Wednesday, 24 October 2018
National Apology to Victims and Survivors of Institutional Child Sexual Abuse
I rise today to say a few words about the national apology to victims and survivors of institutional child sexual abuse. As so many other speakers have pointed out, it is a scar on the national psyche that the breadth and frequency and the extent of child abuse in institutions has been uncovered for all to see. It is so wonderful that now it is in the consciousness and there has been a national apology.
Earlier on, I was deeply involved with other ministers in this building in setting up the National Redress Scheme and dealing with some of the organisations that have formed to cope with the pressure and the consequences of child abuse. I, too, attended institutions but, fortunately I, myself, wasn't a victim of paedophilia or predatory older children. But it isn't a proud moment when institutions that you thought were exemplary turn out in retrospect to have been not isolated but not extensive—as was outlined by the member for Canberra—areas where child abuse was perpetrated by people in positions of authority, religious figures and ordained officers of the church.
But what was more shocking, I thought in my time in that portfolio and subsequently looking at pieces of the royal commission findings, was that not only had a blind eye been turned to it; there were sometimes cases where they were actively suppressing the information, moving the perpetrator around to other colleges, parishes or institutions. It was the same across all denominations and institutions: the Salvation Army, scouts, foster homes, government and non-government institutions. It was breathtaking how much of a scourge on Australian life this issue is.
A couple of years ago my wife and I got involved with Bravehearts in the Port Macquarie area so that we would empower teachers with skills to educate children on personal child safety, and we continue that commitment. But the apology was so necessary. There were a lot of people there. I was very pleased to see people that I'd worked with like CLANnies Tim and Leonie—they know who they are. There was a lot of cleansing of their conscience and their anger, and all of the emotions that they'd suppressed came rolling out on the day of the apology. It's quite understandable, but the fact that the Prime Minister and the nation stood up and said, 'We're sorry for what you've suffered. We appreciate the damage it's done to your life, to your psyche, how it has limited in many cases, your own personal achievements, your educational outcomes, your financial wellbeing, your emotional relationships with other people through the remainder of your life and also, in many cases, post-traumatic stress disorder responses,' has been very beneficial.
But all that apology is meaningless unless we as a nation are taking practical actions and deeds to make sure it doesn't happen again—and we are. We have set up the Redress Scheme. There will be a non-litigious way of them getting both a written and verbal apology, counselling support and a recognition in a financial sense for the damage that was done to them. As well as that, we have set up the National Office for Child Safety and we have announced and delivered the national child-safe principles, to be rolled out across all organisations—government, non-government, sporting clubs, corporate institutions. They can have child-safe principles in their governance, and that's really the thing that will be a lasting legacy of this. Now, because of the royal commission, Australia has set in train a lot of principles and a lot of actions which other nations will look to.
Unfortunately, the scourge of paedophilia and child sexual abuse has been in societies forever and still exists, so it's a matter of eternal vigilance and having systems in place so that it doesn't happen. Organisations like Bravehearts spring to mind, but there are many other organisations committed to it, and the nation is now committed. Having got the principles there, government organisations are rolling them out. The states and their organisations are rolling them out. The education will continue for parents, teachers and people who weren't aware of what can happen with our young Australians.
When parents are not there, we have to ensure children are put into the care of responsible people who aren't grooming them and leading them into danger. That's why we have working-with-children checks, which most people are familiar with, but principles of child safety have to be embedded into the governance of every institution—volunteer, community, state, federal, military; you name it—so that these things never happen the way they have happened in the past. The royal commissioners penned many wise words. We all thank the people that worked on the royal commission. It must have been harrowing for them to hear all these reports, but they have put a great body of work together. We have a system in place now. The redress scheme is up and running. It won't fix everyone but it is a great initiative for us as a nation to acknowledge together those that have suffered and to put things in place so that it doesn't happen again.