I am pleased to rise to speak on the Education and Training Reform Amendment (Regulation of Student Accommodation) Bill 2020. Might I say that on a day like this when there is politics rife and there are all sorts of things happening it is incredible to see how politicians and how this house particularly can come together and in a bipartisan way agree on a piece of really important legislation. Today is only a reflection of what has gone on for a very long time, and I came into this place in 2014, after the Betrayal of Trust report, when the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse was still underway. I have learnt a great deal about the institutional abuse of children during that time. And I would like to acknowledge the member for Broadmeadows, who is just about to leave. I have seen his passion on this topic many times in this place and it is an absolute credit to him and so many others who took up the cause and who ensured that this went to a parliamentary committee, that the investigations were done, that the evidence was heard and that people’s voices were heard. The outcomes of that I have seen on many occasions in this place by way of what are just little bits of legislation. They are just amendments here, amendments there, but they are part of an overall package that is bringing together a framework which we hope will provide a level of protection to children throughout every aspect of their lives.
We have an absolute duty of care to protect children, and I think we all know that. I personally stand here very passionate about trying to achieve some labelling on alcohol so that pregnant women can understand the impact of what alcohol might do to their children. So it is from conception to adulthood that we have to address the issues of child abuse and their protection. I have been around a lot longer than many people in this place, and my husband has been the forensic paediatrician for northern Victoria for probably 20 years, back in the 1980s and 90s, so conversations at our dinner table were so often around his distress, their distress, the hospital’s distress, families’ distress—all the horror that goes with child abuse that is just continuing today in so many environments.
But this piece of legislation, as I say, is part of a story. It is part of a recognition and a really important step along the way. I recall watching the film Spotlight just a few years ago. Sometimes you will watch a film like that and you will be so shocked and so affected by it even though you know it has been happening, even though all that knowledge is in your head. It can be so very, very shocking to think of the level of cover-up, the power, the manipulation that has occurred in our institutions over so many years. In my family, I went to boarding school. I had five siblings and we all went to boarding school because we lived out in western New South Wales. There was no school, so homeschooling, to me, which people have been going through for the last three months, is no big deal at all. My sister was homeschooled until year 8, when she was sent to boarding school, and my brother until grade 5. We moved closer to a town when I was in about grade 3, so I only had those very early years of homeschooling. But boarding school for us was a given because there were no secondary schools close by, and we were a farming family and that is just what happened. How you got to go where you went or how it all came about is a mystery still to me, but parents make these decisions for you.
I was sent to Kilbreda College in Mentone as a border for five years from the age of 11. I cannot say it was an experience I liked, because I was homesick the whole time, but I made some great friends. I often reflect upon the fact that while the nuns, the Brigidine Sisters, who ran that institution could get pretty cranky with us at times, I never detected any sense of real abuse, so I was very lucky. On the other hand, so many of my friends had brothers at some of the other Catholic boarding schools, and nothing was ever said during those years—no indication that abuse might have happened to them. But what I have found out since is just horrendous. To think that I was in what seemed to be a safe environment, as far as I know—that was my experience—but for a number of people I know the experiences of their brothers in other institutions was truly horrendous.
One of the things I can say about being in a boarding school environment and being away from your family and that protection and that confidence you have when you are in a family situation, is that you are really vulnerable, and so you do not really have anyone to complain to. You do not go home after school. You cannot talk about what has happened in a way where you might feel confident that you will be heard. People have told me that they were not boarders, they were abused, they went home and their parents did not believe them. They just could not believe that a priest or a brother would do such a thing, so they were effectively shut down and had to live with that misery for quite a while—for a long time. Some of those are people who have subsequently come forward and given evidence and shared their pain. For those people that must be the hardest, most amazing thing to do because of all that repressed guilt, anger, and shame that they were made to feel—that they were the ones who were responsible. It has been a wonderful journey just in recent years to see that we have been able to give voice to people through the royal commission in particular. I just want to read what the letters patent tasked the royal commission with, because it just bears having it in Hansard. That was to:
inquire into institutional responses to allegations and incidents of child sexual abuse and related matters …
and in carrying out that task it was directed to focus on the systemic issues, be informed by an understanding of individual cases and make findings and recommendations to better protect children against sexual abuse and alleviate the impact of abuse on children where it occurs. This legislation is about paragraph 13.3 of the royal commission, and that recommendation says that:
School registration authorities should place particular emphasis on monitoring government and non-government boarding schools to ensure they meet the Child Safe Standards. Policy guidance and practical support should be provided to those institutions.
That is what this bill does. I certainly support it, as does everyone else I have heard speak here today. I do not think we can ever give up on this, because as I say, child abuse is rampant. Child abuse is happening every day in our communities. It is happening in homes; it is happening in foster homes. Deputy Speaker, I sat with you on the Family and Community Development Committee when we looked into abuse in disability services. I think we all took away from that the horror of people who prey on vulnerable people and how important it is that we give those people protection, and children and people with disability fall into that very vulnerable category.
Again, it is important that recommendations from these committees are adhered to, are taken up, and this is what we are doing here today. I commend the bill to the house.