Here's an excellent article in the local paper distributed throughout Dawn's area of north-east Melbourne.
Diamond Valley Leader, Edition 1 - DVV
WED 27 JUN 2007, Page 005
Pursuit towards bankruptcy
A ST ANDREWS counsellor who fought a David and Goliath court battle to
clear her name is now on the brink of losing everything she owns.
After a 20-year battle, the Federal Government is threatening to
bankrupt Dawn Rowan to recoup court costs of $397,000.
Ms Rowan, 61, successfully sued the South Australian and federal
governments and two television stations for defamation in 2002,
following the publication of a damning report into a women's shelter she
helped run in the 1980s.
But in 2004 the parties appealed and all were cleared except the South
Ms Rowan is now legally liable to pay court costs for the Federal
Government and television stations ABC and Network 10.
The television stations have not pursued her for costs, but the Federal
Government has filed a bankruptcy claim against her for $380,000. It is
also claiming a further $17,000 for costs associated with the bankruptcy
Ms Rowan now fears she will lose her home and livelihood when she faces
a bankruptcy hearing at the Federal Magistrates' Court in Adelaide next
``When I started this, I knew I could lose everything but I never
thought I would lose everything if I won,'' Ms Rowan said.
She has set up a postcard campaign, hoping public backing will encourage
the Federal Government to drop its demand for money.
Prominent Melbourne QC Julian Burnside, who has reviewed Ms Rowan's
case, said the Government's pursuit of the money was ``pretty
``If an ordinary citizen sued and succeeded, it would be understandable
they would want their costs paid,'' Mr Burnside said.
``But you would think trying to shake money out of her would be of low
priority for the Commonwealth Government.''
If she is made bankrupt on July 5, Ms Rowan's 20-year fight will be
``I will be homeless, and I work from home, so I will have nothing,''
Ms Rowan said public support was now her only hope.
Supporters are sending postcards calling on Attorney-General Phillip
Ruddock to drop the bankruptcy action.
The Attorney-General's Office referred Leader to the Department of
Families, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs.
In a statement, the department said that ``under the Financial
Management and Accountability Act 1997, the Commonwealth
is legally obliged to recover
outstanding debts, including court costs awarded against litigants''.
* Dawn's battle for justice: Pages 12-13.
Caption: Dawn Rowan stands to lose her St Andrews house, and her ability
to run a business from home, when she faces a bankruptcy hearing next
IllusBy: Picture: MARK FRECKER N52DV350
Diamond Valley Leader
Diamond Valley Leader, Edition 1 - DVV
WED 27 JUN 2007, Page 012
Legal fight takes toll
Pictures: Mark Frecker
IT'S hard to spot the chinks in Dawn Rowan's armour.
The St Andrews counsellor is a fighter in every sense of the
Her determined battle against domestic violence in the 1980s turned into
a gruelling battle against South Australia and the Commonwealth that has
spanned two decades.
And after more than 20 years of fighting, Ms Rowan is set to lose
everything she has fought for.
With a bankruptcy hearing pending next month, the 61-year-old feels as
though the battle has finally broken her.
``Basically I don't get out of bed these days unless I have to,'' Ms
``I can't recover from this.''
After years of controversy, public humiliation and vicious court
battles, Ms Rowan has no remaining family, no partner, few friends and
only $40,000 in superannuation.
If the bankruptcy order is successful, she will be forced on to the
Ms Rowan has been driven by a need to seek justice. But she never
guessed the road would be so long or hard as it has been.
Ms Rowan's legal fight began in 1987, when she worked at Christies Beach
Women's Shelter in Adelaide. The then South Australian community welfare
minister Dr John Cornwall ordered an independent review by a joint state
and federal committee into the state's women's shelters.
The report, Shelters in the Storm, released in August 1987, contained
anonymous claims of physical, sexual and verbal harassment of Christies
Beach clients, as well as intimidation, inappropriate counselling
practices, professional negligence and misappropriation of funds.
Despite a police investigation and subsequent parliamentary review
finding no wrong-doing, Christies Beach was closed on September 4, 1987.
