Parliament: Parliamentary Initiatives

Professor Dr Freda Briggs

Adjourned debate on motion of Hon. K.L. Vincent:

That this council—

  1. notes the passing on 6 April 2016 of child protection advocate, Emeritus Professor Dr Freda Briggs, AO;
  2. recognises the extraordinary body of work Dr Briggs undertook to become an expert in the field of child protection;
  3. recognises the role Dr Briggs played into her 86th year of life working towards the welfare and safety of children; and
  4. calls on the South Australian government to establish a research scholarship in Freda Briggs’ name at the Australian Centre for Child Protection to honour her name and her dedication to this work.

(Continued from 18 May 2016).

The Hon. K.L. VINCENT: Can I briefly speak and just begin by thanking those who have spoken in unanimous support for this motion to acknowledge the extraordinary life and work of Professor Freda Briggs and indeed establish a scholarship in her name, which is to be done through the University of South Australia. Those who have spoken in support of this motion have done so with a great deal of passion, and that is exactly what should be done, because Professor Briggs’ life was certainly one of great passion and dedication to the enormously important cause of child protection.

Personally, I became aware of Professor Briggs and met her soon after I was elected to this place in 2010 when I was advocating for the parents involved in what has become known as the busman’s case, the alleged sexual abuse of seven young children with intellectual disabilities in the southern suburbs of Adelaide. This is, of course, an horrific situation to have to work on and an horrific situation under which to meet someone; nonetheless, I am very thankful that it brought Freda Briggs into my life, because she taught me an enormous amount about child abuse, the behaviours of child abusers, how to spread that awareness in the community so that families, children and the like can be more informed and indeed how the law should respond to those behaviours.

That case was pivotal to the establishment of the Disability Justice Plan and the legislation that we now have in the vulnerable witnesses act, protecting the rights of people with disabilities, including very young children, to have their day in court. This is, of course, important for a number of reasons, not least of which is that people with disabilities are statistically so much more likely to be abused than those without.

This brings me to another area of passion I think it is fair to say Freda and I shared, which was the right of people, particularly those who may be undereducated because of disability and particularly, again, those who are children, to be educated about subjects like sexuality, sex, relationships, bodily autonomy and so on. I think we both recognised that although there is a completely understandable want to protect those children—to protect all children, in fact—and especially those with disabilities, and a want to shy them away from these topics, it is my unfortunate observation that this has in fact the very opposite effect to what is desired in that it actually makes them more vulnerable. If they do not recognise what a healthy interpersonal relationship looks like, they are more unlikely to recognise what an unhealthy one looks like and indeed what abuse looks like.

That is why many of us in this place continue to ask ourselves to this day, ‘What would Freda do?’ But, indeed, it is not enough to just ask ourselves what would Freda do. We need to ask ourselves, ‘What would I do?’ and ‘What will we do to continue her important work and to continue our fight for children’s rights and child protection all over this state?’

That is why I am so pleased that a scholarship has been established to continue that important research so that knowledge spreads not only throughout academic circles but into the community as well, so the community can be better armed with the knowledge they will hopefully pass on to their children and see them better protected. With those few words, thank you again to those who have given passionate support to this motion. Rest in peace, rise in power, Freda Briggs.

Motion carried.