Prevention. Linköping University Post Print online at informaworldTM: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/14043858.2013.771907 (accessed 21/1/2014).

[7] Johanna Sköld & Shurlee Swain (eds.) Apologies and the Legacy of Abuse of Children in ‘Care’: International perspective, Palgrave Macmillan, London: 17.

[8] Johanna Sköld (2013) Historical Abuse.

[9] Human Rights Commission (1997) Bringing Them Home: Report of the National Inquiry into the Separation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children from Their Families; Senate of Australia.

[10] Senate of Australia (2001) Lost Innocents: Righting the Record – Report on child migration.

[11] Senate of Australia (2004) Forgotten Australians: A report on Australians who experienced institutional or out-of-home care as children. See also Senate of Australia (2009) Lost Innocents and Forgotten Australians Revisited: Report on the progress with the implementation of the recommendations of the Lost Innocents and Forgotten Australians Reports.

[12] Fred Powell & Margaret Scanlon (2015) Dark Secrets of Childhood: Media, power, child abuse and public scandals, Policy Press, University of Bristol: 193.

[13] See Jacqueline Z Wilson & Frank Golding (2015) ‘Contested Memories: Caring about the past – or past caring?’, in Johanna Sköld & Shurlee Swain (eds.) Apologies and the Legacy of Abuse of Children in ‘Care’: International perspective, Palgrave Macmillan, London: 27-41.

[14] Senator Andrew Murray, Opening the CLAN Office in Bankstown, Sydney, 6/3/2004: a prominent member of the Senate Committee and currently a Commissioner for the Royal commission.

[15] Senate of Australia (2004) Forgotten Australians (2004): xv.

[16] Senate of Australia (2004) Forgotten Australians (2004): 243.

[17] Senate Community Affairs References Committee (2009): 65. The Government’s response had been issued on 10/11/2005.

[18] Senate Community Affairs References Committee (2009): 66.

[19] Senate Community Affairs References Committee (2009): 225.

[20] Julia Gillard to James Luthy, President of CLAN, 18/11/2012 (Reference C12/4705).

[21] The Hon. Kevin Rudd, MP http://www.aph.gov.au/Parliamentary_Business/Committees/Senate/Community_Affairs/Completed_inquiries/2004-07/inst_care/national_apology/index (retrieved 22/1/2014).

[22] The Hon Malcolm Turnbull – as above.

[23] Simon Cullen, ‘Supreme Court judge to head abuse royal commission’, ABC News, 11/1/2013 at http://www.abc.net.au/news/2013-01-11/gillard-announces-terms-of-reference-for-abuse-royal-commission/4461104 (retrieved 12/1/2013).

[24] The Hon. Julia Gillard, Transcript of press conference, Sydney, 11/1/2013.

[25] Prime Minister’s Media Release, ‘Government formally establishes Royal Commission’, http://parlinfo.aph.gov.au/parlInfo/search/display/display.w3p;query=Id%3A%22media%2Fpressrel%2F2164343%22 (retrieved 11/1/2013).

[26] The Hon. Julia Gillard, Transcript of press conference, Sydney, 11/1/2013.

[27] Joanna Sköld (2015) ‘Apology politics: transnational features’ in Joanna Sköld & Shurlee Swain (2015) Apologies and the Legacy: 24.

[28] Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse (2015) Redress and Civil Litigation Report, Canberra: 99.

[29] Royal Commission (2015) Redress and Civil Litigation Report: 102.

[30] CLAN Oral Submission to the Royal Commission Into Institutional Responses To Child Sexual Abuse 27/3/2015.

[31] http://www.clan.org.au/reference/united-nations (retrieved 1/2/2015).

[32] Royal Commission (2015) Redress and Civil Litigation Report: 5-6.

[33] Royal Commission (2015) Redress and Civil Litigation Report: 5.

[34] Royal Commission, Redress and Civil Litigation Report, Canberra, 2015: 102.

[35] Frank Brennan (2014) The contours of an extended child abuse royal commission Eureka Street, Vol. 24. No. 12 2/7/2014 http://www.eurekastreet.com.au/article.aspx?aeid=41650#.Vr6rC8cQhwd (retrieved 5/7/2014).

[36] Senator The Hon George Brandis QC Attorney-General & The Hon Christian Porter, Minister For Social Services, Joint Press Release, ‘Developing a National Approach to Redress for Survivors of Institutional Child Sexual Abuse’ 29/1/2016.

[37] Royal Commission, Letters Patent.

[38] Compare the Ryan Commission in Ireland where an institution ‘includes a school, an industrial school, a reformatory school, an orphanage, a hospital, a children’s home and any other place where children are cared for other than as members of their families’.

[39] Royal Commission (2015) Redress & Civil Litigation, Table 11: 121-22. While the published data is up to March 2015, I am informed by royal commission officers that the trends in the data since that time have not changed (Personal communication, Sally Grimley-Ballard 22/2/2016).

[40] Personal communications at various CLAN meetings and social media.

[41] Swain (2014) History of Australian Inquiries: 4.

[42] Senate of Australia (2004) Forgotten Australians: 410).

