House debates

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

5:52 pm

Photo of Joanne RyanJoanne Ryan (Lalor, Australian Labor Party) Share this | Hansard source

I'm pleased to rise on what is a very sober evening to join the long line of colleagues in this place in speaking on the National Redress Scheme for Institutional Child Sexual Abuse Bill 2018. I'm pleased to follow the member for Sydney after her heartfelt contribution. Like the member for Sydney, I would like to pay tribute to Julia Gillard, the former member for Lalor and our former Prime Minister; the member for Jagajaga, whose tears in this place last week spoke for all of us; and the member for Maribyrnong, whose speech I found inspiring and comforting. I also want to pay tribute to all the speakers on this side of the House. There will have been 22 Labor members speak on what is an incredibly important bill. I would also like to thank the member for Swan, the member for Gilmore, the member for Mackellar and the member for Fisher from the benches opposite, whose contributions brought many of us to tears, and also the member for Indi, who, as an Independent, stood in this place to speak of the unspeakable.

Over the last several years, we have shone a light on the unspeakable—the organised sexual abuse of children by trusted institutions, by trusted adults. Through long campaigns this light has been shone. Through our storytellers in film and television and through the royal commission, we've had our eyes opened to the horror as they relayed the circumstances through fiction or, more sadly, through the telling by the individuals who suffered. We have found it hard to watch. We have found it hard to hear. It has been unthinkable. As is our human way, we've tried to understand the motivations, tried to make sense of what makes no sense. We are left knowing only that sexual abuse of children is unfathomable and that monsters exist. What we've learned is that it was organised and more endemic that any of us could have imagined. We're left struggling to understand the monsters among us, left feeling completely inadequate in our response to the victims.

Like many in this place I've read transcripts of the royal commission. I've had the privilege of sitting with the bravest of victims, survivors, and struggled to hear their story. In the words of former Prime Minister Gillard:

The allegations that have come to light recently about child sexual abuse have been heartbreaking. These are insidious, evil acts to which no child should be subject.

Indeed, Julia. I would add: no human response is adequate, no monetary redress is adequate, but they now know they are believed. They now know we will no longer look away. We will look clearly at their lived experiences and share the horror that adults could do these things. It is abominable that trusted institutions could hide what they knew is abominable. That survivors wait for redress, wait for justice, even after a royal commission, is abominable. I pay tribute to the courage of the survivors, to their resilience, to their determination to be heard.

When we think about redress and justice, we need to ponder our own lives. We lived beside the victims as they suffered at the hands of those whom we were taught to respect. In our classrooms sat children who were being and had been dehumanised and subjected to vile abuse. We went about our days oblivious to their pain, to their struggle and to their recovery. Because of the royal commission I have since had the privilege of conveying my admiration personally to one such victim, to sit and quietly listen, and silently be appalled. I think the member for Maribyrnong's words captured what I now know:

Only she will ever know how dark the days were, just how deep the memories run, but it is the same trauma, the same betrayal and the same violation of sacred trust that fills the pages of the royal commission's final report. Thousands of our fellow Australians had their childhoods stolen and their faith in people shattered.

They deserve now the best possible systemic redress, as they suffered systemic abuse. This has been a painful process, unique for every survivor, and they have walked it alone, because nobody can really walk it with them, just as they walked years of abuse alone. They've had to go to dark places in their memories to share their pain with us. They've done so trusting that once the abuse of trust and abuse of their child bodies was exposed, others would not have to suffer the same. The scars will cover our nation: crimes that were ignored, people whose stories were ignored and perpetrators who were sheltered. The way we legislate redress is, therefore, critical. It is another test of trust for us as a society and for us as legislators. I speak for my friend therefore when I say that there was an expectation that, once the survivors lay before us the truth of their lives, we would respect it. The royal commission recommendation should therefore be honoured to the letter.

I am disappointed, as others have been, that this bill fails in some of this regard—that, rather than the recommended sum, a reduced sum has been included; that someone's life, crippled by the brutality of experiences that may have resulted in incarceration and further punishment, could be devalued by exclusion from redress; that dollar limits be put on psychological support for survivors. We asked them to remember; we owe them support, as the royal commission recommended, throughout their life to help them cope with the crime and the memory of it. I am disappointed that justice is still pending in the courts for some of those accused. I'm disappointed that this parliament, the survivors and their families are to be held to a deadline of 1 July and asked to compromise. Wise heads on this side urge us to make that compromise, and we will, so that redress is not further delayed.

I will finish with this. We now must be ever-vigilant in our institutions, in our families and in our neighbourhoods. There are monsters and they will do unspeakable things to innocents. They will seek out opportunities, they will seek out like creatures and they will do untold damage. They will do this while holding powerful, trusted positions, if we allow them to. They will prey on the innocent because of our naivety, because of our own fear to confront, to look closely at the horror. This chapter must not close. We must remember and we must be vigilant.


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