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Premier – Commission of Inquiry

Cassy O'Connor MP  -  Monday, 23 November 2020

Tags: Child Abuse, Royal Commission, Commission of Inquiry

Ms O'CONNOR - First of all, Premier, that is very good news that you are establishing a commission of inquiry. As you stated, we have three inquiries happening at the same time: the Department of Education, the Health Service and Communities Tasmania. Then you outlined in general terms some other allegations that you have been made aware of. Do you think it is possible that in the context of child abuse, as a state we are really only just beginning to scratch the surface of a much deeper wound as it relates to the treatment of children in some parts and some places in Tasmania?

Mr GUTWEIN - The hypothetical you have raised, based on what I have read of the royal commission, the redress scheme and the percentage of Tasmanian children who will be potentially able to bring forward claims now as adults, the only advice that I have is based on our per capita sharing of children at that time around the country. The expectation is that somewhere over 3 per cent of the 60 000 claims will be Tasmanian claims, which will be somewhat more than 2000 claims of redress.

Following the royal commission and its work and now redress, what we are seeing with Ashley is the outworkings of that process, a process which is very valuable for the survivors. My expectation is that we will see a significant number of these claims come forward. I have no context within which to make a judgment as to how many current or serving members of the State Service will be caught up in that.

Many of these claims will relate to organisations that no longer exist. Many of them, in fact all of them, are historic. Tasmanians should ready themselves, with more than 200 claims already being received we are going to see more.


Ms O'CONNOR - As you are aware, Premier, the Royal Commission into Institutionalised Responses to Child Sexual Abuse didn't examine abuse in state settings. I'm sure you would agree that there is likely to be a group of victims and survivors who haven't yet been dealt with by any formal inquiry. What is your message to people in Tasmania who may have suffered harm, or love someone who has suffered harm, as a result of historical abuse about the space that will be provided at this commission of inquiry to hear those stories?

Mr GUTWEIN - As you'd be aware, back in 2003 I made a decision to cross the Floor to support a commission of inquiry. That was before any national or state governments were even considering it. I said then that we needed to have the courage of our convictions to provide the support and the opportunity for people to bring forward their concerns and if we didn't have the courage of our convictions to take those steps, how could we expect survivors to have the courage to come forward? My message to survivors would be that the commission of inquiry will provide that opportunity for them to come forward.

I make the point that we have had four iterations of redress already and there have been state-based processes put in place and many will already have come forward through those processes, but this is our opportunity once and for all to air this matter, deal with this matter, and ensure that as we move forward our children are safe.

Ms O'CONNOR - Premier, just going back to the Launceston General Hospital situation, our understanding is that before working at the Launceston General Hospital, the now deceased James Griffin was employed for three years at UTAS as a maintenance officer in the Leprena and Kerslake halls of residence. He had an office on the halls and keys for each room, we understand about 300 rooms. During the school holidays, groups would stay in those halls of residence, including scout and girl guide groups, band camps and school camps. Those groups included dozens, sometimes more than 100, high school-aged children.

Are you aware if there has been any contact from government with UTAS to investigate potential incidents in the Launceston halls of residence? Are you aware of whether the department has begun any further investigation, including contacting schools who had camps there? Obviously, this is another historical allegation, and as we know, Mr Griffin also for a time worked at Ashley Youth Detention Centre. Throughout his career he made sure that he was around young people.

Mr GUTWEIN - I am not aware of any contact with UTAS, or by UTAS with the government, but I am happy to follow that matter up. Again, with the commission of inquiry, it will be broad-reaching and will enable those matters to be aired as well.

Ms O'CONNOR - We have been contacted by a staff member at the Ashley Youth Detention Centre in response to the historical allegations that were aired in parliament last week. The allegation from staff is that staff who make complaints or raise things are bullied, abused themselves, or talked out of going to police. A number of workers are on workers compensation; they have been bullied they say and are experiencing mental ill health from their failure to protect children. The allegation is that reports go unheeded by senior staff and that abuse can be ignored, and that when these claims are made to management, there seems to be too little follow-up.

Are you able to address those concerns about the culture at Ashley as it relates to staff, and the discouraging of people who have concerns when they go to management?

Mr GUTWEIN - Those matters have not been brought to my attention until you raised them now. They can be looked at through the commission of inquiry. Whilst that is not a catch-all for everything, it will have a very important role in looking at those matters.

We do have Mandy Clarke with us who can provide more detail about the processes that are occurring in Ashley that would assist.

Ms O'CONNOR - Are you happy to hear that briefly?

Ms WHITE - That would be important to hear.

Ms O'CONNOR - Through you, Premier, while Ms Clarke is at the table, perhaps the committee could be updated on what response has been made to the Youth Custodial Inspector's Report of last October which found serious security breaches.

Mr GUTWEIN - For Hansard, Mandy Clarke, deputy secretary of Communities Tasmania.

Ms CLARKE - In response to the first question in relation to bullying, as the deputy secretary, I have never received any reports, but I would strongly encourage and I am happy to meet with any staff member personally who would actually like to meet with me and talk to me about that, absolutely. Where I am aware of matters that have come to my attention they have been fully investigated. I cannot provide any other information in a reliable format, but I would be most interested to talk to any staff member on a one-to-one basis privately if they would like to talk to me about their concerns.


Ms O'CONNOR - Premier, I am sure that you read the story on the front page of Saturday's Mercury newspaper. The headline is a statement of fact: claims of abuse in education, hospitals and prisons have been known to the Government but kept under wraps for months or even years. What else aren't we being told? The story goes on to talk about a culture of cover-up in Tasmania. Do you think that is what has happened in relation to the three agencies and the three separate series of allegations of harm to children?