[43] In the chapter dealing with child maltreatment in Forgotten Australians (2004) just 7 of 110 paragraphs were devoted to sexual assault; while in the Child Migrants Report (2001), of the relevant 136 paragraphs, only 21 dealt with sexual abuse.

[44] Senate of Australia, (2004) Forgotten Australians submission 141. See also submission 311.

[45] Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, Child protection Australia: 2012–13, Child Welfare series no.58. Cat. no.CWS 49. Canberra: AIHW, 2014, p. 73-4.

[46] Fred Powell & Margaret Scanlon (2015) Dark Secrets of Childhood: 191.

[47] Swain (2014), History of Australian Inquiries: 11.

[48] Senate of Australia, (2004) Forgotten Australians: 241.

[49] Royal commission (2014), Interim Report Vol. 1: 27.

[50] Adults Surviving Child Abuse, Care Leavers Australia Network (CLAN), Child Migrants Trust, Historic Abuse Network, and International Association of Former Child Migrants and their Families.

[51] Bravehearts and Broken Rites.

[52] Bravehearts (2012) submission on the Terms of Reference of the Royal Commission: 7-8.

[53] The Hon. Julia Gillard, Transcript of press conference, Sydney, 11/1/2013.

[54] Ronald Niezen (2013). Truth and Indignation: Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission on Indian Residential Schools. Toronto, University of Toronto Press. I am grateful to Stephen Winter for drawing attention to Niezen’s work.

[55] For example: A. Foster, Reframing public discourse on child abuse in Australia. Child Abuse Prevention Newsletter v. 13 no. 1 Summer 2005 14-16; Chris Goddard and Bernadette J. Saunders (2001) Child abuse and the media, NCPC Issues No. 14, June. (https://aifs.gov.au/cfca/publications/child-abuse-and-media accessed 21/1/2015); J. Kitzinger (2004) Framing abuse : media influence and public understanding of sexual violence against children, London : Pluto; Lonne B and Gillespie K (2014) How do Australian print media representations of child abuse and neglect inform the public and system reform? Child Abuse and Neglect Vol. 38 No. 5 May: 837-850; Lonne B and Parton N (2014) Portrayals of child abuse scandals in the media in Australia and England : impacts on practice, policy, and systems. Child Abuse and Neglect, Vol. 38 No. 5 May: 822-836.

[56] Roel Verschueren (2013) International sexual abuse literature list http://www.verschueren.at/literatuurlijst_seksueel_misbruik_4.htmlOthers (Retrieved 7/12/2014).

[57] Ronald Niezen (2013). Truth and Indignation: 32.

[58] Transcript of media conference Julia Gillard, 12/11/2012.

[59] Ray Cassin, The unknown unknowns of the sexual abuse royal commission, Eureka Street, 13/1/ 2013.

[60] Parliament of Victoria, Family & Community Development Committee, Transcript 27/5/2013: 12ff.

[61] Parliament of Victoria, Family & Community Development Committee, Transcript 27/5/2013: 3-4.

[62] Patrick Parkinson (2014) Child Sexual Abuse and the Churches: A Story of Moral Failure? The Smith Lecture, Current Issues in Criminal Justice, Vol. 26 No. 1, July.

[63] Royal Commission (2015) Case Study 35 Catholic Archdiocese of Melbourne, November 2015

Opening Address, 24/11/2015: 4.

[64] Parliament of Victoria, Family & Community Development Committee, Transcript 27/5/2013: 3-4.

[65] Alan Howe, ‘Let’s hound evil clergy’, Herald-Sun, Melbourne, 18/4/2012, http://www.heraldsun.com.au/news/opinion/lets-hound-evil-catholic-clergy/story-fn56avn8-1226040600013 (Retrieved 19/10/2012).

[66] ‪Case Study No. 8, Sydney, http://www.childabuseroyalcommission.gov.au/getattachment/a0204352-4103-452c-b2cb-7cc69476d122/Report-of-Case-Study-no-8 (Retrieved 2/3/2015).

Case Study No. 16, August 2014. http://www.childabuseroyalcommission.gov.au/case-study/791fd480-ba30-45bc-ba79-cbad85f27023/case-study-16,-august-2014,-melbourne (Retrieved 11/11/2014).

Case Study No. 28, http://www.childabuseroyalcommission.gov.au/case-study/860eabc6-e0fc-453a-b9d4-51a89852fede/case-study-28,-may-and-november-2015 (retrieved 29/12/2015).

Chrissie Foster with Paul Kennedy, Hell on the Way to Heaven: An Australian Mother’s Love – The Power of the Catholic Church, and a Fight for Justice over Child Sexual Abuse, Sydney, Random House, 2010.

Conor Duffy and Paul Kennedy, ‘Bishop undermines Foster’s call for justice’, Lateline ABC TV 16/7/2008http://www.abc.net.au/lateline/content/2008/s2305932.htm (Retrieved 2/12/2015).

Alan Howe, Herald-Sun, Melbourne, 18/4/2012, ‘Let’s hound evil clergy’, http://www.heraldsun.com.au/news/opinion/lets-hound-evil-catholic-clergy/story-fn56avn8-1226040600013 (Retrieved 19/10/2012).

