House debates

Wednesday, 24 October 2018

Motions

National Apology to Victims and Survivors of Institutional Child Sexual Abuse

12:16 pm

Photo of Ross HartRoss Hart (Bass, Australian Labor Party) Share this | Hansard source

I thank the member for Moreton for his contribution, which really emphasises the fact that the trauma associated with these most horrible crimes, the abuses, extends throughout our communities. Those ripples that have been occasioned by the evil do not stop at one door; they flow right through our communities. As my friend indicated earlier, there are sometimes special days of national timeless significance here in Parliament House. Monday was particularly extraordinary as we delivered a national apology to victims and survivors of child sexual abuse. I'm proud to have the opportunity to echo the words of the Leader of the Opposition—that the apology was offered with humility, with honesty and with hope for healing now. I'm proud to be able to add my voice to the chorus of voices that say sorry and to acknowledge the hurt, the betrayal, the abuse of power and the trauma that many are still dealing with today, including support workers.

I and my staff have had to sit face to face with constituents and hear firsthand of the abuse and trauma that they were subjected to as children. That is a small slice of the shameful part of Australia's shared history as a nation. I'm confident my colleagues—on both sides of the House, as this is a matter beyond politics—have had similar experiences. I have been transfixed by their stories, as I was transfixed this morning, and devastated by what they had to endure. I listened to those stories. Hearing the personal stories from survivors is made even more difficult knowing that there are likely some details left out—details too painful to speak or even remember, details that were held deeply within a vast cohort of bruised and injured children who are now adults.

I cannot imagine the trauma which cannot be vocalised for fear of further trauma and the shame that keeps a person silent and trapped in their memories, however traumatic the original offence, the subsequent treatment or lack of attention to their plight or calls for help. I take this opportunity to celebrate the bravery and strength of those who've shared their stories for the benefit of the next generation of Australian children. The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse received 26,000 letters, 40,000 phone calls and held over 8,000 private sessions. Everyone who was willing to share their experiences of abuse as a child in an institutional setting is to be commended and celebrated. That took real courage—courage that needs to be recognised. And for those who could not face the demons visited upon them in their childhood, we must say that we understand and we support them. We understand how this trauma can be so significant that it cannot be disclosed. We must honour all victims and survivors of child sexual abuse by delivering in full on the promise of the royal commission and its recommendations.

We have a responsibility to ensure that the words we heard in this place on Monday, and the words uttered since then, translate into action. The Leader of the Opposition put it well when he said:

We are never going to get a better set of opinions than this royal commission. We are never going to be presented with a more comprehensive set of solutions than this royal commission.

I agree. This is not the time for either governments or institutions to haggle over dollars or to use the legal system to obfuscate and to delay the cause of justice. The words of the apology may not count for anything by themselves to the extent that these words are not matched by action, I respect that sentiment. To the people who have been denied justice for so long, a delayed apology without redress, without action, can seem inadequate. That is why our actions in the implementation of the royal commission, the actions of those who have been placed fairly and squarely in the eye of the royal commission for creating and/or maintaining a culture that did not protect vulnerable children, should be scrutinised so that governments and institutions are held to account. There must be a commitment to action, and a commitment that is renewed and tested regularly. Time will tell as to whether we will be found wanting or not. I commend this motion to the House.

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