Ms PATTEN (Northern Metropolitan) (15:01:24):
Thank you to all the previous speakers who have spoken on this piece of legislation, and in particular Mr Gepp. I think Mr Gepp has just so beautifully and eloquently illustrated why we are doing this, why we must do this and why this bill will not solve what has happened in the past—and maybe will not solve what happens in the future—but is acknowledging the pain.
It is acknowledging the heinous crimes that have been committed. It is acknowledging those brave people who came forward and spoke to those crimes. It acknowledges the people that never made it to speak out, and it acknowledges the people that still live with that knowledge but without the words or the ability to tell their stories. It is for all of them.
This bill, effectively, will ensure that religious and spiritual leaders will be forced to report child abuse to authorities, as they should be.
They can no longer rely on the religious confession privilege to protect paedophiles, as it should be. It will see those in religious ministries added to the list of mandated reporters to child protection and the confessional seal lifted for suspected child sexual abuse, as it should always have been.
The bill will also create reforms to allow survivors of institutional abuse to apply to the courts to overturn historical compensation payments.
And just on that point, I would like to echo some of the comments that Mr O’Donohue mentioned about what appears to be an unintended consequence of this legislation that may actually carve out a certain number of victims who had sought compensation in a certain period—after the statute of limitations had been removed but before the Ellis defence legislation had been passed.
There are a number of victims that took what they could from the church and received very paltry sums in recognition—well, not recognition—to sort of toss them away, as it were. It appears that this legislation may, sadly, not capture those people and allow them to really seek the compensation that they so deserve.
I think Mr O’Donohue will ask questions in committee, and I will be listening very closely to that.
I have a confession to make. I have never been to confession. But if I had and I had confessed to child abuse, I would have thought that I would not have been able to finish 20 Hail Marys and light a candle before the police arrived, cuffed me and carted me away. I would think that most Victorians would be of the same mind.
Surely you cannot confess to horrific child abuse and the clergy protects you. Seriously? Yet that has been the case, and that is what many members of the Catholic Church are still defending, which beggars belief. They have been doing it for hundreds of years but from today, because of this legislation, that changes in the state of Victoria, as it should.
It will come as no surprise to many of you in the chamber that this is an issue that I have been very passionate about. The Reason Party has been pursuing it. I personally have been pursuing this issue for nearly two decades.
We published a book called Hypocrites in 2001 in which we revealed hundreds of child sexual abusers in the Catholic Church. Throughout that book we recognised that the ones that were in the courts were just the tip of the iceberg, and we called for a royal commission into child sexual abuse in the church.
I was very pleased that the federal government undertook that work, and I have the pile of reports from that in my office; it reaches to my thigh. The work that they did was extraordinary. The numbers that Mr Gepp mentioned in his contribution are in the thousands, and we know that that is just an example of the suffering and the crimes that have been committed.
I would also like to acknowledge Ms Crozier and the work that she did in her really landmark report. They looked at these issues and I think it was a very brave report. It was something that the community had been longing for and people had literally been dying for for many years, for decades.
Under our current law Victorian teachers, police, medical practitioners, nurses, school counsellors, early childhood workers and youth justice workers must tell authorities if they develop a reasonable belief in the course of their professional work that a child has been abused, but until now priests and religious leaders have been exempt from mandatory reporting.
Mandatory reporting is exactly that: it is mandatory. Everyone is required to report no matter what. Priests do not get a free pass because they sit in a sacred box. You do not hear Hindus, Muslims or Buddhists asking to be exempt from reporting horrible crimes, so why does the Catholic Church somehow think that their canon law trumps the law of the land, trumps the law that we all undertake to uphold?
Recently the Catholic archbishop of Melbourne, Peter Comensoli, said that he would rather go to jail than report admissions of child sexual abuse made in his confessional. He said he would not break the Catholic tradition; he would break the law: Personally, I’ll keep the seal. I just do not get it.
I do not understand how someone with Christian and compassionate principles could think that their canon law, that their belief in their religion, trumps the protection and safety of a child. In whose world is that the case? It is an utter disgrace. But I suppose he is admitting now that he will be protecting paedophiles in their long-time tradition.
I was actually having a quick look at Hypocrites that we published, as I said, in 2001. At the beginning of it I just make a note about some of the material that we had used in it, and I would just like to quote: In 1993, Brother Barry M. Coldrey wrote a secret report for congregation executives of the Christian Brothers.
The report was known as Reaping the Whirlwind: Sexual Abuse from 1930 to 1994 … This was a secret report. The report detailed abuses in WA orphanages which took the form of “sex rings” and a “sex underworld” in which brothers collaborated with one another and possibly shared the boys.
This report was tabled in the New South Wales Supreme Court and was quoted widely, but this sense of covering up and hiding and protecting can no longer go on.
The fact that we have an archbishop, a senior leader of a religious organisation, saying that he will break the law and he will continue to protect paedophiles—I am outraged by this. The community is outraged by this.
Perhaps the clergy should ask: what would Jesus do? I reckon Jesus would mandatory report. The Reason Party supports the bill and commends it to the house.
Fiona Patten MP
Leader of Reason
Member for Northern Metropolitan Region
Second reading speech 10/9/19