Child Migrants

On the day when a formal apology was made to the children of the Fairbridge Farms for the terrible abuse that they suffered, I added my personal apology in Parliament to those children, who are now adults. I also provided some reflections that may make a difference to the way in which we deal with policies in this area in the future.

On the day when the Premier and the Deputy Leader of the Opposition have apologised in this place to the children of the Fairbridge Farms for the terrible abuse that they suffered, I add my personal apology to those children, who are now adults. I will also provide some reflections that may make a difference to the way in which we deal with policies in this area in the future. In 1997, as a young idealistic public servant in the Department of Immigration, I was tasked with writing the Commonwealth Government's response to the then Western Australian Government's inquiry into the British Migrant Children's Scheme that operated in that State. While preparing the response I researched the topic in great detail. It was appalling and horrifying reading. I became very familiar with the work of Margaret Humphreys, the social worker in England who worked with many of the former British and Maltese child migrants to find the truth of their origins and to reconnect them with their families. There were many terrible stories that touched me extremely deeply. In fact, they touched me so deeply that when I later travelled to Western Australia I visited Bindoon and Clontarf because I needed to see the places where these atrocities took place to achieve some sort of closure. What struck me was the peacefulness and quiet despite the fact that those beautiful and grand buildings had been home to such horror. I thought of the tiny little hands, not much bigger than those of my then five-year-old, that helped to build them. During my investigations I went to the legal section of the department to gain a legal opinion on the Immigration Guardianship of Children Act 1946, under which the Minister for Immigration delegated his guardianship of those children to the many church and community organisations that took them on in the name of caring for them. I wanted to know who was responsible for the oversight of these children and who was their guardian. I was prevented by senior departmental advisers from obtaining that legal opinion. They simply did not want me to ask the question; nor would they let me forward it to the Attorney General's Department. There were fears of compensation claims and questions about government liability, which have all now come to pass. However, sadly that has come too late for many of the children. It was the time of the Stolen Generation report, and I saw the many correlations between the British and Maltese children and the stolen Aboriginal children, who received an apology from the Government, but again too late. Given what we know about the need for clear monitoring and oversight of these most precious children, what will happen to the many people with disabilities in our State who will move from government homes to facilities run by churches, community services and for-profit providers as early as July next year? Who will be responsible for them? Who will be their guardians? I note that the Minister for Disability Services is hosting a briefing for members soon. The fundamental question of who will be the guardian is the most important that he will have to answer. I understand that the Government is trying to extract itself from the disability services sector by moving functions and responsibilities to the Federal Government and the private sector. I have serous, well-founded concerns based on my experiences and those of many other people that these issues will not be addressed properly or in time. Who will advocate for these people if they suffer abuse or neglect? Their parents will be dead, and perhaps also their siblings. It will be too late. I was told recently that one of the group homes so wildly and loudly lauded by the Minister was taken out of the hands of a private not-for-profit provider during the final term of the Labor Government by one of my predecessors, the Hon. Frank Terenzini. It was taken from the provider because of evidence of questionable care practices. Who will be the provider of last resort when there are no government homes? Who will be left to the advocate? Most importantly, who will be the guardians? Who will take responsibility for these people? They are the most disadvantaged, the most vulnerable and the least able to advocate for themselves. We need answers, and so do they; and they deserve them. Let us not have another tragedy. Mr MATT KEAN (Hornsby—Parliamentary Secretary) [6.14 p.m.]: I acknowledge the member for Maitland's contribution and the service she has given this State in the important work she did caring for some of the most vulnerable in our community. The issues she has raised are real and genuine, and I undertake to convey them to Minister immediately. I will join with the member in working to ensure that those at the margins in our community, those without a voice, those without a guardian or someone who cares for and loves them, are protected and do not fall through the cracks. Each member of this place should do that every day of the week. We have acknowledged the horrible wrongs perpetrated on the Fairbridge Farm children, and I agree that we can never let that happen again.

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