SALVATION ARMY EXPRESSES PROFOUND SORROW FOR ABUSE
The Salvation Army says it is profoundly sorry for the abuse suffered by children in its care, and events revealed by the royal commission into child sexual abuse represent the greatest failure in its history. In an apology to survivors, Ms Eastman read a statement from the Salvation Army saying the organisation was “profoundly sorry for failing to care for you as you deserved, for the neglect, hurt, abuse and deprivation of human rights that all children are entitled to”. Ms Eastman said the church “acknowledges that this is the greatest failure in its history in Australia”. However, as the royal commission moved to finalise its investigation into the church, counsel for the Salvation Army, Kate Eastman, challenged a statement from counsel assisting the commission that sexual abuse was “widespread” at boys’ homes it ran.
She said that in the 113 years from 1883 to 1996, the Salvation Army had 17,831 children in its care across homes in NSW and Queensland and there had been 157 claims of abuse from children in that time. She said 115 of those children were from boys’ homes and of 23 perpetrators identified, 19 were Salvation Army officers. “We don’t for one moment seek to diminish or oversimplify or justify by historical circumstances but we do submit that the total number of claims against the total number of children reflects a relatively small number of children reporting sexual abuse” Ms Eastman said. Counsel assisting the commission Simeon Beckett said the number of children abused in Salvation Army homes would never be known because many had not come forward or had not been able to speak out.
The commission heard evidence from survivors of extreme sexual and physical abuse meted out by Salvation Army workers at homes in Indooroopilly and Riverview in Queensland, and Bexley and Goulburn in NSW. Boys who did report abuse to officials were punished and many did not report abuse for fear they would not be believed and would suffer further punishment. Ms Eastman also revealed the Salvation Army has dismissed an officer, John McIver, accused of abusing children in the 1970s. The commission heard McIver had been dismissed from the organisation in June and matters had been referred to police. The commission will now prepare its report into the events that occurred at Salvation Army homes in the 1960s and 1970s, and into separate events of alleged abuse that have occurred since 1993.
QUEENSLAND REJECTS PUSH TO MAKE MUSLIM WOMEN REMOVE BURQAS
A bill introduced by Independent MP Peter Wellington would have empowered lawyers, police, prison officers, justices of the peace and other “persons of responsibility” to require a person to remove any face covering to establish their identity. Wellington said the measure was especially necessary in light of the upcoming G20 meeting in Brisbane. “It is not about religion; it is about doing the right thing, about making sure there is security in Queensland,” he said. He said the bill has “nothing to do with Islam” and cited a 2011 statement from the Australian National Imams’ council permitting Muslim women to prove their identity by removing their veils if ordered to do so by authorities.
The private member’s bill was supported by the independent MP, Liz Cunningham, as well as members of the Palmer United Party and Katter’s Australia Party (KAP). “This bill is about security in Queensland,” KAP’s leader in Queensland, Ray Hopper, said. “When your face is covered up and you have a big overhanging coat or dress on, you do not know whether you are male or female. All you can see are the eyes of someone, and that is a very dangerous situation that the people of Queensland may be facing.” The state attorney-general, Jarrod Bleijie, declined to support the bill, saying he believed in “a free and democratic society”. “This government believes in a multicultural Queensland and respects the rights of its citizens to practise the religion that they so choose,” he said. Labor also voted against the bill.
Similar legislation was passed in New South Wales in 2011 after a Sydney woman, Carnita Matthews, used the fact that her identity was obscured by the religious garment to dodge a six-month jail sentence for deliberately making a false statement. Matthews told police that an officer tried to tear off her burqa when she was pulled over in traffic, a claim that patrol car footage proved was untrue. She successfully argued that because her face was completely covered when she made the false statement there was no way to prove it was her. Wellington took to Facebook to voice his displeasure, saying it “beggars belief” that Bleijie labelled the law as racist, as he was the “architect of VLAD [Queensland’s anti-bikie legislation], the most racist laws ever adopted in this state”.
POLICE PROBE EUTHANASIA CAMPAIGNER OVER DEATH OF TWO MELBOURNE WOMEN
Dr Philip Nitschke, the director of pro-euthanasia group Exit International, is being investigated by police after two women allegedly ended their lives with equipment supplied by the euthanasia campaigner. Viewbank housemates Val Seeger, 75, and Claire Parsons, 66, died in March in a suicide pact. Ms Parsons, who was healthy, had agreed to help carry out her friend’s wish to die after she began showing early signs of dementia. Claire Parsons claims she couldn’t live with the risk of criminal charges for assisting suicide. Prior to her death she said “Val Seeger is my closest friend and I don’t really want to go on without her.” The pair, who had been friends for more than two decades, had sent a letter to Dr Nitschke saying they had decided to take their own lives, and asked that it be circulated.
Heidelberg police have questioned Dr Nitschke over the deaths. Dr Nitschke said he has admitted providing the equipment, which is legal, but can be used for suicide. “I’ve answered all their questions,” he said. In a letter written by Ms Parsons before her death she says her friend was suffering from the onset of Alzheimer’s disease and due to her background as a health professional sought to avoid an ‘‘undignified end’’. She also outlined why she decided to join Ms Seeger in taking her own life. ‘‘Under the current law in this land, the police are obliged to charge me with aiding and abetting a suicide and I am not prepared to undergo the harassment and disgrace of a prosecution,’’ the letter reads. ‘‘This leaves me no choice but to join my friend at her time of death.’’
The maximum penalty for assisting suicide in Victoria is five years’ jail, but in other jurisdictions it is life imprisonment. The two women were prominent Victorians – Ms Parsons was a renowned medical anthropology academic and published author, and Ms Seeger a highly respected nurse. The two women were members of their local Exit International group. Dr Nitschke said the women had spoken about their suicide pact at their last Exit International meeting. A Victoria Police spokesman said police investigate all unsuspected deaths for the Coroner. “If a death is deemed non-suspicious, then a brief is prepared for the Coroner,” he said. “The Coroner may direct police to investigate further or may make a finding based on the available evidence.”