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Education – Sexual Abuse Claims


Rosalie Woodruff MP

Rosalie Woodruff MP  -  Tuesday, 24 November 2020

Tags: Child Abuse, Royal Commission on Institutional Responses to Childhood Sexual Abuse, Education

Dr WOODRUFF - Minister, the Premier confirmed yesterday that James Griffin had been working between 1986 and 1997 at UTAS as a maintenance officer. That was before he worked at the Launceston General Hospital. As Ms O'Byrne has said, he had keys to the halls and to each room, which we understand was about 300 rooms.

During the school holidays groups would stay in those halls of residence, including scout and girl guide groups, band groups and school camps. Those groups included at times dozens and sometimes over 100 at one time of high-school-aged children because the rates were very low, they were only $10 to $15 a day.

Minister, have you been in contact with UTAS to investigate any potential incidents in the Launceston Halls of Residence and to request a list of the schools that stayed there over that 11 year period, between 1986 and 1997? That is when the Premier confirmed that he was working there.

Mr ROCKLIFF - No I haven't followed that up, Dr Woodruff. We are committed, as the Premier said yesterday when announcing the commission of inquiry, that no stone will be left unturned in this matter. I respect the need to investigate all matters pertaining to Mr Griffin in other areas across the whole of government.

Dr WOODRUFF - Minister, so that you understand what we know, Parklands High was one school that had a school camp at that residence. The children were grade 7 to 10. Two former residents have contacted the police, one prior to the Camille Bianchi podcast. That person was palmed off because Mr Griffin was dead. The other one contacted after the podcast and news reports were made public in the last month. The police took that person's details. She is now a 17 year old girl. Clearly, there are people right now coming to understand the things that have happened.

Will the department, prior to this investigation being formerly initiated next year, immediately begin taking steps to contact schools and to get information about what schools went where, who was on what camps so that you can be ahead of the game and get a sense of the extent and the possible communication that needs to be made with people?

Mr ROCKLIFF - The department will do all we can, of course. We were proactive in announcing our own inquiry. I announced that on 24 August this year. The matters pertaining the University of Tasmania, we will follow those matters up with the University of Tasmania. As the Premier has said, no stone will be left unturned in relation to these matters of most seriousness.

 

Dr WOODRUFF - Minister, the terms of reference for the independent investigation you initiated into the historical sexual abuse claims within the Department of Education has been widely criticised as being inadequate. That is why we welcome the move to a commission of inquiry which has powers to compel evidence and other matters.

Angela Sdrinis is a lawyer who wrote to you on 31 August about the terms of reference. She has worked in institutional abuse since 2015 and been involved in the royal commission practices in Tasmania for survivors of sexual abuse, so she is well qualified in this area. Her view is that what occurred within the Education department of Tasmania from about the mid-1960s until potentially the mid-2000s is simply unparalleled in Australia. She says:

If Tasmania is serious about protecting children, then surely the question to ask is why was the Director-General of the Department of Education, with the knowledge of various ministers, moving paedophile teachers around?

Minister, that is one of the many important questions that has to be asked and answered in the commission of inquiry. Can you state today that you will do everything you can to make sure that the commission of inquiry has the widest-ranging powers so that matters that relate to the influence of hierarchy and privilege and status that enabled teachers to be moved between schools can be fully got to the bottom of, and that there will be no attempt to constrain the commission to look at simply systems and not individual practices.

Mr ROCKLIFF - Of course, Dr Woodruff, absolutely. The inquiry we announced on 24 August is being led by two highly-respected international experts, Professor Stephen Smallbone and Professor Tim McCormack. That will examine both past systems and current legislation, policies, practices and procedures that are operating in a way that addresses the risk of child sexual abuse occurring in Tasmanian government schools.

The inquiry that we have set up welcomes the views of any interested parties, including survivors and invites public submissions. Those submissions can be made to the inquiry in a variety of ways and support to make a submission can be provided. When we announced that inquiry it was welcomed by many people, including, I believe, Tasmanian Greens and the Labor Party and advocates more broadly.

Dr WOODRUFF - We always cautioned that we wanted to see the terms of reference and I believe Ms O'Connor has been very clear that they are too narrow.

Mr ROCKLIFF - We believed they were the best terms of reference to enable us to investigate past systems, policies and practices, and to ensure that is there anything else that we can do, me as minister for Education, Mr Bullard as the Department of Education secretary, to ensure the safety of our children. It was future focused in that sense. With the announcement yesterday, which is welcome, we will do everything we can to ensure justice, to give our victims comfort and also to give everyone across Tasmania confidence that we have the best possible systems in place to protect our children.

