Public hearing 17: The experience of women and girls with disability, Hobart - Part 2 - Day 3
CHAIR: Good morning, everybody, and welcome to the third day of the second part of Public hearing 17. I start by offering my apologies for not being able to be present yesterday at the hearing. I have returned urgently to Sydney, and I'm sorry I did not get to hear in person the evidence of the witnesses from yesterday. I will be continuing to participate in the hearing from Sydney. Commissioners Bennett and Mason will continue to participate in the hearing from the Hobart hearing room, and Commissioner Galbally will be participating from Melbourne.
Just before I ask Commissioner Mason to make the Acknowledgment of Country, I will mention a couple of points that are affecting the hearing today. We are continuing to have some issues with COVID 19 affecting staff, and, therefore, there has had to be some changes to the way in which today's hearing will be conducted. We are not going to live stream the proceedings, but they will be recorded and published on the website as soon as possible, and information about how this will occur will be published on the website also as soon as possible.
In order to facilitate the proceedings and to enable them to be conducted as smoothly as possible, there will be short adjournments between the evidence given by each of the witnesses. I and the Commissioners would like to express our deep appreciation to the staff and to everybody who has been involved in organising the hearing for making the adjustments that have been made necessary by the particular problems that have arisen, and we also wish to thank the people who will be giving evidence, for their patience and understanding and forbearance for the changes in arrangements.
So we are going to do the best we possibly can and we hope there will not be any further interruptions. So thank you for that. And I shall now ask Commissioner Mason to make the Acknowledgment of Country.
COMMISSIONER MASON: As a Ngaanyatjarra and Kronie woman, I wish to pay my respects and acknowledge the First Nations people of the land on which the Royal Commission is sitting today.
We acknowledge the Muwinina people, the traditional custodians of the land on which Nipaluna, the city of Hobart is now located.
We recognise the Wurundjeri people of the Kulin Nation, where the city of Melbourne is situated.
We recognise Meeanjin, Brisbane. We recognise the country north and south of the Brisbane River as the home of both the Turrbul and Jagera nations, whose land is now where the city of Brisbane is located.
We also wish to acknowledge the traditional custodians of the various lands on which you all virtually appear from and any First Nations peoples who are participating in this hearing, especially women, Minymaku, and children, tjitjiku, with disability. Thank you, Chair.
CHAIR: Thank you very much, Commissioner Mason. I understand there is one additional appearance to be announced today beyond those that have already been announced. Is there an appearance on behalf of Ms Burn?
MS EASTMAN: There is, Chair.
MS GRIMSTER: Thank you, Chair, it is Alanna Grimster, appearing on behalf of Ms Margaret Burn, our witness for today. Thank you.
CHAIR: Thank you very much. Yes, Ms Eastman.
MS EASTMAN: Thank you, Chair. I will make some opening remarks so that those following the proceeding today online know who will be appearing at the various locations. So, Commissioners, today you will continue to hear from about the experience of women with disability and their family members, about violence and abuse in their families, home settings, and also experience of sexual violence. I will make the content warnings that we have made throughout the course of this hearing, and the slide will appear when this matter is broadcast. I think, Commissioners, you can see the slide up there now.
The evidence today will cover matters that will be distressing and confronting. The matters today will include hearing about violence and abuse that causes death, self harm and also suicidal ideation. This morning we will start with Margaret Burn, who is sitting next to me here in Hobart. Ms Burn will tell you about I might just can you just ask the Chair to in Sydney to just mute. There's a lot there's a very large amount of feedback coming through.
Ms Burn will tell you about her sister in law, Marceline. Marceline lived with a degenerative condition, and when Marceline needed support, she was isolated from that support and from her broader family. Health professionals missed the obvious red flags, and Marceline died of serious neglect, and her husband was later convicted of her manslaughter. After morning tea, we will move to the hearing room in Brisbane, and you will hear from Kristy Hill.
Ms Hill has pre-recorded some evidence, and she will speak about her personal experiences of physical abuse as a child, sexual assault, and homelessness as an adult. Ms Hill is a woman who lives with intellectual disability and mental health conditions. Ms Hill will also speak of the importance of being believed, an extra layer of invisibility that homeless women with intellectual disability experience when accessing services.
You will then hear, again from our Brisbane hearing room, Kobie Hicks. Ms Hicks is a First Nations woman, and she lives with a cognitive disability, PTSD and anxiety. She is the mother of four children. Two of her children also live with disability. She will tell you about her personal experiences of sexual assault as a young person and also the challenges of not being believed. Ms Hicks will share her experiences of intimate partner violence and her negative experiences when seeking support at women's shelters and from the police.
After lunch, we hope to hear from Belle Stevens. Belle's pronouns are they and them. We know that Belle has recently been unwell, so we will take Belle's evidence slowly, and they may tell you about their experience of violence and abuse as a child and also experiences as an adult. We will stay at the Brisbane hearing room, and you will then hear from Brigitte. Brigitte has an intellectual disability. She has suffered emotional, mental harm and physical abuse by her ex-partner. Her evidence will include her experiences with the police and the courts. Part of Brigitte's evidence will be playing a pre-recorded interview that she did with us last year, but she will also be in the hearing room to answer some questions.
Our final witness of the day will be Ally Robins. We are back in Hobart. Ally is a transgender woman who lives with chronic pain, dyslexia and post-traumatic stress disorder. She will tell you about her experiences of abuse and shame as a young person in her family, at school, and how these experiences link to her disability. She will speak about her experience of intimate partner abuse and the lifelong impact of violence and abuse, but she will also speak about her hope for the future.
So, Commissioners, I will now turn to Ms Margaret Burn. A slight reconstitution of the hearing room will mean I will just make a slight movement, and Margaret will come on the screen.
CHAIR: Thank you very much for coming to the Royal Commission to give evidence today. I am sure it has been explained to you, but, just in case, you will see Commissioners Bennett and Mason in the same hearing room as you are. Commissioner Galbally is participating in the hearing from Melbourne. And today I am in the I am participating from Sydney. So Commissioners are scattered a little bit today in three different places. I understand arrangements have made for Ms Burn to take the oath or affirmation in the room, and I will pass it over to you, Ms Eastman.
MS EASTMAN: Thank you. So you are Margaret Burn and I'm going to read affirmation to you and at the end please say yes or "I do. " Do you solemnly and sincerely declare and affirm that the evidence that you shall give shall be the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth?
MS BURN: Yes.
MARGARET BURN, AFFIRMED
EXAMINATION BY MS EASTMAN SC
MS EASTMAN: Thank you. So, Ms Burn, would you prefer me to call you Ms Burn, Mrs Burn or Margaret.
MS BURN: Margaret, thank you.
MS EASTMAN: So, Margaret, you have given your address to the Royal Commission and you have also prepared a statement for the Royal Commission.
MS BURN: Yes, I have.
MS EASTMAN: And you have had a chance to look over the statement, and the statement is true?
MS BURN: It is.
MS EASTMAN: So, Commissioners, you have the statement, and what I might do, just in terms of the logistics for today, is to tender all of the statements, perhaps, at the end of the day, if that's convenient.
Well, Margaret, you've joined the Royal Commission today because you want to speak about your sister in law, and we are use a pseudonym for her and her name is Marceline,
MS BURN: Yes.
MS EASTMAN: It is important today you have the opportunity of telling Marceline's story in the way you think Marceline would want her story to be told.
MS BURN: Yes, it is. Yes, definitely.
MS EASTMAN: And Commissioners have had a chance to read your statement, but those following might like to know a little bit about Marceline. So I wanted to start by just asking you to tell us a little bit about yourself so we know about your relationship with Marceline, and then we will share Marceline's story. So tell us about yourself.
MS BURN: Thank you. First of all, I would like to thank the Royal Commission for this opportunity to tell and give a voice to Marceline when all other avenues have not been afforded to us and doors closed. So this is very important to all of the family. Thank you.
Marceline. So we first met she was my sister's best friend at high school, so, of course, I've known her since she was 14. And seeing her grow up into an intelligent independent, feisty woman a Registered Nurse. I am also a Registered Nurse so we all had those interests. We came from the country, we trained at the same hospital, and she was a loyal friend. She was a really caring and supportive daughter and became an intelligent, supportive wife. Everything that she did, she did 100 per cent and she gave it her all. So she had a zest for life, she travelled, she graduated from Fremantle Hospital and just took on life 100 per cent.
MS EASTMAN: What you remember most about her is her smile.
MS BURN: Her smile just lit up the room. And she also was although she was a country girl, she had a real style. She always wore her red lipstick, always had her hair beautifully coloured, and just lit up the room. Just always was just passionate about her life and everything that she took on.
MS EASTMAN: You did a lot together as families. So she married your brother.
MS BURN: Yes. Because my sister and her travelled together, worked together, they shared birthdays, they shared clothes, and in that time my brother became close to Marceline and, inevitably, they fell in love and they married. So she became an integral part of our family. Every part that we did together.
MS EASTMAN: She was like your sister?
MS BURN: She actually yes, she actually was sister because they were the same age and, as I said, we had the same interests. After she travelled and saved up the money for a house. They went to a mining town. She actually lived in a tent in Alice Springs to save up money for travelling, and then they settled down close to us. And that's when I became really close with her, because we settled down and we began to have our children.
MS EASTMAN: So your children were about the same age?
MS BURN: Exactly. It was really quite amazing. It was only a year or so, and also their birthdays were within two days. So we shared birthdays, celebrations, Christmas. Her family would come down and we'd be together on Boxing Day, have cricket matches, and we travelled overseas together. So
MS EASTMAN: Was Marceline working during this time when she was having children and you were settling down when she had the house? Was she still working?
MS BURN: Yes, yes.
MS EASTMAN: What was she doing?
MS BURN: She was doing part-time in aged care, which fitted in with the children, and also Dominick, he began a university degree, so she supported him. And so she was working all the time throughout with the children, as I was. So we always had that in common.
MS EASTMAN: In terms of her work, she was working as a nurse?
MS BURN: Yes.
MS EASTMAN: Was she working in a particular area of nursing at this time?
MS BURN: At first it was it was always in aged care. But as time went, on she was so professional, so dedicated, so caring that she was promoted in the position, yeah.
MS EASTMAN: Can I turn now to the onset of Marceline's disability.
MS BURN: Yes.
MS EASTMAN: So she developed MS. Right?
MS BURN: She did, yes.
MS EASTMAN: And how old was she when that first happened?
MS BURN: Well, she first had these very vague symptoms. We just put it down to stress or tinnitus. She lost hearing in that one ear. And she was living in Queensland at the time, which we'd gone over to visit with the children. And she just thought, "Oh, I think I will return to WA. " And the symptoms became progressively worse, and so she sought medical treatment and was diagnosed with MS. It was an unremitting MS, so it's the progressive one where there is no cure and it just increasingly becomes worse.
MS EASTMAN: So when Marceline was first diagnosed with MS, did she continue to work?
MS BURN: She did. She was diagnosed when she was 40, so, you know, they say life begins at 40, but, unfortunately, she had the diagnosis. We all rallied around as a family, and her family she was very close to and but she was the sort of person that was independent, wanted to get on with life, just deal with it. Even though we knew, as Registered Nurses, the prognosis and we both worked with end-stage MS patients so we knew what was ahead, but we just decided just to live life and just make the most of it.
MS EASTMAN: What supports did Marceline need as the MS progressed for her?
MS BURN: At first, none. Though she always had this fatigue. So she was working full time, trying to manage at home, just dealing with the children, as all of us do. But she had this chronic fatigue and she really started to need help within the home with just domestic chores, which my brother Dominick, he had his own disability and mental health condition and he really wasn't coping with everything. So
MS EASTMAN: Can I pause you there. I know you do not want the focus of your evidence today about your brother, Dominick.
MS BURN: No. No.
MS EASTMAN: And that's a pseudonym that we are using.
MS BURN: Yeah.
MS EASTMAN: But can I ask you about what you observed when Marceline developed MS and her condition was worsening. What did you observe about the relationship between her and her husband, Dominick?
MS BURN: At the beginning, there was she just continued to work. He was a little bit overwhelmed by the whole thing, but there was nothing at all. I drew back after we had a few disagreements over the care that the help she needed within the home. So after that, I didn't actually have any contact with them. I felt that her family would be better suited because we just had a little bit of sibling disagreement.
MS EASTMAN: Was that difficult for you?
MS BURN: It was. But I felt that it was the best thing to do for the whole situation and not make anything worse. He was overwhelmed and she needed the care and her family were happy to be there.
MS EASTMAN: So was it your hope at that time that the relationship between you and your brother meant you step back a little bit
MS BURN: Yes.
MS EASTMAN: and you assumed that both your brother and Marceline's broader family would step in and provide the support that she needed at that time. Is that how you were feeling?
MS BURN: Yes. Yes, I did, yes.
MS EASTMAN: And, at that time, did you think that, for you stepping back, that this might be the start of Marceline being isolated from her broader family?
MS BURN: Not not really because if we'd had sibling rivalry before, and I think she just wanted, you know, to focus on her own health and family. And so there wasn't really a problem there. I didn't think that it was going to be a long term thing. I thought, step back, let things sort themselves out and, as always, we'd step back in.
MS EASTMAN: Your brother had also trained as a nurse, hadn't he?
MS BURN: He was a registered psychiatric nurse, which is completely and utterly different in the fact that they have no experience at all in dealing with anybody with a disability or caring for people within the hospital.
MS EASTMAN: And he also had his own challenges in life.
MS BURN: He did.
MS EASTMAN: So he had developed some depression and some mental health conditions.
MS BURN: He yes. He had he was on a disability pension for anxiety, depression and chronic fatigue, which is what she was while she was working. And then as her symptoms increased, he became her carer.
MS EASTMAN: And that caused you some concern, didn't it?
MS BURN: Oh, so much concern because he wasn't able to really look after himself or cope. Everything was you know, he was depressed about the whole situation of his own not working, losing independence and then with the wife that he loved, obviously he just did not cope. And with the children as well. She had always been the rock and the support.
MS EASTMAN: All right. I want to move to a point in time, which you've talked about in the statement where Marceline became really poorly in terms of her physical movement.
MS BURN: Yeah.
MS EASTMAN: She was also taking antidepressants at the time. And there were a lot of problems between her and Dominick. And, on reflection now, you feel that she was very depressed, withdrawn and isolated from everyone. In 2005, Dominick sent out two murder-suicide notes, one to your mother and one to Marceline's mother. Now, you became aware of these notes, and this caused you very deep and great concern. What did you do when you found out about your brother sending out these notes?
MS BURN: My mother contacted me and said that he had sent her a note; however, he'd rescinded it, as he had to Marceline's mother. And when I contacted Marceline's mother, she then told me that they'd had no contact with Marceline at all since she'd given up work, and they hadn't visited and because of his increasing mental health problems, no one had visited. So when I found out that he had rescinded the notes I still felt a great deal of concern for him and for her. For her welfare and for his welfare. What was going on in the home that he would do this. So
MS EASTMAN: So what did do you?
MS BURN: I rang the police.
MS EASTMAN: Why did you ring the police?
MS BURN: I felt that they would be if he wasn't allowing anybody into the house, that they would have the authority to go and do a welfare check on them.
MS EASTMAN: And what happened after you called the police?
MS BURN: I had a phone call from the police stating that, yes, they had gone around, they had found Marceline in a state of neglect. It looked like a house that home where people were not coping, and they had called an ambulance to take Marceline to hospital. Which I was so relieved about.
MS EASTMAN: Okay. You went to see Marceline in hospital.
MS BURN: Yes, I did.
MS EASTMAN: And did you go into nurse mode?
MS BURN: I certainly did.
MS EASTMAN: What happened?
MS BURN: I certainly did. I because of her you could tell physically that she was neglected. Her hair was grey and lank, hadn't been washed. And, cognitively, she just was very vague. And, you know, I just gave her a big hug and I said, "Can I just check that you know, your legs and you know, are you able to walk and everything like that. " And she allowed me to do practically a full assessment body assessment on her. Which would never, ever have happened. She was a very private person.
So I was able to check her body. She had the beginning of pressure sores. She had lost weight and she was very slim anyway. It didn't take much. But she had lost muscle she had muscle wastage in her legs and just yeah, it was very sad to see. And I was very, very shocked.
MS EASTMAN: What about her cognitive functioning, because she had been taking medication to manage depression. Did you notice anything about how she was at a cognitive level at this time?
MS BURN: Cognitively, she as I said, she was very vague, very confused. She really didn't know what was going on. She didn't even really initiate conversation. She wasn't able to tell me anything that was going on. And it just wasn't Marceline. It just wasn't the woman that I knew.
MS EASTMAN: She she ended up staying at that hospital for seven months.
