Victorians may never learn the scale of paedophilia in government schools

“We failed to keep these children safe. We failed to listen when they spoke out. We failed to act to ensure that it did not happen again.”

Familiar words in the mouths of bishops apologising for sexual abuse by priests.

But this time it was not a bishop reading this dog-eared script, but the premier of the Australian state of Victoria, Jacinta Allen, apologising for sexual abuse by government school teachers. She was responding this week to a heart-rending report about abuse in a primary school in the bayside suburb of Beaumaris, about 20 kilometres from Melbourne.

In 1971 and 1972 four paedophile teachers coincided at Beaumaris and abused scores of children. They began their abhorrent activity in the 1960s and continued into the 1970s. A board of inquiry was set up last year by the state government to investigate their crimes. It eventually looked into all 23 schools where they had been assigned.

Thanks to activists and to article after article over the last four years by Russell Jackson, an investigative journalist for the ABC, the government-funded national broadcaster, the horrors of Beaumaris Primary School were publicised.

In Jackson’s opinion, “the tragedy at Beaumaris Primary was merely a microcosm of a statewide sexual abuse crisis in Victorian government schools. Data collated by ABC Investigations from criminal and civil legal documents and via specialist abuse law firms indicates that sexual abuse of children took place in many more schools across the state.”

Now Premier Allen has been pressured into establishing a forum where Victorians who were abused before the year 2000 can share their stories.  

Truth at last?

Nope. This is a con job. This is political flimflam at its most sordid.

For years, the Victorian government has been savage in its condemnation of abuse by Catholic priests and cover-ups by bishops and the Church bureaucracy. It was in a Victorian court that Cardinal George Pell was found guilty of abusing two choir boys. When he was exonerated, the then-Premier, Dan Andrews, refused adamantly to apologise for the appalling miscarriage of justice.

Andrews’ successor is trying to drown her state’s record of abusive teachers and bureaucratic stonewalling with crocodile tears.

"I tell people the Victorian Education Department are the worst to deal with, and that as far as cover-ups, they're every bit as bad as the worst bits of the Catholic Church, and people can't believe it,” lawyer John Rule told Jackson. "The cover-up was comprehensive, and they managed to slip through the gaps in terms of inquiries and royal commissions, so they've never been properly looked at or had their feet held to the fire. The extent of the problem has never been publicly documented, therefore the Education Department has never had to address it or grapple with it in any way."

The horror is a matter of public record. About 400 civil claims have been made against the Victorian government since 2010. Lives have been ruined. Teachers have gone to jail. Compensation lawyers have won big payouts for their clients. But how deep does this sewer go? What is the Premier’s plan to clean the Augean stables?

It’s going to be a forum with a Monty Python-esque name, “the Independent Truth-Telling Function”.

What the hell is that? As Russell Jackson pointed out: “For survivors, that sounds a lot more like a truth-giving process, and a traumatic one. Many would much prefer a truth-receiving process.”

And who will organise this investigation of Victorian government schools? Well, the Victorian government, of course. It’s not going to be a judicial inquiry. Who better to look after the chooks than a wise old fox?

The Dysfunction has a budget of A$10.38 million. (See the fine print on page 13.) This is just about enough to pay for bottled water and photocopying. The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse is estimated to have cost $500 million.

The Dysfunction will investigate only abuse which happened before 2000. That was 25 years ago. Have there been no cases since then? Where is the transparency in that? 

The Dysfunction will begin its work late in 2024 and will report in 2026. So it basically has a mere 12 months to do its work. The Beaumaris inquiry took one year to examine the ramifications of abuse at one school. The Royal Commission took five long years, from 2013 to 2017.

Is 12 months enough to investigate decades of shame? Not on your nelly.




Join Mercator today for free and get our latest news and analysis

Buck internet censorship and get the news you may not get anywhere else, delivered right to your inbox. It's free and your info is safe with us, we will never share or sell your personal data.

The Dysfunction needs a media campaign, community consultation, public information, and support services. These will help victims to know about the existence of the forum and may give them courage to step forward. The government doesn’t know how many people will tell their stories – the inquiry’s staff could be overwhelmed. In short, this Function is designed to dysfunction.

The Department’s negligence, incompetence, indifference, and cover-ups over 34 years are simply staggering. Here are some of the conclusions of the Beaumaris report:

  • “Between 1960 and 1994, the Department prioritised the reputation of the education system, including the schools and teachers within it, above the safety of children.”
  • “Between 1960 and 1994, the Department had poor record-keeping and information-sharing practices concerning child sexual abuse.”
  • “[T]he Department has never undertaken a review of allegations of historical child sexual abuse.”
  • There has been “no broader systemic review of allegations of historical child sexual abuse in all government schools to understand the scale of child sexual abuse across government schools on a statewide basis.”
  • “[T]he Board of Inquiry has concluded that the Department’s response to allegations of child sexual abuse between 1960 and 1994 was an appalling and systemic failure. The Department failed in both its action and inaction. There was a culture of covering up child sexual abuse to prioritise the reputation of the education system, including schools and teachers.”

Done and dusted in 12 months? Good luck with that. But there’s a state election in 2026 and probably the putrid mess needs to be swept under the carpet by then.

It seems obvious that Premier Allen has cynically shut down an incendiary inquiry which could tarnish her government, the Department of Education and one of the state’s strongest unions, the Australian Education Union Victoria. And could lead to hundreds of millions of dollars in compensation claims.

The Catholic Church began dealing with the scandal of paedophiles in schools in 1996, when Archbishop (as he was then) George Pell established the Melbourne Response. It has taken 28 years for the Victorian government to catch up. In the meantime the state government has done little to clean its own house. Even the Royal Commission largely ignored the existence of paedophilia in state schools, giving the public the impression that this was effectively a Catholic problem, even though 64 percent of Australian children attend state schools and only 20 percent attend Catholic schools.

Victorian politicians chortled as the Catholic Church climbed into the cesspit and searched for the truth. Now it’s their turn.  

Is there a problem of abuse in government schools? Tell us in the comments below. 

Michael Cook is editor of Mercator

Image credits: Victorian Premier Jacinta Allen tells the media about the state's failure to protect children in government schools / ABC News screenshot


Showing 3 reactions

Please check your e-mail for a link to activate your account.
  • David Page
    commented 2024-06-23 09:59:43 +1000
    I believe that much (if not most) of history paedophilia has been the norm. From Greek philosophers, to peg boys, to ‘cabin boys’, to the Bacha bazi (the dancing boys of Afghanistan), ad nauseum. The initial response of the Church to the current scandals was that it was a betrayal of the vow of celibacy. About 35 years ago a Chicago judge gave a light sentence because the 6 year old child in the case was “seductive”. The betrayal of innocence involved wasn’t even addressed. So what has changed? I would offer that it was the new found concept of individual rights, and its recognition of individual integrity that has made the difference. And much of the resistance to this new attitude has come from religion. Iran, after the Islamic revolution, considered the reintroduction of boy brothels. According to a friend of mine who was in the US Navy in the Mediterranean in the ’50s, boy brothel were common across North Africa. So I think that our acceptance of individual integrity, a product of the Enlightenment, has brought this issue to the fore. In so many ways the rise of secular democracy, informed by the enlightenment, has improved our lot immensely.
  • Martin Fitzgerald
    Daniel Andrews is a disgrace. He’s left a woman to deal with the fallout from his incompetent, obfuscatory and almost tyrannical years of mis governance.
  • Michael Cook
    published this page in The Latest 2024-06-21 15:27:52 +1000