‘We failed to keep these children safe’: Victorian government to apologise for sexual abuse at public schools

<span>Jacinta Allan says the failure to keep children safe in state schools was not only ‘serious and systemic’, as described by the inquiry, but also a ‘failure of morality’.</span><span>Photograph: Joel Carrett/AAP</span>
Jacinta Allan says the failure to keep children safe in state schools was not only ‘serious and systemic’, as described by the inquiry, but also a ‘failure of morality’.Photograph: Joel Carrett/AAP

The Victorian premier has admitted the government failed to keep children safe from sexual abuse at several state schools, including Beaumaris primary school, where an inquiry found four paedophiles allegedly preyed on students in the 1960s and 70s.

Jacinta Allan and the deputy premier and education minister, Ben Carroll, on Wednesday announced the government would accept all nine recommendations of an inquiry into allegations of historical abuse at the school.

“In doing so, we make a clear and simple acknowledgment: we failed,” Allan told reporters.

Related: ‘No joy’ but inquiry brings ‘healing’ for victim-survivors of alleged child sexual abuse in Victorian schools

“We failed to keep these children safe. We failed to listen when they spoke out. We failed to act to ensure that it did not happen again.”

The inquiry, which handed down its final report in March, identified 109 alleged victims of the four teachers at the centre of the allegations: Graham Steele, Darrell Ray, David MacGregor and “Wyatt”, a pseudonym used for legal reasons.

All four were teachers at Beaumaris primary school in the 60s and 70s, though the inquiry was also expanded to examine 23 other schools where they worked.

It found the education department “woefully failed” to protect children across state schools between 1960 and 1994 due to a culture of cover-up and a lack of policies in place to deal with perpetrators.

Allan said the failure of the department was not only “serious and systemic”, as described by the inquiry, but also a “failure of morality”.

“What else can it possibly be when the reputation of the education system was given higher regard than the safety of children?” she said.

“Young, bright, beautiful children for whom school should have been a place of joy and education, instead for many that became a place of horror and fear.”

Carroll said the government would spend $48.3m to act on the recommendations, beginning with an independent truth-telling process about historical abuse at all government schools before 2000. A review of how historical child sexual abuse matters were treated and responded to across the system would also be conducted by an independent monitor.

Once the two processes end in 2026, the government planned to publish the findings and the premier will deliver a formal apology in parliament.

The duo were joined at their press conference by victim-survivors Glen Fearnett, Rick Turner and Tim Courtney, who attended Beaumaris primary school in the 1960s and 1970s and gave evidence to the inquiry.

Fearnett described the government’s response as “bittersweet”.

“It’s not something that’s celebrated in any way, it shouldn’t be. But if we can maybe get a conversation to happen within the community to be more aware of child sexual abuse … that’s a good thing,” he said, as he encouraged victims from other schools to come forward as part of the truth-telling process.

“It is a tough thing to do but it’s freeing and breaking the silence takes the shame away and puts it somewhere else. I think it’s vital that people if they can get up and tell their story to someone in a safe environment.”

Turner said it was “another important step” in his journey.

“I am nearly 61. I was nine years old when I was abused – a very young boy. I’ve only recently had the opportunity to recognise that I wasn’t the only one,” Turner said.

The three men welcomed the 2026 apology, which they said would allow more people to tell their stories.

The Sandringham MP, Brad Rowswell, whose electorate takes in Beaumaris, said the alleged “criminal acts that were committed” at the school were “but the tip of the iceberg”.

“It is pleasing to see that every victim-survivor across the state will now be afforded this opportunity,” Roswell said.

• In Australia, children, young adults, parents and teachers can contact the Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800, or Bravehearts on 1800 272 831, and adult survivors can contact Blue Knot Foundation on 1300 657 380. Other sources of help can be found at Child Helplines International