[67] Marr (2013: 68).

[68] Francis Sullivan, CEO Truth Justice and Healing Council, The Royal Commission and the unique challenges for the Catholic Church, Blackfriars Lecture Series, Australian Catholic University, 20/10/2015.

[69] The Australian 19/11/2012.

[70] Transcript of interview with Marius Benson, ABC News Radio, 3/4/2013

[71] Transcript of media conference Julia Gillard, 12/11/2012.

[72] Frank Brennan, Church-state issues and the Royal commission, Eureka Street, 24/10/2013. http://www.eurekastreet.com.au/article.aspx?aeid=38423#.Vr67CccQhwc (accessed 25/10/2013).

[73] Frank Brennan, ‘Church-state issues and the Royal commission’, Eureka Street, 03 September 2013.

[74] See e.g. Parliament of Victoria, Family & Community Development Committee (2013) Betrayal of Trust: Inquiry into the handling of child abuse by religious and other non-government organisations, Vol. 1: 155-156.

[75] Brisbane Courier Mail, 1/5/2003.

[76] ‘Labour believes it is now in the best interests of the welfare of Australia’s children that the Prime Minister hold a Royal Commission into child abuse’, joint statement by Federal Opposition Minister Simon Crean and Shadow Attorney-General, Nicola Roxon, (13 May 2003).

[77] ‘Democrats Renew Call For Royal Commission On Child Abuse’, Australian Politics.com 23 May 2003 at http://australianpolitics.com/news/2003/05/03-05-23b.shtml (accessed 21/11/2015).

[78] Josh Gordon & Catherine Armitage ‘Jeff Kennett warned Pell to deal with abuse’, Sydney Morning Herald, 28/3/2014.

http://www.smh.com.au/national/jeff-kennett-warned-pell-to-deal-with-abuse-20140327-35lrw.html#ixzz3yPF1QQer (accessed 28/3/2014).

[79] Parliament of Victoria, Family and Community Development Committee, Transcript, 27/5/2013.

[80] See for example, ABC Television Four Corners, The Homies, 18/8/2003 at http://www.abc.net.au/4corners/content/2003/transcripts/s926706.htm (Retrieved 21/12/2014). Bad blood existed between the Army and Care Leavers who went public: a letter to the author from John Dalziel, Manager Public Relations Salvation Army 22/4/2004: ‘Obviously we are not welcome by CLAN, we do not respect them and their attitude to us is one of hatred.’ See also Royal Commission (2015) Report of Case Study No. 5: 66ff.

[81] Noel Howard, The Ryan Report (2009): A practitioner’s perspective on implications for residential child care, Irish Journal of Applied Social Studies, Vol. 12(1), 2012: 38. The Ryan Report Ryan, S. (2009). Commission to inquire into child abuse report (Volumes I – V). Dublin: Stationery Office.

[82] David Marr, The Prince: Faith, abuse and George Pell, Quarterly Essay, No. 51, 2013: 2.

[83] Philip Cummins (Chair), Dorothy Scott & Bill Scales, Report of the Protecting Victoria’s Vulnerable Children Inquiry, Department of Premier & Cabinet, Melbourne, January 2012, Cummings Vol. 2: 356.

[84] Parliament of Victoria, Family and Community Development Committee, Inquiry into the Handling of Child Abuse by Religious and Other Non Government Organisations, November 2013. The Terms of Reference were published in the Victorian Government Gazette, 17/4/2012. http://www.gazette.vic.gov.au/gazette/Gazettes2012/GG2012S125.pdf (accessed 31/12/2013).

[85] Letter of Chief Commissioner Lay to the Victorian Parliamentary Committee, 2/9/2012. http://www.parliament.vic.gov.au/images/stories/committees/fcdc/inquiries/57th/Child_Abuse_Inquiry/Submissions/Victoria_Police.pdf (accessed 6/12/2013).

[86] Malcolm Farr & Tory Shepherd, ‘Tony Abbott supports royal commission into child sex abuse’, The Australian, 12/11/2012. http://www.theaustralian.com.au/news/child-abuse-inquiry-needed-sooner-rather-than-later/story-e6frg6n6-1226515004476 (retrieved 13/11/2012).

[87] Special Commission of Inquiry concerning the investigation of certain child sexual abuse allegations in the Hunter region. On 30 May 2014, the Commissioner delivered a four-volume report. The fourth volume of the report remain confidential at this time.

[88] A term used by Niezen, R. (2013). Truth and Indignation: Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission on Indian Residential Schools. Toronto, University of Toronto Press: 32.

[89] Father Frank Brennan, ‘Church-state issues and the Royal Commission’, Eureka Street, 3/9/2013.

