Australia’s Royal Commission into child abuse: No place to hide

HSV Public Lecture by Dr Wayne Chamley, Broken Rites Australia, at Balwyn Library on 22 May 2014

The speaker, Wayne Chamley, from Broken Rites Australia, referred to the history of this organisation, which began with the discovery by an English social worker, Margaret Humphries, of displaced people – parents, siblings and children in Nottingham. She set up a group to help them reconnect. This resulted in her receiving a letter from a woman who had become an orphan following the death of both parents. At the age of four this woman had been placed on to a ship, with other children, and sent to Australia. Within a few months Margaret was able to reconnect this woman with her brother.

Over the next four years, Margaret was able to put together the whole picture, that over a sixty-year period some 150,000 English-born children had been sent to Canada, Australia, Rhodesia and Uganda. These consignments of children had been carried out by means of government to government Child Migration Schemes, assisted by several England-based charities and the Australian Catholic Church. In the course of her investigations Margaret found out that all trace of these British citizens had been erased and their records had been sent to the ‘host’ countries including Australia. She eventually set up the Child Migrants’ Trust, to focus on reconnecting former child migrants with their England-based families.

The speaker referred to the history of this organisation, which began with the discovery by an English social worker, Margaret Humphries, of displaced people – parents, siblings and children in Nottingham. She set up a group to help them reconnect. This resulted in her receiving a letter from a woman who had become an orphan following the death of both parents. At the age of four this woman had been placed on to a ship, with other children, and sent to Australia. Within a few months Margaret was able to reconnect this woman with her brother.

In 1993, Wayne attended a public meeting of an organisation called Broken Rites, which enabled people present to air their grievances about their treatment by officials of the Catholic Church and Church of England. Later there were issues with the Salvation Army, the government of Victoria, some solicitors, and a few people indicated that they were child migrants. He decided to join the organisation and to understand their stories.

Their stories had many common features.

  • The child was separated from parents and/or other family. The child was then placed into either institutional care or some foster-care arrangement, often (though not always) a legal instrument was used by the State to effect this, by declaring the child to be a ward of the State.
  • Force was often used in the removal of the child from parents or family, either by the State or by the institution.
  • Many suffered sexual abuse and/or physical abuse, exploitation and unpaid child labour within the institutions and in foster homes.
  • Many left the host institution at the age of sixteen, sometimes illiterate and/or without life skills. As a result a significant number were highly traumatised after years of psychological coercion.

Tony Blair’s election in 1997 brought about an inquiry into the welfare of former British migrants which resulted in visit to former residents of Christian Brothers’ orphanages in WA. Andrew Murray, a Democrat Senator and a former child migrant, took up their cases. A similar development in Queensland was the release of the Forde Inquiry Report in 1999.

By now the Senate Inquiry into Child Migrants had been endorsed by the Senate, and by August 2004, the report Forgotten Australians was tabled in parliament. The committee estimated that between 1900 and 1980, at least 500,000 non-indigenous, Australian-born children had been placed into situations of out-of-home care.

A journalist, Joanne McCarthy, had written stories about pedophilia priests. Broken Rites were active too. The media were also taking an interest. During an interview with ABC’s Tony Jones, NSW Detective Fox claimed that police investigations had been compromised and that the Catholic Church had changed the direction of the police activities. Following the broadcast the Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, was bombarded with phone calls. Then after a series of meetings a document was prepared and on 11th January 2013, a Royal Commission was formally announced. Justice McClellan has stated publicly that on the basis of what has been learned so far, it may be the most extensive and far-reaching inquiry in the nation’s history.

Expected and Desired Recommendations

  • There should be a broad set of recommendations relating to child protection policies.
  • The Australian Constitution should be amended so that it identifies and establishes some specific responsibilities that must be accepted by the Australian Government in respect of the protection , welfare, and nurturing of our children as citizens.
  • There must be recommendations about major changes to the law in respect of how children are to be protected and the rights of the child as a citizen. These must go beyond existing provisions relating to human rights.
  • There must be major changes to improve access to the law for persons who experience child abuse. Changes and more uniformity about statute of limitations as well as vicarious liability for religious organisations and charities are essential.
  • There should be recommendations relating to the need for and the early establishment of a national early intervention program to respond to child victims of abuse.
  • There must be recommendations about funding of a national redress scheme for abuse victims, most of the money coming from the organisations and institutions which are the focus of the Royal Commission.
  • Such a scheme must take the form of a statutory and sustainable fund managed by independent trustees.
  • The establishment of a national redress scheme must not close off any person’s right to seek compensation by means of common law.

Resources:

2014 Families Australia Oration, Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse

Report by Howard Hodgens

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