MS BURN: She languished in the hospital for seven months while they tried to get funding for a placement because, obviously, my brother wasn't coping and he had withdrawn. He didn't visit. And to apply for funding in those days, it was every three months and
MS EASTMAN: This is pre NDIS.
MS BURN: Pre NDIS and there was no funding available. I visited regularly to speak with the social worker, to fill them in on what was happening at home, his condition, and that I strongly believed that she shouldn't be able to go home. If he wasn't willing to allow anybody in the house, how was she going to get the care that she needed? They had sent an occupational therapist around, and he refused to allow her in.
MS EASTMAN: When you say "he", you mean your brother, Dominick.
MS BURN: Dominick. Refused to allow her in. He said that he had attempted he had turned on the gas and they couldn't get in the house because of the gas. So no one actually saw the house and did anything. You know, ramps, handrails, nothing was done.
MS EASTMAN: Seven months in the hospital is a long time. Were there any other options for Marceline at that time other than remaining in hospital or going home?
MS BURN: At that time, aged care was an option, which we had always discussed, as we both worked in aged care, that this was not going to be an option for her, and I fully, you know, endorsed that and felt that we could nurse her at home or she could go into sort of, like, the young disabled the MS Society did have places, but they weren't available at the time. And in the meantime, there was a lot of resistiveness he did come back into the picture and there was resistiveness towards her going anywhere or us discussing anything.
But, at the same time, we couldn't visit the house to make it safe for her. So I felt like the hospital knew everything. They had the letter. They knew everything about the neglect, the social side of things, my belief and her parents' belief. And they still carried on as if it was a normal family situation.
MS EASTMAN: While she was in hospital, there is a bit of a dispute between her parents and your brother; is that right?
MS BURN: There was. Her parents were overwhelmed with the whole situation. They were elderly. They were from the country. And they were just absolutely shocked to see their daughter in this condition. They didn't want her to go home, and he felt that they were causing trouble and took Marceline out of hospital and had a restraining order placed on her parents so that they could not visit any longer.
MS EASTMAN: So she returned back to the family home with Dominick.
MS BURN: Just as we found a place for her and in that time, in the seven months, her condition had improved dramatically physically, not cognitively. So she was stronger because she'd been you know, had physio and everything like that. And just as they found a placement, I found that she had been discharged.
MS EASTMAN: You were a bit shocked by that, weren't you?
MS BURN: I was absolutely devastated and just I just could not believe what I was hearing. And, in hindsight, I wish I had, you know, gained more insight into who had made the decisions. But I was told that, cognitively, she was able to make the decision to go home and there was nothing within the Mental Health Act that could stop that happening. And I refuted her cognitive assessment, but they said that she'd had all the assessments, and I didn't this was a senior person.
MS EASTMAN: Didn't you go up to the hospital and have a word to the geriatrician?
MS BURN: Well, I did, and I said, "You are sending Marceline home to exactly the same condition that she left. How is going to be any different? " And they assured me that there would be red flags if she was admitted to any other hospital, that there would be red flags, that it would be noted about the social situation if she came back into hospital with neglect, and that they would then be able to take it further. I guess, being a Registered Nurse, I you know, I start I put my faith in that system. I thought that that's exactly what they would do. I did say that, "You will have to be prepared for this happening again. "
MS EASTMAN: When Marceline returned home, she did need support in her daily living. So she needed to have pain relief, and I think she had a pump, didn't she, to assist her if she needed any morphine at that time?
MS BURN: Not at that stage, but it was going to be evident
MS EASTMAN: As it came through, was it?
MS BURN: that that was going to happen. And she definitely needed pain relief because of muscle contractions and just the onset of MS. So I couldn't see how any of the care was going to be given. Did she have a hospital bed? What pressure aids did she have? Wound management. Just all of these things were a question to me that the hospital just said that she was able to go home. And I believe that if they'd asked Marceline this, of course she would say, "I want to go home. I want to go home with my children and the dogs" but not would not have had the capacity to understand that that was it, there was no other care being given.
MS EASTMAN: Did you have the opportunity to see Marceline when she returned home?
MS BURN: No. No. I felt that, because I had rung the police, then the relationship with my brother was untenable and I wouldn't be allowed back in. But I did ring the police again just to say, could you just check. And I felt that then he would be aware that he was being, you know there would be consequences if it happened again. And the police were amazed, annoyed. They could not believe that she'd gone home with nothing. Exactly the same condition as they'd seen seven months previously. So they did go around but, at that stage, she was happy and
MS EASTMAN: So everything looked okay.
MS BURN: -- looked okay.
MS EASTMAN: And the police said “We can't do anything more. ”
MS BURN: We can't do any more and you really need to, you know, push for other services here. We can't be doing this.
MS EASTMAN: So a little later on, Marceline's mum called you.
MS BURN: Mm’hm.
MS EASTMAN: And said a friend of Marceline's and he's referred to as Bruce in the statement went round to see Marceline.
MS BURN: Mm’hm.
MS EASTMAN: And your brother might have been out at the time.
MS BURN: He was, yes.
MS EASTMAN: So one of the kids let Bruce in. What did Bruce see?
MS BURN: Bruce was horrified. Again, just horrified at the whole situation and her condition and the fact that she really wasn't recognising him or able to, you know, hold a conversation. And he rang Marceline's mother in Kalgoorlie, who rang me to say that, you know, we're going back into the same situation. And I just was at a loss to know what to do. I did ring, you know, the MS Society and places like that, but they really said, "We can't if the door is shut we can't go in. "
MS EASTMAN: Moving forward, Marceline was admitted to another hospital in October 2006. Did you have the chance to go and see her on this admission?
MS BURN: No.
MS EASTMAN: What happened yes.
MS BURN: None of the family even knew that she had been admitted to the hospital that we trained in. My sister, Marceline and myself all trained at this hospital.
MS EASTMAN: You only became aware of this admission after she died; is that right?
MS BURN: I only became aware after after she died and there was the coroner's inquest into how she died, and I was just I was just devastated. The whole family was.
MS EASTMAN: So when you have read records that you became aware of because of the coronial and other proceedings
MS BURN: Yeah.
MS EASTMAN: as a nurse, you have looked at the records, and it appears she may have been in a state of starvation when she was admitted to the hospital in October 2006; is that right?
MS BURN: Yes, yes. She was she was semiconscious, and they said that she looked as if she was she'd lost a considerable amount of weight which she couldn't afford to lose. And I remember reading through the coronial inquest that the CT scans of the brain the brain scans showed considerable lesions, cerebral atrophy. She was semi-conscious, but after four or five days of nutrition, she became conscious. At which time they decided to insert a PEG, which is to feed.
It goes straight into the stomach. A PEG tube, which is how they, you know, give the nutrition. And I found out later that that's all that they had done. That she was sent home yet again, now with a PEG in, with a man who wasn't coping and
MS EASTMAN: To go home with a PEG, you need to have that nutrition ongoing.
MS BURN: You do.
MS EASTMAN: And support in terms of the way in which the PEG feeding operates. Is that right?
MS BURN: Exactly. As a Registered Nurse, if we had residents with a PEG in the nursing home, you had a dietitian who was readily available. They assessed the weights, the amount, if there was any problems with the feed tube, blockages, possibly wound management. There was many things that needed to be done. And where was he getting the tins of nutrition from? If he was the only one looking after her, which they knew because that's how they sent her home, how was he able to get the tins? Where was he getting them from? And who was monitoring anything?
MS EASTMAN: But, by this stage, in terms of how Marceline was faring, you looking at the records, now you would think that Marceline was getting to that stage of needing palliative care.
MS BURN: Yes, she definitely was.
MS EASTMAN: And looking at the records now, you feel that the hospital overlooked the seriousness of Marceline's condition, the fact she needed palliative care and overlooked what the risk factors were for her returning to home with the risk of further abuse and neglect in the home setting. Is that right?
MS BURN: Yes. I just as a Registered Nurse and having worked at the hospital, Fremantle Hospital, as a Registered Nurse, you have a care team that you you put in place. In WA, it's Silver Chain Palliative Care and Hospice, which I my own parents my own father was nursed at home, so you just don't go home with one person terminally ill and a few tins of food. She was end-stage MS.
She was terminally ill and did they just look at the fact that she was I simply can't I can't I've never been able to understand the reasoning that they just because there are consequences. There are even at that stage, there are things in place that you take a person home, you have a community of visitors and pain management. If she was terminally ill at that stage, she would have needed a morphine pump.
But if you are terminally ill, everybody is entitled to die with dignity and to have pain relief, wound care. 24-hour care. How did he how did they think he was going to manage 24-hour care? Even if he was a Registered Nurse, which he wasn't, how did they think that one person no one person could ever look after anybody.
MS EASTMAN: Marceline died about seven months after leaving hospital. She died on 16 March 2007. She was 48 years old. After her death, there was a coronial investigation, and you learnt that when she died, she weighed 30 kilograms and that the cause of death was malnutrition and sepsis from the untreated bedsores. You found out that she died at home. She had not been attended to or seen by any doctors. And there was no one to sign her death certificate.
MS BURN: That's right. Yep.
MS EASTMAN: I'm sorry for your loss, Margaret.
MS BURN: Thank you, yes. The whole family were just devastated that it, first of all, was a coronial inquest, because it didn't have to be, but the fact that no doctor had seen her. Apparently, there was questions noted at the time in the house, and they felt that it was going to need further investigation. But this coronial inquest didn't happen until five years later, when I just got a phone call.
MS EASTMAN: And what about your brother? What happened to him?
MS BURN: My brother in that time no one had any contact, but they did the assessments and he was charged.
MS EASTMAN: He was charged.
MS BURN: He through the coronial inquest that was supposed to they said at the beginning, the DPP said that we were going to look at all avenues as to why and what happened. But they didn't. They only looked at his involvement, which he pleaded guilty and, therefore, it
MS EASTMAN: He was convicted of her manslaughter.
MS BURN: He was he was, but because of he was admitted to a psychiatric hospital and so, you know, he just served a bit of time, and they felt that there was nothing to be gained. Because he was unwell.
MS EASTMAN: You when you have looked at this and it still causes you grief. So distress and trauma is there for you and the family, is you don't shy away at all from what your brother did.
MS BURN: No, no.
MS EASTMAN: But one of the issues for you has been where were those red flags and warning signs to perhaps have had an intervention of an appropriate kind to assist Marceline and to ensure she had the supports that she needed. And that's a big question that you've had, isn't it?
MS BURN: It's been a huge question all the way along, from the first admission where you have a murder-suicide note. I can't see how that makes that is as definite a case as you've got. You've got the photos. You've got all that's valuable. And then to actually finally, with Fremantle Hospital, where we all worked, and I trusted I trusted the health system. I trusted the health system that because I knew the systems that were in place. They were all there at the time.
I can't even if the red flags weren't there, any professional Registered Nurse, doctor, would have seen those. And the social worker tried to get she was a very young person. She tried to make you know, make their and I didn't even realise that her not until the case was even the psychiatrist who strongly felt that she should not go home with my brother, he was not aware that she'd been discharged.
He thought she was going to somewhere safe. And he so if the treating psychiatrist is saying, "I definitely don't feel this is appropriate", who made the decisions and why did they make the decisions? And why did they allow him just to say no?
MS EASTMAN: Well, for you, Marceline sort of slipped between all of these gaps.
MS BURN: She did.
MS EASTMAN: And slipping between the gaps put her in that situation of danger and not having the support she needed; is that right?
MS BURN: She was no. And she couldn't advocate for herself because if she had if she was the Marceline that we knew, she could have advocated very well for herself, but she couldn't. And so I feel that if this happens with our family, and even though it happened 15 years ago, a Registered Nurse let down by the system falls through the cracks, it can happen and it you know, it if we learn nothing from this and we didn't because no one asked and no one wanted to know.
MS EASTMAN: Margaret, thank you for sharing that story. I know there's a few recommendations you wanted to make and suggestions for change for the Royal Commissioners to listen to. Can we turn to that part of your statement.
MS BURN: Yeah.
MS EASTMAN: And do you want to talk to some of the recommendations that you've got in mind. You can read those out, if you want to, or you can refer to them.
MS BURN: So, as I said, all of this happened a long time ago, but I don't think we have learnt anything, and the systemic failures haven't been addressed. The discharge from hospital, I recommend safeguards be implemented for public hospital patients who are due for home discharge, such as ensuring a public advocate is appointed in instances of suspected abuse to guarantee that home care services are provided.
Welfare checks. I recommend it be made mandatory for mental health professionals to accompany police on welfare checks, particularly in cases of suspected abuse or neglect. And I felt that the police were the only ones who listened in this case and did everything they could to intervene, but I feel that if a mental health professional was able to accompany them in these situations, more could have been done.
In Marceline's case, Sir Charles Gardiner said there was nothing to be done under the Mental Health Act, and I don't know what cognitive testing was done, if any, but I recommend the law be reformed in some way to ensure that Marceline when you have an at-risk patient with cognitive disability, can the medical professionals can force the decisions against the wishes of the patient, if it is in their best interests, in scenarios such as this.
The communication between the hospitals was a failure. And there must be a better system. I'm hoping there is now, but I'd like to see that it would be addressed. When she was admitted to Fremantle Hospital, there should have been a flag to say she'd been brought in by the police for neglect before. And at the very least, they should have been able to obtain a her records. But I think she was just a person with a disability and she was terminally ill, and that's all they saw.
As far as the gastrostomy feeding tube, the Dietitians Australia information brochure is used to be to be used as a national guideline for all patients who are discharged with a feeding tube, and all states have a uniform care plan implemented. This follow up care would ensure no vulnerable and frail clients' needs are left in the hands of just one person to meet this nutritional intake. There should be a care plan implemented in the hospital environment before the patient is sent home with a PEG in situ. And the carer has to be deemed capable and competent in undertaking ongoing care.
This should be followed up with a home visit to check that the home is suitable with adequate hygiene, refrigeration, and surgical supplies in the home. This is important. I can't just see how feeding can be just left. I mean, how do they know there's a fridge? It should also include a very clear process for obtaining further supplies and who will provide care should the carer become ill and not be able to give a feed.
When supplies of feeds and equipment are picked up, it should be and recorded via computer on a patient's care plan. That way, Community Care or pharmacists, GPs and dietitians can check if the supplies are being picked up and by whom. There should be weight charts weekly, monthly, and they should be sent through to the dietitian in charge of the patient's care. And there should be ongoing community wound care to check the wound management of the PEG site. And these simple measures will ensure that no person is able to die of starvation.
If the client wishes to refuse feeds, then this is recorded, and counselling can be supplied to the person, to the family, and support given. Community visits I recommend there be a place, a system, where a third party can override refusal of the carer to have these visits. If someone had been going to her house and seen what was happening, then likely she would have received the proper medical attention. And if no one else is involved, it creates the perfect environment for neglect.
Coronial inquests. The first coroner said he couldn't make findings from the inquest due to the charges being laid. And the second coroner's inquiry was just a case of merely tying up loose ends. They had someone who'd been charged, and they weren't interested in any other systemic or failings in the medical system which allowed this to happen. Therefore, no findings were given and no changes were made. The second coroner had ample opportunity to review all relevant information and ask a number of questions, and he chose not to do that. So nothing was changed, and that approach does nothing to protect the people living with disability.
And I would just like to say that she did not die with dignity at all. And somebody else should have been able to step in. And I have I haven't said this. I have my training badge that we all wore, and it says "vive valeque" which I believe is "living with courage". And she lived with courage, but she died without dignity. And I believe the hospital allowed that to happen. And as I was a Registered Nurse, but I don't want this badge anymore because they failed. They failed Marceline.
MS EASTMAN: Margaret, our condolences for your loss.
MS BURN: Thank you. Thank you.
MS EASTMAN: And the impact that Marceline's death and the way in which she died has had on you and your family. Thank you very much for sharing Marceline's story to the Royal Commission. I hope that has given Marceline a voice.
MS BURN: Yes, it has.
MS EASTMAN: And you the sense that you have had that opportunity to really speak for Marceline so people know about her, about her life
MS BURN: Yeah.
MS EASTMAN: about the joy she gave you in her life, but also understand how she died, as you say, without dignity and without her sense of rights. So thank you very much for sharing your story and Marceline's story today.
MS BURN: Yeah. Thank you to all of you for listening. Thank you.
MS EASTMAN: Thank you, Commissioners. I don't know whether the Chair can
CHAIR: Yes. I wanted to add
MS EASTMAN: -- anything you would like to - Marceline.
MS EASTMAN: I think you are still
CHAIR: Ms Eastman, I'm not following what you are saying. Would you mind repeating that?
