31 October 2009

Dennis Ferguson

Perhaps now it may be possible to speak of this person and the issues surrounding him without being part of a lynch mob.

Dennis Ferguson has spent most of his adult life in Queensland prisons, convicted six times of sexually abusing children. He does not participate in rehabilitation programs. He attempted to settle in communities in Queensland which included children, and was hounded out of them. All of a sudden he popped up in a public housing facility in Sydney, where he was hounded out again, and was last heard of at Coogee and in a homeless shelter.

For the first time since 1840, New South Wales has accepted responsibility for a convicted felon from another jurisdiction. Yes, he has to live somewhere and it was clear that the Queensland government found it difficult to locate him in any community within that state without a storm of protest.

He did not have to live in NSW, and was not obliged to be a government responsibility by being accommodated in this state's public housing. He was not entitled, let alone obliged, to vault ahead of others in the long and time-intensive queue for public housing. Those who advocate more low-cost housing in Sydney have a harder time of it because of this stunt.

Ferguson's lack of remorse and his lack of rehabilitation means that children in the community wherever he might live are in danger. This is the pattern he has set and that pattern is unbroken. It is true that he has served his sentence, but this is no reason why he should be given the benefit of the doubt going forward. It is those people living in the community, going forward, who deserve the benefit of the doubt: Ferguson represents a real risk that children in that community might be abused.

There was a time when the rights of a freed convict might have trumped those of others in the community, and no amount of jowl-wobbling outrage from lawyers insisting that procedures known and practicable exclsusively by them vincit omnes will or can change that.

There was a time when sexual abuse of children was tolerated more than it is now. Those times have changed: people are acutely sensitive to the possibility of child sexual abuse to the point where children no longer play in the street or have unstructured play time to the extent that they did. The very prospect of child sexual abuse has caused far-reaching changes in the work practices of those who deal with children, even on a voluntary basis. It erodes people's faith in one another, and even in religious institutions that have not cottoned on to the implications of child sexual abuse as a serious, faith-destroying issue for people today.

Rehabilitating offenders and having them return to the community after their sentence is over is one of those issues that could always be done better. To the extent that it does happen, public housing communities perform an unheralded role in quietly facilitating this. It would be a mistake to assume that all public housing facilities contain all necessary facilities and goodwill required to effect prisoner rehabilitation; more could certainly be done generally, but for an unreconstructed and unrepentant offender there is little to be done. It is cynicism to use the publicity surrounding Ferguson to lobby for more resources: the worst type of cynicism, one where the means won't justify or be justified by the end.

Ferguson can only be accommodated in a community without children. He does not have the right to live where he pleases; the rights of children to grow into communities free of likely harrassment trumps those of this recidivist. Prison is one such; if there are others, then Ferguson must go there. Any community with children in it is a community of which Ferguson is unfit to be part. If there is no such community in NSW, then the NSW government can take no further responsibility for Ferguson and he must be returned to Queensland. If he is harrassed from Coolangatta to the Cape then this is an indictment of Queensland.

It was wrong of the Rees Government to think it was clever helping solve a problem for their neighbours by shunting this serial offender into a Liberal electorate (while I have no proof that this is its motivation, such is the position of the NSW government that nobody should believe any denials).

Fancy taking on a problem that couldn't be solved! What clowns.

No comments:

Post a Comment