Taken from their families as children, never hugged or loved, living in fear - a new report argues the conditions endured by intellectually disabled people in state care constitutes systemic abuse.

Outgoing Disability Rights Commissioner Paul Gibson has released the research - collating stories from what it calls the "silent majority" who suffered in Government institutions - on his last day in the role.

Outgoing Disability Rights Commissioner Paul Gibson.
Outgoing Disability Rights Commissioner Paul Gibson.

He says it provides more evidence to justify the need for a comprehensive inquiry into state care, not just for the disabled, but for all of the more than 100,000 people placed in care during the 1950s to the 1990s.

Abuse in state care is the subject of a current Human Rights Commission campaign named "E Kore Ano - Never Again".


"They are the stolen generations - groups of children taken on minimal evidence that anything was going to improve," Gibson said. "It was a pervasive and abusive way of doing things and we need to acknowledge this."

The report was completed by researchers at the Donald Beasley Institute, summarising around 20 stories from those with learning disabilities who lived in care, plus extra snippets from staff and family members.

It found prevalent physical and sexual abuse, emotional harm, psychological damage, financial abuse and underpinning everything, a culture of neglect.

"People talked about having no one to comfort them when they were upset; nothing to do; no relationship with their family; not having basic care or attention for their injuries; being cold much of the time; and being made to work from a young age," it said.

"Their experience was one of pervasive deprivation."

Tariana Turia with Robert Martin, after he spoke about disability rights to the UN. Robert's story is included in the research released in support of an inquiry into state care.
Tariana Turia with Robert Martin, after he spoke about disability rights to the UN. Robert's story is included in the research released in support of an inquiry into state care.

For example, a passage from disability rights champion Robert Martin - who spent extensive periods at Levin's Kimberley Centre as well as elsewhere - wrote about feeling alone from the very start.

"I don't remember being touched and cuddled like other kids are. I was never loved as a child," he said.

Quotes from Avis Hunter, who spent 50 years in state care, showed how the experiences lasted long after deinstitutionalisation.


"Sometimes I dream about the hospitals I have been in," Hunter said. "It can happen any time. When I dream about those places the dreams always wake me up. They are bad dreams. I wake up scared that I am still there."

The report found those in power knew people were being abused, but did nothing to stop it. The system operated in a way that allowed to abuse to occur, and therefore was systemic, it said.

Co-author Dr Brigit Mirfin-Veitch, director of the Donald Beasley Institute, said she felt it was important for the country to investigate the extent of the issue, as so far only a tiny fraction of people's stories had been heard.

"Something that's deeply troubling is that we've found people with learning disability have come to expect they will have instances of abuse," she said.

"That's why we need an inquiry and apology, so that these people know it isn't right, so we can stop it happening again."

Gibson said recent events - such as the case of Ashley Peacock, who was secluded for five years - highlighted the fact we hadn't learned the lessons from the past. However, he said, it didn't have to be that way.

"To date the Government response on this has been mean-spirited. Most of these people haven't received compensation or an individual apology," he said. "But this an opportunity for them to authentically listen, to instigate an inquiry and build towards learning."

Minister for Social Development Anne Tolley was not able to respond to questions in time. Previously, the Government has refused to consider a comprehensive inquiry or national apology.

Read the report here.