In another blow for Scott Morrison, a second Liberal woman in a marginal seat has declared she will not run at the next election. Ann Sudmalis, who holds the NSW regional seat of Gilmore on a margin of 0.7%, cited stacking, bullying and leaking against her, and denounced the state Liberal organisation.
In a damaging statement for a party in desperate search of unity and fending off allegations of female MPs being bullied, Sudmalis said: “My decision has been made after six and a half years of holding my pledge to be a team player in the face of NSW Liberal party bullying, intimidation, leaking and undermining at a local level.”
Her stinging attack on the NSW Liberal division has prompted action from the prime minister to have the party’s organisational wing investigate the allegations.
Morrison – who met with Sudmalis on Monday – said she had “raised a number of genuine concerns with me” about her treatment in her local Federal Electoral Conference within the NSW division of the Liberal Party.
“This is in addition to complaints I have received from other colleagues about processes in the party’s organisational wing,” he said. He emphasised the complaints did not relate to the parliamentary wing, but to the party’s organisational wing.
Morrison said he had on Monday, through the party’s federal director Andrew Hirst, requested the Liberals’ federal executive “to consider how they will take steps to ensure there is a rigorous and confidential process to deal with concerns and complaints from party members, including members of parliament.
“Nola Marino, the chief whip, has managed this process for parliamentarians. This new arrangement will ensure that the organisational wing of the party has the same processes and upholds the same values.”
Minister for Women Kelly O’Dwyer said earlier this month that such a process was needed, in the wake of the recent allegations of bullying.
Sudmalis’ announcement follows Victorian backbencher Julia Banks’ decision also to quit at the election, citing bullying. Her Victorian seat of Chisholm is on about 3% margin after the redistribution.
Without the well-known incumbents, both seats will be harder for the Liberals to hold.
Sudmalis stressed her decision “has nothing to do with the leadership of Scott Morrison nor my federal colleagues”. She described Morrison as a friend and a man of integrity who was “absolutely passionate about the long-term progress and vision for Australia.”
“I am concerned that the media will interpret my decision as a reflection on the leadership of Scott Morrison. If they do, they will be lying. Scott Morrison truly is a good man,” she said in a statement.
She said that she had endeavoured to keep her decision private until after the Wentworth byelection but this wasn’t possible.
“I have asked the prime minister to acknowledge that I am withdrawing my nomination”, she said.
Sudmalis said she had “never before said how I voted in the party room for the position of prime minister, but as this has been some of the undermining process by those who actually don’t know, let me confirm that I have never voted against a sitting prime minister.”
“I did not support the spill motion. I supported Malcolm Turnbull through the entire process. The position of prime minister should not be a dispensable position.”
She said her decision “has everything to do with the NSW [Liberal] State Division and the actions of one of my state Liberal colleagues.
“Since the day of winning pre-selection in 2012, the local self-determined senior Liberal has been leaking damaging material to media, holding publicity stunts that are completely against federal policy initiatives, and has overall been unfair and unethical.
“The final straw came when my supportive FEC [Federal Electoral Conference] committee at the AGM was completely rolled, installing people of inexperience and hostility.
“It is at the NSW State Division level that I have had little or no
support during the past six months while waiting for the pre-selection process, which should have been determined well before now.”
When her preselection was obviously coming under pressure earlier this year, Turnbull and Morrison strongly backed her. It was reported at that time that party powerbroker and NSW Liberal MP Gareth Ward was behind the campaign against Sudmalis.
Sudmalis, 63, entered parliament in 2013. She had a 3% swing against her in 2016.
Cabinet minister Christopher Pyne was cavalier in his comment: “It’s not compulsory when you get elected to remain in parliament for the rest of your life. It’s not a life sentence. If they get to choose how to retire it’s a nice way to go out.”
The Labor candidate for the seat, Fiona Phillips, issued a statement thanking Sudmalis for her service to the region.
“Whilst Ann Sudmalis and I have fundamental disagreements on what is best for our region, I do not doubt her dedication and sincerity to serve.
“I would like to work closely with Mrs Sudmalis for the remainder of her term to achieve real and significant improvements for our local dairy farmers who face an existential crisis during this drought,” Phillips said.
Meanwhile, Fairfax Media reported that the NSW Liberal Party had said Tony Abbott secured 68% support in the vote last Friday to re-endorse him.
