QLD inquiry calls in police after uncovering decades of institutional child abuse
8th June 1999
Updated 23rd July 2012
KERRY O'BRIEN: A former State governor handed out a message of shame for all Australians today when she detailed a litany of horror -- many decades of institutionalised child abuse involving both church and State.
A horror that spans most of this century, right through to the '80s.
Former Queensland governor Leneen Forde was commissioned by her State to inquire into claims of horrific child abuse in orphanages and institutions for State wards.
The results of that inquiry revealed significant numbers of children suffered significant physical, sexual or emotional abuse.
Police will be asked to investigate 14 allegations of possible criminal conduct.
Although the inquiry was confined to Queensland, Leneen Forde says the horror story must also apply everywhere else in Australia.
Bernard Bowen reports:
PEGGY RUSH: I was locked up in a cloakroom for two months at the age of 11 and I was told I wasn't allowed to talk to anybody but God.
BERNARD BOWEN: What did you do to deserve that?
PEGGY RUSH: I don't know. Not much, because we lived in fear.
We were good little children.
I mean, the punishments were constant and daily, and they took away our dignity, our self-worth, our identity.
BERNARD BOWEN: When she was a child in the '50s, Peggy Rush spent seven years in a home run by the Sisters of Mercy -- years, she recalls, of almost daily abuse.
Four decades later, she's been reliving those experiences as Queensland has confronted the awful reality of institutionalised child abuse in State- and church-run homes.
PEGGY RUSH: For many, many years, many of us used to talk about it, but nobody ever believed us.
And when you get governments finally recognising what we're saying, it sort of puts a stamp of approval on the truth of what we say.
LENEEN FORDE, INQUIRY COMMISSIONER: We did hear stories of people being put in solitary, often in the detention centre setting, and left there to reflect on their own doing for having been put in this place.
And some of them had no idea why they were put in those rooms.
BERNARD BOWEN: Former residents of State institutions also gave evidence, often providing shocking accounts of abuse and neglect.
Many told of being beaten, some of being chained to fences, and in the case of Bill Allen, of being injected with chemotherapy drugs.
BILL ALLEN: I've always been under the understanding that chemotherapy is for cancer victims or leukaemia victims.
Why do you give a healthy nine-year-old chemotherapy for?
LENEEN FORDE: They were treating children as if they had a medical condition, that if children were troubled and not conforming, that they must have some sort of illness, mental illness or something, and were treated accordingly.
BERNARD BOWEN: Former Queensland Governor Leneen Forde was given the task of uncovering the extent of the abuse and injustice. Today, her work was done.
LENEEN FORDE: Minister, it gives me great pleasure to hand over this report. It's been nine months of rather traumatic work, I suppose.
I trust that the Government, Mr Premier and the Minister will implement as many of our recommendations as we've put forward.
BERNARD BOWEN: Perhaps the most important for those who suffered is Recommendation 37 -- that the Queensland Government and responsible religious authorities acknowledge the significant harm done to some children.
PETER BEATTIE, QUEENSLAND PREMIER: It's important that I say -- from a personal point of view as Premier -- that I give unequivocally a heartfelt apology to those people who have been abused over a long period of time in these institutions.
BILL ALLEN: The most important thing is that the Government acknowledged that these atrocities did happen and that they're not going to hold back any closed doors now.
They're going to get right to the bottom of it, and that means if there's sufficient evidence for prosecutions on criminal charges, they'll be laid.
BERNARD BOWEN: Do you expect your report will lead to criminal prosecuti ons and if so, how many?
LENEEN FORDE: There certainly have been quite a number of cases referred to the police, and there would be many other cases where witnesses are not prepared to take it any further.
BERNARD BOWEN: You also recommend the Government and the relevant churches organise a reconciliation event for some of the victims.
Why is that important?
LENEEN FORDE: It's very important for the people, I think, that did suffer damage in their youth in these institutions, to have someone say that they're sorry and to try and understand how it happened and make some sort of reparation for it.
BERNARD BOWEN: The Neerkol Orphanage in Rockhampton, run by the Sisters of Mercy, was run of Queensland's most notorious institutions.
It commanded a lot of attention in the report for a litany of abuse over three decades.
DI-ANN ROWAN, ROCKHAMPTON SISTERS OF MERCY: It was a difficult time for the Sisters as well as for the children.
But we really, having heard their experiences, we wanted to be able to say we'd listened and we acknowledge what had happened, that had caused so much suffering.
PEGGY RUSH: Personally, I'm not interested in an apology, because, I mean, that should have been done a long time ago.
It's no good coming now, like eight years later, saying, "We're sorry," but acknowledgment is very important.
BERNARD BOWEN: Did you have faith that this inquiry would end up as a positive document?
BILL ALLEN: No, I didn't. I wasn't going to believe it until I actually saw it, and I didn't believe it until this morning.
BERNARD BOWEN: Bill Allen, Peggy Rush and the other victims of institutionalised abuse are now keen for the Government and the churches to implement the recommendations.
It's a commitment the Government has been quick to give.
ANNA BLIGH, QUEENSLAND YOUTH & COMMUNITY CARE MINISTER: This has shone a light not only on the past, but on our current system.
And what it tells is is that our current system needs a lot of fixing, and you can't fix a century-old system in a day or a week.
BERNARD BOWEN: But as inquiry head Leneen Forde points out, to fix the system, you need money -- enough of which, to date, hasn't been forthcoming.
LENEEN FORDE: We, in this State, do not spend nearly enough money on the children that are in care. We spend something like half the national average.
So even if we just had enough money to bring us up to the average of the country, it would have to be a big step forward.
PEGGY RUSH: I'm speaking on behalf of orphans and children who were institutionalised all over Australia, that we would like to see the whole of the country get behind us and get the State Governments and the Commonwealth Government involved so that this never happens again.
KERRY O'BRIEN: Indeed, it would be hard to believe that somehow, magically, the litany of horror stopped at the Queensland border.
The Catholic Archbishop of Queensland hasn't read the report, but the Chancellor of the Brisbane Diocese, Father Jim Spence, has released a statement regretting the pain caused to children who were in Catholic institutions.