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Arnie's story

Arnie has had serious mental health issues throughout his adult life. He has attempted suicide numerous times, and in one episode threatened police with a knife, trying to get them to shoot him. He has spent time in psychiatric institutions, and these days depends on medication and regular ECT treatment to keep functioning.

Arnie’s brother Jim came to the Royal Commission with him and helped him tell his story.

Arnie was born in a regional Victorian town in the late 1960s, one of 10 children. He was removed from his parents when he was about three, and placed in a Salvation Army-run children’s home. As a seven or eight-year-old he was sent to a family group home. He was abused in that home, and was also abused at the home two of his brothers had been sent to, where he visited once or twice a week.

Arnie told his social worker about what his brothers’ foster father was doing to him when he spent time at their house. ‘I told her that Gavin had touched me; that he’d done things to me in the swimming pool … I don’t think she believed me’, he said.

‘She said she’d look into it – that’s all she said.’

But nothing was done and the abuse continued until Arnie moved out to live on his own as a 14-year-old.

Arnie and his brother Jim are both angry that the social worker failed in her duty of care. ‘It’s affected my life’, Arnie said. He has never had a job. He has never married, or had children. He lives on a disability pension, in public housing. He rarely goes outside. ‘I find it very hard to cope on a daily basis’, he said.

‘This is the gravity [of it] that he can’t explain or express himself’, Arnie’s brother Jim told the Commissioner.

Arnie sought compensation from the institution and received a payment of $15,000. After paying legal fees and other disbursements he was left with about $8,000. He doesn’t plan to seek further compensation. ‘Money can’t undo what’s taken place. It’s not going to undo the damage.’

However Jim remains bitter about the paucity of the amount. If Arnie had been affected by a botched medical procedure, he’d have been properly compensated, he said. In the same way, Arnie’s suffering now and his loss of opportunity are the result of other people’s failings.

‘It beggars belief, in my mind, the quality of life to which he’s been reduced and has permanently had to adjust to – in the face of a constant political message that he is a freeloader’, Jim said.

‘Unless you’re in those shoes, you’re not in that reality. He’s even told me himself that he’d love to have children. There’s things that’s just a no-go zone now because of the fact that he was undermined as a young person.

‘The worst thing about it is that we were taken off our mother because she was classed as an unfit woman’, Arnie said, ‘and the government turned around and said they could do a 100 percent better job than my mother could. And this is what I’ve turned out like.’

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