There had been different reports of the numbers and earlier they had been kept secret. The substantial minority vote against Abbott has been interpreted as a warning that locals want the next term to be his final one.
Abbott was not in parliament on Monday; his office said he was on “emergency services” leave. He was paired, so his absence did not affect the numbers in votes.
Julia Banks, the Liberal member for the highly marginal Melbourne seat of Chisholm, has announced she will quit at the election, calling out bullying within the party and saying her constituents backed Malcolm Turnbull.
The blow comes as an early poll, reported in the Daily Telegraph, in former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull’s seat of Wentworth, from which he will resign on Friday, shows it could be vulnerable to a strong independent.
Chisholm is on a margin of about 3% after the redistribution.
Banks’ announcement is another indication that the disruption and bad feelings caused by the ousting of Turnbull continue to wrack the Liberal party.
The bailing out of a woman member will also add to the perception the Liberals have a serious “woman problem”, with a much lower proportion of female MPs than Labor has.
Banks, who entered parliament in 2016, says she has received hundreds of emails and calls from constituents.
“Their voice has been very clear. They wanted Malcolm Turnbull’s leadership as Prime Minister to continue. They wanted Julie Bishop to remain as our Deputy Leader and Foreign Minister. So did I”, she said in a statement on Wednesday.
“I have always listened to the people who elected me and put Australia’s national interest before internal political games, factional party figures, self-proclaimed power-brokers and certain media personalities who bear vindictive, mean-spirited grudges intent on settling their personal scores. Last week’s events were the last straw”.
She said her constituents knew she would always call out bad behaviour and wouldn’t tolerate bullying or intimidation. “I have experienced this both from within my own party and from the Labor Party”. The latter reference was to Labor pursuing her over whether she was entitled to Greek citizenship.
Several Liberal women complained last week of bullying during the leadership battle.
Western Australian Liberal senator Linda Reynolds denounced the internal tactics in a speech to the Senate. “I do not recognise the bullying and intimidation that has gone on,” she said on Thursday.
Banks said she would always stand up for equality regardless of people’s heritage, gender or sexuality.
“The scourge of cultural and gender bias, bullying and intimidation continues against women in politics, the media, and across businesses.
“In anticipating my critics saying I’m ‘playing the gender card’ – I say this. Women have suffered in silence for too long and in this last twelve months the world has seen many courageous women speak out. To young women and men reading this announcement – I say I’ve only ever aspired to inspire. If I’ve inspired any one of you to have leadership courage – that will sustain me”.
UPDATE: Morrison says he is giving Banks “comfort”
In the wake of Banks’ bullying allegation, Prime Minister Scott Morrison declared he was giving her “every comfort”, while Victorian Liberal president Michael Kroger said that in politics “people do speak strongly”.
Morrison said he had discussed the Banks matter with the Minister for Women, Kelly O’Dwyer.
O’Dwyer said in a statement that bullying anywhere was “totally unacceptable”.
Morrison, campaigning in Sydney’s west, told a news conference: “What is important right now is Julia’s welfare. I know she is going to take a bit of time out between now and when parliament comes back. My first concern is for her welfare and wellbeing.
“What am I doing right now? I’m supporting Julia and reaching out to Julia and giving her every comfort and support for what has been a pretty torrid ordeal for her.
“I will continue to consult with my colleagues about ensuring that there can be no question about the culture of the Liberal party. There should not be
and certainly under my authority there would have been absolutely nothing of that sort taking place.”
O’Dwyer said that Banks, in a neighbouring seat to hers, was “a terrific member of the Liberal team and a good friend.
“I deeply regret the decision that Julia has made today to not recontest the seat of Chisholm and the circumstances that have led to her decision to leave politics,” O’Dwyer said. “Bullying in any workplace, whether on the shopfloor, or in our nation’s Parliament, is totally unacceptable”.
Kroger said he was “not quite sure who” Banks was referring to in her allegation of bullying. “We haven’t received any complaints ourselves down here in the Victorian division about any behaviour that would concern us,” he told Sky.
“I’ve spoken to a number of people since the ballot. None of them have said they were bullied or intimidated. This is politics. People do speak strongly to one another.”
On the matter of preselection threats, Kroger said “No one could’ve been threatened because we’ve endorsed everybody [in the lower house]. I’m not sure who it is, probably not a Victorian.”
But the Victorian party still has Senate preselections outstanding, and there has been speculation over efforts to have senator Jane Hume dropped down the ticket.
