CRIMES AMENDMENT (PROTECTION OF CHILDREN) BILL 2014

I rise to make a contribution to the debate on the Crimes Amendment (Protection of Children) Bill 2014. In doing so I acknowledge the pain of the member for Burwood, who made a very impassioned contribution, for which I thank him. It was a contribution that came from his heart and his own personal experiences. We are a better place in this Parliament when people are able to provide their particular insights into what a bill is about in such a passionate and deeply felt way. I also want to acknowledge my colleagues the members for Broadmeadows and Thomastown, and I want to acknowledge the bipartisan way in which the Family and Community Development Committee sought to tackle this most difficult social issue.

I also come to this debate aware of the personal circumstances of a very old friend of mine. I grew up with him.

He was a poor, working-class boy like me, who grew up in working-class inner Melbourne. He came to see me only a few months ago. We had worked together and been political allies, and he came to see me to tell me of his appalling abuse at the hands of the Catholic Church. By any measure his circumstances were horrendous. He was preyed upon by the Catholic Church and by a particular paedophile priest who took the most appalling advantage of him and his family. His family was so poor that it relied on food vouchers to survive. His family’s relationship with the Catholic Church was so symbiotic that he was trapped in that relationship and was powerless, as a young boy of 12, to escape the terrible victimisation that was perpetrated upon him.

He was a paperboy, and he would stay out late so he did not have to be at home when the Catholic priest came to visit the family for the secular duties of the church. But the visits were not for secular duties; the priest was there to prey upon my friend.

My friend stayed out delivering his newspapers as late as he could so he could try to escape this venal individual who ruined his life. He turned to drink and, frankly, probably by the time he was about 16 I would say he was pretty much an alcoholic. What a terrible way to start your life.

When occasionally we had the opportunity, coming from poor Catholic families, he went, as I did, on vacation to the Young Catholic Workers’ camps. He was taken on vacation by this paedophile priest and he was abused. But worse than that, he was handed around at those camps like a plaything for paedophile priests in the Catholic Church. It did not happen once, it happened on multiple occasions. People have asked why he did not somehow report this somewhere, and why did no-one reach out and do something to help him, but what people need to understand is the nature of the relationship between the Catholic Church and poor families like my friend’s family, and indeed like my family.

It was simply not possible — it was not imaginable that we could ever have gone to the authority of the church to report those sorts of events. It was unimaginable, first, that it could happen, because it was something that could not possibly happen; but if it had happened, it was not possible that you would seek recourse for it.

Somehow or another my friend managed to get through this. He came to see me and told me about this abuse in a torrent of tears, rage and outrage. In his rage I think he also understood that there may be an opportunity for him to repair, at least in part, his shattered life. He went on, pursued his studies and undertook a professional career. He did very well — he married and has a family — but he is a man who is deeply scarred by the ravages that were inflicted upon him as an innocent young boy of 12 who did not know where he could hide and who could protect him.

My friend reminded me that when the then Premier, the member for Hawthorn, announced the inquiry, he was driving in country Victoria and had to pull over to the side of the road. When he heard about the inquiry he was so deeply distressed that he could not drive on, because all those wounds had been opened up again. He was sceptical about the inquiry and thought it probably needed to be a national inquiry, but in my view the announcement of the inquiry marked a landmark decision. I commend the Premier of the day for the courage he showed in implementing this inquiry and for the bipartisan way in which this inquiry was conducted, because it has helped my friend to acknowledge the terrible things that happened to him. He has had psychological and psychiatric support and so forth, but the wonderful thing that has come out of this is that he has now gone to the task force that was attached to the inquiry. He has gone to Taskforce Sano and made a formal complaint against the paedophile priest who, by the way, was jailed for other activities, and that has been at least a step forward for my friend in terms of his healing. Will he ever be completely repaired? Of course he will not; he was a 12-year-old boy too frightened to return home because of a paedophile priest who continued to prey upon him — what a dreadful indictment.

This legislation comes out of the Cummins inquiry, and it is a good piece of legislation. What we say is that we genuinely have deep concerns about clause 4. My colleague the shadow Attorney-General has outlined those concerns in a very considered and measured way. We do not want clause 4 to doubly victimise women, in particular, and children.

Essentially we want to excise clause 4 and have the opportunity to get it further ventilated through the parliamentary processes and also to have further consultation with a range of very substantial community organisations that have expressed significant concerns about clause 4.

These include the Domestic Violence Resource Centre Victoria, Domestic Violence Victoria, the Aboriginal Family Violence Prevention and Legal Service Victoria, the Women’s Domestic Violence Crisis Service, Women with Disabilities Victoria, the Victorian Women’s Trust, the Victorian Centres Against Sexual Assault, Women’s Health West, the Australian Association of Social Workers and the Law Institute of Victoria — and the list goes on.

When that level of concern is expressed by organisations with such prestige it gives us reason to pause and say, ‘Let us listen to what these people are saying in relation to clause 4’ and, in the way we have debated this bill and the grooming bill in this Parliament, that we pause for a moment and ask the Parliament to support the amendment moved by the shadow Attorney-General. We want this to be good legislation that can be supported right across Victoria, and we ask the house to support the amendment.