Wednesday, 24 October 2018
National Apology to Victims and Survivors of Institutional Child Sexual Abuse
It was a privilege and an honour to be in the House for Monday's National Apology to the Survivors of Institutional Sexual Abuse. In the chamber on Monday, as a parliament, we looked to moving forward, to redress. We looked to say sorry to the victims over so many decades of what can only be described as unbelievable crimes.
I recently attended a school reunion and caught up with many old schoolmates. I was educated in local Catholic schools in the electorate of Lalor. It was a celebratory event, as you can imagine. I caught up with Marie Cogan, whose life I shared through our secondary school journey and as housemates while I studied teaching and she studied nursing. I had not seen Marie in 25 years. A short, tearful conversation that night led to a long Sunday where Marie told me her truth. It was harrowing to hear, unimaginable to have lived. It was about an orphanage in Ballarat and about priests in Laverton in the electorate of Lalor. It was about her harrowing engagement over many years now with Towards Healing, the Catholic Church's first process that predated the royal commission. It was about giving testimony to Task Force SANO, the Victorian police sex crimes squad which was established as a special team of detectives to work in this space. It was about the trials and tribulations of making submissions to the royal commission.
I spoke to her again on Monday after the apology and after the unveiling by former Prime Minister Gillard of the CLAN painting. She was pleased that I had called. She had wanted to be here but couldn't get herself on the aeroplane to do so. She told me that she would never forget Bill Shorten's words that it is our moral duty to ensure that child abuse remains on the political agenda. For her, that is what is most important about this apology. She wants to know that every victim will be listened to and that every victim will have access to the redress that they need, so that they can move on with their lives.
She also told me that former Prime Minister Julia Gillard, the former member for Lalor, had changed her life by naming her shame. She recently sent me a note quoting the American activist Maya Angelou, who said:
There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.
Listening to Marie's story and knowing that I shared a school journey with this woman, that I sat in classrooms with this woman, and that she had borne these incredible acts upon her body and upon her mind, gave me extraordinary pause for thought. And that story has been replicated around the country for so, so many. We're estimating that we are saying sorry to 60,000 people. That's 60,000 people, 60,000 families, who've been broken by privilege. Let's face it: the perpetrators were in privileged positions and their privilege caused so much pain to so many.
Marie is a hero, and she typifies the courage and resilience of so many who joined us on Monday and so many around the country. Marie returned to university to study social work when she first started engaging with her truth and engaging to tell her truth. She has now worked for 15 years for the Department of Human Services in Victoria in the Latrobe Valley, making an extraordinary contribution assisting other families with traumatised children.
I was struck on Monday by the impact the trauma has had on peoples' lives, and I'm sure every member here was. For Marie and for all those who found a way to speak their truth and to name the shame, and to those who have yet to find their way or who may never find their way, our love and our thoughts in this place hopefully go some way to helping you. The royal commission was about exposing the crimes, about believing the victims, about stopping the harm. Although I acknowledge that these are complex legal issues, I echo Bill Shorten's call on Monday: stop hiding behind the lawyers; face up and pay up. To quote the Leader of the Opposition, this cannot be done 'on the cheap'. So many lives have been damaged.
I want to finish today's contribution, as Marie has asked me to, in a tribute to Julia Gillard, who, half an hour ago, spoke of the sleepless nights she had making the decision to call the royal commission. I want to thank her for laying awake and thinking so critically about these people's lives, for listening to the stories, for taking the national action that needed to be taken. I want to thank both the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition for their words in the chamber on Monday.
Ms Gillard, when she made the announcement, said she couldn't promise that there would be easy days ahead. Thank you for making the time, for taking the days, months and years out of your lives to make the rest of Australia listen. Like everyone in this place, I will commit to making sure that the redress occurs in a timely way, when the victims and the survivors are ready.