Outspoken Liberal backbencher Craig Kelly said Banks had done the wrong thing. “You’ve got to roll with the punches in this game.”
Malcolm Turnbull in a letter sent to his Wentworth constituents has referred to “recent shocking and shameful events – a malevolent and pointless week of madness that disgraced our parliament and appalled our nation.”
Turnbull said: “I have always said that the best place for former PMs is out of the Parliament, and recent events amply demonstrate why”.
Crossbencher Cathy McGowan, independent member for Indi, and Morrison spoke on Wednesday about her position while the Wentworth byelection is on.
She said any motion of “no confidence” moved in parliament would not have her support during the byelection. The government has lost its one-member margin in the House because it does not get a “pair” from Labor to offset the loss of a number with the departure of Turnbull.
McGowan later said good governance and stability was vital following the disruption of the past fortnight.“Now is not the time for further disruption,” she said in a statement. “When the new member for Wentworth is elected to the parliament I will sit down with Prime Minister Morrison again and we will resume our conversation.
“As is my practice, I will continue to look at every piece of legislation on its merits and vote accordingly,” she said.
“I am grateful to all the people who have contacted my office and offered comments. I welcome other constituents who want to share their thoughts,” she said.
Meanwhile on another front, Tony Abbott has accepted Morrison’s offer that he become special envoy on Indigenous affairs. He said he would focus on getting school attendances up.
“I suppose the thing that I would do is bring the authority of a former prime minister to the task. If you’ve done the top job you can bring a lot of horse power to any other job,” he told 2GB.
Labor’s member for the NSW marginal seat of Lindsay, Emma Husar, has announced she is taking personal leave, after a long-running party investigation into allegations she misused and bullied staff members became public.
Husar said in a statement that she had received threats of violence.
The NSW Labor party probe, led by barrister John Whelan, into the claims against Husar, who is in her first term, has been going on for some time but the story only broke publicly with a BuzzFeed report last week.
Opposition leader Bill Shorten has said he first heard of the allegations last week.
They include that Husar had members of her staff perform baby sitting and dog walking chores, and that she had been abusive towards staff. Her office has had a big turnover. There has been speculation that she could lose preselection if the investigation finds against her.
In her statement late Tuesday Husar said: “The past few days have been incredibly difficult for my family. I’m a single mum and my first priority is the safety and wellbeing of my children.
“I have received threatening messages including threats of violence and have referred them to the Australian Federal Police.
“The best thing for me and my family right now is for us to be out of the spotlight so I can access support.
“I look forward to returning to my duties as the Member for Lindsay very soon. I love my community and there is no higher honour for me than representing the people of Western Sydney in Australia’s parliament.
“As I said last week, I respect and am co-operating with the independent process that is underway”.
Shorten said on Tuesday Husar had “been a hard-working member in her electorate” but he didn’t want to further comment until the inquiry was finished.
Shadow treasurer Chris Bowen said: “I’ve always found her very passionate about Western Sydney, about the issues she cares about deeply, and entirely professional, but these serious matters should be dealt with through that independent investigation.”
Labor frontbencher Mike Kelly defended Husar, saying the use of staff members for some personal help was “a small price to pay for having a truly representative democracy and facilitating the ability of women to participate in our parliament.”
“You’ve got a hard-working young woman here, a single mother with three kids, having to juggle a very tough electorate in Lindsay with a lot of diverse issues and then of course do the commute to Canberra,” he told Sky.
Recently former deputy prime minister Barnaby Joyce took a stint of personal leave after a furore over his paid TV interview about his affair with his former staffer and now partner Vikki Campion, with whom he has a baby.
A re-elected Turnbull government wouldn’t sell the ABC, whatever scare Bill Shorten might be raising. But you’d have to be an optimist to think that if it wins, it won’t intensify its bullying and denigration of the public broadcaster.
There is more than a little irony in the Liberal federal council on Saturday delivering Labor a campaign issue around the ABC before the Super Saturday byelections.
Just a while ago, the government was surfing on the skirmishing on refugee policy ahead of the ALP national conference, only to see that dispute put on the backburner when Labor delayed the conference because the byelections were set for the same date.
The council motion came from the Young Liberals – who over the years are variously on the left or the right of the party – and called for “the full privatisation of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, except for services into regional areas that are not commercially viable.”
Unlike Labor, where conference policies formally carry heft with the MPs, Liberal council motions are non-binding.
