Examination of Witnesses (Questions 180
WEDNESDAY 4 JUNE 1998MRS
M HUMPHREYS, OAM, MR
I THWAITES, MR
DSPICER, THE HON MRS
J TAYLOR, MR
M DALTON, MR J
N JOHNSTON and MRS P
180. I do follow that because obviously some of the witnesses
spoke of the importance of your independence. That would mean
that in one sense you would be reluctant to share the data which
is available to you with other agencies because that would imply
some loss of your independence.
(Mr Spicer) Working appropriately
with other professionals within agreed standards of professional
confidence is not something the Trust has a difficulty with. That
is really the answer I have to give you. The Trust operates to
the very highest standards and the migrants know that the information
which we get from them, for example, will not be bandied about
and used for reasons other than for the purposes of the Trust.
In our submission we told you that we had to spend a lot of scarce
resources resisting an attempt by one agency to subpoena our records
in order to help their defence of one of the legal actions. Had
we conceded then of course that would have sent a very bad message
to the very people we were asking to come forward and take the
benefit of the services which are available.(Mr Thwaites) May
I make a point on the issue of records? The Trust was approached
last year by another of the migrating agencies, an Anglican agency
in Western Australia asking us whether the Trust would in fact
take their records and maintain their records for them because
the Trust provides a service to former child migrants which they
were aware they were not providing and really could not provide.
As a precedent we saw that as a very positive move coming from
one of the migrating agencies. As Margaret Humphreys said a few
moments ago, we have also been given the database which was actually
about 900 namesif I may correct younot 9,000, from
the Catholic Migrant Centre. As a practitioner I wish very much
that the other agencies could follow the lead of the Catholic
Migrant Centre in Perth which is an agency with which we work
on the ground very well. We have contacted them very frequently
for the exchange of records.
The crux of what we are talking about to do with databases is
about trust, which Mr Hennessey is very keen on. I can understand
why very many former child migrants are extremely wary of the
sending agencies and the agencies involved. I can fully appreciate
that. It is very important that if you do get the database you
really can guarantee confidentiality, you really can guarantee
that unauthorised people will not be getting hold of records for
purposes which might be their own.
(Mrs Humphreys) Absolutely.
It is really important that we emphasise that.
On the question of the relationship with the sending agencies
and information which is available and released, clearly you emphasised
the sensitivity with which the release of information has to be
dealt with. In terms of your relationship with the sending agency,
on page5, in section 2 of your memorandum you have actually said,
"...a few agencies maintain policies and procedures which
take little account of the potentially damaging impact of providing
information to former child migrants without the option of counselling
facilities being made available". To all of us that would
clearly seem a very straightforward and sensible comment. Could
you say which are the agencies which behave in this way, what
sort of representations have you made to them and what kind of
response have you received?
(Mr Spicer) May I just deal
with a little bit of history of the issue? When attention was
drawn to this issue now 10 years ago by the Trust and particularly
by Mrs Humphreys, one of the very important issues then was that
so many of the former child migrants had desperately sought information
from the sending agencies for decades and been rebuffed. I should
like if I have the opportunity to deal with the deceptions in
a moment. They had no rights of access to their files. As a result
of the publicity which was then engendered, a number of those
agencies immediately began to make files available because that
was the area they felt was subject to some criticism. To give
you a very stark example, a lady we worked with from a very early
stage in Australia, very early on in the formation of the Trust,
suddenly had landing on her doormat in Sydney, with no assistance
and help at all, the whole of her file and all the details of
her formal adoption, her abuse by the adopters, her return to
the adoptive agency, the change of her name back to her original
name without regard to the court orders or the status which she
then enjoyed and then the details of the reasons why she was then
sent to Australia. That lady had hitherto been brought up to believe
that she had been rescued from the bombs in the streets of London
and found wandering. Suddenly to have that on the mat without
any assistance gives you some indication of the concerns which
we immediately had about this sort of stark reaction to an area
of criticism. Mr Thwaites will be able to give you a little more
(Mr Thwaites) I have had some considerable contact
with the Fairbridge Society in Australia. The Fairbridge Society
operated three institutions in Australia. They currently have
two Old Fairbridgian Associations in operations but they employ
no professional staff. The procedure to assist former child migrants
to access their records has developed over time but has in fact
now gone backwards. Some two years ago we were able to get some
information from one branch of the Old Fairbridgian Association
in Western Australia provided we do, as is standard practice,
send a written authority, consent form, signed by a former child
migrant authorising release of their documents to the Trust so
that we can then take those documents personally and give them
in a sensitive manner. The Old Fairbridgian Association in New
South Wales has steadfastly refused to cooperate or to send files
to any third party and have maintained their policy of sending
client files directly through the mailbox as Mr Spicer explained.
