Another day, another revelation about the extent of historical child sexual abuse in government institutions, including schools. This, close to six years since the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, chaired by Peter McClellan KC, wound up.
On Tuesday, Tasmanian Premier Jeremy Rockliff released the final report of the Commission of Inquiry into the Tasmanian Government’s Responses to Child Sexual Abuse in Institutional Settings, which was chaired by former judge Marcia Neave. Sound familiar? Well, it’s a similar formal name to the McClellan royal commission, which ran from 2014 to 2017 at a cost of about $350m and employed more than 300 staff at any one time. Clearly it was not under-resourced.
But there is more. In June 2021, professors Stephen Smallbone and Tim McCormack completed what was termed the Independent Inquiry into the Tasmanian Department of Education’s Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.
In other words, the Tasmanian government saw fit to establish two inquiries to cover ground the McClellan commission did not handle adequately. The Smallbone-McCormack inquiry focused on government schools; the Neave inquiry focused on government institutions such as the Launceston General Hospital and the Ashley Youth Detention Centre but included schools.
Last Wednesday, ABC television’s 7.30 covered the release of the Neave inquiry report. Reporter Will Murray interviewed AB, who at the age of 12 was sexually abused by convicted pedophile Darrel George Harington at Hobart’s New Town High School in 1978. AB told Murray: “He (Harington) was able to retain his teacher’s registration for so long, to be moved from school to school; it’s extraordinary that was allowed to happen.”
It would seem the McClellan royal commission did not ask the Department of Education what its institutional response to any cases of child sexual assault in Tasmanian government schools was. The terms of reference were wide enough for it to do so.
Volume three of the Neave inquiry is titled Children in Schools. It undertook eight case studies – one into AB. This case study covered similar information to what AB told 7.30. With one exception. AB informed the Neave inquiry that he contacted the McClellan royal commission and obtained a private hearing. There he learnt Harington had sexually abused other students in government schools. In the event, according to the Neave inquiry, Harington pleaded guilty in 2015 to multiple charges of child sexual abuse with respect to several victim-survivors. Note the date – the second year of the McClellan royal commission.
McClellan and his fellow commissioners conducted two case studies in Tasmania – one into the Hutchins School (which has connections to the Anglican Church) and the other into the Church of England Boys’ Society. It did not do a case study of New Town High School or any other government school in Tasmania.
On September 9-10, The Weekend Australian published an article by McClellan titled “Commission did investigate abuse in state schools”. He cited “three NSW public schools” in one case study. But McClellan refrained from mentioning that this covered a mere six pages of a 100-page document – the rest of which was devoted to Christian schools.
Moreover, McClellan did not say that the inquiry centred on the sexual abuse of students by other students – and did not involve teachers, principals and the like.
On September 13, I received an email from a retired senior schoolteacher in regional Victoria who gave me a name and phone contact. Let’s call him XY. XY contested McClellan’s claim in The Weekend Australian that the royal commission “did not receive allegations that would have justified the cost of a public hearing into a state school”.
XY advised the royal commission of child sexual abuse that had occurred when he was a senior teacher in a regional government primary school. The abuse was covered up and the offender was moved to a school in Melbourne. There the abuse continued. Eventually the teacher was convicted in 1996 – the case was reported on page one of the Herald Sun in Melbourne. It turned out that XY was invited by the royal commission to attend a hearing in Melbourne. It paid travel costs and one night’s accommodation, and he met at least one of the commissioners, whom he named.
In time, XY received a pro forma thankyou signed by McClellan, which I have seen. But nothing happened. No case studies were done into the institutional response by the Victorian Education Department with respect to the schools where the convicted pedophile had taught.
In June this year the (then) Andrews Labor government set up an inquiry, headed by Kathleen Foley SC, into a nest of pedophile teachers in the 1960s and ’70s at Beaumaris Primary School in Melbourne. This has now been extended to cover 18 schools where the pedophiles also taught.
In The Australian on September 18, John Ferguson reported on the case of Eloise Worledge, an eight-year-old girl who disappeared from her Beaumaris home one night in January 1976. Police believe Eloise walked out of her home with someone she trusted. It is understood that she was a student at Beaumaris Primary.
More recently, Russell Jackson has written reports on ABC Online about historical cases of pedophilia in other Victorian government schools. However, the ABC has not carried this important journalism on its main networks.
On September 13, I wrote to McClellan asking whether his commission had inquired into any government education department in the course of his inquiry. There has been no reply.
Add what is known now about child sexual abuse in Tasmanian and Victorian government schools to the evidence surrounding the conviction of Chris Dawson for the murder of his wife, along with the carnal knowledge of a student in his care at Sydney’s Cromer High School, it is evident that McClellan’s commission was not fit for purpose with respect to government schools.
Victorian premier Daniel Andrews led the criticism of pedophilia within Catholic and other religious educational institutions. He promised to apologise for what had occurred at Beaumaris Primary but resigned on Tuesday without having done so. It happened to be on the same day as the release of the Neave report in Tasmania.