Sex abuse survivors at Gippsland Grammar disappointed by pay disparity

Survivors of historic abuse at an Anglican school in Gippsland have been left disappointed after learning of a wide disparity in compensation payments.

A former student was compensated over $1 million after he was abused at Gippsland Grammar in 1990, while others received only a fraction of it.

Lawyer Laird Macdonald, acting on behalf of former students, said the school wanted to avoid court.

Maxwell Hickey, former Gippsland grammar science teacher and boarding school master.(Provided)

Damien Rothstein was a boarder at Gippsland Grammar for two years between 1989 and 1990.

During his senior year, science teacher and boarding school master Maxwell Perry Hickey abused him.

Maxwell Hickey died in 2010.

In 2017, the school offered him a $40,000 settlement. He declined the offer and hired a lawyer.

At the end of last year, he settled more than $1 million out of court.

Brett Menke was also abused by Maxwell Hickey.

He accepted an offer of $100,000, well below the $150,000 maximum under the National Redress Scheme.

“For all the hardships I’ve had in my life, because of the abuse, it didn’t seem like the compensation was appropriate,” Mr Menke said.

Damien Rothstein as a student
Damien Rothstein was a boarder at Gippsland Grammar for two years between 1989 and 1990.(Provided)

Avoid court, but communication difficult

Family and Social Services Minister Anne Ruston said the scheme had been improved and was an important way for survivors to get compensation without going to court.

But both men said communication with the school was difficult and were asked to keep their stories quiet.

“Part of the settlement was initially that it would only be settled if I signed an NDA, or a non-disclosure agreement, and I wouldn’t talk about anything to do with the case,” Mr. Rothstein said.

“It would have been great to be treated like humans, like people. For that to have happened.

“Most of the time I knew they knew it happened, but they didn’t necessarily believe the details.”

The men said the school had offered to set up a scholarship in their name or offer them reduced fees for their children.

brett menke
Brett Menke accepted an offer of $100,000.(Provided.)

Both men said the abuse had had a significant impact on their lives.

“It impacted who I trusted and how I trusted, how deep I would share and how open I would have,” Mr. Rothstein said.

“I was getting into a cycle where I didn’t have those connections to people and you were starting to feel ashamed that it was something you did. I put up with it for a really long time.”

Private Apologies Only

In the case of the Maxwell Hickey abuse, Gippsland Grammar and the Anglican Archbishop of the Diocese of Sale apologized privately and offered compensation, but did not apologize publicly.

This is something survivors would like.

“They have their brand that they want to protect, but that’s irrelevant, I think,” Mr. Menke said.

“Many lives have been ruined by this. And one life is one life too many.

Laird Macdonald acted on Mr Rothstein’s behalf and said the school was trying to minimize costs.

“Gippsland Grammar lawyers have attempted to silence and scam victims of abuse, with very modest sums of money,” Mr Macdonald said.

Head shot of Laird Macdonald in an office
Lawyer Laird Macdonald said those who could afford to hire legal aid got bigger payouts.(ABC News: Scott Jewel)

The school has had to deal with three other former staff members who abused students at the school.

In 2014, English teacher Gregory Thomas Gorton, then 30, was convicted of sexually assaulting a 15-year-old student.

In 2019, former teacher Phillip Douglas Hazeldine received a full suspended prison sentence for sexually abusing a boy on a week-long school excursion in the 1980s.

In 2020, former guardian Tristan Van der Watt was sentenced to three years in prison with a period without parole of 20 months after pleading guilty to two counts of sexual penetration of a child under the age of 16.

The school charges more than $15,000 per year for students between grades 7 and 12.

Gippsland Grammar said it recently conducted a review of its practices and “how the board governs”, and updated its policies, practices and training.

He also said there would be another review this year in preparation for upcoming changes to child safety standards.

“The board and I recognize and are ashamed that people formerly affiliated with the school committed such abuses,” Ms Harper said.

Meanwhile, there is a request in the Supreme Court to overturn the settlement deed for another of Max Hickey’s survivors.

If successful, it paves the way for a much larger payout and will renew the focus on compensation awarded through the National Redress Scheme.

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