Warning – article contains a picture of Maurice Van Ryn and a description of his crimes against children.
Laws used by a convicted paedophile to torment his victims further are about to change thanks to people power.
A petition that started in the Bega Valley has just landed on the desk of the Minister for Revenue and Financial Services, Kelly O’Dwyer.
Over twenty-one thousand digital signatures have been collected via Change.org, people calling for reforms to Australia’s superannuation laws.
“The ex-Bega Cheese CEO, Maurice Van Ryn, sexually assaulted my children over a number of years. This predator was sentenced to 18 years jail — but now he may successfully avoid paying compensation to his 9 victims,” wrote Ken Steele, who launched the online petition late last year.
Ken is not his real name, but an alias created to protect the identity of his family and to comply with non-publication orders issued by the court.
Sixty-two-year-old Van Ryn was convicted in September 2015 after he pleaded guilty to assaulting boys and girls aged between eight and 15 years between 2003 and 2014 in southern NSW.
Among other things, his crimes included using children for sexual intercourse and oral sex.
“My children need constant psychological care to heal the wounds caused by this man. And all his victims need to be able to access ongoing, specialist support,” Ken wrote on Change.org
“But the former multi-millionaire CEO is using an absurd law that means he can avoid paying victims compensation from money sitting in his self-managed superannuation account.
“Under current Australian Superannuation Legislation, a person cannot be forced to draw down upon their superannuation. Even if a court orders Van Ryn to compensate his victims, he can legally refuse to use his superannuation to do so,” Ken wrote.
From his jail cell, Van Ryn has continued to show no regard for his victims, taunting them as they sought compensation.
When an initial offer was rejected by the families, Van Ryn cried poor and threatened his victims with cross-examination and further court action if they didn’t accept.
In a letter to the families, he seemed to even boast about the laws that protected his superannuation from compensation claims.
Those laws are about to change, with Minister O’Dwyer working towards a fix by the end of this year.
“We initiated a review into these provisions late last year to see what changes needed to be made in order to provide those victims with compensation,” Minister O’Dwyer says.
“I can announce that the Government will make changes to legislation to ensure that serious crimes, where there are victims of those serious crimes, will now be able to access the superannuation of those perpetrators.”
The change will come too late for Ken and the other families; a settlement was reached with Van Ryn in the end, but their struggle will ensure others don’t have to face the same, and will perhaps lead to larger payouts.
Speaking to Ken over a beer at a local pub following his meeting with the Minister, a mix of feelings are on show.
The impact Van Ryn has had on his family looms large and will forever, but Ken takes pride in the action he initiated that will soon close a loophole only lawyers and criminals seemed to know about.
“She [O’Dwyer] said when the petition was first taken to her that she thought we must be wrong,” Ken says.
“So she said she marched down to Treasury and said – please tell me these people have got this wrong. At which point the public servants told her – no they have got it absolutely right.”
“Then and there on the spot, she said – well we are going to change that,” Ken smiles.
Child advocate and Bravehearts founder Hetty Johnston says, “The father [Ken] of the victims involved in this matter is the most amazing Australian.”
“Despite his own pain and suffering and despite the fact that this legislation will not change anything for him, he has fought tooth and nail to make sure that victims of crime have access to compensation as it is due and that offenders cannot hide their wealth,” she says.
Minister O’Dwyer isn’t expecting any opposition to the superannuation changes, “I think most fair-minded people would see these changes as long overdue,” she says.
“I can’t imagine that there would be anyone in this place [Parliament House] who would oppose such a change.”
This is not the first significant change Ken and the other families have tackled and won; in doing so he says revenge has never been the motivation but more so changing the system so that it works better for others next time.
“The fact that we had his sentence at appeal effectively doubled results in a precedent being set in NSW,” Ken says.
“This is about keeping these people out of our community, making the community safer. Not only have we kept Van Ryn in jail longer but we will keep other predators in jail for a lot longer now too.”
But these battles have come at a cost above the hurt of pain initially inflicted by Van Ryn.
“These [legal] actions have done significant damage to my health, it places terrible strains on personal relationships and sometimes I’ve had to back off when I have realised my health and relationships are at risk,” Ken says.
“But when I found out what Van Ryn had been doing to my children and the children of the neighbourhood I had to shine a light on it.
“The successes we’ve had along the way make me feel vindicated, but the children who are now young adults, their lives are changed forever, they are struggling now.”
Ken acknowledges that some in the community don’t understand the value or need for victims compensation, perhaps it’s one of those things you can only fully appreciate when you walk in those shoes.
“I know that my children in primary school were academically gifted, but I couldn’t understand why in their high school years they completely dropped their bundle,” Ken says.
“We now understand, but they have missed that education foundation that they need for their career, this will hound them for the rest of the lives.”
The money awarded through compensation allows for healing and security. Ken points to ongoing counselling and professional support, “Even a house deposit, a start in life, given the damage done to their future careers.”
Putting the horror of these circumstances aside, the triumph of people power and of a regional community shines through and as Ken and I finish our beer, he sits up straight and speaks with pride about the political and legal processes that have supported his argument.
“I am very proud to live in a democracy, it was one of the things that kept running through my mind when I was meeting with Kelly O’Dwyer.”
“We live in a country where people can get access to the most senior of politicians and if you have a case they will give you a fair hearing.
“I don’t blame Kelly O’Dwyer for not knowing of this issue initially, her portfolio is vast, but the common person bringing it to the attention of politicians is part of the system.”
Another beer Ken? My shout.
*This article first appeared on RiotACT