Central Victorian abuse survivors have reacted strongly to the news they will have to apply via ballot to gain a ticket to attend the Prime Minister’s National Apology to victims and survivors of institutional child sexual abuse on October 22 at Parliament House in Canberra.
Federal Member for Ballarat Catherine King recently announced that the Federal Government was releasing 800 tickets for survivors – 400 to Royal Commission support provider organisations and 400 through a ballot for individual survivors to attend.
“The Prime Minister’s apology is welcomed, but I understand that it may be incredibly disappointing and distressing for some survivors not to have the opportunity to witness this significant event,” Ms King said.
Former Ballarat clergy abuse survivor Stephen Woods has moved to the country. He left Ballarat at 18 and after a turbulent life, at 57 has been forced to retire on a disability pension.
Mr Woods said he has entered the ballot and hopes to go with another Ballarat survivor friend.
“800 tickets is pathetic isn’t it? What is the problem with hiring a venue to fit 5000,” he said.
Mr Woods said he taught for about eight years but had to retire. He is now suffers constant pain with chronic arthritis and has moved to the country in an effort to reduce his living costs.
“It’s very tight,” he said “The (National) redress scheme that I fought for for years since 1994, does not cover me. I am excluded.”
Mr Woods said he had received a payout in 1998 from the Catholic Church but, because the maximum Commonwealth redress payout has been capped at $150,000, once it is indexed to inflation, Woods will receive almost nothing.
“Give me a f***g break. My life has been destroyed and I cannot work. I am the youngest of seven children and the younger three boys were all abused at Catholic-run schools in Ballarat.
“My brother, Anthony who was a brilliant pianist who died in the 1990s - his life spiralled out of control, my other brother has been in and out of jail all his life … I tried to get a career going and I couldn’t, then my mother died in 2010 and my life just collapsed,” Mr Woods said.
“It was despicable that they went from $250,000 down to $150,000 as the maximum amount in the redress scheme. It’s just penny-pinching. The church, the institutions and the Government have so much money.”
The Woods were a very strong Catholic family but after enduring abuse from the age of 11, from notorious pedophiles including Ted Dowlan who changed his name to Bales in 2011, Stephen’s life was destroyed.
But despite it all, he is still keen to attend the apology.
“I want to go for myself, but also for my parents. My parents were severely let down. Dad was a policeman and Mum worked at home but then had to go back to work later.
“My parents were so intensely abused by the Church, their trust in the Church was utterly violated.”
“To have three of their children molested by people that they trusted …it’s not just the assaults, but the cover ups.”
“The Christian Brothers knew about Dowlan’s offending in Melbourne – he’d been caught redhanded there and then they moved him to Ballarat and put him in charge of the boarders. Talk about dracula to the bloodbank …,” Mr Woods said.
An apology is not going to make me feel better. Nothing about this situation makes me feel better.Abuse survivor - Tony Wardley
A Ballarat abuse survivor, who had previously welcomed the apology, said of new Prime Minister Scott Morrison, “It is frustrating to be receiving an apology from someone we know litle of, (and) who seems to lack empathy on issues close to my heart.”
Clergy abuse survivor, Tony Wardley wants nothing to do with the apology or the ballot. If he goes to Canberra it will be to protest, he said.
“This apology is just a sham. It’s just a PR stunt. If they were genuinely sorry about what happened they wouldn’t have brought in ‘Pell’s Redress Scheme’,” Mr Wardley said.
“And they wouldn’t still have children in desperate situations still being molested, and children in detention. If they were genuine about wanting to stop child abuse, they should stop this.”
“I couldn’t sit there and have an apology from Scott Morrison who is the one that implemented these kids being locked up on Nauru and Manus, on an island with nowhere to go for help,” he said.
“They are still putting kids in danger, so what are they apologising for?”
“There’s no genuine compassion here. It’s just a publicity stunt, they think we’ll invite 800 survivors … we’ll hand pick them and we’ll look like it is a great thing. We’ve all moved on, nothing to see here anymore,” he said.
“But nothing has changed. Some of the school principals might have changed, but there’s been no pressure on the church, the Royal Commission hasn’t changed anything.”
“An apology is not going to make me feel better. Nothing about this situation makes me feel better,” Mr Wardley said.
“I am not eligible for the redress scheme. I was stitched up by the Catholic Church long before the commission or the redress scheme.”
CASA (Centres Against Sexual Assault) spokesperson and Manager at South Eastern Centre Against Sexual Assault, Carolyn Worth, said the demand for their services came from all sectors and has been steadily increasing.
“It is across all scenarios … it is ubiquitous. The demand for CASA assistance has been increasing over the past couple of years and that makes the wait times unacceptable and it is stressful for everyone.”
“The Commonwealth Government had statistics compiled recently by FINITY consulting and they estimated 15,150 people were eligible for assistance. That’s people they actually know about who came forward and talked to the Royal Commission, so you can add quite a percentage to that because we know most people do not come forward.”
“It’s still the case, even in the current climate,” she said.
Mrs Worth said she had written to the Federal Government requesting funding for 40 more staff positions across Victoria, saying it would bring wait times down to 2-4 weeks for access to a psychologist or social worker.
In terms of high demand areas for sexual assault counselling, Ms Worth said, “Ballarat has a spike demand that has to do with it being a “hot spot” ... it has kept rolling on from the Parliamentary Inquiry and people keep coming forward.”
“It is often the case for us; not everyone wants to talk to the Royal Commission or report to the police but they do want to be part of the process, they want to come in and talk about their situation.”
The Prime Minister’s National Apology to victims and survivors of institutional child sexual abuse will be held at Parliament House on 22 October, 2018.
The ballot can be entered online via the National Apology website www.nationalapologyconsultation.gov.au by midnight on Tuesday, 25 September.
Further information on: 1800 604 604.