Home - Claire Moore - Labor Senator for Queensland

Adjournment Speech: Care Leavers Australia Network (CLAN)

Last Saturday I was honoured to be invited to the 14th anniversary of CLAN. People in this place well know that term 'CLAN', which stands for the Care Leavers Australia Network. This extraordinary bunch of people, which many of us met for the first time in 2003, formed originally 14 years ago in the year 2000. Joanna Penglase was wondering about doing a PhD. Her own experiences as someone who had experienced care in New South Wales had led her to believe that there needed to be more work done around the issues that faced people who had been in care. She had the strength to put an advertisement in a newspaper which said, 'Were you in care?' It was a gamble. We know it was a gamble-she didn't know how many people were going to respond; she didn't know whether people would really understand what it meant. As result of that newspaper advertisement, a copy of which is now treasured in the CLAN museum in Bankstown, there were hundreds of responses. One of the women that Joanna met was Leonie Sheedy, an extraordinary woman as well, who had been through care in the Catholic system in Victoria. Leonie and Joanna met and from that a legend was born.

The care network that CLAN has set up for people across this country who experienced living in institutions, particularly in the period from the 1950s onwards, I think now has actually taken the place of family in many people's lives. We got to know CLAN and many other people when the Community Affairs References Committee did their original report, which we called Forgotten Australians. That report was in August 2004. The scenes in this place will never be forgotten. Senators stood in front of a packed gallery and expressed their own feelings about what it was like over many months to hear the contributions and experiences of young people and old people, who looked to us to hear what they said and to do something about it. CLAN was key in agitating for a Senate inquiry. From 2000 until 2004 that was one of their key aims-to ensure that their parliament would listen to the issues and come up with some processes that would acknowledge what had happened. The key issue was acknowledgement of what had happened. We had people who said: 'We just wanted people to know what happened to us. Nobody believed us. We were without power.'

Through the process we heard, as we said in the opening of our report, horrific stories about the experiences of people in our own country:

The Committee received hundreds of graphic and disturbing accounts about the treatment and care experienced by children in out-of-home care. Many care leavers showed immense courage in putting intensely personal life stories on the public record. Their stories outlined a litany of emotional, physical and sexual abuse, and often criminal physical and sexual assault. Their stories also told of neglect, humiliation and deprivation of food, education and healthcare. Such abuse and assault was widespread across institutions, across States and across the government, religious and other care providers.

In response to the evidence that we heard, in response to the quite traumatic experience of listening to the accounts, reliving with people who were telling of their experiences sometimes for the very first time, our committee came up with a report of which I think all of us are very proud. It is still one of the reports created by the Senate which has received the most interest. People still consistently ask to have copies of this report for ongoing research and also to stimulate further action in the area.

We made a report with over 40 recommendations. As often happens with Senate reports, some of these recommendations are taken up and some are not, but one which is of particular interest is that very many of the people who came to see us thought that the experiences they had suffered should be the subject of a royal commission. As senators listening to this process, it is a really big call to ask for the expense, the focus and the concentration of a royal commission We said that we thought that originally we should look to the goodwill of the various organisations, institutions and governments, who were absolutely aware of what had gone on. There is no doubt. One of the things that came out of our inquiry was that these issues were not unknown.

They were unknown to the wider public; I have no doubt about that. We heard accounts of people who were in the Nudgee children's home in Brisbane. It was run by the Sisters of Mercy. My family is a strong supporter of the Sisters of Mercy, and we were going through Sisters of Mercy convents at the same time as people were telling us they were having situations in their own lives in these institutions which were horrific. I tell the story that, if my mum and the people she worked with who were raising money for some of these institutions and organisations had known what was going on, I have no doubt it would have stopped. But what was clear was that it was not known to the wider public.

However, as a result of this inquiry, we believed that these histories should be made public. Much has been done in terms of having public institutional awareness, having widespread awareness training and also having memorials around so that people can actually see that this history was real and understand it. But the senators said that, should there be no movement of the organisations and governments that had been involved within a reasonable time to actually redress the processes that had gone on, there would be the need to reconsider the issue of a royal commission. That was 2004. We revisited these issues in 2006, and still it was clear that, whilst some action in some states was progressing and some institutions had begun interaction with people who had been in them, the rate of progress was insufficient. So continuing advocacy and interaction with groups like CLAN was being made across our community and with parliamentarians from all sides of the place. In fact, one of the really positive aspects of the interaction with CLAN is that many federal parliamentarians who had heard of and been involved in the issues around care leavers were then able to become patrons of the CLAN organisation. They included Senator Steve Hutchins, who was here; Mr Steve Irons in the other place, who has been a very public advocate because of his own personal experiences, which he has put on the record; Jason Clare, the local member for Canterbury-Bankstown, where CLAN has their national office; and Richard Marles from Bendigo. The reason Richard is involved-apart from having met Leonie, which is a reason in itself-is that there are significantly large institutions in Bendigo with quite chequered histories in this area. It was probably one of my proudest moments when I was also asked to be a patron of CLAN. It is an experience which has enriched me and provided the opportunity to meet many wonderful people who have become friends through this process.

