24 November 2020
Tasmanian Government announces Commission of Inquiry into Child Sex Abuse
The Tasmanian Government largely avoided scrutiny by the Royal Commission Into Child Sex Abuse (RC) which commenced in 2012 and was completed in 2017. The RC looked at responses to historical child abuse across the nation and despite running for 5 years it was impossible for it to closely examine every state and every organisation in Australia. This meant that in Tasmania, only one case study dealt exclusively with a Tasmanian institution (the Hutchins school) although other case studies included branches of wider organisations which were in Tasmania (the CEBS case study). Whilst other case studies and the RC recommendations would have given guidance to the Tasmanian Government on action going forward, the dark past of institutional child abuse in Tasmanian government agencies was not examined.
To the Government’s credit, it has moved on the bulk of the recommendations made by the RC regarding legislative changes and has joined the National Redress Scheme. However, despite adopting legislative changes which now allow survivors of historical sex abuse to get their matters into court, the Government has been slow to deal with these claims and has taken a legalistic and adversarial approach to civil claims which has not been at all survivor focussed.
The Commission of Inquiry (which is essentially the Tasmanian version of a Royal Commission) will have the powers to delve into the cover ups, the moving of paedophiles between schools and other Government agencies and the failures to adequately deal with perpetrators who we now know operated in Tasmania for decades. It is important that this happen because not only do the perpetrators need to be brought to account, so do those who protected them.
For this to effectively occur, the Commission should have wide ranging terms of reference which allow for specific case studies to be examined. The recently announced, and now defunct, inquiry into the Education Department had terms of reference which did not allow for individual case studies. We know from the RC that closely examining individual case studies firstly allowed for direct accountability but secondly created the backdrop to inform the RC and Governments on what changes were necessary to be made to deal with past wrongdoings and to protect children going forward.
Angela Sdrinis Legal is in a position to provide evidence to the Commission of multiple serial perpetrators. We trust that others will take this opportunity to present their stories and evidence to allow the State to move forward in a positive way. We know how important “truth telling” is for recovery, not just of the individuals who were abused, but to finally shine a light on a very dark aspect of Tasmania’s history.
The important thing is for this Government not to use the Inquiry as another talk fest the purpose of which is to delay accountability. The Inquiry should, as did the RC, hand down interim reports and recommendations as it proceeds and ensure that the government agencies that it is scrutinising make the changes that are so desperately needed so that the cancer of the abuse of children which has clearly plagued Australian society is purged in Tasmania as far as it is possible to do so.
20 November 2020
As a lawyer representing people who allege that as children they were abused in the care of the State of Tasmania, I felt incredibly disappointed to read the Solicitor General’s comments in the Mercury on 12 November 2020 under the heading “Top Law Man Hits at Compo in Media.”
It is the case that the media plays an important role in our society in highlighting issues particularly for the poor and disempowered and in fact it was media pressure in conjunction with survivors and lawyers taking action that resulted in the Royal Commission into Child Abuse. It is also important that the media hold Governments to account. For example, on 3 February 2020 a Government spokesperson said in this paper, “the Government is currently exploring options for streamlining civil settlement processes including that the processes are trauma informed” and yet 9 months later no such processes have been established. This is despite my firm first writing to the Minister for Human Services about this issue on 20 September 2015 and several follow up letters and discussions with the Solicitor General’s office. Because of the lack of progress in establishing a settlement protocol, my firm has begun issuing abuse claims in the Tasmanian Supreme Court and will continue to do so.
To the Government’s credit, and as a result of the Royal Commission, there have been a raft of changes to legislation which have been passed in Tasmania which finally enable victims of historical abuse to sue for damages and yet the Solicitor General is complaining that survivors are choosing this course of action rather than opting for the redress scheme, which has a maximum payout of $150,000, whilst at the same time he acknowledges that civil action has resulted in substantial payouts in other states. Why wouldn’t survivors pursue common law claims if they think they can do better and besides what was the point of those legislative changes to enable historical abuse claims to be litigated if survivors should all just pursue redress claims anyway?
Further, where we have issued matters in court, we are routinely receiving requests to provide further and better particulars regarding exact dates and details of alleged abuse (which the Royal Commission acknowledged was very difficult for most victims of historical abuse to do) and to provide precise details of the nature of any duty owed by the State to the children in its care. Whilst we accept of course that the Government is entitled to evidence of abuse and in some more complex matters details of the exact nature of the duty of care, what we are saying on our clients’ behalves is that in the first instance the Tasmanian Government should take as a given that it owed a duty of care to children abused as wards or at school and where there is evidence of abuse it should try and deal with these cases in a trauma informed out of court settlement process, as do most other state Governments, rather than forcing survivors to engage in costly legal arguments about duty of care and other preliminary issues.
