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Ombudsman Investigation

Puffing Billy Railway's Response to Victorian Ombudsman's Report

Our Apology

On behalf of the former Emerald Tourist Railway Board and its current members who were appointed under the State Owned Enterprises Act 1992 in June 2018, we apologise to all victims, their families and all those associated with the broader railway for the atrocities committed by those who were in positions of power and trust at the Puffing Billy Railway. We acknowledge that victims endured extreme suffering without recognition and that appropriate actions were not taken for a long period of time. We are sorry that those who were aware of such atrocities did not take urgent, immediate and appropriate action to stop and prevent ongoing harm.

The current Board can never truly understand the pain and suffering experienced by so many, but we can promise that we will take every step required to prevent it from happening again.

We regret that it was left to the brave and courageous survivors who persistently took steps to be heard and to ensure action was taken to reveal the atrocious wrongdoing. This courage culminated in a Victorian Ombudsman’s investigation, a subsequent report and nine recommendations being issued.

The current Board recognise the key failings of some of the prior senior members of Puffing Billy Railway. We are sorry that victims were not listened to, perpetrators were not terminated from the railway immediately, appropriate enforcement action was not undertaken, and the perpetrators were allowed to continue to hold positions of power and influence.

As part of the corrective action, the current Board, management, staff and volunteers are working collaboratively to implement the Ombudsman’s recommendations, in particular:

  • We are implementing Child Safe Standards to ensure that the best interests of children are a primary consideration.
  • We are implementing best practice Recordkeeping Principles to ensure documents are preserved and individuals can access records about themselves.
  • We accepted the resignation of the Chief Executive Officer John Robinson in June 2018.
  • We are participating in a governance review of the Emerald Tourist Railway Board to ensure that the future structure of the Board can never again allow for conflicts of interest which put children at risk.

 

In addition, the current Board, management, staff and volunteers are working to develop and implement stronger policies and procedures across all aspects of the railway including accountability, responsibility, risk management, reporting, communication and engagement.

National Redress Scheme
The Emerald Tourist Railway Board is a participating institution in the National Redress Scheme set up in response to the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. This scheme is available for any victim to seek redress for hurt and suffering experienced as a result of sexual abuse that occurred at Puffing Billy. For further information - www.national redress.gov.au.

Emerald Tourist Railway Board Support
The Emerald Tourist Railway Board will also continue to provide support to those who wish it. Contact the Emerald Tourist Railway Board on 03 9757 0715 for further information.

 

Victorian Ombudsman’s investigation and report

On Monday 25 June the Victorian Ombudsman tabled her report after investigating various Victorian railway organisations and their historic involvement with convicted child sex offender, Robert Whitehead.

In response to the Ombudsman’s report, the Emerald Tourist Railway Board resigned and a new Board was appointed, bringing renewed governance and leadership to the Railway.

The Board acknowledges and accepts all conclusions and recommendations the Ombudsman has handed down. We take ownership of the matter, recognising it is utterly at odds with Puffing Billy Railway’s mission and its standing as a tourist icon much loved by the community for more than 100 years.

We are deeply sorry that people in positions of authority acted to protect their organisations' own reputations at the expense of victims, that they failed to act on complaints, and that victims were not encouraged to come forward.

The victims have been incredibly courageous in coming forward to talk about what they have endured – we commend and thank them for this.

 

Our pledge to victims, our current staff and volunteers, and broader community

The Board will work with staff, volunteers and the Puffing Billy Preservation Society to renew confidence in the organisation, and to ensure they have the support they need during this difficult time.

For our employees and volunteers we have counselling services available on-site, as well as an Employee Assistance Program, and a series of information sessions for our people to discuss any questions or concerns they have.

We pledge to do everything in our power to make sure this cannot happen again, and are taking decisive action to this end.

  • We will work with the Government to implement the Ombudsman’s recommendations in full at the Railway over coming months.
  • We have renewed leadership – at both Board and CEO level – steering the organisation into the future
  • We are implementing a formal grievance resolution policy. It will be reviewed to ensure it aligns with current legislation
  • In 2006 we introduced Working with Children Checks and we will ensure all our volunteers and employees comply
  • The Youth Program is suspended while under review
  • Our child safety policies comply with laws and regulations, but we need to go beyond that – we have engaged an independent consultant to review allour policies and procedures to give confidence that what we do now, and in the future, is best practice.

Our clear imperative is to foster a safe and caring culture with awareness and knowledge at all levels of our organisation from the Board through to our volunteers and employees.

 

Our future together

Puffing Billy Railway is one of Victoria’s most iconic attractions, powered by a dedicated volunteer and employee community.

The Railway’s new leadership will work hard to make sure families can continue enjoying it for generations to come.

 

Further information

If you believe you are or may be a victim of sexual abuse whilst working or volunteering at Puffing Billy, we encourage you to contact the South Eastern Centres Against Sexual Assault (SECASA) (a specialised service the Government has established to support victims of child sexual abuse connected to Victorian Railway organisations and their families) – call (03) 9594 2289. Any incident or allegation should also be reported to Victoria Police’s Sexual Offences and Child Abuse Investigation Teams (SOCITs) – contact details for SOCITs are available at www.police.vic.gov.au or by contacting your local police station.

Centres Against Sexual Assault (CASA) provide a free 24hr support line.  This service is available for people seeking support outside normal business hours.

CASA after hours number: 1800 806 292

 

For enquiries concerning the Victorian Government’s response to the Ombudsman’s Investigation including;

  • access to records
  • participation in the apology process
  • the Emerald Tourist Railway Board

Please call Department of Jobs, Precincts and Resources (DJPR) Puffing Billy Response Unit on: 1800 951 095 or (03) 8392 6200

Alternatively, you can email: puffingbilly.enquiries@ecodev.vic.gov.au

 

Website last updated 27/11/2019.

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