This one has been described as “virtue-signalling” to the base. I think it is rather more serious than that. It will reinforce the anti-ABC sentiment of some in government ranks – which has reached, frankly, absurd levels.
The fact that Malcolm Turnbull and his colleagues did not, would not, could not prevent its passage says a lot, especially about the Prime Minister.
When he was clawing his way towards the leadership, Turnbull was the conspicuous friend of the ABC. Now he’s critic-in-chief, as Communications Minister Mitch Fifield and the Prime Minister’s Office fire off complaints about errors and interpretations.
No one should object when the prime minister or ministers call out journalists’ factual mistakes (though they make quite a few of their own). And it is absolutely their right to argue the toss on commentary.
But we know there’s a lot more to this than robust criticism. Much of it is an attempt – that to a degree has been successful – at intimidation.
This isn’t the first government to engage in ABC bashing. On the other side of politics the Hawke government at one stage had (to borrow a Turnbullism) a red hot go. But I don’t remember any government sustaining the onslaught so strongly for so long.
What makes the assault even more concerning is that it’s part of the culture wars now engulfing multiple fronts of public debate. The media provide battlegrounds and targets in these wars.
News Corp, fuelled by financial imperatives as well as ideology, relentlessly stalks the ABC. News Corp is squeezed between the strains on the commercial media’s business model and the successful expansion, especially online, of the ABC.
The ABC is cast not simply as another competitor, but one that must be discredited in terms of both professionalism and legitimacy, by portraying it as out of touch with the “mainstream” and robbing the commercial media of what’s rightfully theirs.
As parts of News Corp have increasingly become bold, self-declared standard-bearers for the right, they are ever drawn to the ABC as a useful punching bag.
One can see what’s in this for the ABC’s commercial competitors, and indeed for a right wing think tank such as the Institute of Public Affairs (IPA), which urges that the ABC be privatised.
It’s more difficult to discern what the government gets out of its obsession with attacking the ABC to a degree disproportionate to the alleged sins of individual journalists or the organisation as a whole.
Perhaps it’s a gesture of frustration – kicking the car tyres when you find you have a puncture. Or the feeling that if you can just cow the buggers, they mightn’t be so “biased” – ignoring that the perception of “bias” mostly varies according to where you’re coming from, and in journalism the notion of giving diverse viewpoints a fair go can be a more manageable one.
It’s noteworthy that for all their carrying on, ministers still seem anxious to appear on the ABC. If it were so bad, so unresponsive to the “mainstream”, you’d think some might be calling for a boycott now and then.
One reason why they line up is they actually know the public regards it as a trusted and credible media outlet.
The Australia Institute at the weekend released an ABC question taken from its earlier ReachTEL poll in Mayo that showed crossbencher Rebecca Sharkie leading Liberal Georgina Downer 58-42% in two-party terms. The June 5 poll asked: “In the budget the government cut the ABC’s funding by A$83.7 million. Do you think funding for the ABC should be reduced, increased, or stay the same?” Nearly three quarters said funding should be increased (40.5%) or stay the same (33.5%), with only 23% saying it should be decreased.
Last week Shorten promised a Labor government would restore that funding. The Liberal council motion has played into his hands.
In Mayo, the council motion has handed Sharkie a small gift. There will be interest in what Downer, who comes from the IPA, has to say about how she would like to see the future of the ABC.
Not quite as interesting, however, as hearing members of the Turnbull team protest they really are committed to the ABC, however badly they behave towards it. That they have to do so is a sort of perverse justice – the price of overreach.
It was such a cliché. At the office Christmas party of the national TV show where I worked, I emerged from the loo out the back to find one of my bosses straddling the doorway, blocking my way and waiting to pounce.
I was shocked, not so much by his sexual harassment (that was de rigueur in the newsroom cultures of the day, the 1990s), as by the extent of his male entitlement and misogyny. At the time I was still breastfeeding my baby daughter, who was next door at the party with her dad and my colleagues.
This week’s revelations that TV’s darling of nearly 20 years, Don Burke of Burke’s Backyard fame, was allegedly a “psychotic bully”, a “misogynist” and a “sexual predator” who indecently assaulted, sexually harassed and bullied a string of female employees comes as no surprise to women in Australian media. According to last year’s Women in Media Report, nearly half of us have been abused, intimidated or harassed in our working lives.