[90] Royal Commission Interim Report, Vol. 1: 27. The tone of the media in 2012 can be assessed through these examples: Barney Zwartz, ‘Victims of clergy push for inquiry’, The Age, 9/2/2012; Hamish Fitzsimmons, (2 March 2012), ‘Church abuse victims demand Royal commission’, Lateline, ABC News, 2/3/2012 http://www.abc.net.au/news/2012-03-01/catholic-church-rape-victims-demand-royal-commission/3863566 (Retrieved 13/3/2012); Judy Courtin, ‘The Truth deserves a commission’, Sydney Morning Herald, 14/4/2012; Michael Short, ‘Hell on Earth’, Sydney Morning Herald, 25/6/2012; ‘Newcastle Catholic Bishop supports abuse inquiry’, ABC News. 26/7/2012. http://www.abc.net.au/news/2012-07-26/newcastle-catholic-bishop-supports-abuse-inquiry/4157078 Retrieved 28 July 2012.

[91] Senator Claire Moore, ALP Queensland, Senate Adjournment Debate, 8/7/2014.

No light shines for the forgotten Australians. Why?

Another letter to The Age which didn’t make it.

But let me share it with you.

Simon Gardner (Royal commission can shine a light on ‘forgotten’ people – Age 5/8) writes: ‘Mention the stolen generations and child migrants and eyes light up in recognition…No such light shines for the forgotten Australians. Why?’ I can supply some reasons.

Many former wards of state were not forgotten. My parents tried repeatedly to get me out of state ‘care’. More to the point the term ‘forgotten’ is a limp synopsis of the childhoods of many of us who were not able to live with our parents.

The very word deflects attention away from the real experience – widespread emotional, physical and sexual abuse, criminal violence, humiliation and deprivation, and lack of love and affection.

I do not expect the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse will use the word ‘forgotten’. It’s trite and hackneyed. It’s been trotted out from Bob Menzies (Forgotten People 1942) to the Human Rights Commission (Forgotten Children 2014).

If justice is going to come about it will be because of the relentless lobbying and awareness raising of former wards and residents of orphanages, children’s Homes and foster ‘care’, not by slogans foisted on them by well-meaning social workers and policy wonks.

Historic Child Abuse Not Consigned to History’s Garbage Bins

Child Sexual Abuse has not been consigned to the garbage bins of history.

In an opinion piece in a Sydney paper today, Claire Harvey rightly takes umbrage at a statement made to the Royal Commission into Child Sexual Abuse last week by the former Principal of the prestigious Knox Grammar School in Sydney where sexual abuse was rampant under his watch.

(‘Time to end the lies because they knew child abuse was wrong,’ The Sunday Telegraph, March 08, 2015, here)

Dr Ian Paterson AO, the morally-blind Principal, said he didn’t realise at the time that what was happening was abhorrent:

“I accept that decisions I made were wrong and that I failed to recognise and hence respond sufficiently to events that we now know were indicators of a sinister and much bigger picture, the picture of serious sexual abuse that would damage the lives of so many.”

“I don’t buy it, says Harvey. “He knew it was wrong. Everyone knew.”

 I agree – and the same is true of sexual abuse of the most vulnerable of all children – those who were abused in orphanages and children’s Homes after being placed in the ‘care’ of the State for protection.

Sexual assault against children was wrong then; it is wrong now; it will be wrong in the future. There can be no moral amnesty on crimes against children placed in the care of the State – it is no excuse that it happened a long time ago. 

I am reminded of the Victorian Government’s submission to the Australian Senate’s Forgotten Australians Inquiry (2003-04). The government shamelessly came up with the proposition that it was all a matter of the circumstances of times past.

In the past, some children were abused and neglected while in care, and a larger number of children were subjected to standards of care which would not be considered adequate by today’s standards. However, it is also important to recognise that the people who cared for children in the past, either in children’s homes or in their own homes, generally did so as well as they could in the circumstances of the times, and that auspice organisations for children’s homes and foster care programs generally sought to provide the type of care which they believed to be best.

Past tense for times past. We do things differently now is the implication – but they are fools who believe their own propaganda.

Claire Harvey helps propagate that ‘feel-good’ delusion:

The difference today is that children have rights, and are heard. That’s why I think we’re lucky to live in 2015. It’s probably a better time today to be a child in Australia than ever before. Children’s dignity is respected. And adults can no longer hide behind feigned ignorance.

The inference that child abuse is consigned to the garbage bins of history is either naïve or mischievous. There are any number of reliable reports, and conclusive evidence, showing that rape and sexual assault continues in out-of-home ‘care’ today.

For example, in his Own motion investigation into Child Protection – out of home care (May 2010) the Ombudsman in the State of Victoria, Australia, reported that:

My investigation has found instances of children who have:

– been physically and sexually assaulted by foster and kinship carers

– had limbs broken or been knocked unconscious by residential carers

– been physically assaulted or raped by other children

– been placed with adult ‘friends’ who have then engaged them in sexual acts

– engaged in prostitution while in care

– reported their carers selling drugs to other children.

The sexual exploitation of young people in the out of home care system has also been identified as a significant issue, with incident reports identifying a group of children in out of home care who are involved in prostitution and sexual exploitation.

Furthermore, there is another sense in which it is reprehensible to suggest that it’s all behind us now. The survivors of sexual abuse do not think of their traumatic experiences as historical at all. Childhood abuse continues to scar the lives of scores of thousands of people who grew up in orphanages, children’s Homes and other forms of institutional ‘care’.

