House debates

Tuesday, 23 October 2018


National Apology to Victims and Survivors of Institutional Child Sexual Abuse

5:08 pm

Photo of Ms Catherine KingMs Catherine King (Ballarat, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Health and Medicare) Share this | | Hansard source

Yesterday was a very emotional day for many people across Australia and in my electorate of Ballarat. The national apology that we witnessed is a welcome step, and it will be and was a very important moment for many survivors. The apology is a recognition that finally, after far too long, the Australian government and the entire Australian community have at last listened to survivors and advocates. The apology is an acknowledgement that successive governments have grossly failed in their responsibility to protect the most vulnerable in our communities. It's an apology that, while long overdue, I have mixed emotions about. It can never be enough. No words and no deeds can ever be enough because of what has happened.

The most important role of government, its integral duty, is to protect our citizens. Government is meant to be a shield that protects those most at risk and offers a hand to those who need it. When we hear the stories of those abused by the people they trusted and the failure of authorities, communities, schools, sporting groups, Scouts, Girl Guides, youth groups, churches, police and government institutions and organisations, including the ADF, it is clear that we failed. It is a failure that has had to be carried by survivors and their families ever since, and one that they will have to go on carrying for the rest of their lives.

Ballarat, the community which I'm honoured to represent in this place, knows all too well the legacy of child sexual abuse. Generations have been hurt in Ballarat by the cruel acts committed in our schools, our institutions and our churches across the city. When we heard the stories of the royal commission when it carried out hearings in our town, it shone a light on what had, for too long, been buried in our community and in communities all around the country. I cannot thank enough or speak highly enough of those survivors who were able to tell their stories. And to the many who were not, we absolutely want you to know that you are believed as well.

Many of these people were not telling their story for the first time; it was just that this was the first time that they were actually heard and listened to. Shamefully, this reckoning came too late for many who had passed away—as the Prime Minister said earlier, too often by their own hand. When the royal commission sat in Ballarat, we heard the story of a woman who attended a primary school in Ballarat in the 1970s. She had a photograph of the grade 4 class at that school. Of the 33 boys pictured, 12 in that class had committed suicide. There were 33 boys in that photo, all of them ten years of age. Twelve are dead. There are 21 survivors. Twelve lives were cut too short. For some, we will never know if that was because of the actions of the clergy, the teachers, the staff and the authorities who ran the school that committed these crimes and failed to act. Twenty-one more lives were altered forever because of the cruelty and the evil of those who were in a position of authority to do something. When you look at a school photo of yourself at that age, you look at the faces of those around you. My little boy is in grade 4 and he's 10 this year. You think of the last time you saw those children. You remember the times you spent with them. You think about what they're doing now, and it's almost impossible to put into words that such a tragedy could occur. You cannot comprehend how you would feel to be a mum of any of those 33 boys. Even worse, as I said, you can imagine any of your own loved ones in that class, but your mind can't even think about or understand what that could mean.

At that school, all of the male teachers and the chaplain, every single one of them, were molesting children. What is a child meant to do and where can they find help in those circumstances? It's incomprehensible: the fear, the uncertainty, the confusion, the hopelessness, the misplaced shame and the terror. To live through that, to string together a life after such betrayal and hurt, is nothing short of heroic. I remember Phil Nagle, one Ballarat survivor and tireless campaigner, described the crimes committed as basically a crime against humanity. These were crimes which denied the humanity of those children and stole the lives that should have been theirs. The perpetrators showed a disgusting and terrifying lack of humanity as they abused those under their care. Those above them showed a terrifying lack of humanity as they put the interests of their organisations against these defenceless children.

The school and the building where these crimes occurred is still there. Its towering red brick buildings stand prominently on your left as you come into my hometown. Now, its fences are covered in ribbons, symbolising that the victims are remembered and that they are believed, and that these crimes could never be allowed to reoccur. There is a reason the Loud Fence Movement started in my hometown. It symbolises that the children who go to that school today are safe and that they are happy, but that every one of us in our community remembers what happened there. Similarly, occupying an entire block of the grand old Sturt Street, St Patrick's Cathedral—the centre of the diocese which the royal commission described as showing a 'catastrophic failure of leadership'—now has in place the memorial garden recognising the crimes of the past.

