"...It will go down in the record of this Parliament as the petition with the least number of signatures on it." and "....There is no audience for this issue. There have been more inquiries into this issue than we have had hot dinners. The answer is: no, no, no, no, no and no. It is done. It is finished. It is over."
Former Premier Peter Beattie ridiculing the 84-page Lindeberg Petition on 28 October 1999 [see State Hansard p4502]. The Lindeberg Petition was a symbolic "one-man" petition.
by Bob Bottom, OAM
Bravehearts White Balloon Day Lunch, Child Protection Week Function Spargo's, Southport, Queensland, 11 September, 2003
Guest Speaker Biography: Bob BottomAfter a life time investigating and reporting upon organised crime and corruption, investigative journalist Bob Bottom has turned his attention to child abuse and has been supporting Hetty Johnston of Bravehearts in calling for a Royal Commission.
Mr Bottom is credited with initiating some 18 Royal Commissions and other judicial inquiries into organised crime and corruption throughout Australia.
His interest in child abuse follows his appointment in 1997 to compile the research material for the Report on Paedophilia in Queensland tabled in the Queensland Parliament on behalf of the Children's Commission and he subsequently prepared the Cabinet Report which resulted in the establishment of the Queensland Crime Commission in 1998.
In 1997 he was presented with the Order of Australia for his work in "investigating and reporting upon organised crime in Australia".
He is author of seven best-selling books on organised crime and corruption, and played a key role in events leading to the setting up of various independent bodies such as the National Crime Authority and NSW's Independent Commission Against Corruption.
During the past 12 months, he was involved with the reformation of the National Crime Authority into the new Australian Crime Commission, and, on the initiative of the Prime Minister's Office, he recently presented a historic insight into the illicit drugs trade to the Commonwealth's Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee
Not only does this occasion acknowledge Child Protection Week 2003, it also marks the sixth anniversary of the foundation of Bravehearts - with the launch by Hetty Johnston during Child Protection Week 1997 of White Balloon Day.
Well, it is a matter of historical record that the balloon well and truly went up in 1997.
White Balloon Day was subsequently identified by Queensland Police as the primary factor causing a 514% increase in child assault notifications to the Child and Sexual Assault Investigation Unit (CSAIU), based in Brisbane.
The inauguration of White Balloon Day, now a familiar annual event, happened to occur less than a month following the tabling in the Queensland Parliament of the Report on Paedophilia in Queensland by the then newly established Queensland Children's Commission.
Since I was commissioned to compile the research material for that report, my concern over the extent of child abuse happened to have coincided with the rise of public concern at that time as exemplified by Hetty Johnston and Bravehearts.
In the six years since, concern over child abuse has been such that The Courier-Mail has published one thousand two hundred and twenty seven (1,227) stories about it. Whereas during the previous six years it had published 348 stories - nearly a threefold increase.
Likewise, during the last six years, here on the Gold Coast, the Gold Coast Bulletin has published 346 stories in child abuse.
Significantly, since the first White Balloon Day in 1997, Bravehearts has received 236 mentions in The Courier-Mail.
Notwithstanding all this attention, and advances that have occurred, there is still a haunting atmosphere of continuing concern about how Queensland really acts to provide child protection and/or responds to complaints about such abuse.
Thus, Hetty Johnston and Bravehearts over the past year in particular, have been to the forefront in seeking a Royal Commission - first, at a Commonwealth level, in the light of the Peter Hollingworth scandal, and, lately, as a result of disclosures about abuse of children in foster care.
For my part, I have been supporting that call.
Unfortunately, when the Independent Member for Gladstone, Liz Cunningham, moved a motion in the Queensland Parliament on 20 August last, calling for such a commission of inquiry, the government used its numbers to block it.
In a very real sense, aside from political motives, it stands as a cover-up!
It had been supported by National, Liberal and minor parties as well as other independents, a number of whom paid special tribute to the work of Hetty Johnston and Bravehearts.
The parliamentary action followed continuing revelations surrounding a scandal centered on a foster family in the Pumicestone electorate where I happen to live - and involved abuse of more than 50 fostered children dating back to 1984.
In June, following a police raid, 16 children were removed and are now being cared for by other foster parents throughout the Sunshine Coast region, with a number of them relying on Bravehearts for assistance and counselling.
