Tasmania’s education department secretary has told a child sexual abuse inquiry of a “mosaic of approaches” that were used to investigate historical complaints against teachers.
A commission of inquiry, examining state government responses to allegations of abuse in the public service, has heard survivors’ struggles being believed and of abusive teachers being moved schools.
The inquiry was on Wednesday told 32 state department education staff had been stood down in the past 12 to 18 months over “historical allegations”.
“(They) had what I would describe as a matter of concern sitting against them. An allegation down to a curiosity or a concern,” education department secretary Tim Bullard said.
Mr Bullard, who became secretary in early 2018, told the inquiry he looked into what investigations had been undertaken into the staff.
“It was a mosaic of approaches,” he said.
“In one case there was a panel convened internally outside any process that was established in the state service – decision made not to proceed. In others, nothing had been done.”
He said the department was “fettered” by the number of independent investigators available to probe allegations against teachers.
“We operate in a very small market when it comes to people who can undertake these investigations,” he said.
“In terms of investigators we use, they’ve got a queue of investigations.”
Rachel (a pseudonym) told the inquiry she was abused in the mid-2000s by a male teacher who was cleared of breaching the state service code of conduct following a two-year investigation.
She said the teacher groomed her, kissed her, rubbed her legs, showed her inappropriate footage and wrote a letter to her professing his love.
Rachel said she was left without support and was unable to tell the “men in suits” about the full extent of the abuse until a final meeting when she was told he had not breached the conduct code.
“I was absolutely mortified. Everything was on deaf ears,” she said.
Rachel said early in the investigation education department staff told her mother she could be sued for defamation if she talked about the case.
“There was no context as to why. We were just stuck being quiet, muzzled, not saying anything. I didn’t have the mental capacity as a child to know what was going on.”
Mr Bullard told the inquiry that laws made it impossible for complainants to be provided updates on the progress of their complaint.
“I personally regret our past failings. I want to acknowledge the lasting and ongoing and negative impact that has had,” he said.
“I am really sorry that historical abuse has occurred in our schools and I have to apologise unreservedly.”
Rachel has post-traumatic stress disorder, and experiences nightmares and flashbacks.
“I will live with this forever. But if I can advocate for people who can’t speak, that is such a great achievement,” she said.
The inquiry was called in November 2020 following abuse allegations made against a nurse and other state service employees and will provide a report by May next year.
The state Liberal government has pledged to implement all recommendations.
Australian Associated Press