WITH her professional and personal reputation in tatters, Ms Rowan
quickly moved to Victoria.
After a ``deafening silence'' from most of her old friends, the formerly
sociable woman became extremely depressed and withdrawn.
``When you get dumped with this kind of scandal, people steer clear of
you,'' she said.
In 1990, Ms Rowan decided to take action against the report that had
effectively ``destroyed'' her.
She filed lawsuits against the South Australian government, the
Commonwealth, Network Ten and the ABC, which had interviewed committee
head Judith Roberts about the allegations.
In 2002, South Australian Supreme Court Justice Bruce Debelle said the
allegations were a ``shocking defamation'' and ruled all defendants
Ms Rowan was awarded total compensation of $585,000, most of which paid
her legal bills.
Following a successful appeal in the Full Court of the Supreme Court in
November 2004, the Federal Government demanded Ms Rowan pay court costs.
It obtained an injunction against her in August 2005 and her assets were
The Government is pursuing her for more than $380,000 the value of her
St Andrews house.
In her back garden, overlooking the suburb's bushland, Ms Rowan speaks
of her journey's end. She doesn't expect to enjoy this sight for much
``I don't know who will feed the birds when I'm gone,'' she said,
throwing bird seed at a growing flock of feathered friends.
Friends are a rare commodity these days. But those she has have shown
solid support for her cause, particularly her counsellor, the Rev
Rowland Croucher, who has stood firmly beside her since they met six
years ago. He believes the Federal Government is ``cruel'' to pursue her
for the costs.
The two have started a postcard campaign, believing public support is
the only way Ms Rowan will win her final battle.
To join the campaign, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
* What do you think? Email email@example.com .au.
Caption: Dawn Rowan believes a postcard campaign to Attorney-General
Phillip Ruddock is her only hope of keeping her house and business.
WED 27 JUN 2007, Page 013
SEPTEMBER 1981: Dawn Rowan starts work at Christies Beach Women's
Shelter in Adelaide.She becomes a prominent advocate for women's
shelters, lobbying for more funding.
OCTOBER 1986: Women's shelters call for the then community welfare
minister Dr John Cornwall's Father of the Year award to be revoked
because he will not increase funding for shelters. Dr Cornwall announces
an independent review into shelters, headed by Judith Roberts.
AUGUST 11, 1987: Dr Cornwall announces in SA Parliament that he is
withdrawing funding to Christies Beach because of allegations in the
Shelters in the Storm report.
SEPTEMBER 1987: Ms Rowan loses her job, Christies Beach Shelter is
closed down and she moves to Victoria.
1990: Ms Rowan files lawsuits against 13 defendants from the state and
federal governments, Network Ten (then Channel 7) and the ABC both of
which broadcast interviews with Ms Roberts for defamation, negligence
and misfeasance (abuse of public office), claiming the report has ruined
her professional and personal reputation.
JUNE 2001: The court hearing starts.
JUNE 21, 2002: Supreme Court Justice Bruce Debelle finds the
governments, Network Ten and the ABC guilty of defamation and awards Ms
Rowan a total of $585,000. He finds Ms Roberts and two other review
committee members acted with malice, and Dr Cornwall guilty of
NOVEMBER 2004: The Full Court of the Supreme Court overturns Justice
Debelle's finding of defamation against the television stations and the
federal government. The ruling of defamation against state government
defendants is upheld, but the finding of malice is overturned.
APRIL 2005: The court finds Ms Rowan liable for the court costs of the
cleared parties. She is also ordered to pay back more than $65,000 in
previously awarded damages.
AUGUST 2005: The High Court refuses to allow Ms Rowan's appeal.
APRIL 2006: Commonwealth Government asks for more than $600,000 in
costs. South Australian Supreme Court orders Ms Rowan to pay $380,000,
the value of her house.
AUGUST 2006: Ms Rowan is unable to pay and the Commonwealth orders a
creditor's petition to the Federal Magistrates' Court in South
Australia, seeking for her to be made bankrupt.
Diamond Valley Leader