Mr GUTWEIN - No, I do not agree with that. In answer to your question, I did see the front page of the paper on Saturday. In dealing with allegations of historical child abuse, which has been largely what we have been discussing this morning, as Mandy Clarke has just explained, there is a process that is followed in those matters. I believe it is a thorough process. As I have indicated, once that process is drawn to a close and someone is stood down whilst further investigations take place, or if there is a charge that is led against them by police, if they are charged with a particular matter, then we will provide details on that.

As I have indicated, regarding redress, these processes can take some time and as Mandy Clarke has indicated as well there can be scant information. This scheme is focused very clearly - and so it should be - on the complainant to provide them with that opportunity to be heard, to receive redress and acknowledgement. But it can be difficult for agencies to gather enough information to be able to one, investigate and two, move forward to prosecution.

Ms O'CONNOR - This is beyond the redress scheme?

Mr GUTWEIN - Just on that. My understanding of that matter you raised regarding the employee being transferred to the Silverdome, my understanding is that person is not one of the three that has been stood down and in fact it is quite separate.

Ms O'CONNOR - Beyond the redress scheme, we know that government first became aware of potential crimes at the Launceston General Hospital late last year. The Department of Education was aware of allegations of historical abuse some weeks or months before it was made public. What happened at Ashley Youth Detention Centre again, it was a week and a half before Tasmanians were told. Why the secrecy?

I hear what you say about learnings from the Ashley experience, and in fact from all of it, but you'd have to agree there is a cultural issue here that covers up some of these allegations when they point to failings of government in the past.

Mr GUTWEIN - If I could make this point: I would always fall on the side of somebody making a complaint but there are processes of natural justice that need to be followed.

Ms O'CONNOR - Sure.

Mr GUTWEIN - In terms of the Ashley circumstance, there was a process there. If there is a failing, it's the failing to have not announced publicly when those staff members were stood down. I will remedy that in the future moving forward.

Ms O'CONNOR - Similarly, with LGH, there could have been more openness.

CHAIR - Last question, Ms O'Connor.

Mr GUTWEIN - In terms of the LGH, again the police and their investigation which largely came to a finish with Mr Griffin's death but they still continued post that period to engage with those people who had been impacted, with the THS, so that process was ongoing.

Ms O'CONNOR - Tasmanians were not aware of it.

CHAIR - Ms O'Connor.

Ms O'CONNOR - Sorry.

Mr GUTWEIN - Regarding this matter, certainly Tasmanians weren't aware of it to the extent that they were in early October this year - I will concede that.

Ms O'CONNOR - You'll do better in future.

Mr GUTWEIN - There will be immense interest in this matter moving forward and I want the Government to be as transparent as we possibly can be, noting that there are natural justice factors that need to be considered as we work our way through each individual redress claim.

Ms O'CONNOR - Who will be feeding into the terms of reference for the commission of inquiry? I am sure you have had a look at the Department of Health's terms of reference for the LGH inquiry and they are quite limiting. Is there going to be any opportunity for survivors and families to feed into the terms of reference in the early stage or will it be coming back to parliament? Can you outline how people have an opportunity to feed in?

Mr GUTWEIN - My expectation, and I spoke with the Solicitor-General on a couple of occasions over the weekend on this matter, is that we will draw from the existing inquiries which go to the processes and what occurred in how these matters were managed within departments. There will need to be an opportunity for survivors and others that want to make submissions to the commission of inquiry.

My view is that I don't want to see it fetter anyone. It needs to build on the work of the royal commission and the hearings that were conducted in Tasmania through that process, and obviously the other submissions that were received. I don't want it to be an inquiry that simply duplicates that work. I don't think any of us would find that to be useful. With any inquiry it's about the what, why and the how.

Ms O'CONNOR - And perhaps the who?

Mr GUTWEIN - The who and the powers to compel. I think the what's been well-established. The abuse occurred. We understand that. For those who still feel that they haven't had the opportunity to be heard I want to provide them with that opportunity. Importantly, what we need to understand is the how and the why and, as you say, the who. What happened? Was there a failure of process? Was it more than that over time? This inquiry needs to get to the bottom of that.

Ms O'CONNOR - I would be really happy to hear from the secretary. A reminder to the committee that the royal commission did not examine what happened in state settings. That's why, while the commission of inquiry will build on that, it will actually deal with the whole different cohort of potential victims.

Ms GALE - Through you, Premier. As the Premier outlined in his opening statement, the existing reviews will be transitioned to the commission of inquiry. The work's that done initially on drafting the terms of reference will need to make sure that those matters are taken into account as well as being broadened to pick up the issues that the Premier has outlined about the how and the why and the who, as you've indicated. We would normally seek legal advice on those given the nature of the commission of inquiry. It's also important that the terms of reference define the parameters, particularly if there are current legal proceedings in train in some matters. They will need to be assessed by our legal advisers in relation to the nature of the terms of reference. Whether they would be consulted on will be a matter for Government. We will be providing advice in the coming weeks to Government about the way in which we believe we need to proceed.

Ms O'CONNOR - Premier, what's your understanding of what the time line of the inquiry will be? When are hearings likely to commence? When do you expect a final report to be handed down and tabled in parliament?

Mr GUTWEIN - I'd like to see this conducted over a 12-month period. It's important to build on the work of the royal commission, but ensuring that we can get to a set of recommendations quickly then this should be conducted over a 12-month period. Over coming weeks we will work on the terms of reference. Regarding the commissioners, I think the three people who have been selected to conduct the inquiries may be able to transition in as commissioners. We need to have that conversation with them. I think that they all have significant expertise.

Ms O'CONNOR - Would you like to name them for the committee. Perhaps the Premier could name those three people for the committee. Tim McCormack, Maree Norton -

Mr GUTWEIN - I've got Maree Norton and Professor Smallbane . Thank you.