We are not saying the Government should not have time to appropriately investigate claims. Indeed, we have been pressing the Government to engage in a settlement protocol which allows for an early exchange of material, timelines for investigation and then an opportunity to attempt to resolve claims on an alternative dispute resolution basis.
If following that process, matters are unable to be resolved, the survivor has the option to litigate or apply to the Redress Scheme. This is a model that has worked well in Victoria and other jurisdictions and has ultimately saved taxpayers considerable amounts in legal costs and has delivered a third option to survivors who would otherwise be forced to accept the modest amounts available via the redress scheme or to engage in a long, expensive, traumatic and stressful court process.
In conclusion, despite the Solicitor General’s comments, his office has recently commenced engaging with my office with a view to finally establishing a much needed and appropriate settlement protocol which is a move that I welcome. I look forward to continuing to engage with the Solicitor General’s Office and the Tasmanian Government to deliver positive outcomes to our very vulnerable and deserving client group. However, if ultimately these discussions do not bear fruit, I will not apologise for again raising the issue in the media or in any other appropriate forum. Further we will have no choice but to protect our clients’ interests by continuing to litigate.
13 May 2020 Update on national redress scheme: Organisations still failing the children who were in their care.
As at the beginning of March 2020, 46 organisations named in the Royal Commission had failed to sign up to the Redress Scheme (24 of these being Catholic organisations). The Federal Government is campaigning to put pressure on these organisations to join the scheme before the 30 June 2020 deadline.
Documents obtained under Right to Information laws detail a disturbing history of how the Department of Education repeatedly moved LeClerc to school after school amid a flurry of complaints. Lawyer Sebastian Buscemi is currently preparing civil action on behalf of 10 plaintiffs abused by LeClerc, Harington and several other paedophile teachers.
1 May 2020: ABC News - Child abuse civil claims lodged by former residents of Tasmanian children's homes (ABC)
Susan* and Lisa* were teenagers in the care of the state of Tasmania when they were allowed to live with violent, abusive men, despite the relevant government department being aware of the abuse, according to documents filed with the Supreme Court of Tasmania.
On 7 April 2020, the High Court unanimously granted special leave for Pell to appeal his convictions, ruled that Pell’s child sex abuse convictions be quashed and judgments of acquittal be entered in their place.
Glennon left a legacy of life-long pain and suffering for his victims and their families against whom he offended in Victoria in the 1970s to 1999
Today the Andrews’ Government announced it will establish a Redress Scheme for members of the Stolen Generation in Victoria. The Scheme will be designed to address the suffering and trauma experienced by many Aboriginal people due to the policy of forced removal of Aboriginal children from their families.
3 February 2020 - Principal Solicitor Sebatian Buscemi spoke to The Mercury about the unreasonable delays Tasmanian child sex abuse victims experience
17 January 2020 - Limitation Periods Have Been Abolished in Child Abuse Cases but Delay is Still an Issue
The NRS continues to be criticised for delays in claims being processed, lack of transparency in how claims are determined (particularly with respect to the finding of “extreme circumstances” being the gateway to the maximum payment of $150,000) and the indexation of prior payments. The fact that a payment can be reduced on review is also a matter of great distress to claimants who agonise over whether to request a review of their NRS offers.
Australia is yet to see a court victory for victims of sexual abuse where a religious institution has been held liable for a group of victims who allege sexual abuse from serial clerical abusers. However last month in Canada a Montreal court ruled that the Redemptionist Order was liable to pay at least $75,000 in damages to each victim who attended a seminary run by the Order between 1960 and 1987 (http://www.ctvnews.ca/canada/quebec-court-orders-religious-group-to-compensate-victims-of-sexual-abuse-1.1908884). Approximately 70 victims have co
Amendments to the Children, Youth and Families Act by the Children Youth and Families Amendment (Permanent Care and Other matters) Bill 2014 have now been passed. In a press release (http://www.marywooldridge.com/Media_Detail.asp?ID=609), the Minister for Community Services said:
The Catholic Church and other religious institutions have come under sustained pressure to revisit their settlement processes and to re-open claims that have already been settled. In this context the Christian Brothers have already invited people who have settled their claims to come forward and seek further compensation.
The Hon Justice Peter McLellan AM, Chair of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Abuse gave a wide ranging speech for Blue Knot Day for Adults Surviving Child Abuse. Justice McLellan spoke about what the Commissioners have learnt. He said that the picture emerging was that although sexual abuse of children is not confined in time-it is happening today- there was a time in Australian history when the conjunction of prevailing social attitudes to children and an unquestioning respect for authority of institutions by adults coalesced to create a high risk environment in which thousands of children were abused. Justice McLellan also said that although the primary responsibility for the sexual abuse of an individual lies with the abuser and the institution of which they were part, the conclusion that the problems faced by many people who were abused are the responsibility of society cannot be avoided.
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