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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

Gambling comes at a cost to all

Bill speech

Tania MAXWELL (Northern Victoria) (18:41):

I rise to speak on the Casino and Liquor Legislation Amendment Bill 2022. This bill is the next stage of the Victorian government’s response to the 2021 Royal Commission into the Casino Operator and Licence, which includes changes to the regulation of gambling in Victoria. I would like to make some general comments on the findings of the royal commission and the sad fact that there needed to be one in the first place.

Casinos are certainly big business. Gambling taxes are around the fifth-highest source of revenue for the state. The casino is one of the largest employers and a major tourist drawcard. For many people, gambling is a bit of fun—you have a bit of a flutter. Sometimes you win, but plenty lose. Casinos are associated with notions of glitz and glamour. They have been successfully marketed that way—think of James Bond in Casino Royale, the playgrounds of Monte Carlo, the lights of Las Vegas. Casinos cater for the wealthy. They appear a bit elitist, and they can be utterly tempting to those aspiring to quick riches.

The other thing that casinos have long, long been associated with is crime. We are not talking about small-time crime either, but serious organised crime. Organised crime costs Australia up to $60 billion every year—$60 billion per year. When I brought my motion on illicit tobacco for debate in September 2021, I spoke about the links between proceeds of organised crime and child sexual exploitation, human trafficking, firearm offences and general violence. Organised crime and money laundering are explicitly linked, and the dark underbelly of casinos includes money laundering on an epic scale, loansharking, junkets and drug dealing.

Crown was found to have blatantly ignored directives about criminal associations and a multitude of shady practices that occurred in plain sight over many years. The royal commission that was finally initiated after media exposés and the Bergin inquiry cost $5 million, and the government will now spend millions in funding reforms that respond to the recommendations. Nothing seems to have occurred at Crown for many, many years, and reports made up the chain by inspectors simply disappeared into oblivion. They said that over time their roles were undermined, funding was reduced, responsibilities were diverted and audits were either irregular or completely absent.

The harms from problem gambling were also well documented by the royal commission and include family violence, forced prostitution, debt, poverty and suicide. It noted that the prevalence of people who experience problem gambling at the Melbourne casino may be three times higher compared to all Victorian adults who gamble. On average there may be somewhere in the vicinity of 462 problem gamblers at the casino at any one time, yet on an average day there were only around four interactions in response. Many of these concerns were raised with Crown by the regulator, and in its sixth review the regulator noted that Crown Melbourne’s approach to responsible gambling had not changed since the review five years earlier. One of the examples that the commissioner noted as ‘horrific’ was a problem gambler who would regularly go home and assault his wife, blaming her for his bad luck and ultimately forcing her into sex work to repay his gambling debts.

The cost of problem gambling is not just personal, it costs this state financially. So while gambling taxes deliver $2 billion every year to the state’s coffers, problem gambling costs $100 million in crime and to the justice system, $1.6 billion in terms of emotional and psychological issues, $2.2 billion in relation to family and relationship problems and $600 million in lost productivity and other related costs.

We support this bill and ongoing efforts to return effective oversight of Melbourne’s casino and to wipe out to the criminal activity associated with it. The merging of gambling and liquor regulation was described by the minister as a failed experiment, and federal MP Andrew Wilkie described the Victorian gambling regulator as:

… a lapdog, not a watchdog.

So with the starting point that low, the only way from here is up. The separation of liquor and gambling regulation will only be a success if the new regulators are well funded and given the powers for effective oversight and the capacity to ensure the casino complies. This is effectively early intervention, something I talk about all the time in this place.

We have so many debates in this Parliament about IBAC and royal commissions, which deal with problems at the crisis end, once the damage has been done. In this instance if the regulator had been effective, as it should have been, there possibly would not have been the need for a royal commission. We need to ensure effective responses early across all our systems, because if we do not, we can see the ultimate cost—the economic cost, the personal cost—will far outweigh the revenue or any other benefit that one might espouse about having a casino in the first place.