Ballarat has begun its reckoning with the crimes of the past, just as communities all around the country have. I have never had more respect for anyone in my life than I do for the survivors of such crimes, both those who came forward to tell their stories and those who are not yet ready and may never be ready to do so. It is for horrors such as those that occurred at that primary school and were repeated at other sites across the region and the nation that the apology occurred. Any government worthy of the name should have been protecting those children, should have ensured that laws were in place that ensured children had somewhere to go for help and ensured that institutions could not ignore what was going on under their watch.

I understand that many of the survivors in the community in Ballarat and across the country are conflicted and some are opposed to the apology that occurred yesterday. One survivor was quoted in the front page of my local newspaper yesterday, saying, 'A solid apology is the least that they can do', and she is right. The events of yesterday are symbolic, and that is important. But what is, of course, even more important is providing the support needed to survivors, giving them justice for the crimes that have been committed against them and ensuring that such acts never happen to children again. Just as those memorials at buildings, schools and churches around Ballarat signify community support for survivors, the apology does signify the parliament's support. As the survivors of Ballarat say: 'We do need to do more'.

The parliament has already passed the National Redress Scheme. This legislation is not perfect. It's not the scheme the royal commission recommended. It would be remiss of me in this place to not say what we need to do to rectify the scheme, to rectify the harms of the past and to make sure that survivors in my electorate are given the assistance that they need. Survivors do and will need ongoing support. They need counselling and they need financial support, and they need it in full and as quickly as possible.

We know that the commission recommended $200,000 as a maximum for redress claims. It now sits at $150,000. It's impossible to put a price on the childhood lost and the ongoing trauma, but to reduce the amount recommended by the commission was, frankly, a mistake. Too many have already died without receiving justice and we cannot let any more pass without receiving their due. When it comes to the opt-in nature of the scheme, my concerns are well and truly on the record, but I again reiterate: for any institution to not be part of this scheme, perpetrates the violence and the criminality that was done against those children and the institutions need to be held to account. There are more than 60,000 survivors of institutional sexual abuse in Australia. Where that abuse took place should have absolutely no bearing whatsoever on the redress and support given to survivors.

Over the years, I've heard countless story of survivors who have never been able to work, who have in later years lost jobs and businesses, and who are suffering from significant financial insecurity. I've heard and seen the generational effects of this trauma, how it carries on down the years and has caused a wound through the heart of our entire community that is yet to heal. Of course, many never, ever heal; they just manage. These stories are all around us and they're part of the history of my community—incomprehensible acts of cruelty, neglect and abuse which are impossible to imagine and forget. These are acts that occurred in the centre of our community, in the schools and parishes, fire brigades and sporting clubs across our community.

I'm sorry that there are many who were not able to be in the parliament and in Canberra to witness the words that were spoken in this place and to see the emotion. I know many were watching from home in Ballarat, and there are many who simply couldn't face hearing those words. The apology was not about politicians or us. It was about the survivors, the survivors who are with us today and those who are not, those who died as children in care, and those who died later in adult life, the burden of what happened to them too much to bear. We are truly and deeply, as a nation, sorry.

5:18 pm

Photo of Kelly O'DwyerKelly O'Dwyer (Higgins, Liberal Party, Minister for Jobs) Share this | | Hansard source

The royal commission's report has laid bare the devastating impacts of institutional child sexual abuse. Over 16,000 individuals contacted the royal commission. Over 8,000 personal stories were shared in private sessions and more than 1,000 survivors provided written accounts of their experience. I want to thank those who had enormous courage in laying themselves bare to contribute to the royal commission and to share their deeply personal stories, in what must have been a traumatic and harrowing experience. Truly, they are some of the bravest amongst us.

As a government, we have no higher duty than to protect the most vulnerable in our community. There can be none more vulnerable than our children. As a mother, I think of my own two children: my 3½-year-old and my 18-month-old. My job is to love and to cherish them, to teach them and to guide them and to keep them safe. And I can only imagine the heartbreak of so many parents and families learning of the terrible suffering of their children, who experienced such horror at the hands of such vile perpetrators. Whilst yesterday we delivered in this place a national apology, it is very long overdue. What must follow is strong deeds to ensure justice for all of those who are impacted.

I also want to make special mention today of a number of very strong people who have also created the opportunity for this very important national apology. I want to make special mention today of two Victorian MPs, Georgie Crozier and Andrea Coote, for their work on the report that paved the way for this very important royal commission. This original report came about because at that time Victoria—particularly around Ballarat, as we've just heard from the member—was the epicentre for reports of institutional abuse. In early 2011, former Victorian Premier Ted Baillieu announced that the parliament of Victoria's Family and Community Development Committee would hold an inquiry into the handling of child abuse by religious and other non-government organisations. This inquiry, which was chaired by Georgie Crozier and which reported in November 2013, became known as the betrayal of trust inquiry.

