Wednesday, 24 October 2018
National Apology to Victims and Survivors of Institutional Child Sexual Abuse
Here in our nation's parliament we have the fortune of meeting many Australians from all walks of life across our country. When we meet face to face, we get an understanding of their story. We get a glimpse into their life and a sense of what they've been through. On Monday in the Great Hall and with those outside, we could only imagine the road that had been travelled throughout their lives to be in Canberra on that day. We know it was a road that had taken them through hell, and yet they kept going. This was the road to the national apology to the victims and survivors of institutionalised child sexual abuse.
For those victims and survivors, telling their stories has taken courage and determination, and to all of them I say sorry. We say sorry. As a parliament, as representatives of the Australian people, we say sorry.
But yet a lot of sorrow remains. These are generations of lost children—girls and boys who've had their childhood robbed, their hopes for the future stolen, young Australians denied a safe childhood and a safe place to be, denied that most fundamental and basic of human instincts and human rights: the care of a child by an adult. We've heard stories of trauma and tragedy. Child sexual abuse is hideous. It's shocking, it's vile and it's a crime.
It's impossible not to share the anger that many of those survivors feel. You could feel it in the Great Hall on Monday. Whilst the speeches by the Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition and others were going on, there were a lot of interjections from people on the floor. I thought to myself: 'You know what? You interject as much as you want. You say whatever you want to say on this day, because you've earned the right to interject and to say what you think.'
The sense of betrayal from people they trusted—too many children were abused in too many institutions. For the victims and the survivors, it's been a life sentence, a perverse injustice where those who were wronged weren't believed and were shackled with the trauma. Too many adults in Australia, unfortunately, travelled down a dark and destructive road: those who committed the abuse and those who turned a blind eye or deliberately covered up these crimes. Many institutions that many Australians have trusted throughout their lifetime have been involved with multiple abusers who sexually abused children.
To those who were victims of this institutionalised abuse: we are sorry for that loss of trust. We are sorry for the loss of justice. That these crimes and injustices were carried out by those in authority, we are sorry for the price that you paid. Post-traumatic stress disorders, depression and anxiety—we are sorry for the nightmares, the sleep disturbances, the flashbacks and the disassociation. We're sorry for the alcohol and other drugs that you needed to use to cope with the trauma of abuse. We're sorry that the pathway towards substance abuse caused your physical illness, your relationship breakdowns, problems with your jobs and, in some cases, criminal behaviour. And to those who are incarcerated in institutions and who have been victims of sexual abuse, you deserve an apology as well. We're sorry for the addictive behaviours, including high levels of gambling, the difficulties with physical intimacy. We're sorry for the suicides—too many lives taken before they were due.
There are stories of the negative impacts not only on the survivors but also their family members, their partners and others in the community. There are also stories of extraordinary determination and resilience. Many of the victims and survivors, with professional help and with the support of others, took significant steps towards recovery. And yet we must accept that the abuse has been occurring in every generation. The risk to children, unfortunately, remains today. Institutions evolve, but it's a mistake to assume that the abuse in institutions will not occur again. Yet that is what this royal commission was all about: uncovering what had gone on and putting in place the measures to hopefully ensure that this never occurs again in our society.
It's now up to us, to those here in this parliament. It's no longer just about survivors, victims and their advocates telling their stories; it's up to us now to take action. On behalf of the community that I represent, I sincerely thank all of those survivors of child sexual abuse who told their story before the royal commission and in public. To all of those who couldn't bring themselves to tell their story, we thank you as well for your bravery. I specifically thank the references group, who did a wonderful job on behalf of those victims to act as advocates for the establishment of the royal commission, championing the recommendations and advising government about the apology that occurred on Monday. You deserve our praise and the compliments of all Australians. I thank former Prime Minister Julia Gillard for her bravery, her foresight and her courage in establishing this royal commission.
We've heard a lot over the last couple of days from parliamentarians about the apology and the words that go with it, but it's now time for action. This parliament now has a moral duty on behalf of those victims, and with future parliaments in mind, not to second guess the royal commission but to get on with implementing the recommendations, to get on with providing justice to those victims and ensuring that we put in place measures so that these actions are never again perpetrated on children in our community. This is a road that we must take. It's time for action on the royal commission's recommendations.