Tuesday, 29 May 2018
Matters of Public Importance
National Redress Scheme for Institutional Child Sexual Abuse Bill 2018, National Redress Scheme for Institutional Child Sexual Abuse (Consequential Amendments) Bill 2018; Second Reading
We tell our kids that monsters don't exist, but that's a lie—they do exist. We have always known it. We have just chosen to ignore it or pretended that they're not there hiding in the darkness and in places that most people never see. But we can't do that anymore because the royal commission has dragged some of these vampires out into the sunlight.
Stan was 12 when one of these monsters arrived at the Christian Brothers orphanage in 1953. His name was Brother Benton. A couple of weeks after he arrived he started raping Stan. Sometimes he raped him three times a week. That lasted for two years. Just try to imagine that. Just try for a minute to imagine the trauma that that little boy suffered for all that time and that as a man he still suffers to this day.
It took Stan 59 years to tell anyone what had happened to him. A few years ago he told the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. He never told the other boys at the orphanage what was happening to him. He never knew what was happening to them as well, but now he does. The same thing was happening to them. Two of them have since committed suicide.
There are thousands and thousands of stories like this—children raped and tortured by monsters in shepherd's clothing. No amount of money can compensate you for that. It can't repair the damage that they did to Stan. What could? But that's not a reason not to do it. Getting the governments, the churches and the organisations that allowed this to happen to pay for what they have done—to pay for what happened under their roofs—is the very least that we can do. And that's what the National Redress Scheme for Institutional Child Sexual Abuse Bill 2018 and related bill do. They set up a redress scheme, a compensation scheme, for people like Stan. It is the key recommendation of the royal commission.
These bills don't do everything that the royal commission recommended, and I'm disappointed by that. The amount that you can claim is less than what the royal commission recommended. The amount of time you have to accept an offer is also less than what the royal commission recommended. It also doesn't implement the royal commission's recommendation that people like Stan have lifelong access to counselling services. The legislation is not perfect and it's not the way that we would have done it, but I'm not going to use my time in this debate picking apart what we are about to vote on. We can't amend it here without unravelling the agreements that the government has already struck with the states, and I don't want to do that. I don't think anybody wants to do that. We all want this scheme to start as soon as possible.
Instead, let me thank the people who have got us this far. I want to thank Justice McClellan and the six other royal commissioners for the time, dedication and professionalism that they took to this task. I want to thank them for the recommendations that they have given us and, most importantly, for making sure that so many people so silent for so long were finally heard—heard and believed. I want to thank Stan and the more than 75,000 other people who mustered the courage to tell their story. The royal commission would have failed without them.
I want to thank the member for Jagajaga, Jenny Macklin. I know a lot of people in this debate have mentioned Jenny and the work that she has done. It is impossible to thank her enough. And I want to thank Julia Gillard. I feel very sure in saying that there wouldn't have been a royal commission without either of them. Without Jenny or Julia we wouldn't be here today setting up this scheme.
And I want to thank someone who hasn't been mentioned in this debate so far but really should be. Her name is Joanne McCarthy. Joanne is a journalist at the Newcastle Herald. She's no ordinary journalist. She is a Gold Walkley winner. She won that award for the more than 1,000 stories she wrote that exposed what happened in the Maitland-Newcastle diocese over so many years. She's everything that any young journalist would hope to be. She's fearless and unrelenting. She earned the trust of people like Stan, who had no reason to ever trust anyone ever again, and she inspired a Prime Minister to act. On her last night as Prime Minister, the last letter that Julia Gillard wrote was to Joanne McCarthy and it was to thank her for everything that she'd done. I was there the night that Joanne McCarthy won her gold Walkley and I remember what she said to the audience. She said: 'It just shows you don't need an army, you just need people believing that something had to be done …' Joanne McCarthy is one of those people.
Twenty-six years ago, another extraordinary woman named Joanna Penglase put an ad in 21 local papers across Sydney. She was doing a thesis at university and was reaching out to other people like her who'd grown up in homes and institutions and orphanages and asked them to ring her and tell her their story. A lot of people rang. One of the people that picked up the phone and rang Joanna was a middle-aged mum from Georges Hall in my electorate. Her name is Leonie Sheedy. Leonie called Joanna and it was a phone call that changed both their lives. Joanna still remembers the phone call. Leonie said to her 'How come nobody's talking about this? How come we never hear about it? Why isn't it known?' It's known now and that's due, in large part, to the work of Joanna and Leonie because they set up an organisation called CLAN—Care Leavers Australasia Network—an organisation dedicated to fighting for people like Stan, fighting for recognition, fighting for justice, fighting for an apology, fighting for compensation. Just to give you an idea about what these two women have achieved over that time, in 2003 they fought for and got the Senate to conduct an inquiry into children in institutional care. In 2010, they fought for and they got an apology from the Prime Minister of Australia at the time, Kevin Rudd, the then Opposition Leader Malcolm Turnbull and the Australian parliament.
Leonie is still fighting today. If you look carefully at the TV footage of the royal commission over the last five years or so, you'd often see Leonie out the front of the royal commission, not inside of it, with other members of CLAN emblazoned in their blue and gold outfits, making sure that everybody inside the royal commission knew that their job was to make sure that justice was done. And she's still fighting today to get South Australia and Western Australia to sign up to this scheme that we're legislating right here. She's still fighting to make sure that all the churches and all the organisations responsible for what happened sign up to this scheme as well, and to make sure that in the future this legislation is fairer and better than it is now and as good as it should be. There's only one Leonie Sheedy—anybody who knows Leonie Sheedy knows that. Like my good friend in this place, Richard Marles, we're privileged to call her our friend.
A few weeks ago, Leonie's office in Bankstown was robbed. The robbers stole eight laptop computers, some money and a bunch of other stuff. Leonie put out a tweet telling the world what had happened, that the CLAN office had just been robbed. Soon after that, she got a call from Channel 10. They wanted to know what had happened. And that night on the news, they did a big story about a robber in the middle of the night coming in and stealing all of this equipment from people who had dedicated their lives to looking after people who'd grown up and been neglected, abused and who had suffered so much in Australia's orphanages. A few days after that story appeared on the Channel 10 news, the eight laptops were back. When Leonie's team turned up at work, they found eight laptops in a gym bag near the garbage bins just out the front of the office. I like to think that the person who robbed the office saw that story on Channel 10 that night and realised who he'd robbed, an organisation that does so much good for people who've already been robbed of so much. Maybe he grew up in an orphanage as well. Maybe he's got a similar story to Stan or Leonie or Joanna or so many others—I don't know.
But I do know this: this legislation is long overdue. It won't help every person who grew up in institutions, neglected and abused. It won't heal wounds that can't heal. It's too late for too many people who died waiting for something like this to happen, but at least it's here now. To you, Leonie: I know it's not good enough, but at least we're here, and we wouldn't be here without you. All those thousands of people like Stan, so wronged as children, so haunted for so long by monsters that we told them didn't exist, are fortunate that a little girl, left alone in a cold, damp orphanage in Geelong, who suffered so much, grew up to be so strong and never forgot and never gave up.