Once sexual assault allegations against Hollywood boss Harvey Weinstein exploded in the media, the open secret of male abuse of power over women was out. Social media was awash with #Metoo; in France, #BalanceTonPorc (“expose your pig”) flooded Twitter with stories of sexual harassment and assault.
New allegations appeared almost every day against other powerful men in various industries, including head of Amazon Studios Roy Price, political journalist Mark Halperin, editor at NPR Michael Oreske, Hollywood screenwriter and director James Toback, actors Ben Affleck and Kevin Spacey, comedian Louis CK, reinforcing the seeming incongruity of a self-described grabber of pussies, Donald Trump, being elected US president.
A rising swell
It feels like a rising swell, a great wave of truth-telling gathering force and breadth, the crest white and flickering, teetering at the top, ready to curl and roar down upon us all, washing away thousands of years of male power and privilege. But is it?
Or will it peak, then withdraw and ebb away, diluted back into the ocean of sexist norms dominating the world and responsible for the perpetuation of sexual violence against women?
Some journalists are hopeful, because at last, in the Burke case, even some blokes have broken ranks and ratted on him.
Journalist Juanita Phillips is optimistic that “two industry veterans – David Leckie and Sam Chisholm – went on the record to condemn Burke in no uncertain terms. He was a disgrace, they said. A horrible, horrible man”. She found it significant that industry executives – the very keepers of the gates of male privilege – spoke out against one of their own.
It’s true the endemic abuse of women in media and entertainment has been enabled over all these years by the collusion of the men in charge. Until now, executive men have largely closed ranks and protected the perpetrators of abuse, harassment and assault against women colleagues.
This is not only because, like Burke, some harassers were cash cows for the companies and networks involved. It was also, and I believe mainly, because these perpetrators were part of the club; part of the same culture that saw the executives themselves rise to the top and stay there.
They not only had a vested interest in maintaining the cultural norm, it was their norm.
Peer-reviewed global literature clearly proves that men perpetrate violence against women when there is masculine dominance in society, when they identify with traditional masculinity and male privilege, believe in rigid gender roles, have weak support for gender equality, and hold negative attitudes towards women.
Our research at the Centre for Advancing Journalism at the University of Melbourne and that of Women in Media indicates these norms are rampant in the media industry. Men almost exclusively own, run, and give voice to the industry. Murdoch’s News Corp, Fairfax, and APN own 92% of print media in Australia, with women owners being only 15%.
Men run nearly all of it, with only 17% of executives female, and new research shows women to be similarly underrepresented as editors (30.8%), specialist reporters (9.6%-30.2%), as experts (24.6%) and as authoritative sources (26.0%). Only 27% of AM and FM radio breakfast and drive programming hosts are female.
The rate of sexual harassment of women in media (48%) is more than twice that of other workplaces (22%), and far exceeds that of the rightly criticised rates in the Australian Defence Force, at 25% (according to the Human Rights Commission), and Victoria Police at 40%, yet has not been reported widely.
Up until now, the male-centric culture of media made it a non-story.
Will we see long overdue change?
Are we seeing a change now “The Blokes” have broken ranks with Don Burke? Is public discourse about to change? Has social media enabled a coalescence of power from LGBT people and people of colour, to join with outpouring from women who’ve been bullied, excluded, harassed and assaulted, to reach a tipping point for the wave of change?
I think not yet.
I think The Blokes who sacked predatory men in the US did it because women, LGBT and people of colour now have economic power and will use it. I think The Blokes who turned on Burke did it to protect themselves.
They were there; they oversaw the reign of terror and did nothing; now that the women and their coworkers are testifying, the (Old) Blokes are running for their lives and distancing themselves from every aspect of this (now) “horrible, horrible man”. Their successors are perpetuating the same workplace cultural norms that we know lead to violence against women.
When a Trump becomes a Macron, we could be more confident. The French president this week swore “it is essential that shame changes camp”, and he is putting his money where his mouth is, with a 2018 draft law to criminalise street harassment, and a massive public education program about sexism and changes to police and courts to help victims.
In the meantime, as Lindy West of the New York Times writes:
… not only are women expected to weather sexual violence, intimate partner violence, workplace discrimination, institutional subordination, the expectation of free domestic labour, the blame for our own victimisation, and all the subtler, invisible cuts that undermine us daily, we are not even allowed to be angry about it.
We women are angry. Our anger has led to finding ways, around the rule of men in the newsroom, through social media and each other, to document the scope of the crimes against us.