MS EASTMAN: I think the Chair is saying to you, Margaret, to thank you very much for giving your evidence - difficulties today and that
CHAIR: Sorry, I'm told that my I'm told that my -
MS EASTMAN: the Chair
CHAIR: I'm told that my microphone is on.
MS EASTMAN: --
CHAIR: But I'm yes, can you I hope you can hear me, because what I'm trying to do
MS BURN: Thank you for listening.
CHAIR: is to express my appreciation to you for giving evidence, but I don't think I can be heard. But it's just
SPEAKER: -- and just the realisation - sister in law --
MS BURN: Yes, so how yeah, what does it mean for other people who don't have any advocates. I can't imagine I can't imagine what they go through. So if yeah. So to have this it is like a dream come true because just nothing happened after she died. That was it.
MS EASTMAN: Margaret, thank you very much.
MS BURN: Yes. Thank you.
THE WITNESS WITHDREW
MS EASTMAN: I think we were due to have our morning tea break, so if we adjourn for 20 minutes and --
CHAIR: I'm trying again I'm trying again to be heard. I I don't know whether anybody can hear me. Can anybody hear me? I'm sorry, I can't be heard. I'm sorry.
All right. I'm told that people in the room other than Kate can hear what I'm saying, and I appreciate that Ms Burn has left, but I did want to express appreciation on behalf of the Commissioners for Ms Burn, for Margaret giving evidence and to say how grateful we are that she's been prepared to come to us and to share Marceline's story. So that can be placed on the transcript, and I hope that Ms Burn will be able to see that a little later. Thank you very much.
ADJOURNED 11:20 AM
RESUMED 12:07 PM
CHAIR: Yes, thank you, Ms Eastman.
MS EASTMAN: Chair, we are going straight to Brisbane with Ms Tarrago.
CHAIR: All right I'm sorry. Yes, please.
MS TARRAGO: Yes, thank you, Chair, it is Ms Tarrago. And I am here with
CHAIR: Yes, thank you. I should just mention that I was trying to express thanks to Ms Burn at the end of the last session but we couldn't get through. But there will be something on the transcript. So please do continue now.
MS TARRAGO: Thank you, Chair. I'm joined by Kristy Hill who is here with me and is seated next to me. And before we start speaking with Kristy, I would just like the Content Warning 1 brought up on the screen. So the evidence that viewers may hear, we will speak about experiences of abuse and neglect when Kristy was a child. She will also speak about her experiences as an adult of sexual and physical violence from former partners and police, as well as her experiences with homelessness.
If the discussions raise concerns for anyone who might be viewing the recording, please contact 1800RESPECT and 1800 737 732, Blue Knot Counselling and Referral Services on 1800 421 468, Lifeline on 13 11 14, or Beyond Blue on 1300 224 636. And Kristy has taken an affirmation shortly before we came on line, Chair.
KRISTY HILL, CALLED
CHAIR: Yes. Thank you very much. And thank you, Kristy, for coming to the Royal Commission into the Brisbane hearing room to give evidence. We are very grateful for you to do that, and I hope that everything proceeds smoothly with our technology today, because, as you probably know, we have had one or two, problems, but I will be pretty confident that all will be well. So thank you again, and I will ask now Ms Tarrago to ask you some questions. Thank you.
EXAMINATION BY MS TARRAGO
MS TARRAGO: Thank you, Chair. So, Kristy, on 14 May this year last year, you spoke with BillIe from WWILD.
MS HILL: Yes.
MS TARRAGO: And you told them about your experiences.
MS HILL: Yeah.
MS TARRAGO: And that was recorded. And were the things that you were chatting to Billie about, are they true?
MS HILL: Yes.
MS TARRAGO: And so I will ask for the operator to play that recording.
MS HILL: Yep.
MS TARRAGO: And then once we have heard from you we will ask you a few questions.
MS HILL: Okay. Yep.
MS TARRAGO: Operator, it is document ID IND. 0144. 001. 001
MS HILL: It pretty much started when I was a kid. Like, at first, it was all good, but my parents split up.
MS HILL: And then my mum went to my stepfather.
INTERVIEWER: What year were you born Kristy?
MS HILL: 1982.
INTERVIEWER: 1982. So how many years
MS HILL: I would have been about probably 6.
MS HILL: Because I remember because my stepfather told my mum she had a choice, us kids or him, and she chose him and put us in the home, and I was in the home from about when I was 6 onwards with my brother and my other two sisters.
INTERVIEWER: So that happened and so mum and dad split.
MS HILL: Yeah.
INTERVIEWER: Mum chose your stepfather because he said it's me or the kids.
MS HILL: Yes, and she chose him.
INTERVIEWER: And you were in a home with your siblings.
MS HILL: Yes, and then mum said she will come to visit us but we were sitting at the gate and never turned up. And my Aunty (REDACTION) found out we were in the home and she told my father. Then he pretty much got us out.
MS HILL: And, since then, when I turned 7, my father used to abuse me and bash me.
INTERVIEWER: What was it before your father took you out, what was it like in the home?
MS HILL: I preferred to stay there because, where I was staying, they were quite nice.
INTERVIEWER: So it was safer than when you lived with your dad.
MS HILL: Yes. Yes, it was much safer. Like, pretty much he didn't want me.
INTERVIEWER: How long did you live with your dad?
MS HILL: Well, I pretty much put up with it him bashing the crap out of me, hitting me, shouting, ice and all of that, until I was about 18 or 17.
INTERVIEWER: That's a long time.
MS HILL: Yeah, for a long time. Then I just had enough of it and I ran away and started living on the streets to get myself out of that situation.
INTERVIEWER: When that was all happening when you were with your dad, did you ever tell anyone at the time? Did anyone ever know what was happening or did you try and tell them what was happening?
MS HILL: Tried to, but no one wouldn't believe me.
INTERVIEWER: Who were some of the people that you told?
MS HILL: My aunties and all that.
MS HILL: And they didn't care. They didn't believe me. So it was I thought there's no point telling anyone else because they won't believe me. So I just got myself out of there.
INTERVIEWER: Yes. And when you were with your dad, were you ever going to school at the time as well?
MS HILL: Yes.
INTERVIEWER: Did you ever try to talk to anyone at school or did anyone at school ever ask what was going on?
MS HILL: No, they didn't really care because when I was going to school, I had trouble at school too because my mum pulled me out at year 9 too, because my teacher actually was hitting me too. I told the headmaster, but he believed her over me.
INTERVIEWER: So lots of people not believing you.
MS HILL: Yes.
INTERVIEWER: Talking to lots of people and not believing.
MS HILL: Yep.
INTERVIEWER: Okay. And then you said you ran away from home and started living on the streets.
MS HILL: Streets.
INTERVIEWER: Yes. What was that like?
MS HILL: It was scary because you're cold, hungry.
INTERVIEWER: Were there any people that were helpful when you started living on your own?
MS HILL: No. Because they every time you asked for help or a bit of change to get some drinks or something to eat, ‘cause I was just a kid, they just keep on walking and just ignore ya. And when you do live on the streets, like, you see the coppers around all the time and even they don't care. They just move you along, tell you to leave.
INTERVIEWER: So no cop was ever helpful.
MS HILL: No.
INTERVIEWER: Never gave you any help.
MS HILL: No. Even the coppers were violent against me once. That's why I don't trust them.
INTERVIEWER: Do you want to talk about what happened when the cops were violent?
MS HILL: It happened in the Valley and I was staying with my ex-partner. We were both sleeping on the streets because I had a place but the owner said he had to leave or I'm going to get evicted. But he had nowhere to go and I weren't going to do that. So I gave my place up for him. And we were living on the streets, sleeping on the streets, nowhere to sleep, sleeping near the cop shop because that's where I felt safe.
MS HILL: But they just move you along. And so we went around the corner, and this fellow walked up. His plan was to keep trying to get me to go home with him. And I said, “No, I'm not going. ” Because his plan was to rape me and kill me. Because, you know, I yelled and screamed, upset after that happened, and instead the coppers came out and arrested me. And I'm trying to tell them, and I'm yelling and screaming because I was scared for my life and upset, and instead they arrested me and took me inside and slammed me up against a wall.
And I said, "You're hurting me. Let me go. " And the copper's just had his hand on the side of my face and pushed my face in the wall even harder. And the time they let me go, I had my side of my face was covered in bruises.
INTERVIEWER: Did you ever try to make any complaints about how the police had acted?
MS HILL: Yes. But they all ganged up on this fellow and said, no, it didn't happen.
MS HILL: They stuck, like, on his side.
INTERVIEWER: So another time of being ignored.
MS HILL: Yep. That's the same with the (redaction) Hospital. I even made a complaint against them in like, in the mental ward, where you wait to go in the ward.
INTERVIEWER: What was happening in the ward?
MS HILL: Well, if I’m out in the ward, they'll put you in this other room to get assessed by the doctors. And I only made the complaint against that because this worker, he was only working on his own, and I was crying in this room because I didn't want to be there.
MS HILL: I just wanted to get out. And he turned off the cameras and he picked me up and, like, there's an outdoor area where you sit. He threw me out there, threw my shoes at me and then he locked the door so I couldn't get in. I'm trying to open it to get back inside and he locked it and wouldn't let me in. So I started yelling again, "Unlock it. " And next minute, he came out with a big long pole towards me and that's not right.
INTERVIEWER: No. How old were you with when that happened, Kristy?
MS HILL: I was an adult. I was an adult. It was around about in my 20s. So and I said something and they reckon they checked the cameras and they couldn't see it on the camera and I said, "Because he turned it off because he knew. "
INTERVIEWER: When were you growing up and when you were an adult, were there any people that were helpful? Any people that listened to you or tried to help through all that time?
MS HILL: No, no. No one.
INTERVIEWER: No one was helpful.
MS HILL: No one. Every time that I talked to someone or tried to, they think I was crazy and they just dragged me up the hospital into the mental part.
INTERVIEWER: And when you were in the ward, mental health, how long did you have to stay there?
MS HILL: Yeah. For a long time. I was pretty much in and out all the time. And because the coppers get called and they drug me up there. They tackle me to the ground because I fight them because of the way I've been treated. I don't want them to touch me.
INTERVIEWER: Yes, because you don't trust them.
MS HILL: No, I don't trust them. So I have been in and out of hospital a lot. And I was seeing a mental health people in the Valley. That didn't help at all because they just drug me up the hospital every time. And I was seeing a counselor. That didn't help because she's trying to force ask me questions, the same questions after another, trying to force it out of me when I was ready to talk. But I haven't been in hospital for very long time now.
INTERVIEWER: So what started being different? How did things start changing or getting better?
MS HILL: Well, I pretty much somewhere I did it myself. Last time I was in hospital I was because all they do, they drug you up, 24/7. When you just want someone to talk to you, explain to you your problem and what's going on. Just someone to talk to. Not to be drugged up and locked up in your room.
INTERVIEWER: But you feel like they don't talk. They just drug you.
MS HILL: Yeah, no, they don't. They just give you medication 24/7. So I was sitting outside and I thought, “This is not right. ” It's not a life. When, you know, I've still got a lot ahead of me.
MS HILL: So I kept I got myself out of there, kept myself out. And I was on two different medications for anxiety and depression. But I slowly eased myself off of ‘em when I'm not supposed to but I did it. And then I started seeing WWILD here.
INTERVIEWER: What should have people done differently? What should people do differently?
MS HILL: Listen to us. Talk to us. Spend time with us. Get to know us. Don't just medicate us 24/7 or think we're crazy.
INTERVIEWER: Do you feel like lots of people do you feel like all those people not believing you, do you think they didn't if they’ believed you, do you think things would be different?
MS HILL: Oh, yeah. It would be. Like, if I didn't if mental health didn't introduce me to WWILD here I would not be here. I would have been six foot under. But I'm here because of these people. They're the one that helped me because they listened.
INTERVIEWER: Would you make any suggestions for how hospitals or police would do better for people with disability or people who have been hurt?
MS HILL: Yeah, things what they can do better is talk to us. Help us. Don't decide because you think, “Oh, no, she's just got mental health problems, take her up to hospital. ” That's not what we want.
MS HILL: Be there for us. And show us a bit of respect. And don't treat us like that. Because that's the thing what we don't like. We don't like being slammed on the ground or slammed up against a wall.
INTERVIEWER: What are the things in your life that you find really helpful or things that people do to help now? Do you think that there is good things that people are doing now?
MS HILL: There is some good things people can do. Like, they help you and they help you do things if you need help.
MS HILL: Or if you need to go somewhere and that you don't know where you're going, they will help you. And there's some people that just snobs that won't do it.
INTERVIEWER: Are there any other, like, groups or places besides WWILD that you found helpful? Any other places that are doing good?
MS HILL: No, because most people where you go, they don't help you and or they can't help you, or you ask them, "Well, can you help us find a place where we can go? " And they go, "No, we can't do that. You've got to find it yourself. "
INTERVIEWER: It sounds like you've done lots of solving of your own problems before.
MS HILL: Yes, so I’ve pretty much had to do it all on my own.
INTERVIEWER: And I guess thinking about the future, what do you think what do you hope is different? What do you think would be a better world? What do you think should be different?
MS HILL: Well, better world and different with – we all get on and be nice to each other. Don't judge people --
MS HILL: -- because of the way they are.
INTERVIEWER: Kristy, is there anything that we haven't talked about yet that you want to talk about?
MS HILL: No. It's still pretty much it's hard for me to go to other places. I only can come to WWILD to talk to people because it's hard for me to go to another places and plus the police and the hospital, anyone else, because the way I got treated.
MS HILL: I don't trust them.
INTERVIEWER: Yes. And it would be really hard to trust them again.
MS HILL: Yes. It's going to take a very long time for me to trust them again. Because they always say even the coppers say, "Oh, we're here to help you" and it's not true half the time. They just treat you wrong.
INTERVIEWER: So they still don't do what they say they are going to do?
MS HILL: No. And the same with hospitals. They need to know the rules too. Like, every time I go up there, the hospitals, they always ask a male to search me, and that's not allowed. Males cannot search a female. It's got to be a female.
INTERVIEWER: Yes. Do you tell them that?
MS HILL: Yes. And they're going, "Oh, why? why? " I say, "Because that's the law. You cannot do that. "
INTERVIEWER: Yes. Yes. So lots of feeling ignored. Lots of people putting pressure on you.
MS HILL: Yeah.
SPEAKER: Lots of people trying to force you to do things you are not comfortable with.
MS HILL: No. And I'm not the main reason I'm not comfortable I'm definitely not comfortable with the police at all, because a fair while ago because I was on the streets and I was a heavy drinker. I'd play up. But then I stopped I haven't drank for years because drinking gets me into trouble. And then the coppers grabbed me and took me to the watch house, and I was going off. And there was a male in there with the females, and I was really angry and upset because they were holding me down. Because I didn't want to take my clothes off to put their clothes on. Because once you've been sexually assaulted that many times, you don't want to do it.
MS HILL: And they're actually holding me down and there was a male in there on, like near my head holding me down while they cut me clothes off me. And that was disgusting, and it wasn't right.
MS HILL: And they've got to think about people. When they go to the watch house, ask them questions. Like, "Have you been sexually assaulted before? " They should ask that question. That's why females don't like taking their clothes off. Especially when they've been sexually assaulted by males.
INTERVIEWER: And no one has ever asked you that question at a watch house?
MS HILL: No. No one. They do not ask you that. They just hold you down and cut your clothes off and throw you down in there and run out.
INTERVIEWER: It sounds like that caused a lot of pain and a lot of hurt.
MS HILL: It does. And especially in the watch house, or in the police station, there's always males there working. And in the cells, there's a toilet. Females don't feel comfortable going using the toilet whether there's cameras there and they are watching you.
INTERVIEWER: So no privacy.
MS HILL: No, no privacy at all because they can see you through the cameras. What you're doing.
INTERVIEWER: And it sounds like no one has ever seen that privacy is important for you and that
MS HILL: Yeah.
INTERVIEWER: And that you deserve privacy.
MS HILL: That's right.
INTERVIEWER: Even if you are in a watch house.
MS HILL: Yeah. And it's made me more angry when they did that, they held me down and cut my clothes off.
INTERVIEWER: Do you remember how long ago that was?
MS HILL: It was a fair while ago. I was an adult. I was about in my 30s. But they should ask people like that, because some people don't like females don't like taking their clothes off because they have been sexually assaulted.
INTERVIEWER: Or sometimes it’s just because people have hurt them before.
MS HILL: Yeah. And they don't ask them that question, and they should. And they shouldn't hold them down to cut their clothes off. And because when they do that, it comes back in your head, "What's going to happen next? Am I going to get assaulted again? " That's what it feels like.
INTERVIEWER: Brings you back to a really scary place.
