Secret Cabinet deal killed Family case
By Alex Messina
A secret Cabinet decision made to end litigation involving the religious group the Family overruled the secretary of the Department of Health and Community Services, Dr John Paterson.
According to sources close to the case, the political directive to end the child-protection case was in spite of Dr Paterson's view that the case should proceed.
The decision was made over a month ago and a secret deadline was imposed for a settlement. It was exceeded as negotiations dragged on, but the deal was sealed on Friday last week.
It is believed that Dr Paterson maintains the view that the department's evidence was strong and would have justified the protective concerns for 86 children from the Family, formerly known as the Children of God. Sources said the deal was widely considered a total capitulation within the department.
Once the deal was struck, Dr Paterson was gagged by the Minister for Community Services, Mr John. Dr Paterson has made no comments since the settlement. A spokesman for the department said he was uncontactable last night.
Mr John's office said yesterday that Mr John had no comment beyond statements he had made when the case was settled.
The deal involves no more than was achievable in October 1992, when New South Wales reached a similar settlement with members of the Family. The deal includes three hours of weekly activity outside the group, monthly visits to the children by independent visitors and a review of the group's home-schooling.
Psychologists who have spoken out about the case for the first time hold opposing views. One, Mr Tim Watson-Munro, yesterday called for the resignation of Dr Paterson. He said it was known from an earlier case involving a single family from the Family that the allegations could not be substantiated.
Mr Watson-Munro has done extensive clinical interviews with children from the Family. He was to give evidence in the child-protection case for the Family. He said the children he interviewed showed no evidence of disturbance or abuse and were delightful and well-adjusted.
Professor Margot Prior, a child psychologist from La Trobe University, said she was concerned that children in the Family were unable to make a free decision to leave because of its isolation.
However, she said her opinion was not based on interviews with children but on literature from the group, the observations of child-protection workers and statements from ex-members.