Their experiences continue to have very real, present, enduring impacts. It is no comfort, no consolation, to hear that things are managed better nowadays and that they should ‘move on’. Survivors will never ‘get over it’ until they see justice done.

And until they see strong measures in place to stop it happening to children today.

History of institutions providing out-of-home residential care for children

This is the 2nd of Prof Shurlee Swain’s three research papers for the Royal Commission

It can be downloaded here

This will prove to be the most fascinating of the Swain papers for those who are new to this area. It explains the many different types of institutions offering out-of-home ‘care’ for children in Australia from 1788 until the de-institutionalisation movement of the 1980s.

The paper shows that from the outset the colonies were determined not to replicate the British Poor Laws – the wealthy would resent the costs. Instead, the most populous colonies of New South Wales and Victoria adopted the British model of voluntary organisations run by a committee elected by subscribers, who were entitled to a set number of ‘tickets’ which allowed them to recommend children as ‘fit objects for relief’.

The Australian welfare system developed as a “mixed economy”. Governments dealt with churches, charities and community organisations to provide services considered necessary for children whose parents were unable to provide for them.

Swain then weaves her way deftly through the complex labyrinth of institutional types that formed part of this ‘system’. I have changed the order of Swain’s presentation to reflect my own interests. The numbers are taken from the Find & Connect Website (which you can visit here).

Orphanages: 43 institutions – 6 Government, 24 Catholic, 6 Anglican and 7 non-denominational

Orphanages or orphan asylums were prominent in Australian cities and towns from the early 19th through to the mid-20th centuries. Their often impressive buildings were a symbol of civic pride, that a community honoured its obligations to children in need.

However, these institutions were selective in defining children in need: “…the children of the deserving poor, removing them from the stigma attached to lesser institutions, while training them to provide for themselves in the future.” (p. 7)

“Once they reached school leaving age, children who had no family to return to were ‘apprenticed out’ – most commonly, boys as farm labourers and girls as domestic servants” (p. 7)

Industrial Schools and Reformatories: for ‘neglected’ and ‘criminal’ children

These were among the “lesser institutions” referred to above.

Industrial schools: 32 institutions run by Government, Catholic, Salvation Army, Anglican and non-denominational agencies

These were for ‘neglected children’. If left untrained, such children were seen as a future risk to society. They would fall into the indolence, moral degradation or even criminality. To avoid this risk the children would be trained to be industrious, to see the value of work and prepared to support themselves in the future.

In Victoria, industrial schools were central to providing for state children (or wards of state as they later were labelled). The government dominated the field, although industrial schools were also developed within some existing Catholic orphanages.

Parents were required to to contribute to the maintenance of their children in industrial schools even though many of the children were deprived of contact with their parents.

“Overcrowded, poorly organised and riddled with disease, this system stumbled from crisis to crisis before being replaced by a boarding- out scheme from the 1870s.” (p. 8)

Although Swain does not address the issue of boarding-out (or foster care) in this paper, she reminds us that those forms of ‘care’ dominated most of the statutory and some of the voluntary provision from the 1870s before waning in the hard economic times of the 1930s. Foster care then made a comeback to pre-eminent status from the 1970s on.

Reformatories: 43 institutions began as reformatories, 28 for boys and 15 for girls. Run by mostly by Government, Catholics and Salvation Army

The earliest specialist institutions for ‘criminal children’, reformatories were designed “to remove offenders from the morally polluted environment of the prison.” (p. 20) Boys were perceived as being in danger of embarking on a criminal life, while girls were predominately admitted for ‘moral offences’ or the fear that they would ‘lapse into immorality’.

The name said it all: the belief was that, intercepted early enough and confronted by strong discipline and hard work (and in some places lashings of the Bible and prayers), young criminals could be reformed and transformed into honest workers.

Reformatories were often overcrowded and poorly staffed institutions, and consequently were sites of great violence. To maintain order, staff adopted prison routines, often more brutal and rigid than adult prisons.

Training Homes and Farm Training Schools – 7 Training Homes and 24 Farm Schools

Domestic training homes for older girls and farm training schools for older boys had some of the characteristics of the old industrial schools. They used the residents’ labour to maintain the institution and the type of training related to a narrow range of jobs in the labour market which they joined on their discharge.

Children’s Homes – latter-day orphanages – 224 organisations, 116 of which took children of both genders, 73 only boys and 35 exclusively girls

As time went by, many of the specialist institutions described above became more general children’s home. The term ‘home’ was an attempt to create distance from the ‘barracks-style’ institutions of the past and to imply a more familial environment. Former residents commonly capitalise ‘Home’ to make the point that they were not at all like a family home.

These institutions proliferated in the 20th century. Because the arrangements under which they could take custody of children were loosely controlled and supervision was inadequate, children were vulnerable to abuse. Swain concludes, “Even nominally denominational homes were often only loosely connected to church hierarchies, which contributed little to their ongoing costs. Non-denominational organisations often became the fiefdom of committed individuals accountable to nobody.” (p. 12)

Family Group Homes – at least 160 adopted this model

This model of ‘care’ emanated from post-war Britain. Family group homes, scattered throughout the suburbs and staffed by married couples, many of whom brought their own children, appeared closer to the family ideal. The family group home more closely equated to idea of family than the structure of most children’s homes because siblings could stay together, and the children could attend local schools and other community facilities.

