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Commission of Inquiry into the Tasmanian Government's Response to Child Sexual Abuse in Institutional Settings

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP  -  Tuesday, 26 September 2023

Tags: Commission of Inquiry

Dr WOODRUFF (Franklin - Leader of the Greens) - Mr Speaker, I want to acknowledge the victims/survivors and their families who are present today and watching online.

I realise that many of you live with the lifelong trauma from the abuse you suffered as children in Tasmanian institutions. You were vulnerable; you should have been protected. This is one day among many days in your life. We hear the pain from those of you who called for help and who were ignored. We understand and acknowledge your anger at people in government institutions who refused to believe you when you spoke out.

We respect your strength and courage for speaking up, and we also recognise the whistleblowers who tried to get action about the abuse they saw, but were shut down and dismissed. Many of you lost your reputation and your jobs for trying to protect children.

We acknowledge the victims/survivors who gave evidence to the inquiry, and your incredible bravery and strength in sharing the harms that you experienced. This was not the life that you chose, but through your stories, your courage, you have earned the greatest debt of gratitude from all Tasmanians for what you have achieved.

We recognise, also, the many others who were grossly violated as children, but were not able to voice what happened to them to the inquiry process.

This report that is tabled today is about your story, too. I hope it brings some healing through the recording and the recognition of what was done to you, and the changes that we all now bear responsibility for working to make happen.

We recognise victims/survivors have felt enormous anxiety leading up to the tabling of this report, concerned that it must not fail to unflinchingly tell the whole truth of what was done to them. It must identify the perpetrators, the cultural systems, and the individuals who enabled perpetrators to continue to abuse, even after complaints were made.

We thank the commissioners and their staff. They have completed the most important commission of inquiry ever undertaken in Tasmania. They have given two years of their life in dedicated service, seeking truth and justice for victims/survivors, working to shore up the safety of children in Tasmanian institutions into the future. We recognise that the commission of inquiry's process, with its lengthy public and private hearings, was conducted with integrity, respect, compassion, kindness, great expertise and intelligence.

The result before us is an enormous body of work and extensive recommendations for change. The community of Tasmania should have confidence that it represents an independent and forensic assessment of the cultural conditions within Tasmanian government institutions that failed - along with the people in them - over decades, to protect vulnerable children in care from unspeakable sexual abuse.

Accountability is less about justice and more about prevention. No court can restore the childhood a person has lost when abused at a young age but if there are no consequences for adults who are wilfully blind to evidence of abuse occurring in their workplace, then the abuse will continue. Child sex abuse is an evil fuelled by the indifference of those who are meant to care but refuse to act.

This parliament can show we care by demanding that public servants with evidence of deliberate failure to protect children are sanctioned to the fullest extent possible.

Today's tabling of this report effectively closes the door on the commission's work, and opens the door to the journey of change that will last our parliamentary careers and beyond. Victims/survivors are calling on each member of parliament to ensure this once-in-a-generation chance to stamp out child sexual abuse in our schools, hospitals, foster homes and detention centres is not wasted.

The Government's response to the commission of inquiry is arguably as important as the inquiry's report itself. While the decades-long institutional failures and harms the commission investigated have occurred under multiple governments and all parties involved bear responsibility, it is this Government that bears the first responsibility to respond. It must do so with the urgency and proportion the commission's recommendations demand.

The Premier must deliver a program of actions and investment that will fix broken systems and laws and create child-safe organisations. His Government must provide justice and compensation for victims/survivors. This Government must fulsomely and appropriately allocate the funding and urgently draft the new laws.

As non-government members of parliament, our job on behalf of the Tasmanians we represent, especially the victims/survivors, their families and whistleblowers, is to fully scrutinise the Government's response. The Government's investment in staffing and training, its timelines and tracking mechanisms are how change will be made to what the commission identified on its final day on hearings are still unsafe institutions for children in some places. Their adequacy of this response demands our most intense examination.

We are concerned that the Premier's proposed date for this Government's formal response is 4 December, at the end of the parliamentary year, just before Christmas and a summer break of several months. If the Premier is serious about his implementation plan providing clarity and certainty to those affected, he must allow the proper parliamentary scrutiny of his Government's response to the commission of inquiry. We call on the Premier to schedule another week of parliament after 4 December so all members of parliament can examine his plan and funding in detail. Another week of our time, of work, is the least members of parliament can contribute, given the efforts of victims/survivors and the whole commission of inquiry to get us to this point.

The Greens commit to working with this Government and future ones to make sure the inquiry's recommendations are implemented completely, with integrity, transparency and accountability about the progress of change. We will work in good faith to make sure that current and future generations of Tasmanian children will be safe from sexual abuse in every public institution forevermore.