Andrea Coote recalls that this was the very first time that many of these victims had told their stories before officials. They brought in photographs of themselves as they once were—innocent young boys and girls. She said: 'We were the first group of officials these people had ever spoken to who believed their stories. For us, it was a deeply moving experience, but we saw many of them walk in on their heels and walk out on their toes. Such was the importance of being believed.' In November 2012, while this inquiry was still underway, former Prime Minister Julia Gillard decided to call the royal commission. Like many others over the past couple of days, I want to join with them in commending Ms Gillard for taking such an important and far-reaching decision. The 17-volume final report of the royal commission contains the all-too-many case studies—frankly, to call them 'case studies' does not, I think, do them justice—about the profound and wide-ranging impacts on survivors both during their childhood and throughout their subsequent adult lives. The trauma that they experienced as children continues, for so many, to have such a devastating impact today.

In my own area of ministerial responsibility now, in jobs, we work in the hope that every young person gets the chance to fulfil their potential and is able to do the very best that they can in the field of endeavour that they wish to follow. But how much harder is it for those who have suffered severe trauma, who have had their future in so many ways stolen from them? Not only do they suffer the pain of abuse; but, for many, the trauma affects them for the rest of their lives.

The commission's report told the story of one man, John, who experienced physical and sexual abuse during placements at three separate institutions from the 6th grade and who eventually ran away to live on the streets when he was just 14. As a result of the abuse that he suffered as a small boy, John told the royal commission that, even to this day, he finds it difficult to take a shower. I have never met John, but the story he heroically told exemplifies and brings home the problems that so many of these people experience throughout their lives. As a result of the sexual abuse that he experienced, John has suffered from ongoing anxiety and depression. Despite his best efforts to educate himself, he could not complete courses and gain certificates, which, in turn, has affected his ability to remain in steady employment.

No-one should see their opportunity to build a life for themselves and their family impacted by the unthinkable, evil actions of others. No-one should see their future robbed or thwarted by the twisted, horrible actions of predators. Sadly, there are all too many of these people left facing this situation today. This week in the federal parliament we have tried to give an acknowledgement of that. What we have also tried to acknowledge is the betrayal and hurt that so many experienced, whether it be in their school, their church, their Scout group or their sporting or other voluntary organisation, and the fact that when they spoke up they weren't believed. But what I think is most devastating is those institutions that covered up this terrible and predatory behaviour, priests who moved some of these predators from parish to parish, which is, in my view, completely and utterly unforgiveable. We all acknowledge that we need to do better in protecting our young people. On behalf of the parliament, I extend my sincere sympathies to all of those who have been deeply impacted.

I want to thank those who contributed to the royal commission and acknowledge those who were not able to contribute because they have passed or because they simply felt they could not relive that pain. I want to thank those who worked on the royal commission—the royal commissioners and the staff who assisted so many in being able to give voice to their personal stories. As I said at the beginning, we have a duty to protect the most vulnerable in our community. We have a duty to protect our children, and with this national apology we must make clear that we can never, ever fail them again.

5:26 pm

Photo of Emma HusarEmma Husar (Lindsay, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I'd like to acknowledge the words of the member for Higgins. Obviously, this is deeply emotional content and certainly a difficult thing to rise in here and speak about. Yesterday, as a parliament, on behalf of our nation, we did take that fundamental step towards justice for the survivors and the victims of child sex abuse. This is a very, very small step but one in the right direction, and I'm deeply saddened that it has taken us so long to right the wrongs of the past injustices. To all of those with innocence stolen and childhoods lost and who went on to suffer the effects of abuse induced trauma caused by people who should've known better, the apology is not just a sign of righting wrongs; it is a commitment to do better.

I have raised my own children to say sorry, but only if they are, and, in being sorry, to make a commitment to never commit the same mistake again. This is with moderate success with children, but for adults there should be no excuse. I heard many stories throughout the royal commission of terrible injustices. A now grown man with grandchildren of his own, six in all, told me of his abuse in an institution. I heard from a man who, since the time of his abuse as a child in a boys home, had not told anyone in his family about his mistreatment, not one single person—not the woman he married, not his siblings, not his parents; no-one. What an isolating and sad secret that is to keep. After his initial abuse in the boys home, he did tell someone though. He disclosed his treatment to another adult at that facility—an adult in a trusted position who should've known better, an adult who should've done something, an adult who should've cared and who should have acted, an adult who, in acting, may have prevented this perpetrator from committing more abuse on another child. But that didn't happen. Instead, the young boy was taken to the hospital wing to recover from the abuse and then remained there until they relocated the perpetrating adult to another facility to repeat the sins all over again.

