Wednesday, 24 October 2018
National Apology to Victims and Survivors of Institutional Child Sexual Abuse
This is an important debate on this motion, and I'm very pleased to support it. It's a debate about recognition. It's about justice, it's about responsibility, it's about healing and it's also about trust, accountability and power. I join the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition in saying sorry. It's occasions like this when we can't help but be mindful that we are here as representatives, and I know on this occasion that I am saying sorry on behalf of all constituents in the Scullin electorate.
I also join the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition in accepting that saying sorry is far from enough. Much more needs to be done by all of us with the power to take action. For the victims and the survivors of such awful abuse—of sexual abuse—the royal commission and this debate in this parliament are important staging posts, not an end. They can't be an end for the reasons the member for Solomon so effectively set out just a few moments ago. I don't believe, in making a brief contribution to this debate, that it's for me to seek to tell the stories that so many brave survivors were able to tell, and were supported to tell, through the process of the royal commission. But I want to acknowledge their courage and my obligation, the obligation I share with all of us here, to do justice to their courage and to do more than simply offer an apology in respect of what was done to vulnerable people in the care of institutions—ultimately, in the care of all Australians.
Former Prime Minister Gillard deserves plaudits for initiating the royal commission that leads us to this debate, and I note that she's in this building today—I believe for the first time since she last left it before the 2013 election. I note that she acknowledged that this was one of the harder decisions that she has made, and I think it will be a very significant part of her legacy as a politician. I acknowledge her and also the member for Jagajaga for their roles, as well as the current Prime Minister and his two immediate predecessors, the member for Warringah and Malcolm Turnbull, and, of course, former Prime Minister Rudd. Their bipartisan leadership through this process and through this motion is something that deserves acknowledgement. It shows this parliament operating at its best with a shared purpose, assuming a shared responsibility to people who we have wronged. And make no mistake: we have wronged them.
I said it's not for me to seek to re-tell the stories that are set out in the royal commission, but I just want to note that, as the Leader of the Opposition said in what I thought was a tremendously moving contribution in the House, there are 17 volumes of that royal commission report. That is a pretty significant marker of the scale of the horror, the indignity, the hurt and the damage inflicted on some of the most vulnerable people. I think it's that weight that we all need to take our share in carrying as we seek to do more than say sorry, which is to do justice.
As well as acknowledging politicians and acknowledging, in the broad, the courage of survivors, I want to mention Leonie Sheedy, who would be known to many of us in this place, and the extraordinary work that she has done. My first meeting with her, more than a decade ago when I was in a very different capacity, is something I will never forget. She reminded me of it on Monday. The impression she made, the force with which she engaged with me, showed her qualities as a person and her passion as an advocate, not so much for herself, but, in particular, for her brother Anthony, who I'm thinking of now. I also want to pay tribute to her extraordinary drive in seeking justice from those of us who hold authority and wield power, but also in supporting those who needed her support to tell their stories. I know that she has given so much support to so many. Leonie, I acknowledge you in this place.
I want to end by going back to where I started, which was about what this motion and our wider response to the findings of the royal commission really means. Deputy Speaker Vamvakinou, I know that you'll agree with me that the mark of a good society is how it treats its most vulnerable members. The royal commission represents the most shocking indictment of how we treated the most vulnerable members of our society. It showed that we failed. We know through the work of the Royal Commission and through the work of advocates and victims and survivors that we continue to fail, that lives remain broken and that there are many who are not survivors whom we need to think of as well. It goes back again to questions of authority. We've seen so many people's faith in any institution absolutely shattered. That was acknowledged in the debate in this parliament on Monday as older survivors contemplate their latter years, again, in an institutional setting, which is tremendously unimaginably confronting.
As we seek to do more than simply offer our apologies in this place and put real meaning into our efforts to do justice and to make reparation, let's also think about how authority operates, think about how power operates and make sure that we discharge our obligations to all of those who have suffered and to redouble our efforts to see that nothing like this happens again.