MS HILL: Yes. And they don't understand that.
INTERVIEWER: That's really awful.
MS HILL: It is.
INTERVIEWER: Are there other stories of the hospital that you would want the Royal Commission to know?
MS HILL: Hospitals, they need to work on the other stuff, like, when people's in hospital, don't be rude to them. Don't medicate them 24/7. Talk to us. Or have things there like art and crafts there to keep us going. We just want someone to listen to us and talk to us, not medicate us and drug us up all the time because they can't be bothered dealing with us. That's what makes us worse.
SPEAKER: Yes. Lots of learning to do, hey?
MS HILL: Yes, they've got a long way to go.
MS TARRAGO: So thank you, Kristy, for sharing your experiences.
MS HILL: That's okay.
MS TARRAGO: You spoke in the recording about how important WWILD was to you.
MS HILL: Yeah.
MS TARRAGO: How much of a difference has the support of WWILD made to you?
MS HILL: Well, pretty much WWILD has always been part of me for a long time because they help me out a lot. Like, if I didn't have them, I wouldn't be here. I would be six foot under. And WWILD take their time and they listen to us and they always help us.
MS TARRAGO: Do they create that safe space for you to to be able to talk about the things that you want to talk about so you feel listened to?
MS HILL: Yes. And they don't actually force you to say things. They wait until we're ready.
MS TARRAGO: And that's really important to you?
MS HILL: Yes.
MS TARRAGO: Now, Kristy, if there was a message that you could share with the Royal Commission for other women who might have gone through similar experiences to you, what would you tell them?
MS HILL: I pretty much probably tell them don't give up, keep going. Keep going forward. You'll get there. And don't be scared. To ask for help.
MS TARRAGO: And is there anything else that you would like to tell the Royal Commission?
MS HILL: No, not really. Like, pretty much send everyone to WWILD.
MS TARRAGO: Well, thank you, Kristy
MS HILL: Yep.
MS TARRAGO: for coming in today.
MS HILL: That's okay.
MS TARRAGO: Thank you. Thank you, Chair.
CHAIR: Kristy, thank you very much for letting us hear the audio of the interview you did for us and for sharing your experiences, as Ms Tarrago said. And thank you also for coming today to give evidence. We appreciate your doing that and sharing what you've experienced and for the time that you (indistinct) your interview. So thank you very much for that assistance to the Royal Commission. We are very grateful to you. Thank you.
MS HILL: Okay.
MS TARRAGO: So, Chair, if I could take a few moments to reconstitute the hearing room for our next witness, unless there are any questions from the Commissioners.
CHAIR: Well, I will ask the Commissioners if they wish to ask any questions. Commissioner Galbally, do you have any questions?
COMMISSIONER GALBALLY: No, but I would like to thank you very much for that. And I was very struck by your final recommendation. You know, the groups like WWILD are really important to have everywhere, really, so people can go to them. And I thought that was really very helpful to us. Thank you.
CHAIR: Thank you. Commissioner Bennett and Commissioner Mason? Well, thank you very much, Kristy. What we will now do, is it is nearly 12:35 Hobart time and 11:35 Brisbane time. We will adjourn for 10 minutes and resume in 10 minutes, if that's okay. Thank you. Thank you, Kristy.
THE WITNESS WITHDREW
ADJOURNED 12:33 PM
RESUMED 12:47 PM
CHAIR: Yes, Ms Tarrago.
MS TARRAGO: Thank you, Chair. I'm here with Kobie Hicks, and we also have a support dog, Joker. But before we start, Chair, I would like Content Warning 3 to be brought up on the screen. For those who might be viewing the recording, the witness that you are about to hear from will speak of experiences of sexual, domestic and family violence during her childhood and as an adult.
So if the evidence raises concerns for anyone who might be viewing today, please contact 1800 RESPECT on 1800 737 732, Blue Knot Counselling and Referral Service on 1800 421 468, Lifeline on 13 11 14, Beyond Blue on 1300 224 636, and for First Nations viewers, you can also contact your local Aboriginal medical service for social and emotional wellbeing and support.
KOBIE HICKS, CALLED
EXAMINATION BY MS TARRAGO
MS TARRAGO: Kobie, earlier you gave your affirmation. Chair, I'm not sure whether you would like to say anything before we start?
CHAIR: Yes. Definitely. I would. I would like to thank you, Kobie, if I may refer to you as Kobie. If that's all right. Thank you for coming to us in the Brisbane hearing room to give your evidence. We welcome you. We welcome Joker. So together both of you, thank you and I will now ask Ms Tarrago to ask you some questions. If you need at any time to have a little break or anything like that, just let us know. Okay?
MS HICKS: No worries. Thank you.
CHAIR: Thank you very much. Yes, Ms Tarrago.
MS TARRAGO: Thank you, Chair. So, Kobie, you are a Gubbi Gubbi woman?
MS HICKS: Yes, I am Gubbi Gubbi.
MS TARRAGO: And you have lived with personal stress disorder and an intellectual disability?
MS HICKS: Yes. And I've forgotten the other name of it. Depression.
MS TARRAGO: Depression.
MS HICKS: Depression, yeah.
MS TARRAGO: And you are a mother of four sons?
MS HICKS: Yes.
MS TARRAGO: And two of your sons also have a disability?
MS HICKS: Yes.
MS TARRAGO: And what I wanted to talk to you about today was we will start with some of the experiences that you had as a child and growing up. I understand that you had experienced some violence where you were placed into care and foster care.
MS HICKS: Yes.
MS TARRAGO: You had a few different placements throughout the time when you were growing up.
MS HICKS: Yes.
MS TARRAGO: And one of the occasions that we've spoken about before, you were placed with a foster family and experienced sexual assault by the foster father?
MS HICKS: Yeah. That's correct.
MS TARRAGO: Can you just tell the Royal Commission about you know, how you were separated from your siblings and how you were feeling during that time and how old you might have been?
MS HICKS: So my mum lost me when I was a baby. I'm not too sure on the story why. And I got put with foster carers in and out. I went back to mum a few times but, yeah, then I went and stayed with a long term care arrangement. So I'm not too sure of the story why I got taken from my mum. I heard multiple stories, but I it's hearsay.
MS TARRAGO: Okay. And so when you were staying with the first family I was just talking about, with the foster father, were you able to tell anybody about what happened?
MS HICKS: So I'm not too sure how anyone found out what was going on. All I knew is my half brother rocked up and the police rocked up behind him. I don't I don't remember if I told anyone what was happening or I like, I went over to the neighbours over the road and my half brother rocked up with the police behind him. So that's all I can, like, basically remember from that from, like, when everything came out of the water.
I don't remember what happened but it's yeah, it's just all I remember, like, from leaving that care is when my half brother rocked up with the police. So I'm not sure if I I don't remember talking to anyone about it. I might have, but saying that, I don't know.
MS TARRAGO: Okay. And you talked about being moved around a couple of times.
MS HICKS: Yes.
MS TARRAGO: There was another occasion where you were with another foster mother, and her boyfriend had also molested you at the time?
MS HICKS: Yeah. So I got placed with another foster carer and I got he asked me to do something inappropriate with him, and I said no. And I went and told the foster mother about what happened.
MS TARRAGO: And that man couldn't be located. He disappeared.
MS HICKS: No. Yeah, he, like disappeared. As far as I what I remember of that one as well. I remember swimming in the pool and I had to get out of the pool. So, yeah.
MS TARRAGO: Okay. And then, later on, you were placed with Aunty.
MS HICKS: Yeah.
MS TARRAGO: And your brother was also living with Aunty at the time?
MS HICKS: Yes.
MS TARRAGO: And how long were you living with them for?
MS HICKS: Well, I so I what I remember, I went from the foster care to them when I was about 8, and from then on I lived with them until I was about 16. Ran away from home. And then I went back when I was about 18. I don't know why.
MS TARRAGO: Okay. And you experienced some sexual assaults with your brother during the time that you were living with Aunty.
MS HICKS: Yes, that's correct.
MS TARRAGO: Yes. And did you report any of those instances to anyone?
MS HICKS: No. I no, I told a couple of my friends what was going on. I couldn't feel safe enough to report to police because of Aunty that I had looking after me at the time was very abusive and aggressive. So she would have made me out to go back and say I lied or pull my statement out.
MS TARRAGO: And there were occasions where Aunty had flogged you.
MS HICKS: Yes. Threw me downstairs. Threw me through glass windows. Punched me in the stomach. Hit me in with the polypipe and yeah.
MS TARRAGO: And you told some people at your school.
MS HICKS: Yeah, I told I told the school, and they reported it to Child Safety. Child Safety went and asked the Aunty about it, and she denied it.
MS TARRAGO: And they believed her and you felt like you weren't heard.
MS HICKS: Yes. That's correct.
MS TARRAGO: Yes. And I think you wanted to have the opportunity to talk about how important it is for you to be heard. Did you want to tell the Commissioners about that?
MS HICKS: So, with my experience, it shouldn't have happened at the end of the day, like but we can't yeah, we can't turn back the clock. I'm hoping that we can now improve time and make you know, anyone's life a lot more better in care, out of care. And so they're not getting the terrified reaction or have to deal with what I deal with every day. I struggle every day with, you know, knowing that my brother is still out there and I mean, I don't care if he sees this. It doesn't worry me. I just need people to understand that I'm speaking up because, you know, it's not right. It's not right to do what happened you know, what he did to me. So, yeah.
MS TARRAGO: Let me know if you need a break.
MS HICKS: No, we'll go on.
MS TARRAGO: Okay. So those experiences when you were growing up, have they impacted your relationships now that you're an adult?
MS HICKS: Yes. So I used to always I always thought DV was the answer, like, until I learned about the domestic violence circle through WWILD. I didn't understand, like, what was safety, what wasn't safe. So, yeah, WWILD WWILD really helped me understood, you know, and with a lot of counselling and a lot of support that they gave me. So I can't thank them enough for all the time and being able to speak up about my past like my past life now and, you know, many years more experience of it in the past and present, you know.
I might be by me speaking up today, it might, you know, help change the system to become a better place. So if there is a family out there that can take on, you know, any children, that they might get better you know, put with a decent family that will love them for them.
MS TARRAGO: Thanks, Kobie. And one of the experiences that you shared with intimate partner violence is one time when police came and, ultimately, you were charged with an offence.
MS HICKS: They didn't actually no, I got sentenced with a DVO an offence. So, yeah, I called police because I thought my head was bleeding. And but because I went into self defence mode and threw a chair to protect myself, they they put the DVO against me instead of the party that was actually doing the domestic violence.
MS TARRAGO: And he, on that occasion, had slammed your head against the concrete.
MS HICKS: Yes. No, I thought my head was bleeding, yeah.
MS TARRAGO: And did you find the police understanding at that time?
MS HICKS: No. I didn't.
MS TARRAGO: And
MS HICKS: I tried to explain to them what happened. Even though it was by phone, because I wasn't in the area much more longer. I got out to get safe. And the police told me that I had to appear before court to have a domestic violence served on me. And I wasn't going all the way back down there. It's too far. So I just wore the DVO for no reason.
MS TARRAGO: And, again, as we talked about earlier, those experiences of not being believed.
MS HICKS: Yeah, well, they didn't believe me either. Not not them police officers, anyway.
MS TARRAGO: And you've had those experiences where now you no longer trust the police.
MS HICKS: I don't trust anyone. Regardless. I only trust the people that have earned my trust, like WWILD. And I trust myself and I trust, you know, my partner. My kids don't know about what's happened to me and, you know, hopefully one day they'll never find out.
MS TARRAGO: And in the past you have also been troubled by situations where your personal information had been shared without your consent.
MS HICKS: Yes, that's confidentiality. I was put in a I went to a shelter to keep myself safe. Removed myself from my old foster carer where I had my kids and they was giving my old foster carer, like, where I was, what I was doing, where the kids were, information and all that. So I don't think that's right either. As far as I'm aware, the shelters are confidentiality you know, they can't give that information out. So and they did, so yeah.
MS TARRAGO: And that's one of the things that WWILD has respected, and the support is so important to you, because they respect that.
MS HICKS: Yeah, yeah. No, WWILD WWILD's shown me some great length of they respect me. They believe me. They if I don't want them to talk about something, they won't, you know, use that in their whatever it is. Like with, like, the Commission, say, for example, if there was something that I wanted kept out, they'd have that great confidence to keep that out of that scenario. So, no, they earned my trust. That's for sure.
MS TARRAGO: And recently you've started doing some work as a NDIS peer support worker.
MS HICKS: Yeah. Yeah.
MS TARRAGO: And what does it mean to you to be able to engage with other people who might share the same experiences that you do?
MS HICKS: Well, I've never actually dealt with anyone who's shared the nearly the same experiences as I have, but I've dealt with people with, like, PTSD, depression and anxiety, and it's really good because I can help them de escalate and de escalate it by using just you know, phrases that I know I find what they like and I use that, like, to help them calm them down. So, yeah.
MS TARRAGO: And I think when we spoke last that you were a bit sceptical about the NDIS to start with, but now you are getting some supports as well?
MS HICKS: Yeah, yeah. So I if anyone spoke to me about NDIS, I'd be like, "Oh, no, I don't need them. " But now I went on the NDIS myself, and the help is so amazing. Sometimes, depending on if NDIS is actually going to give the right amount of funding. But, yeah, with the help I can't fault the help.
MS TARRAGO: And what about First Nations specific supports for mums with disability or for women with disability? I think we spoke about there's only mum and bubs programs in your area, and you had some ideas about what would be helpful.
MS HICKS: Maybe, like, you know, doing a yarning session down at the park, so all aged children can, you know, get out there and play and enjoy, and, you know, maybe have some tucker or something like that, you know, where we all chip in and, you know, make a good time of it. So that all the kids can, you know, enjoy their what the First Nations is about.
MS TARRAGO: And, Kobie, if there is a message that you could give to the Royal Commission or to government, what would you like to say?
MS HICKS: I would like to say, you know, please try and help, you know, improve as best as you can to make life a lot more better so people like me ain't going through what I went through. So that's about it, I think. That's what yep.
MS TARRAGO: Well, thank you, Kobie. And thank you, Chair. That's the evidence for Kobie.
CHAIR: Thank you very much, Kobie. I might ask Commissioner Mason if there's anything that she would like to ask you or say to you.
MS EASTMAN: Chair, just because of the logistics in the room, Commissioner Mason thanks Kobie for her evidence today and she's listened very carefully to the evidence. Commissioner Mason wanted to ask you about WWILD and about the importance of learning to be a strong advocate. And I think we have some other questions we might ask the WWILD representatives a little bit later. But, Kobie, for you and working with WWILD, how has that helped you to be an advocate for yourself?
MS HICKS: They taught me to have a voice. Like, I like I said, I've known WWILD for many, many years. I've dealt with quite a few people through WWILD. And, you know, they've learnt they taught me to have a voice about, you know, what's happened to me, and that's how I become strong and, you know, voice what's happened.
MS EASTMAN: And has having a voice given you the confidence to speak up about what's happened to yourself?
MS HICKS: Yes. Yes, it has. It's been amazing because now I don't have nightmares as much any more.
COMMISSIONER MASON: --
MS HICKS: I don't hear her.
COMMISSIONER MASON: --
MS EASTMAN: So Commissioner Mason said you now have a voice to speak up for yourself.
MS HICKS: Yes.
MS EASTMAN: And you've been caring and looking after your children and wanting to be the voice for your children. But you're now able to be a voice for yourself, to advocate for yourself, and whether that's part of why you've now become an advocate in relation to your participation with the NDIS.
MS HICKS: Yes. That's correct. Yes. So before I before NDIS even came out, I knew so much about them, but I was, like, "Nuh, I don't need them. I don't need the help. " And actually I do. And I wouldn't be able to give, you know, give up my help that I'm getting. So, yeah.
MS EASTMAN: Commissioner Mason said thank you very much, Kobie.
MS HICKS: No dramas. Thank you.
CHAIR: Commissioner Bennett, is there anything you would like to ask.
MS EASTMAN: Commissioner Bennett said thank you, Kobie, very much for your evidence. She's very moved by listening to your experiences and being so generous in talking about experiences that have obviously been very difficult in your life.
MS HICKS: Yep. So there's no dramas.
CHAIR: Kobie, I should explain I think that we are having some microphone problems in the Hobart hearing room and that's why Commissioner Mason and Commissioner Bennett, who I'm sure would like to speak to you directly, have had to speak through someone else. That was because of our technical problems and I do apologise for that.
MS HICKS: That's okay.
CHAIR: I will ask Commissioner Galbally, who hopefully can speak to you directly to you, if she has any questions.
