FIVE people met at a Maryville home on Sunday to talk about children, and the failure of moral leadership.
David Owen, 76, Graham Rundle, 63, Bob O’Toole, 70, and Peter Gogarty, 55, were sexually abused as children in Catholic and Salvation Army orphanages and Catholic schools.
Audrey Nash, 89, grieves every day for her 13-year-old son who hanged himself in his bedroom, and whose teacher was a Catholic child sex offender.
The Catholic Church and the Salvation Army failed the moral leadership test, they said. And now the federal government and opposition were failing as moral leaders as well, over children in detention.
‘‘We’ve got vulnerable children being used by our politicians in a game that’s about political gain and clinging on to power and authority, and that’s completely contrary to what Australia ought to represent,’’ Mr Gogarty said. ‘‘What’s happening in our detention centres is a day-by-day contemporary example of the sort of circumstances the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse is looking into from the past, and it’s sickening that it’s being done in our name.’’
In April, when Mr Owen gave evidence at the royal commission about the horrific sexual, physical and mental abuse he suffered at the Catholic Church’s Neerkol orphanage in Queensland, he wanted Australians to care about what happened ‘‘when children are out of sight and out of mind of the government that’s supposed to be responsible for them’’.
‘‘This isn’t about stopping the boats, or blaming the parents, or any of that. It’s about how we treat children once we’re responsible for them. Have we learnt anything from the royal commission?’’
He hosted Sunday’s meeting at his Maryville home, and spoke passionately about children in detention who were ‘‘out of sight and out of mind of the public’’ because of decisions by government, supported by the opposition.
‘‘The government keeps putting fear into the public about terrorism, but why are these children there? What have they done wrong?’’ Mr Owen said.
In February the Australian Human Rights Commission recommended a royal commission into the treatment of children in mainland and offshore detention.
The report, The Forgotten Children, found that of 33 incidents of reported sexual assault, the majority involved children. There were 330 children and their families in indefinite mandatory detention in Australian centres and Nauru.
Prime Minister Tony Abbott condemned the report as a ‘‘transparent stitch-up’’, but Liberal Party elder Nick Greiner described the mandatory detention of children as ‘‘awful’’ and ‘‘abhorrent’’, and the government’s disparaging response to the report as ‘‘very sad’’.
Bob O’Toole, who was sexually abused by a Marist Brother in the 1950s, and was a leading campaigner in 2012 for the royal commission, said children needed to be out of mandatory detention, now.
‘‘If most people saw children next door being treated as we’re treating children in detention, they’d go to the authorities, but children in detention are deliberately over there, in Nauru and not in Australia, and we’re being denied information by our own government,’’ Mr O’Toole said.
Mr Rundle, who was raped and beaten from the age of seven at the Salvation Army’s Eden Park orphanage, said he was sickened that children were placed at great risk of sexual abuse, and were demonstrably suffering permanent emotional harm, at Nauru.
He was even more sickened by the reason.
‘‘It’s all about votes. It shouldn’t be, but it is,’’ Mr Rundle said.
After years of fighting, and beating, the Salvation Army in both criminal and civil courts, Mr Rundle said the federal government needed to be held accountable at a royal commission for its treatment of children in detention.
‘‘Imagine being a child, and then you’re brought here without any say in that happening, and you’re treated like an animal.
‘‘This isn’t about stopping the boats, or blaming the parents, or any of that.
‘‘It’s about how we treat children once we’re responsible for them. Have we learnt anything from the royal commission?
‘‘These children don’t have a voice. We didn’t have a voice. That’s why we’re speaking now.
‘‘I know what it was like to be locked up. It breaks your spirit.’’
Mrs Nash said the group was made up of people who were mature in years, but ‘‘we’re tough and committed’’.
‘‘The government knows what people have gone through in institutions.
‘‘It knows what is coming out at the royal commission, yet it’s not worried about these poor little children.
‘‘ It’s just wrong,’’ Mrs Nash said.