Abused care leavers deserve redress

Adjournment speech

May 10, 2022

Tania MAXWELL (Northern Victoria) (16:59): (1895)

My adjournment is to the Premier, and the action I seek is for the government to outline why it has not yet provided a redress scheme for care leavers who experienced physical, psychological and emotional abuse while in Victorian orphanages.

The government has announced a number of redress schemes for those who have been harmed by historical actions from state policies and practices. This includes the recent announcement of redress for mothers who had their children forcibly removed through the historical practice of adoption for children born out of wedlock, as well as reparations for Aboriginal Victorians forcibly removed from their families before 1977. These schemes will provide $100,000 in redress to each person who experienced harm from these practices.

Care leavers (those who lived in state care homes as children) hold no grudges against others who have been given redress, but it is hard for them not to feel envy and disappointment that their own harm has not been recognised in a similar way.

The historical sexual abuse of care leavers in orphanages, children’s homes, missions and foster care is covered under the national redress scheme, though I will note with a heavy heart that this scheme has re-traumatised many victims in the process.

Inconsistencies between claims and victims being denied the maximum redress amount—for example, because they were sexually assaulted only once when they were living in an orphanage at the age of five, as if this is not horrific enough—defies logic and demonstrates we still have a long way to go in understanding trauma.

The Care Leavers Australasia Network has long campaigned for recognition and redress to extend to physical, psychological and emotional abuse and child labour practices in state institutions.

Some of these care leavers have recounted that while they did not experience sexual abuse themselves, they experienced the trauma as a child of witnessing it being perpetrated on others. Significantly, many of them report a childhood completely absent of love or a sense of belonging. We know the trauma an absence of attachment and emotional security has on an individual and the profound impact that it has on their identity and their life’s trajectory.

Back in 2004 a Senate inquiry recognised the history of cruelty inflicted on children raised as wards of the state. It recommended redress back then, and Premier Steve Bracks delivered an apology on behalf of Victoria in 2006. In that apology the Premier committed to working with survivors of abuse and neglect in care to promote the healing process, but formal redress for emotional and physical trauma has stalled since then.

In the absence of commonwealth action, as with other redress Victoria could and should lead the way, so I ask the government: what are you waiting for? Care leavers recently issued their plea on the steps of this Parliament—and they asked the government to please hear them, please see them and deliver to care leavers the recognition that they deserve.

Image: Care leavers outside the royal commission hearing in 2020. [ABC, Jack Fisher]