COMMISSIONER GALBALLY: Kobie, I wanted to thank you very much and but I was very struck by the fact you are now helping others and you are coming up you know, with WWILD and in other ways. And coming up with these very important ideas, you know, to set up a mother's and children's group and a yarning group and, you know, it's sort of I would like you to comment more on the contribution that you are now making and why you think having been there first and helping others from your own experience really works well.
MS TARRAGO: So how your lived experience has helped you to do the work in advocating that you are doing now.
COMMISSIONER GALBALLY: Yes.
MS HICKS: Sorry. It's really hard to hear. Yeah, look, honestly, if I can I'm going to have a look in to see if I can, you know, maybe do something on Facebook, so I can, you know, maybe start up, like, a yarning session down at the park for all the Aboriginal mums and dads out there and anyone with disabilities or, you know they're not all about, you know, just the Indigenous side. It's, you know, for everyone to come along and, you know, enjoy the you know, a lot of there's a lot of kids out there that, you know, need that, you know, kids group. So, yeah, if I can try and maybe work out a way of you know, to do that, that will be I'd have to use my noggin and I'll get there.
COMMISSIONER GALBALLY: Thank you. Thanks.
CHAIR: Thank you very much. Kobie, like Commissioner Mason, Commissioner Bennett and Commissioner Galbally, I too would like to thank you for coming and giving evidence. We all know that it is not a very easy thing to do, to come to a Royal Commission and give evidence in the way that you have done today. And we are very grateful to you for taking that step and sharing your experiences and your ideas with us. So thank you, Kobie, very much. And thank you too to Joker, who seems to have been exceptionally well behaved, which is very good. So thank you, and we wish you all the best. Thank you very much.
MS HICKS: You are more than welcome. Joker's sleeping. I wish I was him.
CHAIR: Yes, I know that feeling, actually. Ms Tarrago, should we now adjourn for one hour?
MS TARRAGO: Yes. Thank you, Chair.
CHAIR: Okay. We will resume it's now 1. 15 Hobart time, 12. 15 Brisbane time. We will resume at 2. 15 Hobart time, 1. 15 Brisbane time. Thank you.
THE WITNESS WITHDREW
ADJOURNED 1:13 PM
RESUMED 2:16 PM
CHAIR: Yes, Ms Eastman.
MS EASTMAN: Thank you, Chair. So I am in the Hobart hearing room and our next witness is Annabelle Stephens and Belle is the I think your preference, Belle, in speaking to you today. And Belle's pronouns are they and them. And Belle has made their affirmation. So, Chair, we are linking between Hobart and Brisbane. I hope it goes well. And Belle has Gypsy with Belle. So, Belle, can you hear us.
BELLE STEVENS, CALLED
EXAMINATION BY MS EASTMAN SC
CHAIR: Gypsy. Ok. Belle, thank you very much for coming to the Brisbane hearing room. This has probably been explained to you, but there are four Commissioners who are participating in the hearing. Commissioner Galbally, whom you can see on screen, is in Melbourne. And Commissioner Bennett and Commissioner Mason are in the Hobart hearing room, and they each just waved to you. And I am in the Sydney well, sort of the Sydney hearing room.
So we are scattered in three separate places, but we are all here to listen to the evidence that you are to give about your own experiences and we appreciate your willingness to do that. So thank you very much, and I will now ask Ms Eastman to ask you some questions.
MS EASTMAN: So, Belle, can I just check that you are there with Billie?
MS EASTMAN: And you told me that if you feel that you can't answer any questions, Billie might assist you. Is that okay?
BELLE: Yes. I'm trying to hear.
MS EASTMAN: So, Belle, thank you for joining us today. You've had a period of time in hospital recently, and you've come from hospital to come and talk to us today at the Royal Commission.
BELLE: Yeah, I wish I could have been in Hobart.
MS EASTMAN: I know. We wish you could have been in Hobart as well. So, Belle, you wanted to come to the Royal Commission so that you could get your story out there.
BELLE: Yeah. I wanted to get it across.
MS EASTMAN: And, Belle, you wanted to be able to tell your story to help any other person who feels they need to tell their story but they are not sure how to do that. Okay.
MS EASTMAN: Belle, you've had 50 plus years, as you say, of nothing but mental, sexual and physical abuse.
MS EASTMAN: When you think about what's happened to you, to have no one to believe you has been really hard.
BELLE: Yeah, it feels like shit. Like, what what, was I was I put on this earth to be abused. Like, there's no you just feel like shit. Like, you you're lower than life. You're even a maggot is frigging better than you.
MS EASTMAN: But you don't want to be in the too hard basket, do you?
BELLE: No, but I am.
MS EASTMAN: You think people you know, you think people have put you in the too hard basket, but you don't want to be in the too hard basket?
MS EASTMAN: Belle, can I ask you about when you were growing up? And from when you were about 4 years old, you started to experience abuse in your family, didn't you?
MS EASTMAN: Your parents abused you?
MS EASTMAN: And it's hard to talk about that now.
BELLE: Yeah. Some days are better than others. I just don't understand that how a parent can say that, at the age of 4, you are too hard. So they couldn't protect me. Because I was too I was too hard of a kid at the age of 4. Like, I look at my grandchildren, you know, like, I've got I've got really young grandkids and I look at them like how the fuck can anybody do you know, like. You know, you've got to be you're supposed to be able to you are supposed to as a parent or as a carer or any or anyone, you are supposed to protect our the kids.
MS EASTMAN: You
BELLE: Which is what to me, without pardon?
MS EASTMAN: You didn't feel protected by your parents
BELLE: No, I wasn't.
MS EASTMAN: as a kid.
BELLE: There was no feeling protected. I wasn't protected. Because I was too I was too hard of a child at the age of 4, was the excuse I was given.
MS EASTMAN: The experience of being abused as a child has made it very difficult for you to be in that family, hasn't it?
MS EASTMAN: There's a lot of conflict in the family.
BELLE: You know, you're yes, there is. Yes. You know, like, you're supposed to feel loved by your family. Not asking them were you like, were you adopted. Not asking why don't you love me. You know, like, when you have children, love comes unconditionally, but it doesn't happen, like I turned out I had this conversation not so long ago with me mother. And I stated to her that I was on Bluetooth, so Hayden was in the car with me.
She didn't stop she didn't seem to care. She I ended up saying when she said to me that we were talking about the mental institution and I went, "I was 4 year old. " I said, "I could never inflict that pain upon any kid. How the hell couldn't you protect me, a 4 year old? " She said, "Oh, well if it's any consolation, I had to marry my rapist. " Right. And I went, "Well, why the fuck didn't you keep me safe from him? "
Like, she's smarter than me. She's been had a bit of education. I protected my kids. I warned my kids. I would never, ever, ever put my kids through that. I'm living in hell, and I don't understand how anybody if they're living in hell, like she reckons she is, how the fuck can she inflict that kind of pain and not protect a kid when it's happened to you. I don't I don't understand I I don't think I'll ever understand, but it makes me so angry because you have nobody. Nobody has got your back. No one no one gives a shit.
MS EASTMAN: Belle, even as you grew up and became an adult, you still felt that in your family that there was abuse. It could be emotional abuse.
MS EASTMAN: How you talk to each other in the family. It’s also very difficult to sort out where you had problems with each other in the family.
BELLE: So if my if the rest of my family knew what their best friend/mother was like, and she didn't like, they're parents now, so - they knew that what had happened to me, I don't believe that I don't believe the family would hate me. Like, that hurts. Because, like, I've done nothing wrong. But it's all been a secret. So no one knows what the stepfather has done. Nobody knows what the real father has done.
MS EASTMAN: So, Belle, can I ask you, when you needed help, who did you go to ask for help?
BELLE: I didn't ask for so when I'm not allowed to mention them. So the government got involved when I was about 6 year old. And I was on the veranda and I had a pair of undies on, no shirt on. And they walked down the stairs and they said to they said "Bye, (REDACTED)" and I was crying and I was saying to them, "Please take me away. " I wanted a new mummy and daddy. I wanted and they wouldn't take me away. They left me there.
MS EASTMAN: As you became
BELLE: I remember telling them at the age of 6 that I wasn't loved.
MS EASTMAN: Yes. As you became an adult, did you ask people for help?
BELLE: Off and on, because nobody gave a damn. So, yeah, I didn't ask them for help. They're the ones that frigging abused me. So when I was 15 and it all come out and I had a behavioural problem, that she was telling people that I wasn't mad, I was just I was bad, I was evil. She put me in a them and the government put me into (REDACTED). And I was talking to the nun in charge. She wore a habit. I always wanted to kick the habit, but anyway.
I wore a she wore the habit, and I was talking to her after a while because I got into trouble there because I tried to burn down the kitchen. Because things were happening there, and I went to her, and I was crying. We were in there for, I don't know, probably about an hour or so. But she she used that against me and told the priest and then so I was abused there. I was also abused in the laundry. But after I the nun was pulling my hair and saying that I was going to hell and stuff. And was throwing my father up because my mother had spoken to her and I had also mentioned what had happened.
And we had the March I and some other people that had disabilities we had to march to the laundry, and it was really, really hot and it stunk. And she was pulling my hair and she was making threats, and where I was, it was like it wasn't raining but it was like there was water coming out of the ceiling, and there's this really big long oh, yeah I've got to tell you that. This really, really big long you know the old washing machines and they had the the two roller things. Well, they had just that big long roller and it dried and folded the the sheets and the towels for the laundry.
MS EASTMAN: So, Belle
BELLE: And it was raining and she stepped and I put her arm in it. And then they put they sent me to Wolston Park Hospital.
MS EASTMAN: Belle, when you think about what's happened to you in your life, some things you can really remember really, really clearly. But other things
MS EASTMAN: you have had I think you have kind of said this. Sometimes you've just got gaps and you can't remember. And when you think about your experiences one thing through everything is not being able to trust other people. Is that right?
BELLE: Yeah, I don't I don't have a lot of friends. I don't I find it very hard to trust people when I make friends. But the few friends that I have made are wise, and some of them are pains in the arse, but we get along really well.
MS EASTMAN: But you want your friends to get to know you
MS EASTMAN: and understand you and listen to you. And coming back to asking about
BELLE: Yeah, because, like, they if you tell too many people or you like, you've got to come across as if you're not intellectually impaired or challenged. You've got to you've got to put on a fake you've got to become somebody that you're not. But the more time goes on, even though you don't know, they've worked you out and then they start using that against you.
MS EASTMAN: Yes. And that means that you find it hard to trust people, don't you?
BELLE: Yeah, I don't trust a lot of people, no.
MS EASTMAN: Can I ask you about how you got involved with WWILD? And because you've become involved in WWILD, that has given you some confidence
BELLE: Hope, yeah.
MS EASTMAN: to be able to talk about your experiences in the way that you want to talk about those experience. What can you tell the Royal Commission about WWILD?
BELLE: I don't remember how I got in contact with WWILD. I don't remember so who told me about WWILD?
SPEAKER: Didn't you hear it from Hayden, some place in the Valley you were going to, rainbow or something?
MS EASTMAN: That's all right. Belle, if you can't remember how you got to know WWILD
BELLE: Okay. So - I don't like, so I got abused I was abused last year. I got took the abuse away from Hayden, and so I copped it, even though at the time I didn't really know it was going to happen until it happened. And, anyway, I got involved with WWILD. I didn't like, they made me feel really, really welcome and, like, I wanted to trust them really, really bad but I I couldn't. And I they asked me to call them back and I didn't because I just didn't think that they cared.
I thought they were like every other organisation. And because I didn't call them back, they actually called me, and I think the first person I spoke to, her name was is there a Katie? May? Jackie. Yeah, it was Jackie.
MS EASTMAN: You got to know the everybody at WWILD pretty well, and you go to WWILD. What do you do at WWILD
BELLE: Yeah. Just I don't remember all their names. I can't put names to faces but I know who they are.
MS EASTMAN: What sort of things do you do at WWILD? How does WWILD help you to have the confidence to talk out and, as you said, to get your story out there?
BELLE: So when, like, you go to WWILD it's like I've been to a few organisations and, nuh. But WWILD, the workers they weren't like normal people. They weren't like I've never met people like that before. And it took me ages to trust them and become friends and stuff. Like, I call it friends even though I know it's not; it's business, but WWILD
MS EASTMAN: But you love the group. I think you told me you really like the groups that you've met at WWILD and been involved in some of the groups.
BELLE: Yeah, WWILD would be like I would like my friends to be. Like it's different. It's weird. It's like you go in there and everybody is so warm. Even if they don't know you, they're so warm and they're caring and, like, I could walk in there and I could be putting on a brave front because something may have happened, but they seem to know, and they take time out of whatever they're doing to come and talk to you and that, and they offer you tea and coffee and stuff.
But that's all material, but they come and they talk to you. And you warm up to them and I can I can honestly say they're outside of my couple of friends, that would be probably the only organisation that I've been able to trust. Without WWILD, I reckon I'd be pretty well screwed. Excuse the language.
MS EASTMAN: That's all right. And I think you've said that one of the reasons
BELLE: I love the groups.
MS EASTMAN: You've gone to the group. One topic or one point you wanted to raise with the Royal Commission is you think there should be more places like WWILD.
MS EASTMAN: For people with disability.
BELLE: Definitely. Definitely there should be more I believe that the Commission should on this topic, like, not keep going on to people and having big meetings like this, even though it's good, but they need to do they need to they need to focus more on getting is it resolution getting answers yeah. Getting answers and resolution for the victims. Like, I'm hoping one day that the Royal Commission or this particular Royal Commission because this is really close to my heart, because this is me.
And I know there's a woman in Parliament down in Canberra, she talks a lot about women's stuff. And it seems like she's a speaker and she gets things like, she fights for things to be done. I reckon that we should be going there and telling them so they can pay for more to more services like WWILD and having people that are, like, educated in the field to help us. Not so we're still victims, but, like, I don't want to be a victim anymore. I like, I hate the like, when you're a victim people feel sorry for you, they take advantage of you, and you're always stuck there and you've got that label. I hate it.
MS EASTMAN: You just want to be yourself.
BELLE: I can't get away from it.
MS EASTMAN: You just want to be yourself, Belle.
BELLE: Yeah, and I can't be.
MS EASTMAN: Belle, I know that it has been pretty hard to come and talk to the Royal Commission and you really wanted to have the chance to meet the Royal Commissioners in person and be in Hobart.
MS EASTMAN: But I want to thank you very much for talking to me today on the screen. I know that's very difficult. But thank you for sharing your story and thank you for talking about the importance of being believed, the importance of being
BELLE: I just wish I could have gotten more out, yeah.
MS EASTMAN: And for
BELLE: Abuse is not can I just say, whether it's sexual, mental, emotional, physical or any abuse, when it's bad when people can't see it. So you talk about it. And when you talk about it, "Oh, it's okay, we understand. We believe you. It's all right, love. " Behind your back, they are in the next room pissing themselves laughing and finding out what they can do to take advantage of you. That's got to stop. Because that's you know, like, I'm 58 I think.
Yeah, I'm 58, right, and for me to sit here like, it's good because I might I can't help me but I might be able to help the next person or maybe able to stop a child. That's why this has got to stop and we've got to take action. We've got to prevent these frigging sick bastards you know, you get your stepfather at a funeral and because so I shouldn't be mentioning this, but I will so you get the your stepfather that's apologised and all the rest of it, okay, for what he's done and shit.
And then at a funeral that you turn up to, he picks on your trans grandchild, and you confront him on it because, like, no bastard's going to say anything about Hayden, and you turn around and you go, "Well, that's funny, why can I accept what you did to me when I was a kid? " And the son of a bitch turns around and says "I don't remember what I did to you".
MS EASTMAN: And, Belle, that's caused you
BELLE: That is bullshit.
MS EASTMAN: It causes you ongoing ongoing trauma and grief and sadness. Can I thank
BELLE: Yeah, and I'm expected to I'm expected to to frigging go out there or, you know, like, play happy families in front of my frigging brothers that hate me because I caused my mother so much so much grief as a child, when they're the ones that frigging caused it in the first bloody place. I'm 58. I'm not you know, like, it's bullshit.
MS EASTMAN: Belle, I'm going to stop now. I want to thank you
BELLE: Yeah, that's fine, love.
MS EASTMAN: I want to thank you for talking to us today. Sometimes we need to hear it pretty direct, and you've really been very direct in talking to us today.
MS EASTMAN: We appreciate that. No, no, and thank you for speaking directly and also thank you to Bilie from WWILD, who is supporting you today, and I think your friend Karen is also with you today.
BELLE: And Karen is here. Karen.
MS EASTMAN: And Gypsy.
BELLE: Shh, she's asleep.
MS EASTMAN: Right. I don't think you are allowed to take Gypsy home, Belle. But I hope Gypsy has been helpful today.
