Apology for children abused in state care

Tania MAXWELL (Northern Victoria) (12:17):

My question is for the Premier and is on behalf of my colleague Mr (Stuart) Grimley MP, who could not be here this week due to illness.

The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse documented hundreds of such cases which occurred in Victorian government institutions. The Victorian government has not, however, made a formal apology to these victims.

I have sought confirmation of this from ministerial offices and have had this fact confirmed. Then Prime Minister Scott Morrison apologised in 2018 following the royal commission, with the Northern Territory and New South Wales apologising the same day. Western Australia apologised in the lead-up to the national apology, with South Australia making theirs in 2008. Tasmania is progressing significant work in this space with respect to its Department of Education and will make a specific apology soon.

You might think the royal commission has been and gone. Many victims are not here to receive the apology, but their families definitely are.

Premier, will you apologise to victims of child sexual abuse who were abused in government institutions, including but not limited to schools, detention and health facilities and out-of-home care?

Jaclyn SYMES (Northern Victoria—Leader of the Government, Attorney-General, Minister for Emergency Services) (12:19):

I thank Ms Maxwell for her question to the Premier on behalf of her colleague Mr Grimley.

As you have identified, the commonwealth royal commission into institutional responses to sexual abuse exposed horrific instances of abuse against children in those facilities, and that did not exclude Victorian government settings. In relation to apologies, there was an apology from former Premier Steve Bracks in 2006 for victims in out-of-home care.

In terms of the specific request that you have made, I will forward it to the Premier to get some further advice, but I probably would note also the recent apology from our government via the Premier in relation to the victims from Puffing Billy and related railway facilities.

There is also a lot of work underway to implement recommendations from both the commonwealth royal commission and the Betrayal of Trust report, which will obviously underpin a lot of government policy, particularly in education settings, to ensure that we have the best policy settings to ensure that children are as safe as possible and that those awful practices that were exposed, particularly in past settings, are eradicated in any future settings.

The PRESIDENT: 

Ms Maxwell, before I ask you for a supplementary, I understand you mentioned Mr Grimley and I wish him well, but your question will be in your name.

Ms MAXWELL (12:20):

Thank you, President. Thank you, Attorney.

In relation to institutional child sex abuse, the government must comply with model litigant guidelines when dealing with civil lawsuits. These can be easily accessed online and specify that the government must act fairly in handling claims, deal with claims promptly, not cause unnecessary delay, pay legitimate claims without litigation, not require the state to prove a claim it knows to be true et cetera. And yet I, along with many lawyers representing child sexual abuse survivors, know that this government is still not acting as a model litigant in these cases.

I have heard countless examples of the government, specifically the Department of Education and Training, not upholding these standards. Some of these cases are being challenged despite sex offence convictions occurring decades ago.

Premier, will your government immediately comply with its own model litigant guidelines with respect to handling civil actions by child sexual abuse survivors?

Ms SYMES (12:21):

Look, I thank Ms Maxwell for her question—and of course Mr Grimley also—and her ongoing interest and advocacy in this space. You are correct, model litigant guidelines apply. There are also the common guiding principles. You articulated everything that should be done, and it would be my expectation that these are followed by all government departments. But in order to respond to your supplementary question in connection with your first question, I will pass that on to the Premier for an expansive response.

Video cover image: Concept by Jessica Spresser and Peter Besley for the National Memorial to Victims and Survivors of Institutional Child Sexual Abuse preferred design