Commissioner Robert Fitzgerald (pictured below) should stand down or be sacked by the Prime Minister from the royal commission because of conflict of interest.
According to their website, the Vice President of the Benevolent Society (which runs on a budget of $80 million per year), Australia’s oldest charitable organisation, is commissioner Fitzgerald. The Society owned and operated a facility called Scarba Welfare House for Children at Bondi (pictured below). Some readers may have a vague memory of hearing about Scarba House somewhere else. During his apology to Forgotten Australians on behalf of the Opposition, then leader Malcolm Turnbull choked back tears when speaking of abuse concerning a former inmate of Scarba House.
This alone would negate, for many people, having one of the Society’s key officials involved with the royal commission. However, the sins of the Society extend further. From 1969 to 1975, it also ran an adoption service from Scarba House. As one woman has previously said, “my husband was only in the home for approximately 48 hours before he was adopted.” His parents, apparently, had arrived at the Home 3-4 weeks later, when they were supposed to have picked him up following a temporary stay. The Matron of the Home informed him that his son had been adopted and there was nothing they could do for them. He was shown paperwork which stated that he had abandoned their child, suggesting they had not seen him for nearly 12 months.
As a result of much public activity, the issue of forced adoptions reached a point where governments have apologised for the practice. The Benevolent Society itself finally apologised: “The Benevolent Society apologises unreservedly for any abuse, mistreatment, or harm experienced by children in our care … The Benevolent Society feels deep sadness and regret for the children in our care who did not receive the consistent loving care that they needed and deserved … In particular, we are putting in place services to ensure that we will respond promptly, compassionately and respectfully to anyone who wishes to approach us to talk about their time in Scarba House as children.”
This is the typical nonsense apology we have come to expect from institutions which perpetrated abuses on children in the past who claim that everything is A-OK now and could never happen again. Unfortunately for commissioner Fitzgerald, it is precisely this type of nebulous apology that has caused much of the drive towards having the royal commission.
There can be no doubt that the credibility of the entire royal commission is compromised by having Mr Fitzgerald as one of the official commissioners. The simple fact is that Scarba House was owned and operated by the Benevolent Society and this means that a current representative of an organisation associated with past abuses has a representative on the royal commission. To say that this is acceptable would be the same as saying that it would be acceptable to have the Chief Scouts Commissioner or Cardinal Pell as official representatives on the royal commission.
Mr Fitzgerald, please do the right thing and stand down. In the absence of this: please, Ms Prime Minister, do the right thing and sack Mr Fitzgerald.
TOMORROW: Why I call Fitzgerald ‘the Pope’s man’
That’s all I can say
Lewis Blayse (né Lewin Blazevich)