House debates

Wednesday, 24 October 2018


National Apology to Victims and Survivors of Institutional Child Sexual Abuse

4:28 pm

Photo of Michael McCormackMichael McCormack (Riverina, National Party, Leader of the Nationals) Share this | Hansard source

I, too, endorse the fine words, the eloquent words, of the member for Longman and the emotion she showed in delivering them. I know it means a lot to her—it means a lot to each and every member of parliament—and I certainly agree with her that, for many of those affected, Monday's apology was not something that they sought and was not something that they felt that the parliament did to cover up what they endured. Those people will go on hurting, as will those for whom the parliament's words really meant something. It was a message that the parliament gave that meant a lot for those who spoke, those who gathered in the Great Hall and those who gathered on the lawns before this parliament. In country towns and regional cities, just as in metropolitan areas, the message from the parliament was and is this: we believe you, we support you and we are sorry.

Too many country communities and too many Australian communities were home to some of the most unimaginable events for young people, especially those in the care of people they should have been able to trust. Sadly, as history is written and more survivors find their courage and their voices, this picture of predatory behaviour expands to more and more people, more and more families, more and more communities. On behalf of a believing nation, we are sorry. I know each and every member in this Federation Chamber, each and every member of the parliament, says sorry. We say it today. We will repeat it tomorrow, and we'll go on repeating it. It's what we believe. It may not be enough for some people. I can't even start to imagine what they have gone through and what they continue to endure.

We in the regions have seen that far too often our young people are survivors of abuse—which is a good thing; they have survived; they've come through—but their stories happen in our communities too, happen in institutions that we held dear and, in many cases, still hold dear. We owe it to those who tell their story—city or country—to take the time to listen and to believe them. We're taking action. The National Redress Scheme has commenced. It's a critical part of recognising and in some way alleviating the impact of past abuse and providing some justice for survivors. I won't just say justice, but some recompense and some justice for survivors. It will provide survivors with access to counselling and all-important psychological services, financial payments and, if a survivor wants, one direct personal response from an institution where the abuse occurred.

The National Office for Child Safety is about prevention and detection. There was a wonderful cartoon in one of the papers of this blackened scene all around a little boy, a small child holding a teddy bear, clutching it. For me, that really told a story. What some of these small children endured—the pain they must have gone through when they felt that they couldn't go to anyone, when they had been abused in the most unspeakable ways. It's taken some of them many years to finally come out with the truth, and many years for people to believe them. Some of those people went to the grave never having been able to speak about the atrocities perpetrated on them. That is just so, so sad.

The National Office of Child Safety was announced as part of the response to the royal commission. It started on 1 July this year within the Department of Social Services. We are working with states and territories on the recommendations of the royal commission to ensure those who need our protection get the right help and the right advice, because it is the right thing to do. As a father, it is simply unimaginable that the people you charge with the responsibility of looking after and caring for your children would prey on them. The stories which were shared in the royal commission revealed just how the innocence of the young, their hope for the future and their belief in the goodness of people can be stripped away forever by those who were meant to protect them. Each story breaks your heart, each story is a happy life stolen, each story is a person.

While it's difficult to imagine just how those who were affected could pick themselves up and continue, the greatest insult is the stories of those who found, however shaky, the voice they needed to share their story, and then were not believed. They were heard but they were not believed. This is a gross injustice, and it only adds to a life of potential lost to predatory behaviour. For far too many, it's a life which would never recover, never speak up and never shine, thanks to these acts of pure evil.

Monday was their day. Today, tomorrow and every other day should be those people's moment to know that this parliament, this nation, was sorry and is sorry. By believing them, by saying sorry, by saying that it was not their fault, that day, Monday, was when this nation came together in grief and in support. I want to pay special tribute to a special lady, and that woman is Julia Gillard, who had the courage, who had the foresight, who had the vision to speak up and to make sure that the royal commission was held. On this day, when her portrait was revealed, it was a special day for her. But she put others first. She always did. Monday was, I know, a special day for her. In her own selfless way, when praise was being heaped upon her, as it should have been, she said, 'No, today's not about me; it's about the people around me, the people to whom we should be saying sorry'. That's the sort of gracious and good person that Julia Gillard was and is, and I pay tribute to her today. I think Monday was the day when we came together. I think when the people watch parliament act in a very bipartisan way, they know that that's when our parliament is at its best. It's a shame that we don't do it more often.

I also pay special tribute to those who exposed this evil—those in the police forces, those in community groups and those who've borne witness to tragedy and torment—for the courage they share in this sorry, sorry chapter. Investigating and exposing crimes of such depravity has cemented for ordinary men and women a place within the heart of this nation and a road to survival and recovery for some, but not all, of those innocent victims whose stories we share and hear this week in the parliament. They have helped us to come to hear tales of torment which should never have occurred. Investigators also have numbered in the hundreds, if not the thousands, over the years. I want to acknowledge our colleague from the New South Wales parliament, police minister and member for Dubbo, Troy Grant, a former police officer who investigated these crimes. I know for Minister Grant this was a special passion of his, if I could use that word. He was determined to make sure that evil was exposed and that justice was done, and I pay tribute to him as well.

These stories help motivate the police to take action and the nation to listen. Imagine how hard it would have been for those officers, in some cases in those small rural and regional communities, when the perpetrators were known to them—very well known to them—and they found out that, behind closed doors, that this sort of evil was being perpetrated. Those stories motivated good people, such as Minister Grant, into action. That's one of the reasons he ran for parliament. It's those stories which brought this parliament together on Monday. Each person believed is a person vindicated, a person made human, a story—a tragic story, in many cases—made real.

The speeches from the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition were a moment of the parliament at its best. I pay tribute to the members for Cook and Maribyrnong for the fine and eloquent words that they said and that they meant. They were real, they were raw, they were emotional speeches. They summed up the view of the parliament and of the people. It only comes because of survivors' courage, thanks to good people seeing evil and speaking up, and thanks to the people being believed. This was a day for bipartisanship such as we saw on Monday. We note the role all parliamentarians have played in establishing the royal commission and, I say again, particularly the former Prime Minister Julia Gillard in exposing the depraved, unimaginable evil and in supporting those who need it in the cities and in the regions. To those in the regions and all around Australia who shared that day on Monday, our message is, again, just this: we believe you, we support you and we earnestly apologise to you.


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