Wednesday, 24 October 2018
National Apology to Victims and Survivors of Institutional Child Sexual Abuse
On behalf of my constituents in Darwin and Palmerston I rise to voice their support of the national apology to all those who suffered as a result of institutional child sex abuse. The people I represent in Darwin and Palmerston were not shielded from the atrocities committed. One of the case studies in the commissioner's report was that of the infamous Retta Dixon Home in Darwin. The Retta Dixon Home was established by the Aborigines Inland Mission at the Bagot Aboriginal Reserve in 1946 as a home for 'half-caste children and mothers and a hostel for young half-caste women'. The Aborigines Inland Mission was a non-governmental and interdenominational faith ministry established in 1905. It still operates today but has changed its name to the Australian Indigenous Ministries, or AIM. Some time in December 1947, the home was granted a licence by the Australian government to be conducted as an institution for 'the maintenance, custody and care of aboriginal and half-caste children'. Children stayed at the Retta Dixon home until they were aged 18. The home closed in 1980.
From 1946-1978, various laws permitted the Australian government to take Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children into institutional care. Many of the children who lived at the home now identify themselves as members of the stolen generations. The Australian government was the guardian of many children at the Retta Dixon Home. The Australian government also had a general responsibility to all children in the home, including for their care, welfare, education and advancement, until the time of self-government in 1978. The Australian government was actively involved in activities at the Retta Dixon Home. The home generally housed between 70 and 100 children at any one time. Children were housed in dormitory-style accommodation and most children stayed at the home until they were 18 years of age. They attended local schools.
Ten former residents of the Retta Dixon home gave evidence or provided statements to the royal commission about their experiences of sexual and physical abuse when they were children living at the home. Some of the survivors were here with us this week in parliament. The commission heard of the impacts of the abuse on their lives, including serious effects on their mental health, employment and relationships. They heard of their pain and suffering over a long period and the personal costs associated with dealing with the long-lasting impacts. Most former residents of the home who gave evidence said that they did not report the abuse at the time because they did not understand it to be wrong and later felt too ashamed and frightened to report the abuse. Other witnesses said there was nobody they could report the abuse to.
Children were forcibly taken from their parents and promised a better future but instead were subject to repeated abuse over the course of their childhood, in what the member for Lingiari has referred to as the 'cruellest double-whammy'. They were taken from their actual families and then abused by state-sponsored carers.
While Retta Dixon had some of the most horrific cases in my electorate, the abuse suffered by the forgotten Australians and former child migrants should not be overlooked nor should the tragedy suffered by the many children who were sent to institutions and foster homes to be looked after and cared for and who, instead, were abused physically, humiliated cruelly, violated sexually. They were left hungry and alone with nowhere to hide and with nobody, absolutely no-one, to whom they could turn. There were cases of children shipped to Australia as child migrants, robbed of their families, robbed of their homeland, regarded not as innocent children but instead as a source of child labour. It's a dark chapter of our history and we'll never be able to put this period behind us, nor should we. I'd like to acknowledge the work done by former prime ministers Turnbull, Abbott, Rudd and, of course, the leadership of Julia Gillard in getting us to where we are today and, as mentioned by the Leader of the Opposition, we do not forget the contributions of the member for Jagajaga, Jenny Macklin.
To the survivors in the Top End and anywhere in the Territory, my office is available to you if you'd like to find out more about the redress scheme or the support services available. In my electorate, Relationships Australia and Danila Dilba have received funding from the Department of Social Services as local service providers in Darwin and Palmerston. The NT Stolen Generation Aboriginal Corporation has been an outstanding advocate for survivors and their families.
To all victims, survivors, families and support providers, what you have suffered and have gone through was horrible, and it continues to shock Australians to this day. I know that many people out there will still be asking 'How was this evil permitted to go on for so long?' The healing may take a lifetime, but I hope that the belated actions of this parliament, given voice by the Prime Minister and our Labor leader, Bill Shorten, will go some way to acknowledging the pain and loss. To those victims of these terrible crimes, I add my assurance that you are believed and please take some heart in the fact that some very good recommendations have come out of the royal commission so that we can make our way forward.
We must do all that is possible to ensure that what you have suffered never happens again. But it is happening though. Somewhere right now in this country a child is hurting so let us use this week's national apology to urge action. If you suspect a child is hurting, act. If you are a perpetrator, get help now, confess now, apologise now. Do not hurt our young people or anyone. There have been too many young lives irreparably scarred, no more. Let us not see this national apology as a mission accomplished. Let us see it as a call to listen and let us see this national apology as a call to act.