Wednesday, 24 October 2018
National Apology to Victims and Survivors of Institutional Child Sexual Abuse
It is indeed a great privilege to be in this place at all but particularly to be able to make contributions like I seek to do today. I recognise what this parliament did when it came together at 11:00 on Monday. I acknowledge the contributions of all of my colleagues on both sides of the House in this debate and I especially acknowledge the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition for beginning the long overdue apology. To me, it is inconceivable that anyone would engage in the abuse of children in their care. It is especially inconceivable that those charged with being the protectors of our society—the clergy, the Scout leaders and others in authority—would perpetuate the system and heinous crimes exposed in the royal commission.
It is absolutely appalling that this was the awful truth for too many of our children. They needed nurturing and protection and what they got was awful systematic abuses. As a parent, I would do anything to protect my children and grandchildren but I'd also protect other children in our family and any child I met. As adults, that's how it should be. We should nurture and protect the next generation so they have the best opportunities to succeed and lead wonderful, fulfilled lives. The 17 volumes of the royal commission's report stand testament to the fact that this has not been the case for so many children. Too many were not believed. Too many perpetrators were allowed to continue their heinous crimes. Instead of facing the law, they were moved to other places where more unsuspecting families and children were subjected to abuse and neglect. Our institutions knew. Our institutions knew and still continued to let this happen. Our institutions enabled child sex offenders and protected their reputations. What they should have been doing was protecting the futures of the children who did not deserve the abuse they endured. The experiences of these children have shaped the rest of their lives. They did nothing to deserve the abuse. They did not deserve the relationship breakdowns, the drug and alcohol abuse, the inability to get jobs or complete education, nor, for some, the incarceration. You have to wonder what their lives might have been like if they'd had the opportunity and had only received love and nurturing in these institutions that were entrusted with their care.
I recognise the work of the commissioners and the staff at the royal commission. Theirs was a difficult and confronting job, but they created a space where survivors and families could be believed and could tell their stories. For most, it seemed, it was the first time in their lives anyone had listened. The commissioners found ways that meant all could be heard, and I thank them for their work. I recognise the work of those who fought to bring these crimes to prominence so the royal commission could be set up. I recognise Julia Gillard, Nicola Roxon and Jenny Macklin, the member for Jagajaga, for their work. It's not easy to take on these institutions, especially those that hid the abuse away for decades. I recognise the work from members in this parliament: the member for Newcastle, who is in the chair, and the members for Swan, Barton, Ballarat and so many more.
Sorry means doing things differently. Sorry means that you don't do it again. Actions speak louder than our words, and we have to make sure that it never happens. It's now time for the institutions to do the right thing and help the healing of those they hurt. They should participate in the Redress Scheme. More importantly, they need to commit themselves to ensuring that this never be allowed to happen again. As many other members have pointed out, abuse of children does not only happen in institutions and it will not have stopped at the release of the royal commission report. We must redouble our efforts and ensure that all children are safe and that they are believed. In closing, I would like to add my voice to that of all of us in this place: we are truly sorry.