Today the Victorian Ombudsman handed down her report into Victorian Railway groups and their involvement with convicted child sex offender Robert Whitehead.
The damning report outlines atrocities committed by evil men in positions of power and trust. For decades, their crimes were ignored, their positions protected and their victims cast out.
It should never have happened and thanks to this report, and the actions we will take, it never will again.
The Victorian Government accepts the report’s recommendations in full and has already begun work to implement them.
We have accepted the resignation of all members of Emerald Tourist Railway Board and an Interim Puffing Billy Board, chaired by Tim North QC, has been put in place.
The interim Board will include professionals with a range of relevant experience — including child safety, record keeping and corporate governance — that will be critical for the organisation as it moves forward.
Puffing Billy’s CEO John Robinson has also resigned, and has been replaced by an acting CEO.
On top of these immediate changes, the Government will undertake a comprehensive independent review of the governance and management of Puffing Billy – to ensure it is equipped to properly support its staff, volunteers and the hundreds of thousands of people from across Victoria and the world that visit the railway every year.
We thank the Ombudsman and her team for their diligent work, carried out in very difficult circumstances.
We also thank the victims for their courage throughout this process. We hope that the release of this report provides some sense of vindication.
A dedicated Centre Against Sexual Assault line has been established to provide support and advice to known victims, and to any other victims who may wish to come forward. That is available by calling (03) 9594 2289.
A Puffing Billy Response Team has been set up within government to work directly with victims to ensure they are respected, that their suffering is recognised, and they get the support they need.
The Government intends to issue a formal public apology to all victims of these heinous crimes. This apology will occur once we have met and apologised to the victims in person.
Finally, the Government thanks and re-affirms its support for current staff and volunteers at Puffing Billy. This report and the Government's response is in no way a criticism of them and their work.
Puffing Billy’s dedicated team of almost 1,000 volunteers do a magnificent job in preserving, managing and running this historic railway.
All existing staff and volunteers have been offered support, counselling and information services.
Reviewed 19 August 2020