Tas abuse failings 'spanned governments'

·3-min read

Tasmanian governments past and present have failed to prioritise the safety of children, a sexual abuse inquiry has been told.

A commission of inquiry examining child sexual abuse in state institutions on Tuesday wrapped up after 36 days of public hearings.

The inquiry has largely focused on Launceston General Hospital, where a pedophile nurse worked for almost two decades, and Ashley Youth Detention Centre, which has been described as having a "culture of brutality".

Commission president Marcia Neave said while Tasmania has worked to implement recommendations made in 2017 by the national royal commission into child sexual abuse there was much more to be done.

"It is clear from these hearings that there are systemic and cultural issues unique to ... Tasmania that were not uncovered and addressed by the national royal commission recommendations," she said.

Ms Neave listed a host of shortcomings, including an undue emphasis on prioritising staff and employment processes over children and their safety.

She said some people in leadership positions had shown limited concern and curiosity about the risks of abuse and failed to ask questions about warning signs.

"We have heard evidence that responsibility for past failings has not been solely the responsibility of one person, one department or one government," she said.

"Rather, we have heard that collectively the Tasmanian government, past and present, has failed to adequately prioritise the safety of children and the wellbeing of victim-survivors."

The state government has pledged to close Ashley by the end of 2024 and shift to smaller centres.

There have been calls, including from Amnesty International and the state and national children's commissioners, for it to be shut immediately.

Ms Neave said the commission of inquiry had received evidence of abuse occurring at the centre as recently as late 2021, adding she was worried about the state government's ability to deliver on its proposed timeline.

"This is heightened by the fact many reviews and recommendations were not acted upon in the past," she said.

"The commission is concerned about the immediate safety and wellbeing of young people in detention today."

Former detainees have told of being sexually abused, bashed and belittled by staff at Ashley, which has operated for more than 20 years.

Counsel assisting the inquiry, Elizabeth Bennett SC, said there appeared to be limited plans in the short to medium term to address concerns at Ashley.

The inquiry was called in late 2020 after media coverage of abuse allegations against nurse James Geoffrey Griffin, who worked on the Launceston General Hospital children's ward for 18 years.

Griffin killed himself in October 2019 after being charged with multiple child sexual abuse offences.

Ms Bennett said it may be open for the commission to find the hospital's actions following Griffin's death "invited suspicions of a deliberate cover-up".

The inquiry has been told hospital officials didn't pass on information to their superiors about known allegations against Griffin, including one made in 2011.

"But for the tenacity of staff and victim-survivors in continuing to raise their concerns ... the substantial failures identified in the flow of critical information would have gone unknown and unaddressed," Ms Bennett said.

The commission, which has heard from 165 witnesses publicly, will deliver a final report by May.

"We have heard your voices and your pain," Ms Neave said.

"We are committed to making recommendations that will enable meaningful change."

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