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Apologies are not enough as Victorian Government drags feet on countless child abuse reforms

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Remy Varga
The Nightly
The State Government is under increasing scrutiny over its failure to deliver on promises made to victims.
The State Government is under increasing scrutiny over its failure to deliver on promises made to victims. Credit: New Africa - stock.adobe.com

Advocates for survivors of child and sex abuse say the Victorian Government has yet to deliver on reforms years after recommendations were made by a series of high-profile inquiries and royal commissions.

The State Government is under increasing scrutiny over its failure to deliver on promises made to victims.

Advocate Karen Walker’s brother Ian was one of the many children abused at Beaumaris Primary School in Melbourne’s bayside, of which the most high-profile victim is former St Kilda VFL footballer Rod Owen.

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Ian was killed in an accident at the age of 30.

Ms Walker is a survivor advocate and in 2017 told her brother’s story in a closed hearing before the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.

She was hopeful the royal commission would herald change for survivors, allowing them the chance to finally heal after decades of suffering in silence.

But it’s unclear how many recommendations, which the royal commission made hundreds, have been implemented.

Advocate Karen Walker’s brother Ian was one of the many children abused at Beaumaris Primary School in Melbourne’s bayside, of which the most high-profile victim is former St Kilda VFL footballer Rod Owen.  (pictured)
Advocate Karen Walker’s brother Ian was one of the many children abused at Beaumaris Primary School in Melbourne’s bayside, of which the most high-profile victim is former St Kilda VFL footballer Rod Owen.  (pictured) Credit: Unknown/Fairfax

Ms Walker said the Victorian Government had already received numerous recommendations from past royal commissions and inquiries but said the State’s justice system had yet to reform.

“We know for survivors part of healing is getting a form of justice that they’re wanting,” she said.

“Everyone is an individual in terms of what justice might look like for them. It’s either out of reach for some people or it’s such a damaging process to go through to try justice.”

In early 2023 then-Premier Daniel Andrews pledged the Victorian Government would formally apologise to all survivors who’d suffered child sex abuse at State schools. Current Victorian Premier Jacinta Allan is expected to issue an apology when the inquiry reports.

However, Ms Walker said the apology offered by the State didn’t mean much when the promised recommendations and reforms of the previous inquiries had yet to be implemented.

“Actions speak louder than words,” she said.

“Daniel Andrews announced there would be an apology, well sorry is as sorry does.

“An apology is going to feel really hollow for many survivors.”

In 2013 the Victorian Government released the landmark Betrayal of Trust inquiry report that paved the way for the Commonwealth Royal Commission years later.

The then-Napthine Coalition government accepted in principle all 15 recommendations made by the inquiry, and the implementation was eventually finished by the Andrews’ Labor government.

Victorian MP Georgie Crozier, who chaired the betrayal of trust inquiry, told The Nightly “the Government needs to get on and implement the recommendations that keep children safe.”

In 2021 the Victorian Law Reform Commission in 2021 released a landmark report into improving justice system responses to sexual offence.

The report’s preface ended with “May this report herald a new dawn for a society successfully addressing sexual offending.”

Sexual Assault Services chief executive officer Kathleen Maltzahn said the Victorian Government had implemented or started to implement less than a quarter of the 91 recommendations made by the report.

In addition, Ms Maltzahn said the State Government had yet to deliver a sexual violence strategy they had promised in 2020 to deliver by 2022.

“Two years later, we’re still waiting,” she said.

“We’ve got more and more expensive inquiries into the problem of sexual violence, but not the funding and action to implement the inquiries’ recommendations and fix the broken justice system.”

A Victorian Government spokesperson said the State had delivered $288 million in funding to support victims of sexual violence and improve court access.

“We acknowledge the profound impacts of violent child abuse and the re-traumatising effect for victims in seeking justice,” she said.

“That’s why we’re continuing to improve how the justice system deals with these cases.”

“The affirmative consent model introduced last year is an important part of changing community attitudes towards sexual offences – moving away from victim-blaming and reducing the shame and trauma often felt by victim-survivors.”

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