Instead of agreeing to a Royal Commission, the government is endorsing a limited inquiry announced by Queensland's Crime and Misconduct Commission.
Terms of reference for that inquiry have drawn strong criticism.
The terms for the CMC inquiry not only exclude the role of successive ministers, but specify that any public hearings will not even receive complaints or evidence about specific cases nor investigate individuals.
In particular, the terms exclude public scrutiny of the role of former Minister for Families, Youth and Community Affairs, Anna Bligh, in not ensuring proper investigation of two separate complaints from two fellow Members of Parliament in relation to the foster family at the centre of the scandal.
Likewise, it means that officers within her department who misadvised her, or failed to pursue complaints, will be spared any embarrassment of public scrutiny.
The terms of reference, in the light of widespread and consistent publicity, are contrary to precedents set by the previous Criminal Justice Commission and at odds with the terms set for similar inquiries in similar circumstances in NSW and other states.
The limitations of the inquiry exemplify a government clampdown enacted by the government in 2001 with the merger of the old CJC and Queensland Crime Commission.
Under the new Act, introduced following the re-election of the Beattie government in February 2001, the new CMC is barred from holding any public inquiry at all unless it is presided over by the chairman of the CMC, in this case by current CMC chairman, Mr Brendan Butler.
Moreover, the Act removes the right or power of the CMC to delegate any public inquiry to any other person, such as a retired judge or Queen's Counsel, as happened with the Shepherdson inquiry into electoral rorts which embarrassed the government before the last State election.
With the merger of the CJC and QCC into the CMC, the government has also removed the statutory requirement to investigate paedophilia - as applied for the QCC.
Instead, the CMC relies on a reference for cases referred by police.
The CMC announcement for its inquiry stipulates that when public hearings are held in October only "selected stakeholders will have the opportunity to present their submissions".
Question marks still remain over a previous inquiry announced into a foster care scandal in 1999.
The Courier-Mail reported that the then Criminal Justice Commission had launched an investigation into the department over allegations it had failed to probe claims relating to four foster children under its care.
In that case, an independent family assessment officer had reported the incident and, as The Courier-Mail reported, not only did the department refuse to investigate but two foster families who then went to the police alleged they had been subjected to ongoing victimisation by the department.
It was then that the Children's Commissioner found out about it and referred it to the CJC.
No record can be found of the outcome of any such inquiry by the CJC into the department and, in fact, an internet search of the CJC's database does not bring up one reference anywhere to any inquiry into the department at any time.
It was also The Courier-Mail that exposed the latest scandal - reporting on its front page on 18 June that a foster family was entrusted with the care of dozens of children for more than a decade despite the Families Department repeatedly being told of evidence of continuing sex abuse. Two girls under 10 got venereal diseases while with the family in 1994 but were not removed.
The Courier-Mail reported that no children were removed despite authorities admitting that the family should not be responsible for children.
Families Department officers suspected the foster carers, who falsely told many children they were indigenous and tried to raise them as Aborigines, sexually and physically abused children.
They also believed the children were abused by members of their family and also strangers in their own home.
Two members of Parliament separately referred complaints of child sexual abuse in the same foster care situation to the then Minister for Families, Youth and Community Care, Anna Bligh during 1999.
The first complaint was sent by Ted Malone (NPA), member for Mirani, on 28 January and the second by Darryl Briskey (ALP), member for Cleveland, on 2 June.
Between those dates, over a period of less than five months, The Courier-Mail ran 78 articles relating to child abuse and the Sunday Mail eight articles.
If that were not enough to alert a minister to take any child abuse complaint seriously, The Courier-Mail actually published another 31 stories on child abuse and the Sunday Mail ran seven stories during the 49 days before Anna Bligh wrote back to Briskey on 21 July virtually dismissing any concerns.
In the meantime, on 8 June, 1999, just six days after Briskey wrote to her, Bligh stood up in the Parliament and tabled the report into abuse of children in government care by former State Governor Leneen Forde, resulting in various headlines in The Courier-Mail next day, such as:
Why did this take so long? and Inquiry hits State over child abuse and Govt hit for failing to reduce abuse risk.
In tabling the Forde report, Bligh made a ministerial statement commenting on its 42 recommendations.
"I can assure members of the House," she said, "that active and serious consideration is being given to each and every one of these recommendations."