Sadly now the West Australian branch has also adopted the same
policy so that for a former child migrant in Australia who was
sent to one of the Fairbridge Society institutions, if they actually
retrieve their file, the best that the Trust can do to support
them in that is to try to coordinate when they may receive their
file and hope they may be able to bring their file unopened to
the Trust. I have yet to have somebody who can resist the temptation
to rip open the envelope and see what is in there. The devastation
that I have seen time after time after time is quite heartbreaking.
So agencies like Fairbridge will refuse to release information
to you, even when the consent of the migrant themselves has been
(Mr Thwaites) That is correct.
To quote from your paper again, the Congregation of Christian
Brothers, a former receiving agency, has said that "existing
agencies and organisations have not always been able to collaborate
effectively or coordinate their efforts to best effect...there
are politics at work, and it is a regrettable but sad fact that
there has sometimes been hostility and rivalry, rather than cooperation,
among various groups". To what extent is the tension between
the agencies and the individuals becoming counter-productive and
interfering with the achievement of improved welfare for the former
(Mr Thwaites) There have been increasing
difficulties in the last 12 months leading up to this inquiry.
I believe that a number of former child migrants are being used
by various interested parties, by members of some of the sending
agencies, who I believe are fighting for their existence. A number
of agencies are seeking funds to provide services. We have had
a large number of people come into the Perth office requesting
that the Trust meet with the agencies, in a state of deep confusion
themselves because in fact they are people who have come into
the Trust because they need the Trust's services and yet they
have come in as the bearers of messages. Given this level of what
I assess as secondary abuse for people who still have links to
the migrating agencies, in a way they are being cut off from receiving
the counselling support services of the Trust because they are
being used and this has escalated in recent times.
there is some harm from the present circumstances. That gives
me the answer to the next question which is whether it is necessary
or desirable for a plethora of agencies, including the sending
agencies we have spoken of, to be dealing with the repercussions
of the child migrant schemes. Some of the other witnesses we have
heard from have called for the establishment of a one-stop shop,
which would "be in a position to help former child migrants
with all of their needs" or at least "enable former
child migrants to know where and how to access the help they are
seeking". Is a one-stop shop, in view of what you said to
us about the roles of the different agencies, an achievable idea?
If it were, and if it were to have the status you yourselves have
in terms of your independence, how could it be brought to fruition?
Humphreys) That is a very sound point and one of the things
we have discussed. Perhaps I can answer it this way. There has
to be choice for people. There has to be choice for child migrants
and there have to be choices for their families. When a child
migrant decides that they want to find their families and learn
more about themselves, they actually do not know anything about
the circumstances of their families in England. They do not know
anything. They are making the choice in the dark in a sense. When
we look at reunions, when we look at people like Matthew and others
coming home to meet their families for the first time, families,
mothers in particular, require the independence of the Trust.
I could talk to you for a long time about reunions which have
been terribly sad, where the migrating agency has contacted the
motherand very recently a mother still alive, in her eightiesa
letter from the migrating agency has gone back to Western Australia
and the message was to tell this ladthis lad is now in
his fifties of coursethat his mother is 82 and he should
go away, she does not want to know. Mr Gunnell, we visit those
mothers when we are asked to afterwards. It is a very different
story. A healing process takes place with the mother and she is
helped to meet her son or daughter. There are people in this room
today who can testify to that of their own experience. That is
the risk, is it not, of the migrating agencies providing services?
It is not just child migrants, it is their elderly mothers and
fathers. It is people making choices when they really do not know
what is occurring this end. It does require independence, it does
require that. Going back to whether we should have a one-stop
shop, it is a difficult issue, is it not, because there should
be choice, clearly? It is a difficult issue. This is an area of
work which requires considerable specialism and considerable experience.
