House debates

Wednesday, 24 October 2018


National Apology to Victims and Survivors of Institutional Child Sexual Abuse

6:07 pm

Photo of Stephen JonesStephen Jones (Whitlam, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Regional Services, Territories and Local Government) Share this | Hansard source

I'm really proud to have been a member of a government, the Gillard government, which established the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. What appears today to have been an obvious thing that had to be done, really wasn't back then. There were voices against it. There were some very powerful and strong voices against it, even within the parliament. Not everybody was in consensus on the view that this needed to happen. I was very proud to have been a part of it and very proud to have sat there, in one of those wonderful moments in parliament, where the Prime Minister and the leader of the other party, to which I belong, stood up and gave a great speech. The Leader of the Opposition stood up and gave a great speech. I was mindful of all of those who had put a lot of work into getting us to where we are. None of those people should come before the survivors and those who didn't survive in our acknowledgements in this debate before the House today. So let's start by acknowledging the survivors and those who didn't survive their encounter with institutional child sex abuse.

I should pay and I do pay tribute to former Prime Minister Gillard, former Attorney-General Roxon, the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition for their heartfelt apology statements in Parliament House on Monday. I want to pay tribute to you, member for Newcastle, for your role as the member and as a person who had a lot to do with the survivor groups that led to the statement today, together with the member for Swan, who's not in the chamber with us at the moment but who I know took a very personal and energetic response to this issue, and to the member for Jagajaga, who is also not with us at the moment but who did a lot of work to bring the apology and the Redress Scheme before the parliament.

After young children have been systematically let down for so long, the events of Monday really do show how far we've come. Both sides of politics were working together for a vital cause, to say sorry, to commit to protect our young and to ensure that the horrors of the past do not happen again and that we don't create another generation of survivors. In another era, silence and ignorance let down so many children and led to their suffering. The message this week is that, for those who have been brave enough to come forward, we believe you and we will work to ensure that no-one needs to go through the same horrors that you went through—the offence, the cover-up, the denial.

This week has also been an important step about recognising our failures as a nation and learning from those grave mistakes. We can't change the past. We can only hope to bring justice to victims and to ensure that the perpetrators and those who covered it up receive justice or have justice visited upon them. Those who have covered it up and put the interests and the reputation of their church or their organisation or the clerics who work within it above the suffering of the abused have rightly been condemned. They do not deserve the protection of either the congregation or the law. While nothing can erase what has happened to the victims, we need to ensure that our Redress Scheme is fit for purpose, that it meets their needs. Apologies and the statements that we're making today address the past. Redress schemes address the past. We must, as a parliament and as community leaders, also address the future, and that's about prevention.

Because it's the faith which I was raised in, because it's the church or the religion which I affiliate with, I want to say a few things about the observations and the findings that have been made about the Catholic Church throughout the royal commission process and since. The Catholic Church provided data on complaints to the royal commission and that data is nothing short of extraordinary. Between 1980 and 2015 alone, over 4,400 people alleged incidents relating to more than 1,000 separate institutions within the Catholic Church. Of the complainants, 78 per cent were male, and, of the alleged perpetrators, 90 per cent were male; 62 per cent of the perpetrators were priests or brothers; seven per cent of all priests were perpetrators; and 20 per cent of all Marist Brothers and 22 per cent of Christian Brothers were perpetrators. Can you imagine any other institution in our country today where as many as one-quarter of its leaders were perpetrators, and we did nothing about it? I cannot imagine that. Today, as we debate this motion, as we respect that fundamental separation between church and state, it's also our role as community and parliamentary leaders to send a very clear message to the churches and other institutions: you must reform yourselves.

11.7 per cent of priests from the diocese of Wollongong, where I grew up, 13.9 per cent of priests from the diocese of Lismore, 14 per cent of priests from the diocese of Port Pirie and 15 per cent of the priests from the diocese of Sale were perpetrators. Five male religious orders—the Christian brothers, the De La Salle Brothers, the Marist Brothers, the Patrician Brothers and the St John of God brothers represent more than 40 per cent of all claims made to Catholic Church authorities. The first thing that strikes you about these statistics is the immensity of them. If you gathered in the Great Hall on Monday, you put faces to those statistics. They weren't just raw numbers; they were human beings, lives broken or interrupted, and we will never do anything to give them back their youth. To those people, as they sat and listened to the speeches of the apology it brought back that vivid memory of a younger self, the moment where their faith, their trust and their body was violated and betrayed by a person who they were taught to revere. This cannot be left to stand.

The second thing that's overwhelming about this is the sheer number of cases. Let's not forget that these were instances where complaints were made and documented. Many, many more complaints were not made or were made and were not documented, so the story is bigger than the statistical picture presented to the royal commission.

The third thing that becomes obvious is that over 62 per cent of all perpetrators came from an order which imposed a vow of celibacy. As we are sending a clear message to the churches from this place that they have a responsibility to the societies in which they operate and they have a responsibility to reform, we cannot look over these things and say, as many have said, celibacy has got nothing to do with it. The statistics speak for themselves. So one of the messages that must come from this place is a very clear message to the churches—and my church, the Catholic Church—is that you've got to question a lot of these practices that have been taken as an article of faith. The idea that there is something sacred about the seal of confessional, that a crime against a child can be confessed to a priest in the knowledge that that confession has with it a precondition that the person making that confession is either unwilling or unable to face the secular consequences? We can't be on about protecting that. If that was ever okay—and I don't think it was—it's not okay today. The same must be said about the vows of celibacy. We cannot deny the data. The churches must reform themselves as other, secular institutions are being required to reform themselves.

We can't change the past; we can affect the future. I thank the House for the opportunity to talk to these matters.


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