Paul Robert Burton came under the ire of NSW authorities, when in July 2017, he made a number of social media posts about a young sick boy, who’d been removed from the care of his parents by NSW Family and Community Services (FACS).
The president of social justice organisation Our Land Our Water Our Future wasn’t aware he was breaching a court issued suppression order by posting the information about the boy that he personally knew. Indeed, social media platforms were awash with posts about the very same child.
After being summoned to the Equity Division of the NSW Supreme Court, Burton removed the posts in compliance with the court order. However, at that point, he was then slapped with a number of criminal charges relating to the deleted posts.
Burton’s not one to simply lay down and keel over though. The accomplished musician decided to challenge the validity of the criminal charges that the state had laid against him. So, over the last few years, Burton’s been in and out of court, running multiple cases.
Suppressing the truth
Reporting on children who’ve been removed from their families by the state is not an easy task. The gag laws that restrict what can be said are comprehensive. And while they’re ostensibly to protect the kids, they’re also said to stifle awareness of unjust removals.
The Berejiklian government passed laws in November last year that prohibit publishing the names of children or youths in state care. And this applies to whether they are in foster care, as well as whether they have been in the past.
And former NSW FACS minister Pru Goward stalled on releasing the highly critical Independent Review of Out-Of-Home Care report – the Tune report – for 18 months. It found that the NSW out-of-home care system “does not improve outcomes for children and families with complex needs”.
While, just recently, the Family is Culture report revealed that in some cases, First Nations children have been taken from their families by FACS, even though these youths “did not appear to be at risk of harm”.
Wrenched from their homes
As Mr Burton continues his crusade against what he claims are excessive child out-of-home care systems operating not just in this state, but in other jurisdictions around the country, he prefers to refer to them as “kids for cash” programs.
The former secretary of the Church of Ubuntu outlines that not only are children being removed from their families for unjustified reasons, but there’s a whole network of organisations profiteering from the placing of children in out-of-home care.
Sydney Criminal Lawyers spoke to Paul Robert Burton about why’s he so persistent in his fight against these matters, how he conceives this child removal profiteering system is operating, and how he advocates that meaningful change can be brought about.
Firstly, over recent years, you’ve been in and out of court in relation to multiple cases. Some have been over charges laid against you, while others are civil matters that you’ve brought against government departments.
Paul, how would you sum up why you’ve been attending court to such a degree of late. And as some of these matters are still ongoing, how would you say you’ve fared so far?
I’m doing it for the sake of all of our children, because what we are up against is probably one of the most draconian and sickest things I have ever encountered in my life.
My biggest struggle has been trying to get politicians, and various senior representatives of our community, to talk about these issues that are so profound and horrific that it’s almost impossible to get people to address. And it’s affecting thousands.
As mentioned, some of these matters involved charges against you, but you’ve also brought civil challenges. How would you describe what you’ve been fighting for in the courts, when you’ve instigated proceedings?
They took me to the Equity Court first to apply a suppression order. And then they took out criminal charges, after I complied.
So, they took me in, made me aware that I had breached suppression orders – which I did not know – and the minute I was made aware with judicial oversight, I complied. Then I was still criminally charged anyway.
That infuriated me. So, in response, I attempted a civil claim against them, whilst the criminal matter was still ongoing against me.
I used what’s called a collateral abuse tort. It’s a lesser known tort, because unlike malicious prosecution, the criminal matter doesn’t have to be determined in order for a collateral abuse case to be raised.
I fought for well over 12 months and finally won in the NSW Court of Appeal, with the president of the court, Justice Bell, as well as Justice McCallum and Justice White.
They all realised that three of the ten charges against me could never succeed, because the orders from the Children’s Court had no time or place element.
I’d told them for over a year, that they couldn’t proceed with those charges. There were other charges that – taking their argument at its highest – it’s possible I could be guilty of. But, nonetheless, they’ll never get a conviction for other jurisdictional reasons.
In this matter, with that collateral abuse claim, I was able to successfully get that up because I wanted to show them that I too have the capacity to do to them, what they’d done to me.
That won on appeal. And it’s supposed to go back to the NSW District Court, which is supposed to pick it up and continue with it. But, they’ve done nothing for months. They’ve just ignored me.
So, I’m going in now to try and encourage them to do something, because what’s happening is, they’re so gobsmacked by what’s occurred that they appear to be running to the shadows.
This is after the Court of Appeal have upheld something. I now have to go into the Newcastle Local Court and ask them what’s happened to the matter, as there’s an order to take this back to the District Court, and they haven’t even informed me.
I’m going in to inform them that this matter is coming back. And also, four months ago, I called the equity matter back to have the suppression charges lifted against me and Dr Katelaris, because there are no grounds now.
The original orders state quite clearly that the suppression concerning the young boy are finished, because under the justice’s own judgement, the orders were until the conclusion of the Children’s Court proceedings. And they concluded in January this year.