 

Dr WOODRUFF - I had one last question, thank you. Minister, do you agree that the issue with a commission of inquiry, or any inquiry into child sex abuse is not simply just to look at the systems that were in place? Do you agree that the issue is that past systems were treated as though they didn't exist? Surely there was never a system to move paedophile teachers around between schools? That beggars belief. The fact is that systems were ignored. Do you agree that that's the issue we have to get to the bottom of?

Mr ROCKLIFF - This is the issue that I wanted to get to the bottom of when it comes our own inquiry, to ensure that we did have a past look at our systems, processes and practices to learn from that. As I've said this morning and before, the inquiry that were set up to examine past practices and systems within the Department of Education would do just that; invite submissions as well. Those submissions can be made in a variety of ways. We are committed to ensuring that every single survivor of child sexual abuse across government in terms of departments and children in our care historically have that comfort, that absolutely everything that can be done to examine past practices, any wrong doings and to ensure that it never happens again. We want to ensure we have the most robust systems in place to protect our children.

Dr WOODRUFF - Individuals will be held to account for things that they did or did not do or altered or whatever?

Mr ROCKLIFF - The terms of reference will be worked through in a very short time frame.

Dr WOODRUFF - Can you assure survivors that individuals will be held to account as well as systems improved?

CHAIR -Dr Woodruff, the minister cannot be held to account for outcomes of an inquiry that has not even started yet.

Dr WOODRUFF - No, I am talking about terms of reference, Chair. I am not talking about the outcomes. Will he ensure that they are included in the terms of reference, that that capacity is there?

Mr ROCKLIFF - I'll be advocating for the most robust terms of reference possible. I believe I have demonstrated over the course of the last number of months my commitment to this issue, particularly in relation to the Department of Education and historical practices.

Over the last five or six years there has been enormous improvement in the systems and the policies and the practices, including the working with vulnerable people's card, that have been put in place. They were not in existence many decades ago. I am committed to all we can do to protect our children.

Mr BULLARD - In terms of sanctions, if the employee is a current employee and they were found to have been in contravention of legislation, policies or procedures then they would be subject to an ED5 Code of Conduct investigation and potentially subject to a criminal investigation as well. For people who are no longer state servants then it would be a criminal matter.

 

Dr WOODRUFF - Minister, I want to return to the matter of James Griffin and his periods of time working in the educational system. It was published on 21 October in The Examiner that Mr Griffin had worked at UTAS as well as the LGH, and it was published a month ago that he had worked as a property officer in student accommodation at the Newnham campus between 1986 to 1987. It was also published that he had worked a number of casual shifts at UTAS between 2001 and 2004 but it doesn't specify the campus.

Ms O'BYRNE - It was the university at Launceston.

Dr WOODRUFF - Right. Minister, you looked surprised or unaware of that time frame when I asked you the question before about Mr Griffin and his working at UTAS. I find that perplexing. I don't understand how this information has been in the public domain for more than a month and I don't hear -

Mr ROCKLIFF - I was just clarifying the dates that you said, Dr Woodruff. My advice is that UTAS is doing its own review and has written to students on this matter. As you would be aware, I am the minister responsible for the Department of Education and take all matters very seriously.

Ms O'BYRNE - Do you have responsibility for the University of Tasmania Act?

Mr ROCKLIFF - Yes.

Dr WOODRUFF - Shall I get to my question? Are you directing all schools to now prepare themselves and have a communication plan to look at their history? It's pretty clear that this information is in the public domain and people are aware of it. They are looking for leadership and guidance. I don't think it's good enough to sit and wait for the terms of reference to be written. Why haven't you said something before in public about this matter?

Mr ROCKLIFF - Dr Woodruff, the party you represent has acknowledged the work that we have done in this area, particularly when it comes to the Department of Education's own inquiry. It is important that we get the terms of reference right. The investigation will address any other matters relevant to the systems of Tasmanian government agencies deployed in response to historical allegations of child sexual abuse that the investigator identifies in the course of this investigation as warranting investigation and discussion, I am advised.

I can only reassure you, Dr Woodruff, and the entire Tasmanian community, that we will do absolutely all we can to ensure that everything pertaining to the past is examined and no stone is left unturned with respect to this matter so we can ensure the safety of our children now and into the future.

Dr WOODRUFF - From the comments you've made in the media about the investigation into historical child sex abuse I don't remember hearing any comments about James Griffin and his employment in educational facilities. You had that information. Why didn't you reach out to the community and let them know of the things they were hearing and the stories that were circulating? The University of Tasmania is the responsibility of the Education minister under the act, isn't that correct?

Mr ROCKLIFF - Dr Woodruff, we will do all we can to ensure that everything is examined. We have been proactive in terms of our own Department of Education around these matters and we will continue to be. We have demonstrated that proactivity. It's been acknowledged in terms of events that occurred in September this year, and we will continue to support all our schools with respect to these matters.