In reality, the turnover of staff and children over time and issues of finances meant, in many cases, the facade of ‘family’ proved hard to maintain. It was evident that it was easier to make larger, more uniform groups of children than those in the surrounding neighbourhood. Moreover, as Swain points out, siblings were still required to leave individually as each came to the end of their schooling, creating vacancies which were quickly filled by other unrelated children.

While the best family group homes came close to recreating a domestic family home, the worst left children vulnerable with no-one to whom they could report abuse.

The Victorian Child Welfare Department was an early adopter of this type of ‘care’ but, “struggling with all but collapse of its foster care system, and a shortage of beds in the non-government homes on which it had come to rely, [it] returned to direct provision of care in 1956.” (p.13)

Indigenous-specific Institutions

Swain points out that, “Indigenous children have always been represented within government and non-government institutions but states with substantial surviving Indigenous populations also developed parallel Indigenous-specific systems which replicated many of the institutions in the mainstream system. Intrinsic to the development of such institutions was the separation of the children from home and community, usually with the aim of assimilation.” (p. 25)

The longevity of Indigenous-specific institutions suggest “a continued reliance on older models of care than in the non-Indigenous sector.” (p. 25)

Mission Homes, established in the early 19th century, are a case in point. Missions were designed to accommodate supposed orphans, but increasingly children were brought in from other communities and other children and their parents came to live on the mission. While children could still have contact with their parents and other members of their community, in practice, separation was increasingly enforced as adults were seen as an obstacle to their children’s ‘progress’.

In the second half of the 20th century the move towards Indigenous self-determination saw the return of Missions to local community control.

Other Out-of-home Care Provision

Swain gives a brief account of a variety of other arrangements which can only be listed here. Some are specialist services; others are little more than ad hoc warehouses

  • Emergency Accommodation
  • Reception Centres
  • Female Rescue Homes
  • Maternity Homes
  • Babies’ Homes
  • Mother and Baby Homes
  • Hostels
  • Youth Accommodation
  • Disability Institutions
  • Convalescent & Holiday Homes


Swain’s research reveals an extraordinarily complex and diverse mix of out-of-home ‘care’ of children in Australia.

Where government was not the direct provider, regulation, inspection and lines of responsibility were lax and confused even where governments funded church or charitable efforts.

Swain comments tellingly, “There was little to rein in the activities of individuals and organisations who believed that they had a calling to ‘care’ for children they perceived to be unwanted or otherwise in need. Relationships with church-led or other supervising authorities were similarly lax, with few prepared to question self-funding and well-meaning individuals or committees undertaking this work.” (p. 27)

Where did this leave the children?

In short: powerless, vulnerable and isolated. Cut off from family for whom the authorities had no respect and to whom they had no accountability, children were separated, placed and moved to suit the administration. Once inside the walls, they were at the mercy of the merciful and the merciless alike – with no-one to whom they could turn for support “as they navigated their way into adulthood.” (p. 27)


10 Blunders in Child Welfare


The ten worst blunders in child welfare in  Australia  since 1788. COUNT DOWN TO NUMBER 1

It has been hard deciding which of all the many mistakes of the past – and those which continue to be made – warrants the title “the worst”. But here it is.

BLUNDER # 1: Having inflicted significant damage on children in their ‘care, authorities pushed them out with unseemly haste, and failed to see that they needed to put right the damage done and restore the connections to family and community.

After traumatising the children in their ‘care’, welfare authorities turfed them out as soon as they could and promptly washed their hands of all further responsibility.

The authorities have never felt the responsibility that a ‘normal’ parent would feel for their child moving towards independent adulthood. Most ‘normal’ families prepare their young for leaving home and provide a safety net to which young people can return over a considerable period of time after they leave.

Most young people from intact families still live at home till their early 20s, and their parents continue to give them practical, emotional and financial advice and support years after they leave home.

Although some young adults are anxious to leave home as soon as they can, the process usually involves a long transition period during which young adults leave and return home again as needs arise.

By contrast, many a ward of the State will tell you how, as soon as they reached school leaving age, they were sent on their way with a change of clothes, a paper bag or a flimsy brown suitcase, some small change and, if they were lucky, a temporary boarding address and a job. A good parent would never dream of dumping their child in that manner.

Some ‘care’ leavers vividly recall being told in harsh language not to come back…or the tongue lashing from a staff member about how they expected them to be soon in gaol…or working on the streets. There would be no safety net if things went wrong – as they often did.

The vast majority of ‘care’ leavers were poorly educated and unskilled. Many were psychologically traumatised, angry and confused, emotionally vulnerable and ill-prepared for independent living – with no idea about handling money, how to use public transport, how to relate to people of the opposite sex. Some had no experience whatsoever of how a regular family operates.

Many had been brutalised – physically, sexually and emotionally – while in ‘care’ and began life in an unwelcoming adult world as adolescents with a massive chip on their shoulder and a sense of shame about their background. Those who had been sexually abused often felt that they would have to carry their dirty secret with them for the rest of their lives. And many did keep it a secret for decades – and suffered even more for that.

