A few years ago, when my children were young, we bought them some pet mice from a pet shop. In our home we had a large fish tank and we put the mice with the little mouse house and treadmill in that. We thought we would be teaching our young children how to look after pets.
What we did not count on was the mice’s breeding rate. Every time I looked into that tank there seemed to be many more mice running around. The numbers began to grow and grow rapidly! A few days later it was as if a dark cloud of evil spread over and enveloped that fish tank. It was just as if that fish tank was giving me the heebee geebees. Then, when I looked closer I found a half eaten body of a baby mouse. The mice in the madness of living in the fish tank began to turn on and eat each other.
Quickly, I took the fish tank and emptied it in a laneway behind where we lived.
I get the same feeling every time I drive past or see pictures of our immigration detention centres.
In 1970 I began my pastoral life working at the Wayside Chapel in Kings Cross. In those days Kings Cross was a mecca for homeless and runaway children.
Child after child told me horrific stories of life in the children’s homes and orphanages they had run away from. Stories of beatings, abuse, sexual abuse and even death were recounted to me – often, in graphic detail. These stories involved institutions run by almost every church or religious organisation and so called “child caring institutions”. These stories distressed me and I spent a lot of time fighting with the heads of these institutions trying to get change. I found the Department (in those days Child Welfare Department) and subsequent Minister of Child Welfare to be of no help at all. In fact, I vividly remember one child welfare Minister proudly proclaiming that he was the guardian of tens of thousands of children.
He must have known what was going on in those institutions!
In fact, Governments must have known what was going on or alledged to be happening in those very institutions. Governments have eyes and ears and know what they can get away with. Even so it is just inconceivable to me that Governments who were supposed to care for people did nothing.
That is why this Royal Commission is such a good thing! At long last it will bring people to account and hopefully put a lot of ‘em in gaol.
At that time Governments could get away with it because the general public did not seem to care. I think the public trusted that these institutions and the government would do their proper duty and look after these children. Many of these children were, in a way, unwanted outcomes of World War II liaisons, and so the general public didn’t really want to know that much about them anyway.
What I learned from that, was that, if there is a house upon the hill which proclaims loudly with blinking lights “we care about children” chances are they don’t. If there is a house on the hill that says “we care about vulnerable people, that the general public are suspicious of”, chances are the situation is ripe for abuses to occur.
What I have learned is that the only way to ensure that vulnerable people are not abused, when under the care and control of these institutions or departments is to subject that centre or those centres to the full glare of the public spotlight. That way abuses can be noted by all and you would be surprised how quickly the abuses disappear.
Governments know if in general the public does not care, they can easily delude the public into thinking everything is okay there. Governments can then get away with making these centres generally inaccessible to the public and clamping down on visits by “whistle blowers” thereby avoiding the full glare of the public gaze. When issues arise Governments issue smarmy soothing comments such as “our people would not do those sorts of things”.
Well, all I have to say look at what the Roman Catholic Church, the Salvation Army, Barnardo’s, and other so called trust-worthy institutions allowed to happen to vulnerable children . Up to this very day they say, “we did not know”, or “we are trustworthy”.
These are hollow empty words of dark deeds done years ago and my fear, (I bet my certain knowledge), is these dark deeds are being repeated again today only to other people we don’t really want to know about from lands we are suspicious of.
To me no sort of smarmy comforting words from any immigration minister whether Liberal or Labor can be trusted in this matter.