The Trust has been doing this work for 10 years. No other work.
That is our work. There are no competing demands. That is our
skill, our specialism and we are still learning.
187. I accept
what has been said and there were hands up when you appealed to
people. I do think that obviously meetings of the sort you have
talked about must take place with counselling available. I accept
the particular way in which you do it and I accept what you say
about therefore the limitations of working with others in order
to bring about the sort of counselling at the time which is quite
obviously essential and particularly if, as you said, agencies
are actually in one sense making matters worse by even at this
stage passing on information which is not correct about the attitudes
(Mrs Humphreys) Absolutely. I have to tell you
that I have sat with elderly mothers, as have all my colleagues,
those who work with the Trust now and those who have left. We
have sat with mothers and have had to tell them how their sons
and daughters have been abused; not just that they were migrated.
If that is not bad enough, we have had to tell them that we are
bringing back their son or daughter who has suffered enormous
abuse both physical, sexual and emotional. That is quite different
from somebody who, for example, has remained in this country and
been in care, been fostered, been adopted, who wants to know about
their roots, who wants to meet their mother. It is quite, quite
different and different skills are needed.
188. Which is why I
think you have made that point very clearly and it is why in a
sense, if this Government or the Australian Government want to
make sure that their funding is going to an organisation which
is sensitive to the needs of the people it is dealing with, it
is obvious why we have to argue that it is your Trust which receives
the funding and which actually can be strongly supported through
the work you are doing. It is very important to bring that out
in this Committee.
(Mrs Humphreys) Yes; quite right.
One or two factual matters really. What would be the appropriate
cost of a package of measures for an individual such as allowing
them to come over with the air fares, subsistence, the amount
of work they would need to do to dig out their roots and make
some progress. What do you think would be an appropriate package?
Humphreys) I have thought about that. I hope digging out their
roots and finding their families is something the Trust is providing
so that when people come home they are well prepared, they are
not just put on planes, unchaperoned and unprepared as happened
two weeks ago because an air fare was available in Western Australia.
A man got on a plane, unprepared, unchaperoned, to meet his mother
who had not even seen a counsellor. When we talk about air fares,
air fares need to be, may I suggest, part of an integrated service.
That was what I was saying; exactly that. It needs to be a package.
That is why I used the word advisedly.
(Mrs Humphreys) Yes,
a package. It has to be linked to the service. If we say what
is the cost of an air ticket -
191. That is not what I am
asking. I am asking the cost of the package of measures.
Humphreys) For somebody to come over here and to meet their
families and to stay here two or three weeks for the first time
and go back we really are looking at £3,000 per person.
That is very useful.
(Mrs Humphreys) Does that answer the
193. It does answer the question. That is what I am really
concerned about. If we are to make recommendations on this Committee
then obviously money cannot be divorced from what we look at and
we need to know the sorts of recommendations we are receiving
from our witnesses, so we have to have some broad figures. The
next question is: what do you think could be done to assist former
child migrants who encounter legal complications with regard to
inheritance matters, social security claims, pension rights and
so on, which obviously we have heard in some of our evidence is
a real barrier for some of them.
(Mrs Humphreys) Absolutely.(Mr
Spicer) That is an interesting point, is it not? Members of
the Committee have touched on and obviously understand the deficiencies
in the arrangements for the former child migrants when they were
sent. It is not difficult to make a list, even if you accept that
migration was a proper thing to do, you can make a quick list
of what ought to be put in place to ensure that these people have
a proper caring upbringing and a start in life and citizenship
and all those things. Part of that would be, would it not, ensuring
that they do not lose their rights to inheritance, the distribution
of estates, because there is no adoption, where that would come
to an end, and medical histories and so on? You would say surely
that we would at least ensure that their medical advisers in Australia
would have access to all this relevant material and that there
was some flow of information which ensured that their legal rights
which they would have had had they remained here do not suddenly
get lost at the dockside when they depart. What to do about it
is a much more difficult question because of course the estates
of the parents of many of the people we do work with, who have
sadly died, have been distributed many years ago. It is very,
very difficult to unpick those bits and pieces.
