House debates

Wednesday, 24 October 2018

Motions

National Apology to Victims and Survivors of Institutional Child Sexual Abuse

12:37 pm

Photo of Rebekha SharkieRebekha Sharkie (Mayo, Centre Alliance) Share this | Hansard source

I take this opportunity to place on the record Centre Alliance's endorsement of the national apology to the victims of institutional child sexual abuse. These crimes were committed with impunity in our orphanages, centres of so-called wayward boys and girls, group homes, charities, schools, churches, youth groups, foster homes and, sadly, also family homes. The Prime Minister is correct; there is nothing we can do to right the wrongs inflicted on our children. All we can do is publicly acknowledge the wrongs and then demonstrate that we have learned from this shameful history. Public acknowledgement, I believe, is important too, because for too long our abused children were silenced as we turned a blind eye to their pain and their suffering. No part of our nation remains unscathed by this shame.

There are many who live in my electorate who bear the scars of abuse suffered within many different groups and institutions, and my heart goes out to you. On behalf of our community I express my sincerest apology. However, it would be remiss of me not to mention one particular institution in my electorate: Eden Park boys' home at Wistow in the Adelaide Hills. This property began life as a grand country home of a wealthy family. It became a probationary school for boys and then a boys' home run by the Salvation Army under state government legislative control for eight decades. It had a chequered history in terms of the quality of care and the experiences reported.

It is clear from the evidence of the royal commission that institutional care is always harmful to our children but it is fair to say there were certain periods in Eden Park where the treatment of children was cruel beyond belief. Even a Supreme Court justice questioned how such a horrific place could operate for such an extended period, virtually under the noses of our community. There are probably many reasons, but no excuses. The least we can do for the children who suffered there is to give them the courtesy of acknowledging the crimes committed against them and acknowledge that they did happen. Some of the cases recorded by the royal commission are hard to read. Little boys were identified by number, not name. Boys were thrown into a six foot by four foot windowless lock-up for days of solitary confinement. Boys were raped, beaten, abused by their carers and by older boys.

In later years, the boys would go to the local high school for their education. One Eden Park resident who was there told of how he got into trouble for not getting changed into his sports uniform because he tried to hide the bruises from his latest beating. A teacher, learning the truth, tried to intervene but, when it was reported that he had seen the authorities, the student was punished with a beating that was so bad he couldn't return to school for some time. As a mother of boys, I feel sick to my stomach. I'm utterly bewildered by these cases. I am so sorry for your pain.

As the elected member for the area where this occurred, I offer a public apology for this abuse that was permitted to happen and for actions not taken that should have been taken and for your voices not heard. You were under the care of the state and our state failed you; our nation failed you. There is nothing we can do to right the wrongs inflicted but what I can do, to the best of my ability, as a member of parliament is ensure the royal commission recommendations that involve federal government action or involvement are followed through. I pledge to do all I can to make sure the National Redress Scheme helps and not hinders the survivors of those who suffered institutional child abuse. We cannot inflict more trauma on you. You have suffered so much.

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