However, the pressure from all sides continued to mount because we could see that, while some progress had been made, we still had not actually got to the heart of the horror that was happening in our communities and in our institutions, particularly around the issue of sexual abuse. I am one of those people who think that, whilst the royal commission that we have set up is an extraordinarily valuable institution-it is one which I celebrate and will talk more about soon-the fact that the extent of the focus has been around the issue of sexual abuse should not be any message to the wider community that the only harm done was of a sexual nature. In fact, one of the things that were most clear in our committee report was that the range of abuse that people who were caught up in these situations and institutions experienced went far beyond just the criminal actions of sexual abuse. There was the psychological abuse of people who were without love or support.

Clearly throughout our report we focused on the importance of the feeling of family, the feeling of support and the feeling of love, all of which were absent in the lives of so many of these children. The impact of that loss continues throughout life. You have people who are in their sixties and seventies sitting and talking to you, explaining that not only have they been victims of the lack of love in their lives but they have felt that their children and grandchildren have continued this pain because they did not have the ability to parent-to love-having no personal experience. It is important that we acknowledge that the creation of the royal commission in January 2013 was a great achievement and something that many people had worked towards for many years. But 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.

We know that in Australia we now have a royal commission working very hard on the issue of sexual abuse. I know that two senators earlier this evening, in talking about the first report of the commission, talked about the areas that have been covered and about the desperate need to ensure that there is an extension to the work of the royal commission. We cannot leave this work unfinished. We made a commitment to the people who came to this place in 2004 that we would listen to their voices and respond to their need. They asked for their issues to be acknowledged; I believe that there has been acknowledgement. They asked for research to be done into the issues around institutional care; we believe that that has occurred and continues to occur. They also asked that the horror, the crimes they suffered, should be the subject of a royal commission; that has now occurred. But what would be the absolute betrayal would be to not fulfil the criteria that were given to the commission and to walk away from this group of people again, without giving them the attention, support and acknowledgement they deserve.

The royal commission was set up in January 2013. It was appointed with six commissioners, including the chair, Justice Peter McClellan. It has a total budget of $281.13 million for the period 2012-2016. The key priority that was acknowledged by the commissioners was to hear from people who had experienced sexual abuse as a child. The commissioners set their work very deliberately. They needed to have a strong community awareness campaign. They also needed to network with existing support groups and institutions. Key amongst those support groups was CLAN. CLAN has had an intimate relationship with the commission from the day the commission started. I was fortunate, at CLAN's 14th anniversary event, to see the trust that these people, who are not used to giving trust, gave to the commission. It is their hope that the commission will fulfil the responsibilities of the Australian community to these people who are so damaged. In fact, the 14th anniversary event was also called the Royal Commission Forum: Truth, Justice and Redress for all Australian Care Leavers.

The keynote speaker at the event was Justice Peter McClellan. I respect this man for his professionalism but most particularly for his compassion. Justice McClellan came and spent over 1 hours with CLAN. In his address he talked about what was going on in the commission and the various pressures. Then he had over 35 minutes of questions and answers, patiently responding to the needs of the people who wanted to talk with him, many of whom had had the opportunity through the special private sessions of the commission to talk, just so they could be there with their family. I believe that CLAN has become the family for so many of these young people who are now older. Many of them did not have families when they were young, but now CLAN and the wonderful network that it embraces has become their family. So together they were able to talk with a person who had been very important to them.

Out of that process came the work that has been done up to this time, the wide-ranging and important private sessions. By May 2014, 1,677 private sessions had taken place and 1,632 written accounts had been provided to the commission. These accounts can be made with some personal help provided by networks so that people can have their voices heard with the support they need. One of the things that came out of our committee hearing was that so many people who had been in care had not received effective education. They need help to communicate their own experiences, so the written accounts have been so valuable. The public hearings, of which there have been 13, look at particular institutions and issues, give open sessions so people can be subject to evidence and there can be questioning about what has gone on. We also have the research stream. As I said, one of our recommendations in 2004 was for more research in this area. There have been 21 research projects already completed, with 30 underway. Seven issues papers have been developed.

But to enable this commission to fulfil its aim-the terms of reference are clearly on the public record-we are asking for, the commission is asking for, an extension so that it will be able to complete the work that it has made a commitment to do, to ensure that it can make sure that people who have asked for private sessions can have them, that public hearings can be concluded and that more research papers can be done.

Very importantly, with extended time we will have the opportunity to look again at some of the evidence that has already been given. We know through some of the public sessions that changes have already been taking place in some of the institutions, such as the Salvation Army, certain elements of the Catholic Church and some other organisations that have committed to changing their practices. By extending the program we could then be able to go back and see whether that has actually worked. That is a really important element so that the public can see the value of the commission.

We have no option but to respond to the need to continue this commission. We have started the work. People in CLAN have been working since 2000 to ensure their voices are heard. Our Senate inquiries in August 2004 and subsequently have also said this work must be done. The royal commission has already made its first report. It is compulsory reading. People should read the two volumes, in particular volume 2, which has individual accounts of people's pain and hurt and also the way they are rebuilding their lives. We must have the commission extended for the two years that it has asked for. By that time we will be able to make sure that the promises many of us made in this place in 2004 are kept. We told those people who had been called the 'forgotten Australians', because their pain and suffering and hurt was not acknowledged, that they would no longer be forgotten. The royal commission can ensure that that will be the truth, and we need to be part of that truth.