House debates

Wednesday, 24 October 2018


National Apology to Victims and Survivors of Institutional Child Sexual Abuse

5:21 pm

Photo of Susan TemplemanSusan Templeman (Macquarie, Australian Labor Party) Share this | Hansard source

I rise to join this parliament to say sorry. In November 2012, Prime Minister Julia Gillard announced the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. In December last year, the final report was released. In the five years in between, the truth about the horrific, life-changing experiences that children had at the hands of those who were responsible for their care was exposed. The telling of those stories was a long and difficult journey, and too painful for some. It was long overdue. This week's apology to the victims of child abuse in institutions, to all those who survived, and recognising so many who didn't, was also long overdue.

I am sorry that there were children who were betrayed by the very people who were meant to love them, care for them and protect them. In saying sorry, we need to acknowledge that, for too long, children were not believed, but the perpetrators were. We need to acknowledge that too many people turned a blind eye to the horrors of abuse. We need to acknowledge that events were deliberately covered up and perpetrators were protected. Our apology is to 60,000 survivors of institutional child sexual abuse. I acknowledge their hurt and suffering, their bravery and their survival.

It was an honour having Margaret Spivey in parliament for the apology. Margaret travelled from the Blue Mountains to be here, joined by her friend Mary—both survivors. Margaret lived in children's homes from the age of 18 months until she was 17. Her memoirs, Defying the Gatekeeper: One Girl's True Story of Resistance and Rebellion, tell her story, through childhood and adolescence into adulthood, of physical, emotional and mental abuse. She was lost within the welfare system of the 1960s and 1970s as part of the forgotten Australians. Being here in the chamber in Canberra to bear witness to the words of the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition was important to Margaret. To be here with Julia Gillard as she stood alongside the leaders saying, 'we see you, hear you, believe you, value you and we are sorry,' was very important.

In reflecting on the royal commission and the personal distress that was shared, it's also important to acknowledge those who made the recommendations that this apology take place. The commissioners, led by chairman Justice Peter McClellan, read and listened to evidence from 16,000 individuals, with more than 8,000 stories heard in person.

We also need to acknowledge the work of the journalists who broke stories about this and who then reported on it day in and day out to make sure we knew the depth of the betrayal that had occurred. The counsellors, psychologists, carers and family members who have been supporting victims through this process deserve mention, as do the parents whose trust was also betrayed and who thought they were protecting their children by entrusting them to some organisations. I am sorry to all those groups who have suffered through a process where we simply didn't do enough.

We all know the lifelong impacts of abuse, whether it's in an institution or a family, and we know that saying sorry isn't enough. For this apology to be meaningful, we need concrete actions. We need to provide redress for those who have been harmed. The National Redress Scheme for victims of child sexual abuse in institutions has already been announced but we know there is more to do. I want to acknowledge former shadow minister Jenny Macklin for her determination in seeing that justice is done and I hope that we will be able to carry on her work.

Institutions, schools, churches, youth organisations of all types have more to do to rebuild trust and ensure that history cannot repeat itself. For this apology to be meaningful, people really need to see that things have changed and will continue to change. They want to know what is changing in youth-serving organisations, and we must be transparent. They need to see child-safe strategies become standard practices

This royal commission, this apology, reminds us that there are other groups who were victims of abuse, whether it's people who have suffered in the military, people in aged care or people with disabilities. There is so much more for this parliament to do. Saying sorry can't undo what Margaret and Mary and tens of thousands of children experienced. It can't take away the hurt. It can't change the lives that they've led, but I hope it helps their future, our future, as we finally walk alongside them, knowing they have been alone for far too long. And we must be committed, on both sides of this parliament, to doing everything we can to make sure that the shocking, systematic abuse of children isn't allowed to happen again, here or anywhere else.


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