So, they have no excuses now. None whatsoever. They cannot possibly argue that the suppression has anything to do with protecting the best interests of that child.
On the contrary, the only thing that’s true is the appalling activities of NSW Family and Community Services. But, it’s not just them, it’s every state and territory in this country.
You’re raising criticisms around the NSW child welfare system. You go as far as to describe it as a “kids for cash” program. Can you elaborate on why you describe it this way?
When a child is taken by the state – let’s say FACS NSW – a normal healthy child is worth about $40,000 of taxpayers’ money.
FACS are privatising the out-of-home care system. So, when a child is taken, it no longer looks after that child. The department outsources the child to one of several other paths – out-of-home care or residential care – it depends on the situation.
But, the child goes to a third party. And they take taxpayers’ money. So, for a normal child, they fork out around $40,000. That goes to one of these organisations. A highly compromised child was worth about $325,000 a year in 2016. So that’s probably more now.
The more compromised the child is, the more money they’re worth. And they pay that to these third parties that apparently operate in the children’s best interests. That’s the simple way of explaining it.
The NDIS has a huge responsibility in this as well. The funding of the NDIS, in my view, has some very serious questions to answer.
But, nonetheless, fundamentally what’s happening is Family and Community Services has no financial incentive to look after a child and keep a child with a family.
They’re 100 percent geared to removing a child under any circumstances. And they call it “the permanent placement principle”, under the child protection act, which I might add is a genocide act.
They remove these children, and the sicker they are, the more money they’re worth. The more they’re diagnosed with ADHD or other conditions, the more complex it gets and the more money they’re worth.
It’s because we live in a world driven by money, and our children have become nothing more than financial units to these corporate interests. That’s why we call it cash for kids.
We have numerous examples to show how these funds run through to various pecuniary interests that have nothing to do with a risk of significant harm, or the best interest of a child.
Last year, forced adoptions laws were enacted in NSW that placed further restrictions around reporting on children in out-of-home care. These sorts of laws exist in every state and territory.
These laws place restrictions around what can be reported on in regard to children in state care. What’s your opinion on these mounting laws?
They’re getting worse and worse. In Victoria, I found out that you’re not even allowed to mention the court. Now, ask yourself in a democratic society, how can you not be allowed to even mention a court? That’s just draconian.
They’re trying to suppress me, but it’s not working. My responsibility is to the public, so as to raise awareness of this issue, and protect the children. Also, it’s about restoring these children to their families, which is a near impossible task.
We’re setting up a community health and social empowerment foundation, which is in its earlier days.
But, we have an entire advocacy group set up to offer free support for families traumatised, because they’ve had their children torn from them. They run the same things on everybody. They make things up and then remove children for profit.
You’re the president of the social justice group Our Land, Our Water, Our Future. What’s that all about?
It’s been running for many years. It’s a small operation with a focus on protection of our water resources, our land and our future, which is our children. It’s a movement that’s been synonymous with Lock the Gate.
Really, these days, it’s an incorporated association that works for the protection of the environment primarily and also, a sustainable future for our children.
Earlier this year, our nation and our state re-elected Liberal National governments. And there seems to be a huge disconnect between those governments and the citizens.
What’s your take on how it came to pass that these reactionary politicians were returned to power?
It doesn’t make a diddly-squat of difference, which one you pick. Because Labor too are not supporting water protection or anything else. They just lie. It’s a two-headed dragon.
It doesn’t matter what major party anyone elects. They just swap, between the two. And at the moment, Liberal wears the face of the evil one. That’s how they run our implied democracy.
And lastly, Paul, back to the child welfare system, what do you think needs to happen to rectify the corruption you’ve identified? And is this something that can simply be left up to politicians?
The politicians are entirely useless and, in my view, culpable. The spiritual groups involved with them – and I won’t say their names out of some degree of respect – are all culpable and fully responsible as well.
They’re all profiting from this fostering system that rips children from good families to place them with foster families.
A lot of foster families might believe they’re looking after children that have been damaged by bad parents.
But, they haven’t. They’ve been damaged by an appalling disgusting system. The Tune report, and other significant reports, show that the outcomes for children in care are disgraceful.
We need to raise awareness about it through the real media. Not fake news. And not the controlled media that misrepresents everything. We need real education and facts put out to people to let them know what’s really happening.
We also need to empower people. I call it social empowerment and community health. Social empowerment is all about empowering people to recognise, like Mahatma Gandhi said, that “you must be the change you wish to see in the world”.
What needs to happen here needs to happen inside every individual. And every individual needs to stand up to fight this draconian system.
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Paul Gregoire is a Sydney-based journalist and writer. He has a focus on human rights issues, encroachments on civil liberties, drug law reform, gender diversity and First Nations rights. Prior to Sydney Criminal Lawyers®, he wrote for VICE and was the news editor at Sydney’s City Hub.