194. I appreciate
that is certainly true of inheritance matters but the more practical
matters like social security, because if you do not have citizenship
or a birth certificate, then presumably you cannot register for
social security and you cannot register for a pension very easily.
We have heard from some of the witnesses today how difficult that
is.(Mr Spicer) That issue can be dealt with as a matter
of policy rather than law. Certainly for example the arrangements
for former child migrants to achieve citizenship in Australia
have, as a result of the representations made by the Trust, been
streamlined and made much more effective, specifically for former
child migrants. I do not see any reason why governments cannot
ensure that this special groupand that is always the argument
which has to be made, does it not?this group which has
suffered such injustice, really do need special attention and
that could be done as a matter of administration and government
195. That is reasonably straightforward as far as you can
(Mr Spicer) Yes.
196. You do not see any big hurdles
or things we have not thought of.
(Mr Spicer) No, there
is discretion wide enough to allow that to happen if the will
You tell us in your report that you received a Lottery grant in
1997 and you have implied that provided social workers and it
sounds as though the grant has now been used. Is it a grant which
is renewable? Have you applied for it? Is there any way in which
the support of this Committee would help you?
(Mr Spicer) There
are still two years of funding available from the Lottery funding.
The arrangement for Lottery funding, as I am sure you will be
aware, is that they are for specific costs. So it is very easy
for people to see a headline in a newspaper and see £200,000
for the Child Migrants' Trust from Lottery funding, but it is
money which is available only if you have people in post and those
people are being paid. It does not alleviate your continuing funding
difficulties and the hand to mouth existence which you will be
familiar with. I know in this Committee members have made comments
about small organisations' difficulties in having to put too much
emphasis of their time on trying to seek funds to continue going
198. I would not be suggesting that we would think any
money from the Lottery relieves government responsibility but
presumably it is a source which you can continue to apply to.
199. How you do that is clearly not something
which ought to affect government policy.
(Mr Spicer) No;
that is correct.
(Mrs Humphreys) That is correct.
Spicer) May I have your indulgence for a moment, just to deal
with the issue of deception which Dr Stoate questioned people
on very carefully? Of course the accounts which you have heard
from the former child migrants here have both common points to
them but also very peculiar ones to their own experience and that
is what we found as we worked with former child migrants. Their
own individual stories differ very greatly and that may depend
on the agency which they have been sent by, it may depend on their
own individual and personal circumstances. Of course we can draw
themes from the numbers which we deal with across the agencies.
A very persistent theme which became apparent to us very early
on in the development of the Trust, was the deception which was
practised, not just deception on former child migrants but deception
on the families, not just deception on the mothers, though we
have very many mothers we have worked with who on enquiring about
their children were told that they had been adopted. That is a
consistent theme, that was a way of stopping any further enquiry.
Also any other family members, aunts, uncles, who have desperately
made enquiries, have been told children have been adopted or in
some instances that the children have died as a way of stopping
further enquiries. That does seem an incredible account to give
but I have to say that is drawn from experience of consistent
accounts and when one hears it the first time one thinks that
is terrible, that must be an individual experience. When you hear
it time after time after time and you read it time after time
after time from within the files concerning those former child
migrants and their families themselves, then you recognise it
as a consistent theme. The next question of course is why? Certainly
to some extent it must have been a lot easier to deal with an
institution with 200 children by telling them all that they were
orphans, that none of them had any family, because if you acknowledged
that they all had individual needs and requirements life becomes
very, very complicated. That must be an issue. Similarly, if you
are having to deal with very many parents, relatives and other
people making enquiries, then life becomes terribly complicated.
I am sure there is an element of that. As well, behind the schemes,
as is often the case on operations which have a cloak of charity
and wellmeaningness, as it were, they are often driven by political
and economic factors. The political factors have been touched
on here, to do with the former empire and the need to populate
it. There were economic factors generating the movements in this
country. Immediately after the war the local authorities had enhanced
powers and responsibilities to protect children and of course
they had to place the children who then came into their responsibility
in children's homes operated by those agencies and of course they
paid for them. If children were sent to Australia, the places
in those institutions were to be paid for by the local authorities.
I am sure behind these approaches there are different ones.