Note to Minister of Social Development Anne Tolley: Try stopping being a politician for a minute, and just listen.
Tolley didn't listen to Judge Carolyn Henwood (respect to that formidable woman) so I doubt she's going to be listening to my little squeaky witterings, but I don't care, I'm still going to offer up a few more reasons why Ms Tolley needs to rethink her arrogant attitude to victims who have been abused in state care, and immediately order an independent inquiry into the extent of the abuse.
ONE: Ms Tolley, Please don't presume to speak for the victims. "If you listen to me ..." Tolley kept saying to Kim Hill on Morning Report, but actually Minister sometimes it's not your place to talk, it's your place to shut up. You attest the victims don't want an independent inquiry. However Judge Henwood, who chaired the Confidential Listening and Assistance Service (CLAS) panel that heard from more than 1100 people who were abused in state care, came to a different conclusion. She recommended an independent inquiry. The government ignored this recommendation, seemingly for reasons to do with fiscal and legal risk. "It's very disappointing for our participants. I feel offended on their behalf," Judge Henwood said, bravely. Survivors had nowhere to go and no further support.
TWO: Minister, another tip. It is not helpful to tell people who have suffered trauma they just need to get over it "and move on with their lives" as you said repeatedly in an interview on Morning Report. It is not your place, or anyone else's place, to say when people should be "moving on". If you had even a glancing knowledge of complex trauma you would know being pressured to get over it can in fact be counter-productive, as one's desperate but doomed attempts to move on yet again end in failure, fuelling a feeling of self-loathing. So the cycle continues. Going gently, and taking as long as it takes, is more likely to bring about lasting healing.
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THREE: Minister, you might find it helpful to get up to date on the latest thinking on how trauma is passed down through generations. The mechanism by which this happens is far more complex than the glib way you explained it on Morning Report in which you said trauma is passed on in a copycat fashion because "that's the norm". Actually, a research team at New York's Mount Sinai Hospital has found genetic changes stemming from the trauma suffered by Holocaust survivors was capable of being passed on to their children, the clearest sign yet that one person's life experience can affect subsequent generations, written into the very fabric of their bodies via what is called "epigenetic inheritance" - the idea that environmental influences can affect the genes of your children and possibly even grandchildren. This mechanism is much more profound than Tolley's assertion that trauma is simply a kind of simple kneejerk imitation.
FOUR: It is insulting for someone who suffered at the hands of the state to be expected to go to the very same agency which allegedly traumatised them to lay a complaint. Harry Potter didn't go and report Voldemort to the Ministry of Magic. Tolley says the historic claims unit is a separate part of MSD, but it is still an agency within ministry. This is hardly independent. But, as always, it seems Tolley believes she knows better than the victims of abuse, and her reasons seem to have a lot to do with administrative efficiency.
Kim Hill: "You are not setting up an independent body and I'm interested to know why not?" Anne Tolley: "Because we are three-quarters of the way through settling those claims. Why would we stop that process?" Answer: Because the 1100 victims who spoke to the CLAS said that is what they want.
FIVE: Tolley says there was no evidence abuse in state care was a systemic problem. But how would she, or anyone, know? The minister is refusing to initiate an independent inquiry to find out. So as things stand, we will never know the extent of the abuse. Just because it is hard to hear doesn't mean we should shy away from doing it.
SIX: Stop trying to spin some sort of upbeat narrative. This is over-writing the reality of the victims of abuse. Tolley said "Some of the claimants have different sorts of care. In some cases they have received very good care." Kim Hill: "You mean when they weren't being raped or abused, Ms Tolley?" Tolley: "Part of their care was extremely good." Kim Hill: "You want them to focus on the good times?" It deeply insulting to tell victims of abuse they should play the Glad Game because expressing their deepest pain and agony makes you uncomfortable
SEVEN: If you stopped for a moment to listen, you might find some respect for the victims who were traumatised by the state that was supposed to protect them and what they went through. They couldn't do anything then. They were helpless as a child when someone violated their boundaries, but they are adults now with options and recourse. That is why it is incumbent upon all of us - including you Minister - to stop talking, and just listen to what they have to say.