A letter to our Nation’s leaders
Dear Malcolm and Bill,
I write this letter with a sad heart. As the National Redress Scheme is unveiled, another Care Leaver has died waiting for justice.
Victorian Care Leaver Yvonne died suddenly this week, a day before her 74th birthday. In her daughter’s words, “Mum had a terrible life”. She spent her childhood in the Ballarat Orphanage where she was abused and neglected in every way. As an adult, life was always a struggle and Yvonne died without the money for her own funeral. Her family has costed a cremation, as was Yvonne’s wish, and has been forced to find the cheapest option: $2000 without a service or $3000 with a service. The Victorian Government provides $1500 for Care Leaver’s funerals and CLAN is trying to raise the rest. But it is distressing to know money was playing on Yvonne’s mind at the end and heartbreaking to die seven days out from the start of National Redress. She had been asking her daughter, “Do you think we will get any Redress?”
There is much good that will come from the National Redress Scheme but I also fear its flaws will push many people to the brink of despair. Urgent changes are required.
The decision to index previous Redress payments (paid by some state government schemes) at 1.9% per annum has angered Care Leavers.
One Care Leaver who was raped as a child living in foster care in South Australia received $39,000 from the South Australian victims of crime compensation scheme. Her lawyers were paid $12,000 and she was left with $27,000 but she will be indexed on the full amount.
A Queensland Care Leaver received $70,000 from the Catholic Church for being raped by a priest at an orphanage in Brisbane. Her $70,000 would be indexed to $91,000. She also received $40,000 from the Queensland redress scheme. That would be indexed to around $49,000. The maximum payment from the National Redress Scheme is $150,000 so she will get no top up.
Care Leavers believe indexation is a final kick in the guts after being screwed by governments their whole lives. They accept that previous payments should be deducted from their National Redress entitlements but they should not be indexed and deductions should be based on the amount they received not the gross payment.
Indexation is especially wicked as it limits the financial burden on the state governments, churches and charities that have opted in to National Redress yet continue to enjoy tax-free status. I urge you, Prime Minister, to make a Captain’s Call on indexation.
And then there is the issue of Care Leavers who apply for Redress and die waiting for an outcome. The Care Leaver’s estate will receive the financial Redress but their family will not be entitled to a direct personal response (apology from the institution) and counselling. This is so very wrong and heartless. Our families have suffered greatly as a result of the crimes committed upon us as children. It is only fair they should receive our full entitlement.
CLAN has consistently argued for a National Redress Scheme that acknowledges all forms of abuse, not just sexual abuse. The cruelty and brutality experienced by many children in Orphanages, Children’s Homes and Foster Care was dehumanising and damaging. One 80-year-old Care Leaver says he wishes he had an apology for every time he was wacked on the head or punched in the back. They didn’t call the Tamworth Boys Home ‘Alcatraz’ for nothing.
A 14 year old boy in a Salvation Army run boys’ home was punished for stealing a bike and running away by being forced to strip naked and do all his chores, take his meals, attend to his everyday tasks with no clothes on – for a week. The depravity of this treatment is almost overwhelming. It brings tears to my heart and my eyes.
We allowed the Manus Island refugees to claim compensation for physical and psychological abuse. What about our own children? These crimes are ours to own. They were committed by Australians on defenceless children who had no one to turn to for protection. Who would believe a Welfare Kid?
Mr Turnbull, you will deliver a National Apology to survivors of institutional child sexual abuse on October 22nd in Canberra. This will be an important day for those who have carried the burden of hurt and humiliation all their lives. It will be a day to demonstrate the respect of our nation. For people who were never believed as children, a National Apology will be felt at a deeply personal level. I don’t use the word ‘healing’ because there are some scars that can never heal.
But the National Apology will seem hollow if people are missing out on Redress because of an unfair system of indexation, or because they’ve died too soon, or because they were brutalised but not raped.
This National Redress Scheme is supposed to deliver justice - finally. My fear is that it will destroy what little hope people have left. I urge you, Malcolm and Bill, our Parliamentary Patrons, to put empathy before economics.
Leonie Sheedy OAM is CEO of CLAN (Care Leavers Australasia Network) an organisation that supports and advocates on behalf of people who grew up in Orphanages, Children’s Homes, Foster Care and other institutions.