Many did not know if they had family members who were still alive, or if they were, how they might meet up with them.

The Senate Inquiry (2004) reported on health issues:

Evidence was received of general physical, psychological and dental health problems through to severe mental health issues of depression and post traumatic stress disorder. The consequences of lifestyle for many since leaving care such as drug and alcohol addictions, homelessness, unemployment, unsafe sex practices and other destructive behaviours have also had a damaging impact on their health. For some, they carry the legacy of injuries suffered through the abuse they received as a child (6.20).

A recent study by Philip Mendes and others confirms what we know from an abundance of anecdotal evidence that young people in, or leaving, care are disproportionately involved in the youth justice system. And subsequently, having got off to a very bad start, are then caught in a web of unemployment, homelessness and adult prisons. Read more here and here.

What should be expected? A Leaving Care Guarantee

In a nutshell, before leaving ‘care’, all young people should be given every opportunity to acquire the knowledge, skills and resources needed to thrive and survive in the community.

All ‘care’ givers should be obliged to provide a Leaving Care Guarantee under which every young person leaving ‘care’ can expect:

  • Support comparable to that given to children who are raised in regular families including the families of child welfare authorities;
  • Support in essential matters such as employment, housing, health and education/training should be available up to at least the age of 25;
  • If things don’t go well in the years after leaving ‘care’ there will be a system in place to lend a helping hand for as long as it is needed;
  • A plan for connecting with kin including access to personal and family records; and, for those who are not able to return to their own family, supported access to community resources who will lend them a kindly hand while they become re-established in the community.

But many ‘care’ leavers need more compensation

Not only should the state provide the care that a good parent would provide for their own offspring leaving home, but it should also try to compensate abused and neglected children for the disadvantages produced by their traumatic ‘care’ experiences.

The state should also actively compensate abused and neglected children for the enduring effects and ongoing disadvantages produced by their traumatic care experiences.

The state and the agencies that held the children are morally bound to assist them to the greatest extent possible. This would include at least the following:

  • Free access to counselling and psychological care for survivors of childhood abuse on a life-long basis
  • Expedited access to the existing health and mental health care system
  • Helping them through access to personal and family records to understand their childhood in ‘care’ and to connect, wherever possible, to their family.

Redressing past wrongs: restorative justice

When introducing a redress scheme for ‘care’ leavers in Tasmania, the then Premier, Jim Bacon, commented:

We cannot change the events of the past but we can demonstrate that we are genuinely sorry and that we are willing to help these people move forwards.

No amount of money will compensate for their abuse as children, but lump sum payments – or ongoing monetary assistance – to survivors of abuse must be paid

  • to assist them to recover from the criminal abuse;
  • as a symbolic expression of recognition of the enormity of the crime;
  • as an expression of the community’s sympathy and condolence for the significant adverse effects experienced or suffered by survivors; and
  • to allow survivors to pass the remainder of their years with some degree of physical and mental comfort and to provide their dependants with material benefits as a form of compensation for the difficulties these dependants underwent as a result of the abuse suffered by their parents.

In the light of the failures of the ad hoc redress schemes provided by some States and some churches in the past, a national redress scheme funded by churches, charities and government but administered by an independent statutory authority is required.

Furthermore, those who were abused in ‘care’ should expect to have their allegations referred to police where the alleged perpetrator may still be alive. Prosecutions are still too rare.

In exercising their rights to take civil action against those responsible, legal impediments such as time limitations, impossible requirements to provide documentary accounts and corroborative evidence (in a one-on-one abuse situation) should be eliminated.




BLUNDER # 2: Authorities failed to supervise and make carers accountable, failed to hear the voices of the children, and were blind to a massive betrayal of trust of vulnerable children Continue reading 10 Blunders in Child Welfare

The Papal Trucking Company Pty Unlimited

I highly recommend this opinion piece by Tony Webber in the Dubbo PhotoNews, 30/8/14. In a devastating critique of the church’s scandalous handling of child sex abuse, Tony drives Cardinal Pell’s truck to its illogical conclusions.

A trucking company “would not try to gets itself categorised as an unstructured, non-commercial entity to avoid paying due compensation to its victims.”

“…trucking companies pay tax on earnings. The [Royal] commission heard the Melbourne Catholic Archdiocese of Melbourne holds property and investments worth $309million, which generated $53million in tax-free income last year.

“… imagine a trucking company that refused to provide log books and other documentation to police investigating its drivers.”

To read the article click here.

Church’s line is broken

“Is the line broken?” asked the Royal Commissioner, Peter McClellan, as the television hook-up to Rome failed.

“The cardinal is unmoving on the screen which suggests it has,” replied counsel assisting Gail Furness SC, with Judge McClelland observing mournfully: “The line has failed in Rome.”

It sure had, in more ways than one when Cardinal George Pell used the analogy of a truck driver raping a hitch-hiker.  The trucking company had no liability for the driver’s crime just as the church had no liability for a priest raping a child.