BELLE: I don't think Chloe would like it.
MS EASTMAN: Thank you, Belle.
CHAIR: Belle, thank you thank you very much from all of the Commissioners. As Kate has said, you have been very direct, and it's important not only that you tell your story, which you have, but the point of it is to help so many other people who may have experienced similar things to what you have, and you have done that today to the Royal Commission. So thank you very much, Belle.
BELLE: Thank you. I just wish there was an injection or a drug that they can give you so you can forget all about what's happened.
CHAIR: I understand. Thank you.
BELLE: Have a good one.
THE WITNESS WITHDREW
CHAIR: Ms Eastman, should we now adjourn for a short time?
MS EASTMAN: We should, and when we come back from our adjournment, we will still be in Brisbane, and Ms Fraser will be taking our next witness.
CHAIR: Thank you. Well, we will resume at perhaps at 3 o'clock Hobart time. Is that okay? I can't we can't hear you.
MS EASTMAN: If we can come back at five to three.
CHAIR: Five to three Hobart time. Five to two Brisbane time.
MS EASTMAN: Thank you, Chair.
CHAIR: All right. Thank you.
ADJOURNED 2:46 PM
RESUMED 2:59 PM
CHAIR: Yes, thank you. Yes, Ms Fraser.
MS FRASER: Thank you, Chair. Commissioners, we are joined now by Brigitte. Brigitte is using a pseudonym today, and Brigitte's full name is known to the Royal Commission. Brigitte is here with me in Brisbane, together with our wonderful therapy dog, Joker. Brigitte will remain off the screen today. Earlier today, Brigitte has been given an affirmation, and I will just take a moment. Chair, would you like to introduce the Commissioners to Brigitte?
CHAIR: Yes, thank you very much. Thank you, Brigitte, for coming to the Royal Commission to give evidence in the Brisbane hearing room. We very much appreciate your attendance. Unfortunately, we don't have any Commissioners in the Brisbane hearing room, but we have Commissioners in the Hobart hearing room, Commissioner Bennett and Commissioner Mason, each of whom will wave to you in their special style. And then we have Commissioner Galbally in Melbourne, who is participating in the hearing from that city. And I am in Sydney participating from Sydney. So we have Commissioners in three different locations, and we are just hoping that all of the technology works and we won't have any interruptions. I'm sure that Ms Fraser will keep everything in good order. Thank you, Ms Fraser.
EXAMINATION BY MS FRASER
MS FRASER: Thank you, Chair. The evidence we will hear today from Brigitte details some of her experiences of emotional, mental and physical abuse by her former partner. Brigitte will also talk about her experience with police and the courts, before telling us a little bit about the advocacy work that she does now. Some of Brigitte's evidence has been pre recorded, which we will hear shortly. At the end of the playing of that pre record, I will ask Brigitte just a few extra questions.
I would ask that Content Warning number 2 please be brought up now. Some of the evidence that you may now hear may raise concerns for you. If that is the case, please contact 1800 RESPECT on 1800 737 732, or Blue Knot Counselling and Referral Service on 1800 421 468, Lifeline on 13 11 14, or Beyond Blue on 1300 224 636. Commissioners, I will now just ask Brigitte a few questions before we commence the pre record.
Brigitte, you spoke with Ms Eastman of the Royal Commission on 23 July last year. Do you recall that?
BRIGITTE: I do recall that.
MS FRASER: And you told her of some of your experiences.
BRIGITTE: Yes, that's right.
MS FRASER: And this conversation was recorded. Do you recall that?
BRIGITTE: I do recall that.
MS FRASER: And the things you told Ms Eastman on that day, were they true?
MS FRASER: Commissioners, the document ID number for the recording is Document IND. 0145. 0001. 0001. I would ask now that that be played.
MS EASTMAN: What would you like to tell us about your ex.
BRIGITTE: The abuse that I copped from him.
MS EASTMAN: Okay. So this might be a hard thing to talk about, so you decide (REDACTED) what you want to tell us and if you want a break or stop at any time. You just decide what you would like to do.
BRIGITTE: Well, a long time ago my ex, he he threatened me and my family if I was to speak up, and he said, "I'll hurt your family if you if you say all the bad things that I've done to you" like, he was going to hurt me and my family if I was to speak out. And he would mentally abuse me 24/7 and physically abuse me. He would he gave me a lot of trauma. Lots of trauma. That's why it's hard for me to remember lots of things.
MS EASTMAN: Yes. Is there anything else that you remember that you would like to tell but your ex?
BRIGITTE: What I can remember is he tried to sorry, I'm freezing up.
MS EASTMAN: That's okay, (REDACTED).
BRIGITTE: Well, a long time ago he, like, treated me really badly. Like, he would say, "Oh, you don't look good today" or, you like, "You look ugly today" or something like that. And he would abuse me as well, like, just put me down all the time, like, 24/7. And just make me feel really bad all the time.
MS EASTMAN: And what did you decide to do about that?
BRIGITTE: I couldn't speak up because I got abused as a little girl, so it was hard for me to speak up.
MS EASTMAN: So how did you come to have to talk to the police about these things?
BRIGITTE: The police I got I think mum got them involved when I spoke up.
MS EASTMAN: When you had the chance to speak up, how did you do that?
BRIGITTE: I found the will.
MS EASTMAN: You found the will. Where did the will come? Deep inside you or
BRIGITTE: Yeah because my family were in danger. My friends were in danger because of him. Like, my family and my friends were in danger because of him. So I couldn't speak up or else they would have got hurt.
MS EASTMAN: And did your ex hurt you at all?
BRIGITTE: Yes. Physically, mentally and emotionally, everything that you can think of abuse, I copped all of it.
MS EASTMAN: And did he did he steal your money as well?
MS EASTMAN: And did he give you medication that you didn't know
MS EASTMAN: what it was about? And he threatened you, didn't he?
MS EASTMAN: Did he tell you that he was going to set the house on fire?
BRIGITTE: At one stage, yes.
MS EASTMAN: And when this was happening to you, you felt you couldn't speak up or say anything?
BRIGITTE: It was like going back in my childhood again, you know. And it was scary.
MS EASTMAN: And that treatment of you has really affected you in your life, hasn't it?
BRIGITTE: A lot, yes.
MS EASTMAN: At one time, you had to go to court to be a witness for your nephew. Can I ask you questions about that situation?
BRIGITTE: That's fine.
MS EASTMAN: And is do you remember that you had to make a statement for the police?
MS EASTMAN: And how did you find making a statement? Was that easy to do or was that a difficult thing to do?
BRIGITTE: Very hard because I was very traumatised back then.
MS EASTMAN: Okay. And in terms of writing things down and reading the words, is that something that's easy for you to do?
MS EASTMAN: And it's something you find hard to work out what is written down and the meaning of things; is that right?
MS EASTMAN: So you need people to explain things to you a few times so you can get it; is that right?
BRIGITTE: Yes, that's correct.
MS EASTMAN: Okay. So coming back to when you had to go to court to be a witness for your nephew, how did you feel about the way the police treated you?
BRIGITTE: I felt like they weren't listening to me.
MS EASTMAN: Why was that?
BRIGITTE: Because every time I spoke to them, they wouldn't take on board all the stuff I was saying.
MS EASTMAN: And what did you do about that?
BRIGITTE: I just sit like, I sit back and let them do their job.
MS EASTMAN: Did you ask did you ask them any questions about what they were doing in their job?
BRIGITTE: I tried to. I attempted to a couple of times but they just wouldn't listen.
MS EASTMAN: Okay. And did you tell them that you had a disability?
BRIGITTE: Yes, I did.
MS EASTMAN: And what did you tell them about your disability?
BRIGITTE: I said that I've got dyslexia and I don't understand things properly.
MS EASTMAN: And did the police do anything or say anything when you told them about your disability?
MS EASTMAN: What advice can you give the police now about how to talk to people with disability and how the police should get information from people with disability?
BRIGITTE: Well, they all they need to do is just be really slow with them, don't rush them. Like, take their time and try to not make them feel like they're the bad person when actually they're the good person. And make them just feel welcome when they walk in the building. Just like anyone else. Just make them feel welcome.
MS EASTMAN: Do you think it would be helpful for the police officer to tell you what's going to happen when you talk about giving evidence? What that actually means? Would that be helpful to know a bit more about that?
BRIGITTE: Yeah, I'd like I'd actually like if the police would explain that to me a couple of times, let may know, like, what's going to happen on the day, who's going to be there, what's going to happen. That sort of thing.
MS EASTMAN: Yeah. And in terms of when you tell the police your story, do you want the police to write down your story or record your story in your own words?
MS EASTMAN: And after they have taken your story in your own words, what would you like them to do with your story? Do you want them to give you the opportunity to read it again and decide that it's okay?
BRIGITTE: Yeah, I would like them to read it a couple of times and even if it's on recorder or even on paper, as long as I know what it actually says before I go on the stand.
MS EASTMAN: Okay. And when you say about going on the stand, that's about going to court.
MS EASTMAN: Do you think it's important that the police should tell you about whether you might have to go to court or whether it's not possible to go to court? Because it might not be possible to go to court.
MS EASTMAN: And did you have to go to court for your nephew?
MS EASTMAN: And do you have can you remember anything about going to court?
MS EASTMAN: What can you tell us about that or what would you like to tell us about that?
BRIGITTE: When I went to court, what happened was I was up I was in a separate room with a camera and I I couldn't say much because I was that traumatised that I couldn't speak up. And I I tried to talk about my nephew and stuff, and the court weren't listening to me.
MS EASTMAN: And how did that make you feel?
BRIGITTE: It made me feel worthless, like I was I was worthless, meant nothing to them.
MS EASTMAN: And what can you remember anything about what happened in the court? Did people ask you questions and you had to answer questions?
BRIGITTE: Yeah. I couldn't quite remember what they were saying, yeah.
MS EASTMAN: And before you went to court did you have a practice before you went to court about what were you going to say?
BRIGITTE: Not at all, no.
MS EASTMAN: Did anyone help you before you went to court to get ready for court, to know what was going to happen?
MS EASTMAN: What do you think could be better for people with disability going to court? What do you think should happen?
BRIGITTE: I think they should have a counsellor before they go to court. And they should have a support person with them as well, like family or friends. Someone close to them. And somebody who will respect their wishes, like whatever they say they will keep to themselves. They won't go blurting it out. You know, confidentiality, that sort of thing.
MS EASTMAN: Yes, why is confidentiality important?
BRIGITTE: Because if you go blurting out things to people and it gets around, it's not good. It's bad.
MS EASTMAN: And what other things do you think would make going to court better for people with disability?
BRIGITTE: Just to not get discriminated against because they've got a disability and because they can't speak up like everyone else. Like, they can, but they have trouble doing it.
MS EASTMAN: Right. So is it taking time to listen?
MS EASTMAN: And taking time to ask questions in a careful way?
MS EASTMAN: And giving people time to understand the question?
MS EASTMAN: So those sorts of things?
MS EASTMAN: Okay. And what do you what have you learnt about the sorts of people who are in court? Who's there? What sorts of people are there?
BRIGITTE: People that wear black and funny hats.
MS EASTMAN: Oh, I've got black on today, I'm sorry. And funny hats. Right. Is that what you've seen in court? A lot of people with black and funny hats.
BRIGITTE: They're like these hats that have, like, hair on them.
MS EASTMAN: So when did you first see one of these?
BRIGITTE: When I first went to court.
MS EASTMAN: Right. And how did that feel, seeing one of these things?
BRIGITTE: A bit overwhelming.
MS EASTMAN: Did you know why people have this thing on their head?
BRIGITTE: No one ever explained it to me.
MS EASTMAN: Has anyone ever explained that to you?
MS EASTMAN: Okay. All right. And so do you know what job the people had when they had those things on their funny hats on their head?
MS EASTMAN: No one has ever told you that?
MS EASTMAN: Okay. And what about judges. Did anyone tell you what a judge or a magistrate is?
MS EASTMAN: So when you went to court, did you know what was going on?
BRIGITTE: I was very confused.
MS EASTMAN: All right. Did people ask you questions?
MS EASTMAN: The ones in the funny hats asked you questions?
MS EASTMAN: Did any of them talk to you before they asked you any questions and said, "Oh, hi (REDACTED) I'm going to ask you some questions today. "
BRIGITTE: Yeah, they did.
MS EASTMAN: And how was that? How did they go doing that?
BRIGITTE: Well, they did a good job but, like, in a way it was tough because some of them didn't do such a good job.
MS EASTMAN: Okay. And did you know who the person was who was the judge or the magistrate?
MS EASTMAN: Could you work that out at all?
MS EASTMAN: And from your experience of going to court, what would make it better for women going to court to talk about what treatment or what happened to them in their families?
BRIGITTE: Well, it would be easier if, like, people would be able to be able to get listened to when they're talking.
MS EASTMAN: Yes.
BRIGITTE: And not feeling like they're not getting heard. Like, I felt like when I walked in like, when I was in the court, I felt like no one was listening to me when I was speaking up. And I got cut off when I was trying speak up, and then after that I went blank because I forgot everything.
MS EASTMAN: Yeah. So you felt you couldn't talk at all?
MS EASTMAN: Okay. So how did that make you feel?
BRIGITTE: Worthless. Like I was worth nothing.
MS EASTMAN: Yes. Can I ask you about being a survivor of violence. Can I ask you some questions about that?
BRIGITTE: Yes, you can.
MS EASTMAN: All right. What can you tell me about what it's like to it be a survivor of violence?
BRIGITTE: It's very hard sometimes because your self esteem isn't completely perfect all the time, because of the way you got treated. And your lifestyle changes as well. Like, everything changes around you once you've experienced domestic violence. Everything changes. Nothing is the same.
MS EASTMAN: What changes? What sort of things change?
BRIGITTE: Well, you gain a lot of weight. You don't feel good about yourself all the time. You're trying to better yourself for other people and for yourself, and it's hard to heal from that once you've experienced that.
MS EASTMAN: How do you personally deal with those changes that are happening to you?
BRIGITTE: I just remind myself why I'm here, you know. I'm here for family. I'm here for my friends. And I want to be supportive.
MS EASTMAN: And do you turn do you look to other people or ask other people for help?
BRIGITTE: Now I do, but a long time ago, no.
MS EASTMAN: Well, a long time ago, why didn't you want to ask people for help?
BRIGITTE: I didn't know how to.
MS EASTMAN: And now you do ask people for help.
MS EASTMAN: So what changed? How did you learn to ask for help?
BRIGITTE: People taught me.
MS EASTMAN: Who taught you? What did they teach you?
BRIGITTE: WWILD taught me how to speak up.
MS EASTMAN: Yes. So as we were talking about before, learning to speak up, having that courage in your heart to speak up.
MS EASTMAN: Okay. What do you think would help other people who were scared to speak up? What would help them to learn to speak up?
BRIGITTE: Just to be themselves and to not have to prove who they are to anyone. And just to not be scared, just if they feel like they can do it, just do it. Don't be afraid. And don't let
MS EASTMAN: That’s hard though, isn't it?
BRIGITTE: Yes, it is.
MS EASTMAN: Not to be afraid.
BRIGITTE: Yes, it is hard but sometimes you've got to step back and you've got to think, “Hey, how am I going to make my life better if I don't speak up”, you know.
MS EASTMAN: Yes. So what advice do you have for people to not be scared and to be able to speak up?
BRIGITTE: I want them to feel like they're worth something. Like they're worth something to everyone. And that, you know, no matter who they are, they've got every right to have a voice and to be listened to and heard. And they shouldn't feel like they're worth nothing when they're worth everything to everyone.
MS FRASER: Thank you, Commissioners. Brigitte, how did you feel listening to that video just now?
BRIGITTE: It was quite traumatising.
MS FRASER: And how do you feel now that you've heard the end of the video and all of the things that you've achieved?
BRIGITTE: I'm very proud of myself, how far I've come. I've come a long way.
MS FRASER: And you mentioned to Ms Eastman that you found the will. Could you just explain to me a little more about how you did that?
BRIGITTE: Sometimes you can learn from other people with how to make your life better by speaking up. Like like, having like, having a voice to speak up, it's pretty humongous and it's very hard to speak up, especially when you've experienced domestic violence.
MS FRASER: And you just mentioned to me just now that you can learn from other people. Can I suggest to you that other people have certainly learnt from you and what's that message that you would like to share with anybody watching today who might find themselves in the same situation that you were in. If you could say one thing to them, what would it be?
BRIGITTE: The people that have helped me?
MS FRASER: No, the people who are in your same situation, who are looking for their voice.
MS FRASER: What would you say to those people who are still looking for their voice?
