Response to Victorian Ombudsman’s report into Puffing Billy

The department is currently working to implement the recommendations made by the Victorian Ombudsman in her report, Investigation into child sex offender Robert Whitehead's involvement with Puffing Billy and other railway bodies. This report was tabled in the Victorian Parliament on 25 June 2018.

You can find out more about the Ombudsman's recommendations and the government's implementation activities using the links below. This includes information about apologies, access to documents, governance arrangements and the implementation of Victoria's Child Safe Standards at Puffing Billy.

The Puffing Billy Enquiries Team is coordinating the government's implementation activities. This team, within the department, can provide information about those activities. Survivors of child sexual abuse related to the Ombudsman's report may also contact this team for help accessing documents or to discuss their involvement in the apology process.

The team can be contacted on puffingbilly.enquiries@ecodev.vic.gov.au or by calling 1800 951 095.

A range of support services is also available to assist survivors, their families and others affected by child sexual abuse. Should this matter raise any issues for you, we urge you to contact those services.

Further information about the Emerald Tourist Railway Board's response to the Ombudsman's report can be found on the Emerald Tourist Railway Board's website.

We encourage all survivors to report allegations of child abuse to a Sexual Offences and Child Abuse Investigation Team (SOCIT) at Victoria Police. You can contact your local police station to find your nearest SOCIT, or locate it using the Victoria Police website.

Implementation activities

Support services

Ombudsman's recommendations

Apologies to victims

Access to documents

Child Safe Standards

Puffing Billy governance

Support services

There are a number of support services available to assist survivors of child sexual abuse.

  • The department has engaged the Centres Against Sexual Assault (CASA) to provide a specialised support service to assist survivors of child sexual abuse connected with Victorian railway bodies. Families and other affected parties can also access this service. The service is free, confidential and can be accessed at any time by calling (03) 9594 2289.
  • Survivors of child sexual abuse not related to Victorian railway bodies can also access free counselling and support by calling CASA's general hotline on 1800 806 292.
  • Survivors can also contact 'knowmore' - an independent service providing free legal and other assistance to survivors. knowmore can provide advice about options that may be available to you, including information about the National Redress Scheme that commenced on 1 July 2018. Visit the knowmore website or call 1800 605 762 for more information.
  • Detailed information about the National Redress Scheme, as well as contact details for additional support services, can be found on the National Redress Scheme website or by calling 1800 737 377.
  • Victoria Police's Sexual Offences and Child Abuse Investigation Teams (SOCIT) are responsible for investigating allegations of child sexual abuse. You can contact your local police station to find your nearest SOCIT, or locate it using the Victoria Police website.

For additional information about the government's response to the Ombudsman's report, access to documents or the apology process, please contact the Puffing Billy Enquiries Team on puffingbilly.enquiries@ecodev.vic.gov.au or by calling 1800 951 095.

Ombudsman's recommendations

In her report, the Ombudsman made nine recommendations. These were variously directed towards Minister for Tourism and Major Events, the Department of Economic Development, Jobs, Transport and Resources and the Emerald Tourist Railway Board.

The Ombudsman's report, which contains the recommendations, can be accessed from the Victorian Ombudsman website.

All recommendations have been accepted by the relevant bodies and are listed below.

Recommendations directed to the Minister for Tourism and Major Events

Recommendation 1

Apologise publicly to Wayne Clarke and any other victim of Robert Whitehead, for the current and historical actions of government agencies who individually or collectively failed to protect children from sexual abuse.

Recommendation 2

Review the current structure and composition of the Emerald Tourist Railway Board in light of its responsibility as a government agency and the governance issues associated with its relationship with the Puffing Billy Preservation Society.

Recommendations directed to the Department of Economic Development, Jobs, Transport and Resources

Recommendation 3

Ensure that the Child Safe Standards are implemented by the Emerald Tourist Railway Board and commission a review by the Commission for Children and Young People on the progress of implementation within 12 months of the report.

Recommendation 4

Establish a unit to assist members of the public who claim to have experienced child sexual abuse perpetrated by an adult member of Puffing Billy to seek redress in accordance with the principles established by the Royal Commission Into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.

Recommendation 5

Facilitate, as far as practicable and in accordance with the law, access to any relevant documentation held by or accessible to the department, for members of the public who claim to have experienced child sexual abuse.

Recommendations directed to the Emerald Tourist Railway Board

Recommendation 6

Apologise publicly to any volunteer at Puffing Billy who became a victim of child sexual abuse perpetrated either by Robert Whitehead or any other adult member of Puffing Billy.

Recommendation 7

Implement the Records and Recordkeeping Principles (included at Appendix B of the Ombudsman's report) to ensure documents are preserved and individuals can access records about themselves.

Recommendation 8

Implement the Child Safe Standards to ensure that the best interests of children are a primary consideration.

Recommendation 9

Review the continued suitability of John Robinson as the Chief Executive Officer of the Puffing Billy Railway.

Apologies to victims

The Victorian Government and the Emerald Tourist Railway Board have accepted the Ombudsman's recommendations to publicly apologise to survivors of child sexual abuse as detailed in her report published on the Victorian Ombudsman's website.

The Victorian Government's apology will be developed in conjunction with survivors to ensure they have input into and are supported through this process.

Survivors may contact the department's Puffing Billy Enquiries Team on puffingbilly.enquiries@ecodev.vic.gov.au or by calling 1800 951 095 to discuss their involvement in the apology process.

Access to documents

The department can assist survivors of child sexual abuse to access relevant documents.

Relevant privacy and other considerations will need to be taken into account in assessing your request.

Please note that if you are requesting documents that relate to you personally, you may be asked to provide proof of identification. Requests relating to another person will also require appropriate authorisation.

Document requests can be directed to the department's Puffing Billy Enquiries Team on puffingbilly.enquiries@ecodev.vic.gov.au

or via mail to:

Puffing Billy Enquiries Team
1 Spring Street
MELBOURNE VIC 3000

Child Safe Standards

The Emerald Tourist Railway Board (which operates the Puffing Billy Railway) has undertaken to implement Victoria's Child Safe Standards as recommended by the Victorian Ombudsman.

The Child Safe Standards require organisations to have embedded policies, procedures and strategies to create a safe environment for children and help protect them from abuse and neglect.

The department will oversee the Board's implementation of the Child Safe Standards and will commission a review on implementation progress by 25 June 2019. This review will be conducted by the Commission for Children and Young People.

More information about the Child Safe Standards can be found on the Commission for Children and Young People website.

Puffing Billy governance

The Emerald Tourist Railway Board is responsible for the operation of the Puffing Billy Railway.

A new, interim Board was put in place on 22 June 2018. This interim Board brings together a diverse range of skills and experience necessary to implement the Ombudsman's recommendations. The renewed Board will also help ensure good governance and the future operational success of Puffing Billy.

The interim Board comprises seven individuals with expertise in volunteer management, public records processes, legal advice, business and transport. This skills mix will help ensure that Puffing Billy continues to be one of Victoria's premier tourist attractions.

Members of the interim Board are:

  • Tim North QC (Chair)
  • Jennifer Fleming
  • Paul Lappin
  • Roger Clifton
  • Justine Heazlewood (Victorian Keeper of Public Records)
  • Judy Maddigan
  • Campbell Rose (CEO, VicTrack)

Interim Board members have been appointed for two years.

An interim Puffing Billy CEO, Mr Jonathan Clancy, has also been appointed ahead of a comprehensive recruitment process.

An independent review of the structure and composition of the Emerald Tourist Railway Board will commence shortly to inform further governance reforms.