19 Jul 2018

NZ man sexually abused as a boy in Australian state care denied compensation

8:24 am on 19 July 2018

A man who was sexually abused in Australian state care as a boy has been barred from getting compensation.

John spent three years behind bars and 16 months in an immigration detention centre. Photo: juniart

The man, who RNZ has agreed only to name as John, turned to drugs after the abuse. Later in life he was jailed for cooking methamphetamine and deported to New Zealand where he was born.

Despite submitting his story of sexual abuse to the Australian Royal Commission into child sex abuse, John has been denied up to $150,000 in compensation because he is not a resident of Australia.

John's story

John was just seven years old when he moved with his mother and siblings to Australia to escape his violent father.

Life was good for a while. His mother met a new man and they were out of reach from his father.

But his new step-father turned out to have a dark-side as well.

"Times changed and he got pretty abusive with us... I started running away from home because he was beating me and I found it was safer living out on the streets at the age of nine to 10."

John had to grow up fast.

"I was living in parks, behind churches, under buildings, at mates' places - under their houses when I wasn't allowed to stay - just wherever I could..."

"There was an old train station there ... there was a janitor closet there because sometimes at night it got bitterly cold. I used to force that open and just go and sleep in there. It used to stink of urine and faeces ... but it was warm and it kept you safe off the street and it would keep you out of the public eye," he said.

John said he quickly became streetwise and stole things to survive.

Eventually the police caught up with him and he was sent to a boy's home and made a ward of the state.

The dungeon

John said one of the wardens would take the boys down to the laundry room in the basement.

"He was pretty good at first and he used to give us coffee and cigarettes and stuff like that and we thought he was alright. And then on night shift he used to come and wake us up and bring us all a smoke and we'd think 'this guy is a decent guy'. And it went from that to all of a sudden he started touching, and then he started getting a bit physical with us and he raped a couple of boys."

The boys referred to the laundry as the dungeon, he said.

"What can you do? When you've got adults in charge of your life? There's nothing much you can do. I suppose you roll with the punches, I certainly did. I remember just letting myself go and just letting him do what ever he had to and getting it over and done with..."

John said initially he felt a lot of guilt about what had happened.

"It changed my life. The shame of it, I never told my mum or anyone. I thought [the authorities] would have told them anyway. So, when I went home, I'd look at the family, to see how they were looking at me, thinking I was some sort of weirdo and I'd be out the window that night, gone again. I started dabbling in drugs - about 12 years old."

At 15, John moved back to New Zealand to reconnect with his father. It was while here that he met the woman that would later become his wife. Four years later, and still a teenager, he was married with two children.

He took his young family back to Australia and three more children were to come.

John eventually got a job as a bouncer on the door of a large Gold Coast club.

While working there, he and three of his colleagues were attacked by a bikie gang.

"There were 18 of them and four of us and ... they annihilated us. Thirteen minutes the brawl went for, and it was patrons, us and all these bikies. I was diagnosed with a form of post traumatic stress and that's when I went from being a normal dad, working my ass off, looking after my family to... I started taking drugs."

He was cooking meth to support his own habit when the police raided his place.

'Handcuffs on and to the detention centre'

Eventually, he was sentenced to three years in prison.

But John used his time inside to better himself, doing 26 courses and joining Narcotics Anonymous.

He'd also signed up to undergo a drug rehab programme on release from prison but on the day of his release, John was given some bad news.

"I'm sitting there, waiting to go home and Immigration walk in and that's it - handcuffs on and to the detention centre."

He spent 16 months there. John saw the sense of hopelessness amongst some of the other inmates.

"You can understand why people neck themselves, set themselves on fire, hang themselves. I saw it all there. I saw a guy set himself on fire. He didn't do it in front of everyone to make a statement, he went into the bathroom."

John used his time in immigration detention to make contact with the Royal Commission into institutional responses to child sex abuse and told his story about what happened to him in the boy's home.

The commission pays out up to $150,000 to victims of child abuse.

"I said to my wife: 'If anything happens to me, there's going to be that money, at least there will be something there if you need it.' It was just something there that settled my mind through the whole process: 'Well, maybe something good is going to come out of what happened to me as a child that might be able to help my family'."

But on his return to New Zealand, John learned compensation was only being paid out to Australian citizens and permanent residents.

"When I came back to New Zealand, I had it in my head I was going to off myself. Seriously, I came back and thought I'd find someone with some narcotics and just have a big whack and go to sleep."

But John was lucky. He found out his mother was back in New Zealand and living in a partially-renovated home in a rural area.

She and her partner have a large veggie garden. Most of their dinners are vegetarian and they save what money they get from his stepfather's pension to spend on doing up the house.

'It's just not right - we get punished and they can just do what they like'

John's now pursuing investment opportunities. He's in a good head-space and trying to stay focused on being positive but wants to one day return to Australia.

"You know, when your whole life - your family, your friends, everyone you know, the community around you - when that's taken away, it's no different than being in jail, except they've taken away the barbed wire fences and now they've put a thousand or [2000] km of ocean [around you]. To me it's another sentence, it's a banishment for life - away from my family, my wife, my kids, my grand children. I haven't even met my grandchildren. Unless they can come over to visit me, I never will."

He has been in touch with a support organisation and a human rights lawyer has been briefed with the hope that a case will be taken against the Australian government.

"There's got to be someone to have the balls to take them on because their nose is in the air: 'We write the laws, we are the law', that sort of attitude."

John said he was made a ward of the state and had a right to expect protection. Instead he was sexually abused and because of his drug conviction, he has now been deported by the same state which is preventing him from getting the compensation he says he's due.

"For them to get a wrap across the fingers, mate, I'd pay $150,000 for that any day, because it's just not right. We get punished and they can just do what they like. It's not fair - it's not fair when we're supposed to be brothers."

In three years John will be able to apply to return to Australia but he's been told by Australian authorities not to hold out much hope.

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