BRIGITTE: Don't give up, and be strong, and just try and fight to the very end until you get what you need. And don't give up, because you have a voice, and you just need to find the right the right amount of people that believe in you, and just do it because you will feel so much better at the end of the day.
MS FRASER: That's a really great message. You've done some advocacy work, haven't you, recently. Could you tell me a little bit about that?
BRIGITTE: I I've been going to a police academy for five years, teaching detectives how to interview people with disabilities, and I feel like I have helped them so much, and I feel like it's very rewarding as well because I'm helping myself and helping them. And I'm learning from them. They're learning from me.
MS FRASER: And you are also helping all of those people who are then interviewed by those police officers, aren't you?
MS FRASER: So you identified a problem, and you used your own experience to help others.
BRIGITTE: That's correct.
MS FRASER: That's amazing. Do you think it's important for people with disability to actually be involved in that sort of teaching?
MS FRASER: And why is that?
BRIGITTE: So they can grow from it and thrive and become a better person, like who they want to be. Yeah.
MS FRASER: And is it also because it's only people who are disabled, sometimes, who actually understand that experience and process?
BRIGITTE: That's right.
MS FRASER: Yes. So you are so well placed to assist the police with that and to assist others.
BRIGITTE: Yeah, thank you.
MS FRASER: Is there anything else that you would like to tell the Royal Commission today? If you could leave us with one final message, what would that be?
BRIGITTE: Well, I believe that kids play a big role in our lives, and I want the next generation to have a better outlook of life, not getting getting harassed or anything that's wrong. Getting taught the right things. Like, domestic violence is not the right thing. But, like, learning from that. Yeah.
MS FRASER: Thank you so much for coming in today. I know that today has been difficult for you, and you've done a remarkable job, and the Royal Commission is extremely grateful for all of your efforts. Thank you so much.
BRIGITTE: Thank you.
MS FRASER: Chair.
CHAIR: Thank you. I just perhaps Commissioner Galbally would like to say something to Brigitte.
COMMISSIONER GALBALLY: Well, I would just like to thank you very much. It is sort of so great to hear about how you're now advocating, you know, for others and also training the police. I mean, that's really invaluable. So thank you very much. That was very helpful.
CHAIR: Thank you, Commissioner Galbally. I would like to endorse what Commissioner Galbally and Ms Fraser have said to you. You have told us that you have learned to speak up with the help from WWILD, and you have told us that you have come a long way, and you have told us how important it is to be strong. Well, you have demonstrated all of those things. You have spoken up, you have shown that you have come a long way, and you have certainly shown that you are strong.
We are really very grateful for you for doing that and for giving us the benefit of your own experience and, as Commissioner Galbally says, telling us about the advocacy work that you have done on behalf of other people with disabilities. So thank you very much, Brigitte.
MS FRASER: Thank you, Commissioners.
THE WITNESS WITHDREW
MS FRASER: We will now take a break.
CHAIR: All right. We will take a break for 10 minutes and we will resume at 3:35 Hobart time, 2:35 Brisbane time. Thank you.
ADJOURNED 3:25 PM
RESUMED 3:35 PM
CHAIR: Ms Eastman, I've been told that there may have been an incorrect reference to the video that was played when Brigitte gave evidence. The correct reference, I'm told, is
IND. 0145. 0001. 0001. A few full stops in there. Yes, Ms Eastman.
MS EASTMAN: Thank you, Chair. Our final witness for today is with me in the Hobart hearing room, Aleana Robins. But are you happy to be called Ally today? Just call me Ally. Ally is our final witness for today. Before I start, I will just administer the affirmation. So I'm going to read you the affirmation and at the end, please say yes or "I do. " Do you solemnly sincerely declare and affirm that the evidence you shall give will be the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.
MS ROBINS: Yes.
ALLY ROBINS, AFFIRMED
MS EASTMAN: Thank you.
CHAIR: Thank you very much, Ally, for coming to the Hobart hearing room in order to give evidence today. We appreciate that. I am sure you have been told but just in case that to cover all bases, I will let you know where the four Commissioners are who are participating in this hearing. In the same room as you are, you have Commissioner Bennett and you have Commissioner Mason, who I suspect you have already met. Commissioner Galbally is participating in the hearing from Melbourne, and you can see her on the screen. And I am in the Sydney hearing room. So we are in three separate locations. But we are very grateful to you for coming into the Hobart hearing room to give your evidence today and for the statement that you have already prepared which each of us has read. And I will now ask Ms Eastman to ask you some questions. Thank you.
EXAMINATION BY MS EASTMAN SC
MS EASTMAN: I want to start with your statement. So you prepared a statement dated 9 March, and you have had a chance to read that again?
MS ROBINS: Oh, yeah.
MS EASTMAN: And are the contents of it true?
MS ROBINS: Yes.
MS EASTMAN: Thank you. So I'm not going to ask you to read your statement today, but we are going to have a conversation about some of the matters in the statement. So I wonder whether we can start by asking you to tell us a little bit about yourself. You've described yourself in the statement as a 52-year-old transgender woman. And I think we can tell by your accent that your origins are the United States. What would you like to tell us about yourself?
MS ROBINS: I think I come a little bit different as the approach of who I am. I am, as you said, transgender but I'm I'm also a parent and, to me, that's the greatest thing in the world.
MS EASTMAN: How many kids do you have?
MS ROBINS: I'm responsible for seven children total.
MS EASTMAN: And some of your kids are here today.
MS ROBINS: And some are adopted and out on their own in the real world so
MS EASTMAN: How many kids live with you now?
MS ROBINS: Three.
MS EASTMAN: And do I spy that they may be here with you today?
MS ROBINS: Yes.
MS EASTMAN: Okay. All right. What else would you like to tell us?
MS ROBINS: Well, I have I have a number of disabilities, unfortunately, but that's the way life dealt my cards. I have dyslexia, gender dysphoria, chronic pain syndrome and yeah, that
MS EASTMAN: I am going to ask you some questions
MS ROBINS: And a little bit of PTSD there to jump in there.
MS EASTMAN: I am going to ask you some questions about your disabilities, because you've talked about that in your statement in terms of growing up. So we will come to that in a moment. Can I ask you about your family and your family background.
MS ROBINS: Well
MS EASTMAN: What would you like to tell us? Because growing up had its challenges for you, didn't it?
MS ROBINS: Yeah, it did. I had a lot of challenges growing up. What most people would look at from the outside in and I always say you don't know what goes on behind closed doors. No one does. And what you might assume is the perfect picture of a family may just actually be a crumbling mess, which my dad was a was an amazing man. He really was. His service to the armed forces was very distinguished, and he earned earned a lot of honour for what he's done.
But the moment he stopped being in that, his world pretty much changed for him. And he wasn't prepared for his world to come crashing in the way it did. And he also ended up with severe PTSD from some of his actions and actions that happened around him. But back in the 80s, we didn't talk about that. We didn't really communicate effectively on a lot of topics. And even from gender dysphoria to being transgender, to having PTSD, these were things that we didn't talk about in the 80s.
MS EASTMAN: Can I take you back a generation before that. So you have told us that you grandmother was part of the stolen generations of Native Americans.
MS ROBINS: We really don't call it the stolen generations in America. I didn't start picking up
MS EASTMAN: So what is the language that you use there?
MS ROBINS: Well, unfortunately, they didn't really use language, like, for it, and it still isn't used. I think I picked that up from the influences of friends and that are First Nations here in Australia, and it's such a true statement because my grandmother's story - as an author and I'm twice published and I've been working on my dad's story and I needed to know more about his history and I needed to understand where why he was the way he was.
MS EASTMAN: So part of going back to understand your dad was back to your grandmother.
MS ROBINS: Yeah, I had
MS EASTMAN: Her dislocation in her life.
MS ROBINS: Well, there was always a story that she was Native American and no one could put any numbers to it. We couldn't find out where she was. I've spent five years talking to multiple tribes, digging as much as I can to only come up with one answer, that she is a stolen child. And when you look at that level and what we have lost as a family, and how it's impacted each and every one I have talked to all my all the surviving aunts and sometimes listened to what my dad said about the history you realise that that kind of generational trauma is not something where somebody is sitting in the corner going, "uh". You are talking about somebody who doesn't know their history. The root of who they are as a person has been taken away from them.
MS EASTMAN: Well, your grandmother's story and the abuse she experienced, you say is also part of your story.
MS ROBINS: Yeah, it is, because there's not a single from my grandmother to my daughter, who is with me, we have not had one generation of women that have not been abused in one form or another, be it from sexual assault, to rape, to verbal abuse, to educational, religious abuse. We have seen it all in our family. And it's atrocious. It should not be here in this day and age where I'm sitting here thinking, “When is one of my daughters going to grow up without having to know abuse, neglect or anything that is so negative to lower them in their own eyes? ”
MS EASTMAN: Can I come back, then, to your family. You've spoken about your father. But we haven't spoken yet about your mother. And your mother is now passed.
MS ROBINS: Yes.
MS EASTMAN: And you got to speak to your mother the day before she passed. And you have forgiven her. But you haven't forgotten.
MS ROBINS: You don't get that luxury. I don't care what anybody wants to think. A single person that's ever been abused will never have the luxury of forgetting. We will never be able to clear the slate. No matter how much forgiveness we can find in our heart, we will always remember. And if you are unlucky enough, like me, to have PTSD, there are certain things that trigger it, certain moments, certain times that you just do not get that luxury. I do not sleep more than three hours before I am woken up and then I have to struggle to try and find sleep after that.
MS EASTMAN: So you are okay to talk to us about
MS ROBINS: Yes.
MS EASTMAN: your relationship with your mother and the dynamic in your family when were you growing up? Because your memory is one of your mum being the abuser in the family; is that right?
MS ROBINS: I don't think any of us really understood as the full impact of what that individual did until many years later. Some of us are still in denial because we don't fully understand what type of trauma existed there and how insidious it was at times. You know, I'm not one for trying to speak ill of the dead, but there comes a point when you have to be honest with what took place so that some healing can progress and I do say that it was a form of Stockholm Syndrome that we existed in, which, for most people who don't know that, it's you try to be friends with the person who's abusing you so that they will stop abusing you.
But the moment your back is turned, in our family, that person that you were originally attacking with the parent is now attacking you with the parent. And it was a vicious circle that we existed in. So you didn't know where you were. You didn't know who you were because anything you said, anything you did could be used against you. And that came even at my father's cost. And my dad, when he was so lost in his own PTSD, he really didn't grasp what was going on to him.
MS EASTMAN: So your mother was physically abusive and emotionally abusive towards you.
MS ROBINS: Towards me there was a little bit of physical abuse, but it was the main of emotional abuse. And I think each and every one of us in that family, from about the day that my grandfather passed away, really dealt with the full brunt of her abuse. I never heard a kind word about my brother in law until I knew him away from there. He was always abused. Every time his back was turned, all we heard was negative comments on him.
And growing up as a kid at 12 years old, what you hear from your parents saying, "This person's worthless" is what you think, until you're able to change that. And then when they take it out on a sister, that's married to that, "Oh, you know, that person should never have done that. If your sister would have never married that person" and the gaslighting that comes with that, you internalise that because then you think, "Well, what are you saying about me? " And being my mum was the only one that knew I had gender dysphoria.
MS EASTMAN: And I do want to come to that in a moment.
MS ROBINS: Yeah.
MS EASTMAN: Was your family a religious family? Can I ask you that question? And what did religion mean?
MS ROBINS: I would use the term religious very loosely.
MS EASTMAN: Okay.
MS ROBINS: I have a respect for anybody that wants to believe. I have no problem with it as long as it doesn't enter my life or affect my way of living. I suffered at the hands of my parents' religion because, at one point, I was in conversion therapy. And if many people don't know, that's like trying to tell somebody, “You don't have blonde hair”, when everybody in the whole family and the whole world can see you have blonde hair, but you're trying to tell this person that they don't have blonde hair and they're going to hell if they keep thinking they do.
MS EASTMAN: All right. I want to ask you about the start of your disability and life with disability. And you've said in your statement that your chronic pain started when you were about 10 years old, and it has not stopped since then.
MS ROBINS: No.
MS EASTMAN: And you remember being asleep in bed, waking up to pain that you had never known before. Just that sense of the hot iron spikes in your knees and the crying out hoping that somebody could rescue you. You never got any treatment as a child for your chronic pain and, in fact, the doctors suggested to your mother that this might be psychosomatic because you were trying to avoid doing chores.
MS ROBINS: Yeah.
MS EASTMAN: So your mum took the view that this was all in your head.
MS ROBINS: Yeah, very much so.
MS EASTMAN: Coming back to that, as you said, your family and your home was very religious, you experienced punishment. And in terms of living as a child with chronic pain and your mother's belief that you were trying to avoid chores, there was some punishment, wasn't there? And what happened?
MS ROBINS: I think the term of "punishment" we might think as corporal punishment. Punishment, we need to expand our view into more more defined defining a wider view of abuse. Punishment can be as simple as saying, you know, "It's all in your head. I wish you would just actually do something about it. " You know, "Go take a couple of pills. Go take a shower. Something. I don't want to hear about it any more because it's not real. " And that kind of lighting gaslighting and that type of abuse becomes punishing after a while, because you know you can't go back to that parent. You know that there is no way you can trust that parent to actually listen to who you are, listen to what your problems are, and you lose that sense of hope.
MS EASTMAN: Did your mum describe you as a sinner and say you had to repent?
MS ROBINS: I've heard that enough times. I once said to somebody who was like, "If you keep doing the thing you're doing, if you keep saying that A plus B doesn't equal C" meaning my mind and my body are not matching "you're going to hell. " And I and then I remember also one time them telling me, "You're not praying correctly. What are you praying about? " And I simply asked, "What do I pray for? Do I pray for mind matching my body or my body matching my mind? Tell me which one you want me to do because I've tried both and they are not working. "
MS EASTMAN: Can I move to asking you about living with dyslexia. You were born with dyslexia, but it became a significant problem when you were about 12 and you were at school.
MS ROBINS: Yeah, 12 seemed to be the magic number for me when everything hit hard.
MS EASTMAN: And I think we are going to talk in a moment about gender dysphoria and how that raised for you at 12. But let's on dyslexia and school --
MS ROBINS: Yeah. But for on dyslexia.
MS EASTMAN: -- you are about you are 12. You are getting towards the end of what in Australia we might call primary school. I can't remember the American expression now.
MS ROBINS: It is all the same
MS EASTMAN: Elementary school?
MS ROBINS: Elementary, yeah.
MS EASTMAN: And you were starting to really struggle with your schoolwork and you were having difficulty reading, and this dyslexia then started to cause some issues about that at school, how teachers treated you and also how you were made to feel in front of other students in the class. And you have described this in your statement, trying to explain with the Royal Commissioners about living with this disability but being shamed for having the disability and the impact that had on you at school. Do you want to talk about that at all?
MS ROBINS: Yeah. Once again the 80s were not the world's most enlightened period of time. And in the United States, it's vastly different type of education to what we have here. And where I was going to school, they had a thing called “Pass Through”. You got put into a too hard basket because they did not know how to help you. They you know, they had teachers that were going to school to become special ed teachers but they weren't willing to actually look at that child, me, at the time, and go, "Why isn't this child able to succeed in school? Why is it they come to school and each day seems to be getting worse for them? "
And it was the verbal abuse that I received from some teachers because I couldn't I could not do the work that was always asked of me. You know, "Can you do here is the math assignment. " I couldn't do it. I couldn't do it in class because I could barely read it because all the numbers, for me my dyslexia is so severe that it moves I watch the numbers, I will look at them and I will see what they are, turn away, come back and they're not the same numbers.
And I know that seems weird to try and explain that to somebody, but unless you've ever had that sense of, "That wasn't what it was. I know I read it right the first time" and you wrote the answer for what it was, but when you're looking at it now, that's not the equation. I used to get failed all the time in math. And that teacher would use such lines like, "Oh, let's see what ‘the failure’ has not done today. "
MS EASTMAN: Weren't you called the “dirty rotten kid”?
MS ROBINS: No, that was one of the principals, actually. I was called dirty rotten kid by one of the principals. And every time that principal would pass me in the hallway, "Hey DKR." Or "DRK." You know.
MS EASTMAN: Did you do anything about that?
MS ROBINS: Well, how do you
MS EASTMAN: Did you feel you could talk to anybody about how you felt and that shame?
MS ROBINS: How do you do that? Because that's a $10 million question. When you're a child who has got a parent who isn't happy with who you are as a person, do you go to that parent and say, "I'm getting picked on at school"? No, you don't. You just keep it to yourself. You keep silent. My dad, being the military man that he was, always had a rule. You can't get into fights, but if you do, you better win. I used to come home with bruises all over my body.
