A FREMANTLE support service for people who grew up in out-of-home care is fighting an eviction notice from the Catholic order which owns their building.
Tuart Place claims they’re being punished for helping clients who were abused win better compensation claims.
The organisation was launched in 2007 and operates from the old Cleopatra Hotel in High Street, which is owned by the Christian Brothers, a global religious community whose Australian headquarters are based in Victoria.
In June last year Christian Brothers Oceania Province leader Gerard Brady wrote to Tuart Place director Philippa White telling her the order wanted to sell the building.
He offered support in the “transition phase” and the initial deadline to vacate was extended until this month, but Dr White says there’s nowhere else suitable – and her clients don’t want to be turfed out.
“There’s a debt owed, and for the Christian Brothers to now want to stop supporting a service for their survivors is simply outrageous, because as the men get older … they have greater needs not lesser needs,” Dr White said.
Dr White believes the Christian Brothers have a moral obligation to continue supporting Tuart Place, which is operated by Forgotten Australians Coming Together, an incorporated charity.
“For the last 10 years, we’ve been denied federal funding for services for care leavers on the basis that we’re too close to the Christian Brothers,” Dr White said.
She claims the problems first arose in 2018 when a representative from the Christian Brothers asked them to stop refering clients to law firm Rightside Legal, which was winning bigger settlements for abuse victims under new National Redress Scheme laws introduced by the McGowan government.
In other states, those who signed on surrendered the right to take further legal action, but WA attorney general John Quigley’s legislation allowed deeds to be overturned.
“So we referred many people to Rightside when the law changed, and they’re the people who achieved the million dollar settlements, and more, whereas the lawyers that the Christian Brothers favoured us referring to – who they would pay handsomely – would get people around $250,000 – $300,000.”
The law firm the Christian Brothers wanted the abuse victims to use was actually on their own books.
Dr White said since then they’ve supported many of their clients in signing up to the redress scheme and that would be jeopardised if they were evicted.
“It’s also outrageous that the Christian Brothers would discontinue this service halfway through a 10-year national redress scheme.
“Because, you know, they’ll want people to sign up for the redress scheme, they’ll prefer that to people suing them, because it’s cheaper.
“But it’s definitely a vindictive and punitive move.”
In a letter to Dr White in June last year, Christian Brothers province leader Gerard Brady cited “rigorous litigation proceedings” in WA as triggering the need to “actualise” some assets including Tuart Place.
But Dr White said when they went over the Brother’s audited financial statements, it painted a different picture.
“They show that they have at least $60 million in disposable assets, and they’ve also got a $9 million property development in Waterford.
“So their story has shifted down the various meetings we’ve had with them from ‘we have to sell the property’ to ‘we’ve got the right to sell’,” she said.
Dr White said the eviction order had been deeply distressing for Tuart Place’s clients, many of whom had found a second home in its drop-in centre where they could feel safe and supported.
Board member John Ryall is one of those who found hope at Tuart Place.
An English child migrant, he was sent to the Christian Brothers’ institutions at Casteldare and Tardun, where he witnessed and was subjected to horrific abuse at the hands of the priest.
“I came here about six or seven years ago and I was terrified,” Mr Ryall said.
“And I’d been through eight years, 10 years or more therapy. I’m a recovering alcoholic; I haven’t had a drink for 29 years and I thought I’d really done a lot of work on myself.
“And when I came here I realised there’s so much more of the onion to peel.
“I’d listen to different people going to the support group and it was horrifying the stuff I was hearing.
“And I knew I wasn’t dreaming, I knew what I went through was real.”
Now 76, Mr Ryall recalls being sent from Casteldare to a family’s home for a weekend holiday.
After being offered cake and tea, rather than fighting not to be last in line at Castledare and missing out completely, the terror of returning to the institution became overwhelming.
“So then I come home and cried because I missed those people, and this brother said ‘I’ll give you something to cry about’ and flogged and flogged me.”
Despite the abuse, Mr Ryall says he’s still a practicing Catholic, saying it wasn’t the religion but evil men such as notorious paedophile Brother Lawrence Murphy who the system allowed to continue because of the silence that surrounded them.
He made it his mission to end that silence, including appearing on the stands as witness for other survivors to recount his story.
That makes the Christian Brothers’ decision even harder to bear.
“This is about us sending our clients to Rightside Legal, which I went to, and I got a proper payout,” Mr Ryall said.
Br Brady told the Herald it was “important for the facts of this matter to be ventilated.
“Tuart Place and FACT are currently negotiating to purchase the subject building and the Province will not be drawn into conducting this in the public domain.
“The Province advised the organisation three years ago of the intention to sell the building which is owned by one of our works, Edmund Rice Community Services Ltd.
“Since then we have supported it with two extensions of the lease as well as contributing an additional $100,000 to support the sustainable transition to a new premises.
“This support is in addition to what the Province has provided what is now Tuart Place and FACT over 25 years.
“In the last 14 years alone this support has included more than $1.5 million in funding support.
“Further, the Province has provided the premises at a peppercorn rent and this subsidy is valued in the region of $850,000.
“Over and above the support for Tuart Place, the Province has spent $123 million supporting those who have been abused in our facilities in WA through settlements and the provision of counselling and other supports.
“We will continue to meet our obligations moving forward for counselling as well as the cost of settlements through both the National Redress Scheme and the civil litigation process.
“Our mission – alongside our response to those who have experienced abuse in our facilities – is delivered from our own resources which we must manage within the constraints of growing civil action against us and the need for our services in Australia and throughout our Province.
“We have tried earnestly over the past three years to assist Tuart Place, its board and its management relocate in a managed and sustainable way, and we remain open
to continuing to work collaboratively with them so that they can achieve that goal and secure a new home for their organisation,” Br Brady said.
Tuart Place has a conga line of politicians and supporters ready to support their campaign, with a protest rally firming up for October 12.
Fremantle Labor MP Simone McGurk said “any reasonable-minded person would be appalled at the Christian Brothers’ decision to evict Tuart Place from their facilities.
“Those institutions who have been found wanting when it comes to standing against child sex abuse have a special obligation to show their contrition.
“In this regard Christian Brothers have an opportunity to support an organisation that provided skilled services and a community to adult survivors of abuse. I urge the Order to reconsider and work with Tuart Place so they can continue their good work in their current premises.”
Shadow federal charities minister Dean Smith has asked for a ‘please explain’, while respected Noongar elder Robert Isaacs wrote to the Christian Brothers asking how they think the victims of abuse would feel.
“To terminate this service now would stir up old resentments and anger, and it is simply unnecessary,” Mr Isaacs wrote.