The question is whether our anger, and collaboration with powerful men, will be enough to turn that teetering crest into a massive, roaring wave of change.
Allegations that Don Burke indecently assaulted and bullied staff during his time hosting Burke’s Backyard were heinous enough. But in an interview with A Current Affair last night, he created another victim: the autism community.
In the interview, Burke claimed that he has Asperger’s syndrome:
I haven’t been medically diagnosed but I’ve worked it out, what it is, and it’s a terrible failing.
I have difficulty looking anyone in the eye. I can look in the lense, but I have real difficulty looking anyone in the eye … it’s a typical thing. And I miss all their body language and often the subtle signs that people give to you like, ‘Back off, that’s enough’, I don’t see that.
I suffer from a terrible problem with that, of not seeing … and no-one can understand how you can’t see it. But you don’t.
In examining Burke’s comments, it’s helpful to separate “excuse” from “explanation”. It’s clear there is no excuse for humiliation, bullying and harassment. Nevertheless, reasonable explanations can still underlie inexcusable behaviour.
Burke sought to use Asperger’s syndrome as that explanation. Whether or not Burke would meet criteria for Asperger’s syndrome is not the issue. The problem is that the statements he made about Asperger’s syndrome are utterly false and have an impact far beyond his own circumstance.
Remind me, what is Asperger’s syndrome?
Asperger’s syndrome is part of the autism spectrum, and is characterised by difficulties with social interaction and communication.
Autism spectrum conditions are diagnosed by a team of clinical experts, often including a specially trained medical doctor, a psychologist and a speech pathologist. While autism is a heritable condition (it “runs” in families), we currently don’t know enough about the genetic factors underlying the condition and so we diagnose based on observable behaviours.
A defining characteristic of autism (and Asperger’s syndrome) is differences in social behaviours, such as difficulties initiating or maintaining social interaction with others. However, these social difficulties bear no relevance to a lack of empathy for others, which, of course, underlies bullying and harassing behaviour.
Empathy comes in two forms – cognitive empathy (ability to recognise others’ emotions), and emotional empathy (ability to feel others’ emotions once that emotion has been recognised). There is strong research evidence that some individuals with autism may have challenges with cognitive empathy, but no evidence for difficulties with emotional empathy.
In essence, once there is understanding of what a person is feeling, people on the autism spectrum are often intensely empathetic.
More likely to be bullied than a bully
While the behaviours that characterise autism can create challenges in day-to-day life, there is no link between autism and the perpetration of bullying and harassment. Indeed, dozens of scientific studies have investigated this, and all evidence indicates that people on the autism spectrum are far more likely to be the victims of these behaviours than the other way around.
Burke’s statements create real and lasting damage. There is considerable research evidence showing the stigma that still surrounds autism, and the detrimental effects that stigma can have on people with the condition and their families.
I think about the young man with Asperger’s syndrome, who has fostered enormous courage to attend and enjoy school, and now has another target placed on his back.
I think about parents of newly diagnosed children, who are met with yet another jarring myth to swirl around their tired and worried minds. I think about how this may affect their view of the years that lie ahead of them. These years will come with great challenges, but also the greatest of joys.
I think about employers, who are just starting to understand the vast talents and economic benefits people on the autism spectrum bring to their workplace, and how even the smallest seeds of doubt can be fertilised by the public airing of patently false statements.
I think about all of these people – the wonderful autism community – and how they would feel in being used as a punching bag yet again. The autism community frequently takes punches from media and public figures in an attempt to excuse or explain human behaviour.
Australia would do very well to not simply ignore Don Burke’s comments, but instead use the anger they generate to continue the path of cherishing and valuing the diversity that the autism community provides our society.
Ireland’s Child Abuse Commission has released its report on the physical and sexual abuse inflicted on thousands of children over the past 70 years by religious and lay staff of institutions caring for disadvantaged, neglected and abandoned children, reports Catholic News Agency.
Responding to the release of the report, the new Archbishop of Westminster Vincent Nichols said the report was “disturbing,” adding that every single incident of abuse in the Catholic Church should be “a scandal” and should never be “a matter of indifference.”
The inquiry has produced findings against 216 facilities, a number that includes both state and religious institutions. The Sisters of Mercy and the Christian Brothers, which ran the largest number of children’s institutions, were among the religious orders investigated.
Institutions run by religious orders examined in the report included industrial and reform schools, institutions for the disabled, orphanages and day schools.