I would run upstairs. I would come get off the bus, run down the driveway, run to my room and stay in my room and then fake sleep sometimes so it looked like I was too tired to eat dinner so he didn't see the bruises on my face. Teachers should have known they had a responsibility and should have acted upon it not to target a child with even name-calling. Even sitting there saying, you know, "dirty rotten kid. " Other kids hear that. Other kids act upon that.
They think that it's acceptable to also treat that person as such. And then when you go to class and a math teacher says "Oh, you're worthless", and it you try and survive, and you get into that survival mode, but you take lumps all that time and there's nobody. And there was nobody to help me.
MS EASTMAN: So 12 was a difficult age because that's when you really were aware of the emerging gender dysphoria. And I want just to pause here so we can explain to people listening to us: you are transgender, you identify as a trans woman and you've said in your statement that's not a choice and you're not trying to erase anyone's cisgender identity. Being transgender is not a disability, but you have gender dysphoria, and you see that as something different.
What do you want to say in terms of explaining gender dysphoria and that being transgender is not a disability. Because that can sometimes be a sensitive and difficult topic and a whole lot of assumptions arise.
MS ROBINS: Yes, there is a whole lot of assumptions.
MS EASTMAN: A whole lot of assumptions arise and people may not really understand or be aware. So what and you've got this in your statement, but what would you like to say to help us understand when you are talking about gender dysphoria what you mean?
MS ROBINS: Well, I spent years trying to figure out the understanding of what was going on with my disability. I'm not one of these type of persons to say, "Oh, poor me, I can't do things in life. I can't exist. I can't do that." I've got a higher education and I'm dyslexic and I have dyslexia. And I'm also a published author. I don't sit on my laurels and just hope that something is going to come about for it. And when I I've always known that I've had problems with who I am.
And when I finally got a name to it, I started looking, started doing research to try and figure out what it meant. And for a normal person to look at it, it's going, well, “What is gender dysphoria? ” - and it's hard to say unless you're walking down that road. Unless you put on those shoes and understand that as you walk by a mirror and you look at that mirror and that's not you, that's not you, but you know that body, but it's not you. And it's in your head that that's not you.
That is not a matter of personality issues. That's not seeing the person that's there. And I can't stop that. I have never been able to really look in a mirror and go, "Oh, that's me. I can deal with that. " And that leads to a lot of depression, a lot of anxiety, a lot of concern and a lot of abuse. Because a lot of people don't get it, that it's not because some kid grows up and says, "I feel like this. " It's because they actually don't see themselves. It's not there. That image of who you are isn't there.
And you know you exist, you know that you're alive, you know that you have value, but it doesn't feel right. And trying to get people to realise that is the hardest thing in the world. Even doctors don't fully understand the impact of it because I've had doctors sit there and go, "Have you tried this? " - "No, I've only been like this for 50 some odd years. Do you think I haven't tried everything? ” Because, believe me, there is nothing I want more than to be at peace with who I am. "
MS EASTMAN: Gender dysphoria, dyslexia, and chronic pain did not equal a good life for you and I want to now ask you about the impact on you. And we are still at 12 and at this point can I just give this warning, that we are going to talk about matters that may be very confronting for people: Suicide, attempted suicide and self-harm. Okay. So take a deep breath at this point in time. You've said to us in your statement that your first attempt to take your own life was when you were 12.
MS ROBINS: Yes.
MS EASTMAN: Your family had recently moved to a new place. A farming community. And the nearest town was about 4 kilometres you probably had that in miles.
MS ROBINS: Yeah.
MS EASTMAN: But you had lost all your friends, your social network. It's a new place and you say: "I spoke wrong. I dressed wrong. I acted wrong. There was nobody near me who wanted to be friends. " And this was at a time when the gender dysphoria and the dyslexia are really coming together in your life. As a young person, 12 moving into teenage your teenage years - how did this impact on you, and how did you carry this, Ally? How did you carry it?
MS ROBINS: I think that when we look at what took place, one of the things that is a pattern of abuse in any relationship is isolation. Women face it all the time. Some of their spouses will move them out of the location where their friends, where their family are, to a more isolated location. And we had that in our family. We got moved to a place that we shouldn't have been at. There was no reason for us we were our family connections were thousands of miles away and we moved where we had no friends, no family, no social network whatsoever, and that isolation began.
And what happened was, is I started to have I was 6 when I started to think something was really strange, that A plus B for me wasn't equalling C. That I was not the complete person I should have been. I started questioning things. By the time I was 12 that was really hitting hard. And there was and then when I did approach the one parent, I ended up in conversion therapy. So you're starting to add all this stuff in there and if you just keep the rock and the glass.
You just keep putting more rocks in that glass and eventually the water overflows, and that's what happened. When it reached that level of overflow, I had no one to turn to. No one cared, no one wanted to listen, and I felt worthless. I felt like it wasn't worth living.
MS EASTMAN: You made a number of attempts between the age of 12 and 16
MS ROBINS: Yeah.
MS EASTMAN: to take your life.
MS ROBINS: The first time, 12, I had no clue. I just wanted to die. It was my only thought. "I'm going to go out in the snow" I'm from California. I have no clue what snow is like, what it's going to do to your body, but cold is generally cold and that's not a good thing. When you start shivering you could catch a cold. And my thought process: "If I stay out long enough maybe I will freeze to death. " It didn't work. And you end up back inside, you're cold, nobody pays attention to you so you think, “I'm not even being seen as this. ”
And by the time I was 14, that was two years' worth of conversion therapy, I was a mess at that time. The only reason it stopped is because I lied. I simply said, "Yeah, it's all gone now. " It wasn't gone; it was worse.
MS EASTMAN: And moving you to about the age of 17, you left school at 17.
MS ROBINS: Yeah. I did.
MS EASTMAN: And that also coincides with the time when you turned to substances.
MS ROBINS: Yeah.
MS EASTMAN: Drugs and alcohol. So that was your form of escapism at that time and it was about numbing that sense of pain. Is that right?
MS ROBINS: Well, I think escapism is the wrong word to use. I really
MS EASTMAN: Okay. We might change that in your statement, then.
MS ROBINS: Did I put escapism?
MS EASTMAN: Yes, I thought it was escapism.
MS ROBINS: But, really, when you look at it, escapism might not have been the right word to use. It's more of a way to when you are in such a level of high pain that you can't find a way out of, and no one listens to you and everywhere you've looked for that support network it's not there, you want that pain to go away. And that becomes the ability of, "If I can take this and alter that state and being, I don't have to worry about it. I don't have to see it. " And then eventually that became a crutch and then it became a problem. And you don't realise it's a problem until you're years down the road looking back, going, "I wasted all that time. I wasted all that money trying to hide something. "
MS EASTMAN: You got through that period, and you're now 22 years sober.
MS ROBINS: Yeah.
MS EASTMAN: And after you got sober, you started to look for a solution. And part of that was finding a new life and a new place. So you did think you might end up in Montana or Alaska?
MS ROBINS: Yes.
MS EASTMAN: And you end up in Australia.
MS ROBINS: Yeah, I thought Alaska.
MS EASTMAN: It is a bit different to Montana or Alaska, I think.
MS ROBINS: Yeah, well, it was kind of that thought process when I first was trying to figure out what to do. I was still in a lot of pain. I was severely depressed. I had no idea what to do with my life. And I figured if I could go to Alaska or Montana, I could disappear. And no one would ever find me, and then one day I will just die and fade away. Sorry. Those were really very difficult --
MS EASTMAN: It's okay. It's okay. Take your time.
MS ROBINS: -- because I'm not the only one that feels like that. There are thousands of people in this world that feel "if I could just disappear", and I'm glad I didn't.
MS EASTMAN: How long have you been in Australia now?
MS ROBINS: Let's see. 20 years, about 20 years. I had to stretch the old grey matter on that one.
MS EASTMAN: I don't know whether you are doing this as a plug for Australia, but you said:
"Australia did something for me I never felt before. I started to live and felt alive. And for a short time, I lived without the pain of abuse in my life. "
MS ROBINS: Yeah. It I watched kids my age as a person that works to help people understand being transgender, and gender dysphoria, and mental health, I watch children in my community all over the world, my community is dying by their own hands. And it's horrific, the numbers. And I'm thankful for Australia because I watch how we treat our youth, and it is so much better here, that our youth are worth more than some places that you know, in the US, it's 60 some odd per cent of transgender youth are killing themselves. That's atrocious. You know, it's one in three
MS EASTMAN: So it just becomes survival.
MS ROBINS: Yeah that's one in three kids not here because of the way we treat them. And here it's 30 per cent. That's one in one in three aren't here. It's bad, but we can change that. And when you're one of those survivors who look back and go, "Crap, if people would have just listened. ” If people would have gave a damn, more of me would be alive. I wouldn't have tried.
MS EASTMAN: One of the things you did, coming to Australia, really focused on your education, opening your learning and starting to do the work that you are doing to assist other people.
MS ROBINS: Yeah. I think that the benefit of I've had education before I came to Australia, but my education changed when my children and I made a dramatic change in our lives and we started over, the four of us. There was a dramatic change for us.
MS EASTMAN: What happened?
MS ROBINS: I can't say too much because there's legal based issues on that, but it was just safer to say that we changed our lives for the better, just the four of us, and, as a direct result, we were able to refocus efforts on doing good. And I think that the first knock at the door for doing good was actually helping feed the homeless and helping deliver bread to those who were doing it rough. And we did that for about two years.
And then I got an invitation to work with the Launceston Living Library, which aims to help people unjudge another person. Because your first opinion of someone can be skewed. But if you get a chance to know someone, it's harder to hate that person once you know about them.
MS EASTMAN: One area of what the Royal Commission is looking at is to understand assumptions and attitudes. And we have heard a lot at the Royal Commission about attitudes, but also talked about how do you change the attitudes? And this is something you are doing at the Launceston Living Library. What does it take to help people change their attitudes? It might be their unconscious bias. It might be
MS ROBINS: I do it more than just the Living Library. I - here, a couple of years back, was also approached to join Engender Equality, which helps to aim and reduce violence towards women - and not just cisgendered women, all women. And I found that these two organisations kind of took my hope of getting people to look at the trans community as more than just what you see on TV, more than just the sensationalism of Caitlyn Jenner and some of these other actors who aren't real people.
And what I mean by real people, have real struggles, pay bills, hope the best for their children, have breakdown times when everything isn't going right or your car is broken down, or you have another disability, like chronic pain or dyslexia. Or you're just a normal person. And these organisations and working with them has helped people see me as, “Hey, that's just a normal person. They just look a little different. They've just had a different start. They do good. They are working to help better society. ”
And that's kind of where I've always enjoyed working with them, as well as the P3 program at the University of Tasmania, helping up and coming doctors to work better and understand the LGBT community as well as understand, you know, how do you address somebody with unusual pronouns. Those type of things just aren't natively known. And I'm an older generation, I know what the struggles are, trying to figure that out. You know, and I've had struggles too just like everybody else.
And they don't expect that when they talk to me. They don't expect me to say, "I get they/thems wrong and I get name changes wrong all the time. ” I'm the same as everybody else. The only difference is when I make that mistake, I apologise, and we move forward
MS EASTMAN: You have also addressed in your statement experiences of intimate partner violence, and you have also, with your daughter's permission, shared your daughter's experience of abuse as well. I was wondering whether we they are in the statement and this will be people will be able to read that part of the statement. But can I ask you to talk about your hopes for the future. Unless you want to cover some of those matters. But whether we want to talk about your hope for the future. The importance of accountability. And those two issues might fit into that as well. So you let me know.
MS ROBINS: Okay. Well, I am going to take a look at the person
MS EASTMAN: Okay. Just see how we go.
MS ROBINS: and see if they give me a head nod and we will see where we go. Okay.
MS EASTMAN: Is that okay? All right.
MS ROBINS: So, look, when we talk about generational abuse, we need to also understand that what takes place, if it happens generation after generation after generation, that is generational abuse. It doesn't have to be that the one generation has the impact and everybody else feels it. If it keeps recycling, we're talking about the abuse, and that's where we're looking at when I said that there is not a generation of women in my family that have not been abused.
My daughter exists in there. And her abuse led her to the same pathways that I did in wanting to end the pain. The difference is what took place after that incident. Both my former spouse and I made sure that that child knew that they were loved, they were cared for, they were listened to and they mattered. And then we backed up what we said by our actions. Whether or not there was issues between me and my partner didn't matter, because our child mattered.
And when you stop that cycle, when you put a stop to it by saying, "Hey, I know where you're coming from. I faced that too at one point. But here is what I'm going to tell you. I'm by your side, I'm in your corner, and if anybody dares step on to you, I'm going to step between you and them and I'm going to make sure you're protected" that's how we start to end the cycle of violence, and that's what I did for my child. I made sure that they knew that they were cared for, and I watched that young person really take off and start to heal from their abuse and what they faced. And now I am so very proud of that child.
MS EASTMAN: I want to finish up your evidence this afternoon and I don't know whether you would like to read this part of your statement. And there is two bits. Right at the end of statement you talk about what you would like to say to those who abuse and what you would like to share with others who have experienced abuse. Do you want to read that?
MS ROBINS: I'd be more than happy to. But I would also like to add a quick statement. Look, if anything I've said has triggered anybody, please take self-care. There is nothing more important than you.
What I need to say to those who abuse. I would like to say to my abusers, I got up after you knocked me down. I've succeeded where you said I could not and would not. I live in the light now, and I will not be silent. There is no excuse for abuse --
MS EASTMAN: -- okay.
MS ROBINS: -- that's okay. There is no excuse for abuse. Time for you has run out.
To all the abusers, I'd like to say: We see you. We know your secrets. We know your excuses and the lies you tell. We will turn on the lights, we will demand accountability and consequences for your actions.
But I'd also like to share to others who have experienced abuse, I've suffered a lot in many different forms. I'm here to say to those who cannot, look at me and hear my words: I'm dyslexic, and I'm a published author with a higher education. I speak multiple languages. I am a person who deals with chronic pain, and I have stood on the top of glaciers, even though every step to get to that top was excruciatingly painful.
I'm a trans woman with gender dysphoria and I am a safe person. All you have to do is ask my friends, my children, and their friends.
And to any child who's experiencing abuse, I tell you: You are worth every breath. You are listened to. You do matter. It may get dark at times, but life is better with you in it. Keep talking. There are those of us who have your back, and things will get better. We will make sure of it. I challenge the Royal Commission to demand the same.
We must lower the cost. We must lower the amount of children killing themselves. It's not hard because no child at any point should ever go through what I went through. What my daughter went through. What my sisters went through. What my grandmother went through. No woman, no child. It must end. We must all say, “There is no excuse for abuse”, and we must mean it. Because I'm tired of coming here. I'm tired of hearing the same question: What can we do?
We've asked it so many times that it's old. You ask it again, but you never acted upon it the first time you asked it and we answered. You asked those of us who are disabled, “What can we do? ” Hey, the NDIS was great, we liked it, we appreciated it, and then you gutted it. And you ask us “What can we do? ” Talk about a broken record. Talk about wasting our time.
I get pulled into a meeting with another support service who asks, "What can we do? " And I'm like, the same thing I've been saying all along that every single person who's disabled stop attacking us. Stop trying to pass laws to make us look like we are monsters. Leave us alone or give us the help that you promise. And give us real help, because each and every person that's disabled has a monster within themselves and a powerhouse of hope. They want it, they deserve it, they need it, and that is to have a decent life.
MS EASTMAN: Thank you, Ally.
MS ROBINS: Thank you.
CHAIR: Ally, thank you very much. Just a couple of things I would say. One is thank you so much for your very powerful evidence. I know that you have some of your children with you, and I think they would be very proud of you for what you have said and what is in your statement. We are really, really grateful to you to have had the courage to come and tell us your story and tell us the things that need to be done to prevent what you have experienced happening again.
The second thing I would say to you is having watched several episodes of the 'Yellowstone', I think you took the right step in coming to Australia rather than Montana. You have done very well in your choice of locations. Thank you very much.
MS ROBINS: Thank you.
CHAIR: Thank you. Ms Eastman, I think there's some documents to tender. Could we leave that, please, until first thing tomorrow morning? There are some things to be done here.
MS EASTMAN: Yes.
CHAIR: Thank you. So we will adjourn now until 10 am tomorrow that is, Hobart time 9 am Brisbane time.
MS EASTMAN: Thank you, Chair.
CHAIR: Yes. Thank you very much. Thank you, again, Ally, for your evidence. Thank you.
MS ROBINS: Thank you.
THE WITNESS WITHDREW
ADJOURNED AT 4:23 PM UNTIL THURSDAY, 31 MARCH 2022 AT 10:00 AM