This young, traumatised boy grew up, like we all do, bearing the scars and hangovers of our childhoods. He became a school dropout and engaged in petty crime. As the stresses of day-to-day life mounted, he spiralled into a life of alcoholism. He became a violent perpetrator of domestic violence. This little boy, who had his childhood interrupted by an adult behaving badly, became a man whose life became ruined. Later on, he would spend time in jail. This little boy grew into a man with trauma so deep, it impacted every single corner of his life. This is a man I know well, a man I have known my entire life, who held a secret so close to his chest for nearly all of his life. Only through the process of a royal commission, only through hearing the stories publicised, reading the papers, and revealing the ugliness of the abuse was he able to speak about it, to raise his voice. I thank all of those people who spoke out. It is in their power and their courage that allowed people like this little boy, now a man, to speak up. I'm grateful for them and I call them the real heroes of this story—a story that I hope will not become a set of recommendations in a report somewhere gathering dust.

I'm grateful for those in this place who brought forward the royal commission and showed leadership—something so many others are too scared to do. Too often the courage the do what is right is absent and condemned to popular opinion or pressure only.

I want to thank Joanne McCarthy, the journalist at the Newcastle Herald. I note the member for Newcastle is here now and she will probably be up here later to talk about exactly that. Jo McCarthy followed the story and brought it to light. She gave so many who had no voice the courage and she showed her journalistic craft as being what it should be. She showed personal integrity, and followed the story to where it got to, where we saw it. I would like to commend the courage of Chrissie Foster and her family, who, even through deep personal tragedy, still fought for others; and Leonie Sheedy at CLAN for making sure there was somewhere for victims to turn. None of these people wanted to be in this position, to draw the thanks of the houses. But to help so many people, I am thankful they were and I'm sorry that they had to.

I will always wonder, for that little boy who grew into the man, what kind of life he might have gone on to have. If not for the abuse, if not from living through adults doing bad things, he, I am sure, grieves for a life of a potential unmet, a life denied the freedom of a safe childhood, a life impacted and stained forever by actions of adults who had a choice and who chose to behave in this way. This is but one story. I sure, though, it reflects so many stories and so many unmet potential lives. There were 8,000 victims who provided submissions in private sessions, 1,000 victims who provided written submissions. Half of those victims were between 10—that's the same age as my youngest child—and 14 years of age at the time of suffering the abuse; 64.3 per cent of those victims were boys at the time the abuse occurred, with 93.8 per cent of the abusers being men and 83.8 per cent of those abusers were adults.

This House can be powerful and I pay tribute to the monumental work of then Prime Minister Julia Gillard when on 12 November 2012 she announced the decision to establish a Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. She said at the time that the allegations that had come to light recently about sexual abuse had been heartbreaking. They were then and they still are today. These are insidious evil acts to which no child should be subject. The individuals concerned deserve the most thorough of investigations into the wrongs that have been committed against them. They deserve to have their voices heard and their claims investigated. She believed that a royal commission was the best way to do this, and there were people that said that it wasn't, but I'm glad that she persisted.

It was the Gillard Labor government that created the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses into Child Sexual Abuse in 2013, and this is the exact kind of thing a royal commission ought to be used for. The royal commission gave the victims of child sexual abuse hope that they can have a future in which they can move on from the past, where they were wronged. I want to thank all of the commissioners and the staff, who, for months, listened to what would have been incredibly heartbreaking and disturbing testimony of the courageous men and women who provided it. Your work is appreciated and will not be forgotten.

I want to thank the survivors of sexual abuse, who have been waiting their whole lives for someone to take accountability for what was done and for someone to address the horrific crimes that were perpetrated against them as children. Our communities, our institutions and our nation do better into the future to pay those survivors the ultimate honour by making sure the crimes of the past are not committed into the future. Thank you.