The report said that sexual abuse was endemic in boys’ schools while in girls’ schools children were subjected to predatory abuse by male employees, visitors, and also during outside placements.
The abuse was rarely reported to government authorities. On the occasions the Department of Education was informed, it colluded with religious orders in silence by dismissing or ignoring sexual abuse complaints and never bringing them to the attention of the Garda, the Irish police.
“The risk (to children), however, was seen by the congregations in terms of the potential scandal and bad publicity should the abuse be disclosed,” the report stated.
It said the safety of children “in general was not a consideration.” Religious authorities who had evidence of sexual abuse transferred the alleged offenders to other locations, where they were often free to abuse again.
“At best, the abusers were moved but nothing was done about the harm done to the child. At worst, the child was blamed and seen as corrupted by the sexual activity, and was punished severely,” the report found.
Part of the nine year investigation by the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse included interviews with 1,090 individuals about the abuse they suffered. The interviews revealed that more than 90 percent of the students who testified suffered physical abuse, while around 50 percent were victims of sexual abuse. The commission found that more than 800 individuals who were involved in carrying out physical or sexual abuse.
Some children were so badly neglected they had to scavenge for food in waste bins and animal feed, while unsupervised bullying also left smaller and weaker children without food.
Archbishop Nichols spoke to ITV News about the report, saying:
“It’s very distressing and very disturbing and my heart goes out today first of all to those people who will find that their stories are now told in public… Secondly, I think of those in religious orders and some of the clergy in Dublin who have to face these facts from their past which instinctively and quite naturally they’d rather not look at.
“That takes courage, and also we shouldn’t forget that this account today will also overshadow all of the good that they also did.”
The archbishop said those who committed violence and abuse and “abused the trust that was placed in them” should be held to account, “no matter how long ago it happened.”
He said the Catholic Church in England has a “very steady and reliable system” of cooperation with police and social services and said a legal and police process should “absolutely” take place if the offenses demand it.
When ITV asked Archbishop Nichols why abuse seemed more prevalent in the Catholic Church than in other faiths, he answered:
“Every time there is a single incident of abuse in the Catholic Church it is a scandal.
“And I’m glad it’s a scandal. I would be very worried if it wasn’t a scandal… I hope these things don’t happen again but I hope they’re never a matter of indifference.”
Report from the Christian telegraph
Family fears for his safety; planned Easter celebration near earthquake area quashed.
DUBLIN, April 17 (Compass Direct News) – Family members of detained Uyghur Christian Alimjan Yimit are increasingly concerned for his safety following reports that police and a prison doctor escorted him in handcuffs to a hospital in Kashgar two weeks ago.
Alimjan (Alimujiang Yimiti in Chinese) called out to onlookers, “I’m sick. Tell my lawyer to come quickly to see me,” according to a China Aid Association (CAA) report.
Sources told Compass that Alimjan had been beaten in prison, although it was not clear who beat him or why.
The transfer from the Kashi Municipal Detention Center in Kashgar, Xinjiang province, came just one week after Alimjan’s lawyer met with him to discuss a court trial anticipated in May. According to CAA, this was only the second time authorities have allowed anyone to visit Alimjan since his arrest in January 2008.
Court authorities last May returned Alimjan’s case to state prosecutors, citing lack of evidence for charges of “leaking state secrets” and “inciting secession.” Family, friends and work colleagues have insisted that Alimjan is a loyal citizen with no access to state secrets, and that his arrest was due largely to his Christian faith and association with foreign Christians.
Compass sources confirmed this week that Alimjan’s family members are emotionally distraught over his continued detention and over lack of communication from prison authorities.
If convicted, Alimjan could face execution; Chinese authorities executed two alleged Uyghur separatists as recently as last Thursday (April 9).
Authorities first detained Alimjan on Jan. 12, 2008 on charges of endangering state security before formally re-arresting him on Feb. 20, 2008 for allegedly “inciting secession” and leaking state secrets to foreign organizations.
After court authorities returned Alimjan’s case to state prosecutors and after their further investigation, his case was returned to court officials for consideration in mid-October.
Compass sources claim Kashgar authorities are wary of the case due to its sensitivity. Officials initially interrogated Alimjan during his employment for two foreign-owned companies and forbade him to discuss the questioning with anyone. In September 2007 they closed the business he then worked for and accused him of using it as a cover for “preaching Christianity” among the Uyghurs. Alimjan was arrested several months later on political charges.
