Well, it’s been a long time coming, but the edited film of the Lewis Blayse / Lewin Blazevich public memorial at the University of Queensland on 1 March, 2014 is now available. You can view it at the end of this post.
It was a small, but highly charged event. As well as it being a way of paying public tribute to my father, it was my desire that the event would serve a dual purpose of being an opportunity for key people to reflect on the work of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse on the themes of “Where are we now and where do we need to go from here?” and “The whole world is watching.”
There were a couple of last minute changes in the speaker list.
The people who spoke did so well and passionately. In what follows, I outline in my own words and using the words of the speakers, what was said.
Dr Cathy Kezelman’s (www.asca.org.au) well-considered speech was read out by Nicola Ellis, of Ellis Legal. Cathy spoke on the topic “A time for reflection and hope and optimism.” In her speech, she made several important points. Some of these include:
(a) That while the statistics on child abuse are shocking, we mustn’t forget the humans behind the statistics;
(b) That the long-term effects of child abuse are starting to be understood;
(c) That we’ve stood back and looked the other way for too long;
(d) That we need to help survivors more than we are already;
(e) That Australia is leading the world with the Royal Commission;
(f) That there needs to be greater education on the issues amongst medical professionals; and
(g) That the cost of inaction on child abuse is high – for victims and for communities.
Chris Wilding pulled no punches when she spoke on the topic of “The power of words.” She too made several excellent points, including:
(a) That the institutions in question rely on paid wordsmiths / spin doctors in their communications with the public, but that the true “corporate face” that survivors see is one of a lack of justice and fairness;
(b) That such institutions actually crush victims, not help them; and
(c) That the institutions in question are in the business of wealth creation and power.
In a thoughtful and philosophical speech, John Ellis (www.ella.net.au) addressed a wide variety of issues, including:
(a) That what is happening at the Royal Commission is a story of our current lifetimes, not a story of the distant past;
(b) That the fact that children didn’t matter often led to self-fulfilling prophecies, in which people conformed to the low expectations that were had of them;
(c) That we need to think about what abused children could have been were it not for what happened to them, and how much better our society would be if things had been different;
(d) That the impacts of child abuse pass down the generations and that we can’t ignore the families, including the children, of survivors;
(e) That institutions must be forced to atone, and that there must be full accountability for all the impacts of abuse; and
(f) That institutions are continuing to adhere to a “rhetoric of blamelessness.”
Karyn Walsh (www.micahprojects.org.au; www.lotusplace.org.au) spoke kindly of her recollections of my father in the early 1990s when he and my mother, Sylvia Blayse, were running the support group ‘FICH’ (Formerly in Children’s Homes) and the contributions my father made to educating her and others about the power of the Internet in helping victims’ stories to be heard by those who needed to hear. She also mentioned:
(a) That we need to consider the impacts of child abuse on families;
(b) That survivors experience two realities – one of “brokenness” and one of “beauty;”
(c) That while the churches and other institutions responsible have more resources than us, we must never forget that we live in a democratic society; and
(d) That we should know that direct messages to politicians can now be made and that the power of the Internet is great.
Nicky Davis (www.snapaustralia.org) spoke eloquently and forcefully on a number of topics, including:
(a) That survivors comprise a “hidden underclass” in our society;
(b) That survivors bear multiple problems, and that more support for survivors is needed;
(c) That institutions have actually made people’s already immensely difficult fight to survive harder, not easier;
(d) That the bare minimum is still being done by institutions, and there is still not an acceptance of responsibility;
(e) That institutions continue to issue “deceitful” public statements about what is happening;
(f) That the institutions responsible are placing a drain on our society through the wasted potential of victims and that there is economic sense in investing in more support for survivors;
(g) That we can’t wait for the Royal Commission to finish its work – we must act now; and
(h) That we can and should be billing the costs of institutional child abuse back to the institutions themselves.
