Terry O’Shane is the chairman of the ATSIC regional council in Cairns, a former commissioner of the ATSIC board – he was defeated by Ray Robinson ally Jenny Pryor in the 1999 election – and the brother of Pat O’Shane. The Supreme Court yesterday continued its injunction against The Courier Mail publishing allegations concerning Mr O’Shane. The case resumes in Cairns tomorrow.
NSW Liberal Senator Bill Heffernan made mention of Mr O’Shane in a speech to the Senate last night. Here is its text.
Senator HEFFERNAN (New South Wales Parliamentary Secretary to Cabinet) (10.08 p.m.)
Recent events have highlighted the sexual, physical and emotional abuse, often in warlike conditions, of women and children in our indigenous community. The honesty and clarity of the statements by the former chair of the Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation, Dr Evelyn Scott, is to be commended. The courage and strength of her family, her daughters, and son Mr Sam Backo is awe-inspiring. Their honesty in breaking the code of silence on the stolen innocence and ultimate betrayal of their childhood should be both a beacon of light at the end of what has been a very long and dark tunnel and an inspiration for all victims of child abuse.
In view of the widespread allegations that a high profile indigenous leader, Mr Terry O’Shane, is the person who abused members of Evelyn Scott’s family, I find the contradictions and hypocrisy of some male Aboriginal leaders breathtaking – none more so than that of the deputy chairman of ATSIC, who was convicted and jailed for rape in the 1960s and is now seeking the high moral ground.
It is not the least bit surprising to me to see that victims of abuse have suffered in silence all those years. The option to break their silence risked death. Sadly, many victims of all ages take the streets, drugs and suicide route and many other victims go on to be perpetrators.
A study commissioned by me in June 2000 and funded out of my office, titled Child sexual abuse in rural and remote Australian indigenous communities, did a preliminary investigation into child abuse in our indigenous communities. This study was undertaken by a Sydney University Masters graduate who won the university medal for her thesis on domestic violence in rural New South Wales. While this report of 50,000 words is not yet finalised, it certainly identifies a direct relationship between family violence; drug, alcohol and sexual abuse; malnutrition; family dysfunction; incarceration; and a culture of silence that is driven by fear of both emotional and physical intimidation. In the report there is ample evidence of the enormous catastrophe in everyday life that many indigenous people endure.
This catastrophe can best be summarised by a quote from Maryanne Sam, author of Through black eyes: a handbook of family violence in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.
It reads: “The silence of the victims has brought so much fear and pain into their lives. The silence of families has caused a breakdown in our cultural and moral values, and the silence of the abuser has meant little hope of them getting the sort of help they need.”
I am sure that Mr Sam Backo understood this when he said to the Courier Mail last week: “It was only last Sunday that I had the first conversation with my mother for an hour and a half and it was the best conversation I have ever had in my life. When they say the expression ‘a child loses its innocence’, I know about that, and I went on to play for Australia. I’ve been carrying that for a long time.”
Mr Backo said he had discussed child sexual abuse with his best mate, rugby league star Peter Jackson, who died of a drug overdose in 1998 after repeated sexual abuse as a teenager. He said he wanted to publicly support his mother, the former chairwoman of the Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation, who .. said her daughters had been sexually abused as children. The other reason for speaking out was that he had five children of his own. Mr Backo said the perpetrator of the abuse against him was a family member.
Talking time is over – it is time for solutions. A major impediment to solutions and public recognition of the horrendous conditions of family violence and sexual abuse till now endured in silence, especially in rural and remote Aboriginal communities, has been a fear of a backlash driven by political correctness.
Further evidence to emerge was the difficulty of finding amongst the male leadership suitable role models for an anti-abuse campaign. In our study there were several indigenous women who strongly expressed the view that they wanted an effective legal response. As I have said many times, we all stand condemned while ever the point of shame is allowed to remain with the victims.
However, it should not be forgotten that family violence and sexual abuse are not restricted to our indigenous community. As was demonstrated at the Wood royal commission, our justice system has serious fault lines when it comes to child abuse, especially when committed by high profile offenders. The royal commission, in its final report, concluded at 7.226:
“The Commission has looked at factors which contribute to inadequacies in this type of investigation: those identified include an inability to believe that the prominent person would engage in such conduct, in some cases conditioned by respect for or close association with the institution they represent (for example, the church or justice system).”
The recent conviction of a former magistrate in South Australia on charges of gross systematic sexual abuse of young boys over a period of years highlights the real plight of the victims of sexual abuse. This magistrate displayed the typical predator’s manipulative skill and the abuse of his power and position to shame his victims into silence. How can the victims of sexual abuse and family violence be confident that they obtain justice if they break their silence? Victims of child abuse and family violence, whether indigenous or non-indigenous, enjoy the least advocacy and virtually no political representation. I intend to correct this imbalance.
Ray Robinson is the deputy chairman of ATSIC. He has called on Geoff Clark to stand down.
Under the ATSIC legislation, when Lowitja O’Donohue’s term as chairman expired, the board would, for the first time, elect its own chairman. Up until then, the government had appointed the chairman.
But the Coalition government – with the support of Labor and the Democrats – changed the law to allow it to appoint a chairman one last time, and selected Gatjil Djerrkura. The reason was that Ray Robinson had the numbers on the board to make Charlie Perkins chairman, and political figures feared a Robinson-controlled board. At the end of Djerrkura’s term, the ATSIC board elected Geoff Clark – a factional opponent of Robinson – to be its chairman.
Senator Heffernan told the Senate last night that Robinson had been jailed for rape in the 1960s. He was also convicted of rape in 1989. The verdict was set aside on appeal, and he was acquitted at the retrial in 1992. ATSIC topped up Robinson’s costs – met by the Queensland Aboriginal Legal Aid Service – by $1,000, according to evidence given to Senate estimates by ATSIC in 1998. .
ATSIC also told the Senate committee that in February 1995, the ATSIC Board agreed to provide $45,000 to Robinson to fund the costs of a case he lodged against the Queensland government for wrongful arrest. After he had spent $43,000, the ATSIC board decided it would no longer fund the matter.
Robinson sued radio 2UE for defamation in 1995, and the case is still active. A procedural hearing took place in December 1999. To read the judge’s decision on the procedural matter, go to the Robinson judgement