#AceNewsReport – May.16: Robert Benjamin is one of three commissioners appointed to examine the Tasmanian government’s responses to child sexual abuse in institutional settings:
TASMANIA: Commission of inquiry into Tasmanian government institutional abuse begins Normally when one of the commissioners Robert Benjamin says when I’m writing a judgement I’ll [stick] a photograph of the children on my computer so that I never forget how important they are,” he said’
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“I’ve spent the whole of my professional career undertaking family law work. For the last 15 or 16 years I’ve worked primarily in Tasmania undertaking family court hearings, and children are at the centre of what we do,” Commissioner Benjamin said.
“That’s been the focus of my career so far and it’s clearly going to be the focus of my career in working with my fellow commissioners to try and make sure that what we’ve seen happen just won’t happen again.”
In November, Premier Peter Gutwein — under increasing pressure as allegations of child sexual abuse relating to the health and education departments and the Ashley Youth Detention Centre came to light — announced the commission of inquiry, which is Tasmania’s version of a royal commission.
Commission president Marcia Neave, a retired Victorian judge, said she and her two colleagues would concentrate on areas where there were current problems.
She said that would include:
- The role and responsibilities of the Tasmanian government, its institutions and officials in protecting children from sexual abuse, and responding appropriately to reports of abuse
- Current responses to allegations and incidents of child sexual abuse, including the examination of historic allegations where they throw light on current issues of concern
- Systemic issues and options for reform
“I have worked on law reform and public policy reform relevant to children for many, many years, and this [child sexual abuse] is a dreadful blight on the Australian community, and on the Tasmanian community,” Commissioner Neave said.
“We should be working hard to make sure that this does not happen in our society, and to make sure that children are protected, and loved and nurtured.”
Commissioner Leah Bromfield is an internationally recognised academic in the field of child abuse and neglect, whose early life was spent in Tasmania.
“I didn’t leave for the mainland with my family until I was in high school, so I always will feel Tasmanian, so this [inquiry] is really important to me,” she said.
“I think that Tasmanian families have got a right when they send their kids off to school, to hospital, to know that everything that should have been done has been done to know that their kids are safe there.”
Government agencies ‘on notice’
Commissioner Neave said government organisations “have already been put on notice that they must retain all records relevant to our inquiry”.
Asked if she was concerned records would be lost if agencies were not “put on notice”, Commissioner Neave said they did not know the “answer to that question”.
“But we certainly wanted to operate in a way that made sure that all of the records that are relevant to events that have occurred in the past, or are currently occurring, are saved so that we can access them,” she said.
Commissioner Neave said she and her fellow commissioners wanted to hear from victim-survivors and supporters of children who have been affected by current issues in responding to child sexual abuse in institutional settings.
They also want to hear from other individuals, groups and organisations whose insights, experiences and ideas will inform the commission’s understanding of gaps in the Tasmanian government’s responses to child sexual abuse.
“The commission will, as far as possible, adopt an informal and non-adversarial approach,” Commissioner Neave said.
“Our consultations and other processes will be guided by trauma-informed care principles and we will provide specialist support and referrals for victim-survivors participating in our processes.
“We are committed to hearing directly from children.”
She said people who give information to the commission would have the same protections as those who speak to royal commissions.
Submissions are open until July 2.
Public and private hearings will be held later in the year.
“The commission will also be undertaking more detailed inquiries through site visits, research, investigations and data gathering activities,” Commissioner Neave said.
“Together we’re going to travel across the state to hear from Tasmanians about their experiences, and their ideas about how best to ensure that government institutions are safe for children.”
The final report and recommendations are due in August next year.
#AceNewsDesk report ……….Published: May.16: 2021:
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