A second Uyghur Christian, Osman Imin (Wusiman Yaming in Chinese), sentenced to two years in labor camp for “leaking state secrets” and “illegal proselytizing,” is due for release this October. Authorities had originally called for a 10-15 year prison sentence for Osman but significantly reduced the term following international media attention.
Authorities permit Osman’s wife and children to visit him once a month.
Human Rights Proposal
On Monday (April 13), as family members waited to hear news of Alimjan’s condition, China’s State Council released a new document outlining proposed human rights improvements. The document focused heavily on protecting the rights of prisoners and included a pledge to abolish torture and other forms of abuse within two years.
The “National Human Rights Action Plan” was one of several measures proposed by a Chinese government delegation at a United Nations review of China’s human rights record held on Feb. 9.
The plan includes a ban on confessions extracted through torture and a new requirement for physical examinations before and after interrogations. It also affirms the right of prisoners to hire and meet with lawyers and to report abuses in writing to the appropriate authorities.
China’s state-run English newspaper, the China Daily, reported on March 24 that bullying and torture were a significant problem in the nation’s detention centers, and that at least five inmates had died under suspicious circumstances since Feb. 8, according to CAA.
‘Break-through’ for Christianity in China a Mirage
By Xu Mei
BEIJING, April 17 (Compass Direct News) – Prior to the event it was publicized abroad as the next great break-through for house church Christianity in China.
A giant, open celebration was to be held on Easter Sunday (April 12) in the western city of Chengdu, capital of Sichuan province. Finally, it seemed, the government would acknowledge the sacrificial work of house church Christians who came to Sichuan from throughout the country to help with rescue and reconstruction for those suffering from last May’s earthquake. It would be an open admission that Christianity – even of the house church variety – was a positive element in Chinese society.
Verbal permission had been obtained for 2,500 house church Christians throughout China to meet for the special celebration entitled, “Build Up the Church and Bless Society.” Some 50 government officials had been invited to the event, to be held at Chengdu’s new exhibition center. Christians from Singapore and the United States flew in for it.
But the day before Easter, police abruptly informed the center that the event was cancelled. Organizers hastily changed the venue to a smaller, old exhibition center where only about 1,000 people could be accommodated. Plans for a more low-key event were stitched together, to start at 5 p.m. on Easter Sunday.
But even this was too much. An hour before the event, police barred the door. The foreigners left. None of the promised government officials turned up. A few hundred bemused Chinese house church Christians seized the opportunity to hold an impromptu worship service in a nearby parking lot.
Police intervened there, too, and arrested some local house church leaders. They were released later that evening.
The debacle comes after another much-publicized “break-through,” a supposedly government-sponsored seminar in Beijing last Nov. 21-22 in which officials were said to have met with house church leaders (see http://www.compassdirect.org, “Officials Reach Out to House Churches; Raids, Arrests Continue,” Dec. 9, 2008). The chief organizer later denied there was any government involvement, much less a break-through.
Rather, a minor Non-Governmental Organization had assembled academics, including some Christians, to meet with house church leaders to discuss church-state relations and make proposals they hoped might be passed on to the government at some future stage.
Observers speculate that in both the symposium and the Easter celebration, Christians overseas and perhaps some younger Chinese Christians – who have less experience than their elders with the machinations of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) – had overestimated the benevolence of government authorities. Faced with the enormity of an economic crisis, sources said, the government seems to be in no mood to take major steps to liberalize oppressive religious policies, let alone legalize house churches.
That the Beijing seminar was actually held, and that the Chengdu celebration could be organized only to be stopped at the last minute, could be viewed as hopeful signs of how the Chinese government has lumbered forward, at glacial pace, towards a more open policy towards Christians over the last decade or so. But powerful reactionary forces within the CCP view with dismay the extraordinary growth of the church, sources say.
Many officials still view Christianity – and especially house churches – as an ideological and political threat. Limits on the public expression of Christian worship and evangelism are clearly laid down in a welter of national, provincial and local documents issued by CCP and government over the past 25 years. Sources say minor infractions may be winked at, but major changes in a more liberal direction are not to be expected.
Officials are struggling to control a country that threatens to become increasingly uncontrollable. Depending on how long the economic recession grips China, sources say, it seems likely that for the next two years at least, the government will err on the side of caution.
Report from Compass News Direct