Well, one recommendation relating to her own department specified mandatory reporting of such allegations to the Children's Commissioner.
This was not done for either the Malone or Briskey complaints.
Instead, Bligh now says she relied upon departmental officers - who now appear to be the only ones being singled out for inquiry by the CMC.
It so happens that during 1999 Bligh had been putting through Parliament a new Child Protection Bill, with Parliament's most consistent crusader against child abuse, Liz Cunningham (Ind), member for Gladstone, having warned during earlier debate that the "department has failed to meet its responsibilities".
Bligh thus well knew not to rely on departmental officers to do the right thing.
So much so that when speaking to Parliament again on the Forde report on 21 July, 1999, she proclaimed: "It is not my department that will be implementing this report, it is our Government."
Yet, on that very same day, she wrote her now fateful letter of reply to Darryl Briskey, saying:
"I would like to assure you that departmental officers are taking every step possible to ensure that the children are well cared for and safe in their current placements."
The haunting truth is - this was not so.
Extraordinarily, during that very same month, one of those steps, as revealed in documents released last week, was departmental sanction of an abortion for one of the fostered females who had been alleged to have been subject to sexual abuse.
That is just one of the disturbing features of continuing revelations that surely cry out for a full judicial inquiry.
One of the most extraordinary features relating to lack of action is that Briskey told Bligh that his complainant was "very concerned about unsecured firearms being kept on the premises".
How could that have not rung alarm bells for the Minister?
After all, there had been a full debate in Parliament just a little over a week beforehand, on a Weapons Amendment Bill, in which it was made plain that any firearms kept in households had to be licensed and secured in approved storage.
So why didn't the Minister refer it to the Police Minister, rather than again rely on departmental officers who told her Briskey's complainant would be encouraged to contact the Queensland Police Service.
More intriguing still, how could alarm bells not have rung for the Minister when Briskey mentioned that the children received no affection and were just "farmed out" for the money and that, on occasions, there could be up to 14 children fostered by the family.
On that basis, the department was paying this family well over $100,000 a year - and there was Briskey complaining that the "children are not being fed properly and are abused, including sexual abuse".
What have been nominated as the core recommendations of the Forde inquiry - 16 and 34, which deal with mandatory reporting of allegations of child abuse, including to the Children's Commissioner - have not been implemented to cover foster carers under the control of the department, and, indeed, the limitation on mandatory reporting generally in regard to child abuse in Queensland compared with other States has drawn criticism in a report to the Law Society.
No wonder - since in Parliament on 11 April 2000, when putting through a Child Care Amendment Bill, she made a point of pointing out that the amendments would "not have the effect of requiring mandatory reports to be made about foster carers".
When speaking on the same Bill again on 3 October, 2000, one of her last speeches before her term as Minister ended, she enunciated that the Child Protection Act of Queensland operated on what she explained was a complaints based system.
To quote what Anna Bligh said:
"There is no suggestion that we should have an army of officers going out knocking on the doors of families, and nor would it be a cost-effective way of ensuring the safety of children".
It begs the question: who then has been checking on foster carers? That is, if there have been any proper checks at all.
Only a proper judicial inquiry, or Royal Commission as called for by Hetty Johnston in particular, will allay public concern over such monumental failures.
The Queensland Premier and his ministers keep referring to the CMC inquiry as a standing Royal Commission.
In fact, a brochure currently being distributed by the CMC regarding its inquiry actually categorises it as more of a research project than a judicial inquiry. In fact, the inquiry is not being run by an investigator or lawyer - but co-ordinated by an academic researcher, Dr Mark Lynch, from the CMC's research and prevention division.
Since child care, and in particular foster care, is also a Commonwealth responsibility, there are grounds enough for a combined Commonwealth-Queensland Royal Commission.
Since Peter Beattie called for a Commonwealth Royal Commission, as part of his call for then Governor-General Peter Hollingworth to resign over lesser matters, the most intriguing question mark hanging over Queensland is -
- Why isn't Beattie now prepared to ask the Prime Minister to set up a combined state-federal Royal Commission in conjunction with Queensland into the whole foster care system and other government services to protect children against future abuse.
The views contained are not necessarily the views of Bravehearts and we take no responsibility for the content of the speech which was written and delivered by Bob Bottom, OAM, at the Gold Coast White Balloon Day Luncheon, Thursday 11th September, 2003