Civil Liability Amendment (Organisational Child Abuse Liability) Bill 2018

16th October 2018

Mr GREG PIPER (Lake Macquarie) (17:37:49): I contribute to debate on the Civil Liability Amendment (Organisational Child Abuse Liability) Bill 2018. Every now and then you come into this place and contribute to a debate or legislation that you feel is doing the institution of the Parliament proud. This is one of those times. I acknowledge the Attorney General, and thank him and his staff for bringing this bill to the House. The bill does a number of things, but I will not go through all of them because they have been so well articulated by others in great detail. The bill creates a duty on organisations to prevent child abuse and to create a legal presumption that an organisation has breached the duty if a child for which it has responsibility is subjected to child abuse by an individual associated with the organisation. It also makes an organisation vicariously liable for child abuse committed by employees and persons akin to employees, and permits plaintiffs to bring civil child abuse proceedings against unincorporated organisations that may be liable for the abuse.

In simple terms, the bill says that those organisations have a responsibility to those children that other people would have expected. It is not that complicated. It also says that there is no place for organisations or individuals to hide. If you are an individual or an organisation that abuses children the people will come after you, the police will come after you, and the judiciary will come after you and deal with you with the weight of the law. I acknowledge both sides of the House and all members of the House who support this bill. The issues dealt with in the bill do not predominate or are not consigned to one particular organisation; it is across the board—secular, non?secular, small and large. There is a whole host of areas in which we know abuse has occurred.

I will speak about my experience throughout my Catholic education. I do not stand here and claim to be of faith. If I learnt anything from my Catholic education it was that there was a massive failure to adopt Christian practices and to walk in the shoes of Jesus Christ. I attended St Pius X College at Adamstown, which, I think it would be fair to say, was close to the epicentre of sexual abuse in the Hunter and one of the areas that brought a great focus on this issue. It is important to note that the legislation does not deal only with sexual abuse, although that is most heinous and, probably quite understandably, has been given the most attention because of its lasting impact on people's emotions and their sense of self-worth. The bill also deals with physical abuse.

From my experience, the Catholic education system at the time was expert at meting out physical punishment that I believe extended far beyond anything that any right-thinking person would sanction. It is certainly something that I experienced. I wear with some pride the fact that I would not be cowed by some of the teachers at St Pius. I think others have been consigned to the record over the years in these discussions, but I note Edward "Ted" Hall is one name that had not come up. Recently he was convicted in Newcastle court of numerous charges of sexual abuse of boys at St Pius. He was a teacher whom I knew quite well. In hindsight, I am not surprised. One of the survivors of that abuse, Ben McCulloch, wanted his name publicised because he wanted to speak out about the abuse that was meted out to him but has not broken him. Unfortunately, such abuse has affected many individuals and their families if they had brothers, sisters and parents around them or subsequent families, if they married.

I have mentioned St Pius X College or St Pius X High School as it is now, and I feel sorry for those who are responsible for on the running of that school and other schools that bear that legacy. I am sure they are fine people who are trying to address the issues as best as they can, look after those in their care and provide them with a good education.

They have to deal with the legacy and the burden of the sins of the past. I thought I knew about the sociopathy or psychopathology of those teachers but was unaware how far it permeated the school. The first time I heard of the sexual abuse, and what drove it home like a slap in the face, was the suicide of John Pirona. It was a great tragedy. He was a local firefighter who had shouldered this burden for many years. We have had heroes step forward. I acknowledge Joanne McCarthy from theNewcastle Herald who led the push for the "Shine the light" series that largely brought about the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. I acknowledge former detective chief inspector Peter Fox, Peter Gogarty from the Upper Hunter Valley and Ben McCulloch, who recently went through the ordeal of Ted Hall's trial.

In this Chamber I have previously spoken of an abiding regard for the member for Dubbo, Troy Grant. He has prosecuted the issue on an individual basis with Father Vince Ryan, who he pursued and brought to justice. He has also advocated for a full and proper investigation of these issues. While they are important markers for us, it is what we do from here. How do we deal with the victims and ensure there are not future victims? That is what the Government is doing and I fully support that. There is both a direct and a vicarious obligation for everyone to look after children in their care and I believe this bill makes it clear that there is no place to hide. I thank the Government and the Attorney General and I strongly support the bill.

Website: Read full parliamentary debate here

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