What could have possessed a cardinal of the church to use such a crass analogy? To compare a one-off rape to the litany of recurrent sexual abuses of children by clergy? To strip a heinous crime  of all moral culpability beyond that which attaches to the perpetrator of the moment? To conflate the betrayal of a vulnerable child placed in the care  and protection of a church with an  adult hitch-hiker.

Just crass.

With men like Pell rising to the top of the hierarchy, incapable of compassion, devoid of any sense of owning responsibility, swerving all over the road to avoid trouble, the church has lost all moral authority.

The disbelief in the Royal Commission hearing was palpable – and the wider community was also incredulous. Here is  the reaction from letters to the editor in today’s Melbourne Age:

Such a company would be taken off the road

All right George Pell, let’s compare the Catholic church to a trucking company (The Age, 22/8). Let’s imagine that hundreds of truck drivers all over the world begin raping children on their shifts – and, horrifyingly, they all belong to the same company. Head office knows what’s going on, because streams of distressed parents have been making complaints. But it doesn’t report its drivers to the police, or even sack them – it just moves drivers on to other routes. What’s more, the families are told that because their children were raped by truck drivers, it is the company itself that is best placed to investigate the crimes committed against them. They’ll get a nominal amount of money if their claims are established, as long as they don’t tell anyone else about it. That sounds like a company that needs to be taken off the road.

Nina Puren, Oakleigh

Church management the biggest problem

At least George Pell is honest in suggesting that the Church is not there to provide pastoral care. Rather, it is like a trucking company that is there to ship things around by night (such as paedophile priests) and make as much profit as it can. An exception is that the Church, unlike trucking companies, has been allowed to “structure” itself to prevent legal action being taken against it. The worst problem in the Church is not the paedophiles. It is the “management” – up to the very top – that protected these offensive people, hid the offences, scared off its victims and excused its own disgusting behaviour. Your own words, George Pell, condemn you as a major part of the problem.

Graeme Scarlett, East Malvern

Further abuse of victims

How much lower can the Church go in its secondary abuse of victims? I did not stand on a highway to be picked up by a “truckie”, Cardinal Pell. I was a small child in a loving Catholic home where a trusted “employee” of the church, i.e. a priest, was invited to my home for dinner by my parents and then assaulted me. The analogy further shows how out of touch the old men of the Church are.

Shelley Thomson, Flaxton, Queensland

 Recall ambassador to Holy See

Recall ambassador to Holy See

The Vatican’s refusal to hand over all documents relating to every case in the royal commission, claiming they are “internal working documents of another sovereign state”, beggars belief. These atrocities were committed under Australian law yet not one priest was ever handed over to the police by the Church. Time to pick your team, George – Team Australia or Team Rome. Our embassy to the Holy See should be closed and our ambassador recalled.

Brent Baigent, Richmond

An accessory after the fact?

If a truck driver committed molestation and his chief executive transferred him interstate to avoid detection the CEO could be charged with being an accessory after the fact. Cardinal Pell (and others in the Church) should be investigated with the view of having Pell extradited here to face charges of being an accessory after the fact.

Lawry Twining, Northcote

End tax-free status

The royal commission must continue even if it does cost a further $105 million. However, given that the churches were willing to pay for QCs to defend their predatory employees, should not taxpayers be reimbursed for the costs incurred in giving victims a voice? If they have no redress at law perhaps now is the time to remove the tax-free status of those parts of these institutions that are not bone fide charities.

Colin Simmons, Woodend

Two faces of the church

The two faces of the Catholic Church were on stark display this week. The head of Vinnies, John Falzon, led off with a spirited defence of the marginalised on Monday’s Q and A, reminding us that the Church at its best is gospel-focused, hope-filled and passionate about upholding the rights of society’s most vulnerable. Alas, by Thursday we had lurched back into the bleak world of Cardinal Pell, a senior Church ”leader” still in abject denial, who compounded the grievous damage already done to clergy sexual abuse survivors and their families with his ludicrous ”truck” simile. Falzon’s words and demeanour were prophetic, pastoral and empathetic. Pell’s were the opposite.

Grant McDavy, Noble Park

Read more here

Royal Commission on Child Sexual Abuse

Key points from my submission to the Royal Commission on Child Sexual Abuse:

  •  A national redress scheme to which all governments, major churches and relevant non-government organisations contribute equitably is among the most important outcomes that this Royal Commission could give rise to.
  • Written evidence should not be expected in every case; many cases were not reported at the time, and records have been “lost” or destroyed.
  • You do not have to have been raped or sexually assaulted to have been profoundly affected by sexual activity in children’s institutions.
  • There is a strong connection between sexual abuse and violence which is often underestimated. While the phenomenon of grooming is increasingly well understood, its counterpart of violence and naked abuse of power is not.
  • The same fear, humiliation and intimidation that enabled abuse to take place also served as a mechanism by which information about abuse was suppressed.
  • The sexualised environment of children’s Homes contributed to the high incidence of abuse.
  • It would be a profound disappointment to many who were abused in institutions if a “sexual abuse” only redress scheme were introduced given that existing redress schemes in Australia and overseas have already paid compensation – as they should – for other serious forms of abuse and neglect.