February 16, 2017  |  second reading speech

Children Legislation Amendment (Reportable Conduct) Bill 2016

Mr CARROLL (Niddrie) — It is my pleasure to rise to speak on the Children Legislation Amendment (Reportable Conduct) Bill 2016. As legislators there can be no more important role for us than the protection of children. We are dealing with institutional abuse in Melbourne and in Australia, but also worldwide.

I want to firstly pay tribute to the member for Wendouree. She is an outstanding colleague, but I know she is someone who has dealt very much in the community sector. Her work with Lifeline and CASA — the Ballarat Centre Against Sexual Assault — means she has dealt directly with victims of child abuse and sexual assault on many occasions, so it was a fine contribution from the member for Wendouree.

I certainly have not had the contact with victims of clerical abuse that the member for Wendouree has, but in my own electorate I have had victims come and talk to me about their stories. When I was a solicitor at the Victorian Government Solicitor’s Office I sat through quite a few consultations with the Catholic Church and victims, and it is quite harrowing to hear what victims have been through and how they deal with the situation and what has become of their lives — or mostly what is lacking in what has become of their lives. In some small ways we are beginning the process of redress to try to assist victims as much as possible.

I am Catholic and I went to a Christian Brothers school, and only this week I read about the release of information from the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. There were some 1880 alleged perpetrators identified in the Catholic Church and the Marist and Christian Brothers religious orders, and some 572 priests identified as well. Gail Furness, SC, has been working in the royal commission as its barrister. You would have seen her on TV and read about her throughout a lot of the sessions. She was quoted as having said children were ignored or, worse, punished. Allegations were not investigated. Priests and religious figures were moved. The parishes of communities to which they were moved knew nothing of their past, which really does highlight the systematic abuse of vulnerable children right across the nation if communities are not aware and are just sitting there vulnerable.

I recently attended, on behalf of the Attorney‑General, the red mass for the opening of the legal year in my capacity as the Parliamentary Secretary for Justice. I want to commend the Most Reverend Denis Hart, the Archbishop of Melbourne, because in front of essentially all of Victoria’s legal fraternity he made sure his contribution, while touching on the tragedy of Bourke Street, was very much about acknowledging the hurt of the Catholic Church. He made a significant contribution in front of the legal fraternity of Victoria, and I want to acknowledge that.

But I think we really do need, as the member for Wendouree touched on, to have victims front and centre. I have a copy in front of me of the Law Institute Journal from June 2013, which has an article very much on the Melbourne Response, which the Catholic Archdiocese of Melbourne established in 1996 to investigate allegations of sexual and other abuse. There is a section in this report on victims, and I just want to read what it says:

The overwhelming majority of victims tell us they feel a sense of release from having talked about something that they have been bottling up for years or even decades. They talk about the sense of validation they get when they have told their story: that someone has sat and listened to them, that they have been questioned and tested on aspects of their story — and that they have been believed.

This is where we really should be with victims. I myself have sat with and heard and seen victims. It is not so much about the monetary compensation. Sure that helps, but it is about them being believed and it is about their story being validated. I think we need to take heart from the bipartisan nature of the approach that all sides of politics are taking to this issue, and I want to praise former Prime Minister Gillard herself for the work she did at the federal level as Prime Minister in this area. The members of the committee that produced the Betrayal of Trust report at the Victorian parliamentary level is where it really did start. I know about the Cummins report by the previous government. That was good work, and the work of the Andrews Labor government will now ensure we have the very best scheme in place to make sure that these ills are addressed.

I said in my opening remarks that this is a worldwide issue. We have seen what has happened in Boston, and we have also seen what has happened in Dublin. The Dublin experience, for any members who have read about it, is quite harrowing — incredibly harrowing. Between 2000 and 2009 there was an inquiry into child sexual abuse that just focused on 1974 to 2004, and it changed the country of Ireland for the better. The work that this Parliament is doing in cooperation with the commonwealth Parliament will also change our country, I have got no doubt. When we look back on this period we will all say the country was changed for the better by addressing the issues of systematic child abuse by people in positions of power and trust.

I just want to give you an example of how Ireland changed. In 1988 Brian Burke, who is a former Premier of Western Australia, was appointed Australian ambassador to both Ireland and the Holy See in Rome. At the time everyone thought his appointment was just the usual thing — a former Premier being appointed to a plum job overseas. But Ireland decided to close its embassy in the Holy See after its Prime Minister at the time said that the institution and its dealings essentially could not be tolerated. That changed things for the best. That changed the country. As I have said, we will change with the work that we are doing here.

I want to also acknowledge the previous member for Oakleigh, Ann Barker, for the work she did. I joined the caucus in 2012, and Ann was often on her feet in our party room talking about tackling this issue head on. I know we have got some members here from the committee that produced the Betrayal of Trust report, including the member for Broadmeadows and the member for Thomastown, who did a sensational power of work. With the recent release of information from the royal commission into child sexual abuse we have seen the member for Broadmeadows and some of the exchanges he has had on the nightly news only this week, highlighting that it often takes an inquiry like this to get the perpetrators to admit to their past failures and, even worse, their past sins. I want to commend all members who did work on that very solid body of work.

As the Parliamentary Secretary for Justice I also want to acknowledge the work of the Department of Justice and Regulation. It has done a power of consultation and a power of work to get this legislation to where it is. The consultation and the work that has gone on to ensure that this legislation is foolproof and that we have the right mechanism and right scheme in place is very, very important.

I do anticipate that we will again be in this chamber requiring further legislation, such is the magnitude of this movement, such is the watershed time we are living through in addressing systematic abuses of our most vulnerable children. I commend the bill to the house.