This week, the Victorian Government delivered a formal apology in Parliament to those people who suffered childhood sexual abuse in connection with the Puffing Billy railway and other railway bodies. The speech is available in full on the Victorian Parliament Hansard website.
In June 2018, the Victorian Ombudsman released a report titled ‘investigation into child sex offender Robert Whitehead’s involvement with Puffing Billy and other railway bodies.’ Although focusing on Whitehead, the report delved into all sexual abuse occurring on the railway. The Ombudsman’s investigation was announced in 2017 after an initial call for an investigation made by one of Whitehead’s victims was referred to the then Minister for Tourism John Eren.
Whitehead was notable for being convicted and jailed in 1959, before being released and then re-employed with Puffing Billy only to assault more children. The full report and all recommendations have been published. Notably, the Victorian Government accepted all of the Ombudsman’s recommendations.
Recommendation 1 was for a public apology to survivors for the current and historical actions of Government agencies who individually and collectively failed to protect children from sexual abuse.
On Wednesday, 27 November 2019, the Premier, Opposition and relevant Ministers from the Victorian Government made their apology. In a speech delivered by Mr Eren, now Minister for Lara, said: ‘…hearing firsthand the hurt and the pain in their voices though many years had passed. Some felt guilt, some felt betrayal and some felt a sense of relief that finally their voices were being heard and that they were finally being rightfully acknowledged.’