SOME media pieces that I have read over the past few months — both news reports and analytical pieces — have led me to reflect rather more than previously on certain matters relating to mental health. My interest arises in two areas — the de-institutionalisation of traditional, larger scale mental health facilities and the blight of paedophilia and related obscenities.

On the matter of de-institutionalisation of the larger scale mental health facilities, of which the New Norfolk complex was perhaps the best known in the state, I wonder if it is working as intended. Indeed, I hope that is the case. I ask the question because I am unsure as to whether the critical determinant to de-institutionalise was mental health considerations or whether that factor was tempered, significantly or otherwise, by budgetary concerns — real, imaginary or contrived. That is a harsh judgement but being only a year or so short of three score and ten I have seen a lot of public sector decisions and thus it should not surprise if I have grown a healthy streak of cynicism.

The particular reason for my concern is that I am aware of some cases where, demonstrably, the new system has failed, in Tasmania or in other states where similar approaches have reportedly been adopted. Many, if not most, of those people who have been de-institutionalised live in groups of four or so in a house purchased or leased by governments for the purpose. As I understand the situation, these places mostly have no full-time carer on site but do have regular daily visits from qualified personnel from the relevant government agency. It is a relatively “free” situation which is healthy in the sense of fostering self-reliance in a group setting but if a resident is disposed to strike out on his or her own there is little to stop them doing so and I don’t know how comprehensive the effort is to track them down. Moreover, once on their own they have to fend for themselves and often “go on the road” with or without the material resources and street savvy to look after themselves.

It is against this background that even from my narrow perspective I wonder if the system is working effectively and truly in the interests of the mentally ill as against being disproportionately constrained by budgetary requirements. For my own part I am aware of at least two suicides of people in other states who were in that never-never land between what I would describe as informal institutionalisation — for example, in a house with others — and full freedom from any kind of supervision. So is de-institutionalisation working and, if not, what is being done to address any deficiencies? Perhaps some readers will know the answer.

Most disturbing pieces I have read

The second issue, that of paedophilia, was the subject of a long story by Christine Jackman on the front and second pages of the Weekend Australian of 15-16 July, 2006. It was one of the toughest, most revealing and most disturbing pieces that I have read in a major newspaper for a great many years. Ms. Jackman is to be applauded for her journalism as is The Australian for running the piece. It took up most of the first two pages of that issue of the Weekend Australian and would leave any citizen who is concerned for the health of our society deeply concerned. In commenting on the article and the issue I make no apologies for quoting at length from that edition of the paper, notwithstanding that some of the language used is the stuff of the most warped of minds and yet a mind that is in a body that has been walking free for most of the past three decades.

The cental character is a paedophile, Bill Clare, who “…had spent years preying on the young, the naive and the intellectually impaired, before he finally raped and killed a three-year old boy following three weeks of sustained depravity in September 2003. Still, the unkempt and overweight 32-year old was having difficulty understanding why he was facing gaol.”

Christine Jackman also comments that Clare “…spared few thoughts for his victims, complaining instead of his own fears of being bashed and raped in gaol.” Clare admitted to a doctor that it was wrong to interfere with a young girl, then adding “…sometime it is wrong”. Then he qualified all that by commenting that “it’s not wrong to a certain degree …only mouth … no penetration of backside or vagina.” In this context a police officer involved in bringing Clare to justice commented that “I’ve had peds say to me ‘Yeah, I fiddle with kids’, as if it’s a lifestyle choice, or like saying, ‘Yeah I’m straight’ or ‘Yeah, I’m gay’.”

It is relevant to observe, too, that “Apart from an 18-month stint working in a bottle shop, he had existed at the expense of the taxpayer for most of his adult life.” In short, on the reasonable assumption that there are many like Clare, we who work or still pay taxes as retirees are subsidising the lifestyle of these people whether they are roaming the streets or in gaol. At present, that subsidisation is by way of Clare serving a sentence of 16 years in gaol for repeatedly raping a 6-year old girl and is awaiting a further sentence for anally raping a toddler. Nor is gaol necessarily a great burden for paedophiles, otherwise known as “rock spiders”. As Christine Jackman observes “Far from being rehabilitated, gaol simply offered Clare the opportunity to network with other paedophiles. Few other inmates will deign to interact with rock spiders — indeed, like many of his ilk, Clare has spent much time in protective custody to shield him from others — so child sex offenders get plenty of time to swap information among themselves and share tricks of the trade.”

This awful crime

That is about all I have the stomach for as far as Clare and his fellow slime are concerned. However, the Clare case does make us reflect on some important questions the principle of which is what can be done to minimise — if not eradicate — this awful crime. In this respect we should bear in mind that the kind of crime committed by Clare and others of the same ilk not only results in the death or mental crippling of a single innocent child but it also effectively scars the family and friends of that child for the rest of their lives. Try to imagine, if you will, “getting on with life” with that horrible shadow dominating a large corner of your mind for the remainder of your days on the planet. That is the sentence to which the victims of paedophilia in the broadest sense are subjected.

I have thought of all kinds of penalties for paedophiles such as life in prison; to castration; to solitary confinement, again for life; to various other options, most of them likely to be entirely unacceptable to those who believe that every human being has something good in them. Well, tell that to the little girls and boys — and to the relatives and friends of those little girls and boys — whose lives have been snuffed out or scarred forever by people like Bill Clare. I have reflected on this at some length and I have concluded that there is an overwhelming case for convicted paedophiles to be subjected to the death penalty, especially convicted recidivist paedophiles.

The churches and others may contest this view but, then, the churches would, wouldn’t they? After all, the churches have themselves harboured quite a few rock spiders over the years. Let them establish that their own houses are in order on this issue before mounting the pulpit to defend the status quo on penalties. In short, I am firmly of the view that capital punishment for paedophiles should be introduced and the sooner the better. There may also be a case for some other crimes to attract the same penalty but I am concerned here only with the crime of paedophilia.

In Genesis 4, v.9 the question is posed “Am I my brother’s keeper?” Could I answer in the affirmative in the case of a paedophile? Not me. Never. A paedophile has crossed the line. The assaults that paedophiles make on human dignity — indeed, on life itself — are of the worst kind.  In a horrible sense the victims and their families continue to carry a burden that, surely, can never be shrugged off in its entirety.

Nick Evers, born in November, 1937, has been a diplomat, trade policy advisor, economic/management consultant, university lecturer, Premier’s Department head, Liberal Government minister (1986-89) company director, Chairman, TT-Line Company Pty Ltd (1995-05), chairman of Forest Industries Association of Tasmania (2004-05), occasional consultant, columnist and writer.

Nick Evers

I have thought of all kinds of penalties for paedophiles such as life in prison; to castration; to solitary confinement, again for life; to various other options, most of them likely to be entirely unacceptable to those who believe that every human being has something good in them. Well, tell that to the little girls and boys — and to the relatives and friends of those little girls and boys — whose lives have been snuffed out or scarred forever by people like Bill Clare. I have reflected on this at some length and I have concluded that there is an overwhelming case for convicted paedophiles to be subjected to the death penalty, especially convicted recidivist paedophiles.

The churches and others may contest this view but, then, the churches would, wouldn’t they? After all, the churches have themselves harboured quite a few rock spiders over the years. Let them establish that their own houses are in order on this issue before mounting the pulpit to defend the status quo on penalties. In short, I am firmly of the view that capital punishment for paedophiles should be introduced and the sooner the better. There may also be a case for some other crimes to attract the same penalty but I am concerned here only with the crime of paedophilia.