Wednesday, 24 October 2018
National Apology to Victims and Survivors of Institutional Child Sexual Abuse
I humbly rise to speak on the motion of the national apology to victims and survivors of institutional child sex abuse. Like many of my fellow parliamentarians, I listened to the powerful words of the member for Lyons. It's an honour to follow his contribution and that of all members of this House.
Earlier this week, we saw the moving, emotional acknowledgements by the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition in front of hundreds of survivors who joined us in the House, and hundreds more who attended other events later in the day. This included a local resident—one that I'm aware of; there could have been others—from my own community who had made the trip down by himself, I believe, from the suburb of West Lake in my electorate of Oxley for this historic apology. I was able to speak to and have a chat with this resident to show my support for him and to acknowledge what a historic day it was. As friends and family gave support to survivors who wept, our thoughts also turned to those who have since passed and were not present to hear the apology, for it is their stories that will never be heard, their scars that will never heal, and their truths will never be told.
Whilst we can't undo the wrongs of the past, we can look to the future and work towards one where this never happens again. This will take a whole-of-community approach: to listen, to protect and, most importantly, to believe children and young people when they come forward, rather than turning a blind eye. As a member of the Joint Select Committee on oversight of the implementation of redress related recommendations of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, I was proud to speak on the enabling legislation earlier this year. As I said at the time, the National Redress Scheme is a result of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, which the previous Labor government, as we've heard, created under then Prime Minister Gillard in 2013. Over the subsequent five years, 16,953 people contacted the royal commission who were within the terms of reference. The commission heard from 7,981 survivors of child sexual abuse in 8,013 private sessions. It received 25,964 letters and emails and referred 2,562 matters to police.
I read this into the Hansard of this parliament because every single one of those people matter. Every single conversation of those people matter. These striking numbers only begin to scratch the surface of just how big this issue is for thousands and thousands of Australians. My Labor colleagues, and, I believe, everyone in this House, sincerely, genuinely, thank each and every single survivor who shared their story. I simply cannot imagine what amount of courage and composure this took. Words are simply not enough to describe the harrow and horror of the stories that came forward. The average age of victims when first abused was just 10 years old, with 85 per cent of survivors saying they had experienced multiple episodes of abuse.
Monday's National Apology delivered by the parliament was a result of one of the 99 recommendations handed down by the royal commission. I want to echo the words of the Leader of the Opposition to victims of abuse. He said on Monday:
Today we offer you our nation's apology, with humility, with honesty, with hope for healing now, and with a fire in our belly to ensure that our children will grow up safe in the future. We do this because it is right, because it is overdue, because Australians must know and face up to the truth about our past. But, above all, we do this because of you.
Words cannot heal the scars of the past, but they can acknowledge the hurt it has caused. I've seen this through my role in the committee, just doing a small amount of work overseeing the recommendations of the royal commission into child sexual abuse. As of 4 October 2018, the committee had accepted 41 submissions, of which 30 are from organisations and 11 are from individuals. The committee continues to work through key issues, which have been broadly categorised into the following areas: applying for and accessing the scheme; policy concerns and specific issues; and questions for the Department for Social Services, the Department of Human Services and the Commonwealth Ombudsman. It is really important that we make the redress scheme easily accessible for survivors to ensure a smooth pathway to compensation that minimises them having to relive their terrible experiences.
Today, I also want to specifically acknowledge Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk and my home state of Queensland, which has signed up to the redress scheme. In announcing that the Queensland government will pay its share to survivors of sexual abuse in government run institutions, Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said it was an important milestone acknowledging the suffering of those abused in care:
Although no amount of money can return a lost childhood, it's important that we acknowledge what these victims have been through.
Ten thousand Queenslanders are expected to be eligible—5,000 abused in government institutions and another 5,000 in non-government institutions.
It's events such as these that give great hope for the future. Listening to the heartfelt speeches from my colleagues across the political aisle and across Australia, everyone has in some way been touched and moved by the enormity of what this parliament has dealt with. It is such a privilege to be a member of parliament and to be able to honour, respect, recognise and pay tribute to all of those brave people who came forward, to all of those brave people no-one believed and to all of those brave people that simply suffered in silence. Over the past few days, we have heard the horror stories of the past. Today I reaffirm my pledge in my role as a member of parliament to do everything I can to ensure that the tragic events of the past are not repeated. I commend this motion put before the House and offer my unequivocal support to brave survivors who continue to show tremendous courage to ensure that others do not have to suffer the way they have. Together let's work as one to see that history does not repeat itself. Together we can achieve a better future for all.