It was a great privilege to have Detective Chief Inspector Peter Fox speak. Peter spoke to several matters, including providing an insight into the personal toll upon him and upon his family from taking the stance he took, and was warmly thanked for his courage by all who attended and who understood his bravery. Peter spoke about a number of things, including:
(a) The lost potential of survivors;
(b) That we need to be asking the question why, “after so many opportunities,” institutions haven’t done the right thing, and that at this point, it’s clear that we need to take matters out of institutions’ hands and impose change upon them through legislation and policy;
(c) That we need to be asking why we are actually “rewarding” the institutions in question through things such as tax benefits and exemptions;
(d) That compensation from institutions needs to be much more than being about pain and loss – that it needs to “elevate” people to where they should have been were it not for what happened;
(e) That the Royal Commission is merely the start, and that we must not forget that it can make all the recommendations desired, but if we don’t as a society make sure that changes are imposed on institutions and recommendations translated into law, it will all have been for nothing; and
(f) That given that 96% of the Australian public was behind the establishment of a Royal Commission, we need to harness this support to ensure that governments are pressured to implement the Royal Commission’s recommendations.
Jim Luthy, CLAN president (www.clan.org.au) and Salvation Army Gill Memorial Home survivor, spoke fearlessly and forcefully about a number of topics, focussing especially on his personal experiences and dealings with the Salvation Army. He mentioned:
(a) His shock at the responses he received from the Salvation Army in his initial approaches to them;
(b) The discrepancies between what the Salvation Army has said and what he knew to be true;
(c) That the Salvation Army is not giving a full and accurate picture of their role in the terrible experiences amongst the 30,000 survivors of the many institutions they ran in Australia;
(d) That the Salvation Army is taking it upon itself to write history and in so doing, “airbrushing” out important matters and people; and
(e) That despite what the Salvation Army is saying publicly, “things are not alright,” and “the brand is not good.”
Whistleblower and activist, Kevin Lindeberg (www.heineraffair.info), spoke about his 25-year fight in relation to what is called the ‘Heiner Affair’, and in addition to providing a helpful précis of the issue for the benefit of those who may not have read about it, made several compelling points that have clear and direct relevance to the current Royal Commission, including:
(a) That we need to pay attention to the Heiner Affair because at its heart, it is all about restoring shattered confidence in the Crown, as well as being critically important for the issue of protecting children from abuse;
(b) That confidence in the Crown is needed not just for its own sake, but also because “If abused children cannot go to the Crown with confidence, where can they go?”
(c) That we must never forget that no-one is above the law, and this includes people at the highest levels of government and the judiciary;
(d) That the Heiner Affair informs us about the critical importance of making sure that evidence is protected (not shredded!), particularly if this evidence is about the abuse of children;
(e) That governmental institutions have also failed through their involvement in covering up child abuse; and
(f) That we must stand up to bullies, because if we don’t, they’ll continue to get away with it.
Finally, former Australian Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, in a letter I read out, paid a thoughtful, heart-felt, and beautiful tribute to my father, and reflected upon her motivations for setting up the Royal Commission. I saved her letter for the end because I wanted to end the speeches on a happy and positive note, and that’s how it was.
Rather than paraphrase what she said and detract from it by attempting to summarise it, I’d prefer it if you read her speech directly, which can be downloaded here (Julia Gillard_Aletha Blayse speech for memorial). I thanked Ms Gillard for her lovely letter, but I also made a few little points of my own before reading it, and these were:
(a) That Ms Gillard will be remembered in Australian history as the person who established the Royal Commission, which will hopefully mark the turning of the tide in the fight against institutional child abuse;
(b) That the Royal Commission should use the extraordinary powers with which it is endowed to the fullest extent possible;
(c) That Ms Gillard, I hope, will go down in world history as well as Australian history, because I hope that the world, which is watching Australia, will follow her lead; and
(d) That we need other countries to have equivalents to our Royal Commission because global, coordinated action is required to contend with institutions that are themselves global in nature.
I thank all the many people and organisations who contributed to the event in a variety of ways. These people appear in a list towards the end of the film. I apologise if I’ve missed anyone. If you haven’t been named, it’s just my forgetfulness, and I hope that I at least emailed you thanking you for your support. Thank you Todd from Audio Visual Artists for making the film everything I’d hoped it would be.
I hope you enjoy watching the film. The speakers inspired me and I hope they will inspire you.
PLEASE SIGN THE PETITION: HELP OBTAIN JUSTICE FOR LEWIS BLAYSE FROM THE SALVATION ARMY.
P.S. Blayse family personal tribute to Lewis Blayse was posted yesterday.