5:35 pm

Photo of Ken WyattKen Wyatt (Hasluck, Liberal Party, Minister for Indigenous Health) Share this | | Hansard source

I want to start by acknowledging former Prime Minister Julia Gillard's commitment to undertake this royal commission. It was an important decision. It was a line in the sand in addressing the unspeakable. I want to associate myself with the words of the Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, and the Leader of the Opposition, Bill Shorten, in their speeches to the parliament. Yesterday the Australian government, on behalf of the Australian people and our parliament, delivered a national apology to victims and survivors of institutional child sexual abuse. The national apology recognised the appalling abuse of children in institutions and acknowledged the profound and ongoing impacts that this abuse has had, scarring the lives of too many Australians.

As a federal member, in my own seat I meet constituents who have experienced the hell of being abused as a child. I meet with them to discuss opportunities for them to access some form of support, because many have kept it bottled up within for a long period of time. One gentleman, who was at Leeuwin, talked of his experience—the feelings that he had, but, more importantly, the fact that he couldn't tell his wife what happened to him, because he was worried that his relationship would suffer. This is like so many of the people I meet and talk with—including a man who wanted to meet with me to talk, and we went into a shopping centre. He knew the owner of the shop. We sat out the back of the shop on boxes. He shared with me the story of what happened to him when he was in Castledare—the daily beatings, the treatment, the sexual abuse, but also the vivid memories.

If we think about this, every one of us when we have experiences have a visual recollection or imagery within our minds of the event that has occurred, from both pleasurable through to what people who were abused would have experienced. The element of touch becomes something that they wish to abstain from but, in order to cope with life in relationships, they allow that to occur. My own understanding and journey in two cultures is that we have had two reports—this report, which is 17 volumes of the experiences of people whose harrowing childhood memories are based on the lack of trust and the betrayal of trust by those who had a responsibility to care for them and look after them.

Over 17,000 survivors came forward to the royal commission, and nearly 8,000 of them recounted their abuse in private sessions to the commission, resurrecting the memories of the things that had happened to them, the experiences that robbed them of their innocence, the experiences that would leave them marked for life. Whilst we are resilient as human beings, you cannot erase the things that have hurt you the most. One of the elements of the conversations I've had with people in my own electorate was the issue of the betrayal of trust, the failure of adults to listen to their stories, the failure of those who they thought they could go to. In recent times, I still hear of experiences within communities where children are still being abused, whose innocence is being destroyed for the pleasure of another who they trust. And I think of their life for the future, those who have taken their lives because the memories are too great.

I think of the boys of Kinchela in New South Wales when I was there. I listened to their stories of what happened to them and how those memories cannot be erased. But the challenge that's become more marked for me is being the Minister for Aged Care, where I have people from the CLAN—Leonie. I have people from Fairbridge. I have people from other institutions who say to me, 'I am not going into an aged-care facility, because the abuse I experienced in an institution I was associated with as a child I do not want to revisit in my ageing years.' And the sad part is that some have said, 'I would rather commit suicide than go into an another institution.' That's an indictment on our nation. It's an indictment that we couldn't say to these children, 'We believe you.'

An apology does make a difference, but it doesn't undo the scars of what has happened to you. Those scars are as real as the scars after surgery except they are within the mind, in the heart and in the psyche of an individual. And so the work that we do as members of this parliament is to ensure that the recommendations of this royal commission are implemented. It doesn't matter which side of politics we're on. This is about the consideration of those who have lived with the experience. I know there are many still who have not talked about their experience, because they fear what they will feel when they reopen the wounds of the past and that the challenges that they face in sharing it with family are always going to be a challenge for them emotionally.

The Prime Minister announced further actions to support survivors with annual reporting on the progress of the royal commission's recommendations and working with survivor groups to establish a national museum to ensure their stories are recorded. But what I want to see is that we don't see stories recorded from contemporary Australia today. We should all be vigilant and call out those that we suspect. We should listen to a voice that reaches out to us to say, 'Something is happening to me that's not right,' and we should have the courage to ensure that an action is taken.

I think of a town in WA where I have written to all the relevant state ministers of the information that I have been given. What frustrates me is the slowness of bureaucracy in responding to the actions that need to be implemented on the ground to intervene and to put into place interventions to protect children. I cannot comprehend any adult who determines in their own mind that it is right to be a paedophile, to abuse a child in a way that you would not expect a decent human being to ever do. I have seen too many scarred people over my lifetime who were abused as children sexually. They cope to some extent, but there are times in which that coping mechanism of theirs gives way and they experience the memories of those traumas. Their health suffers and their whole life and interaction on a social basis is impacted by the memories of the past. And the other part that has been very telling are those who have said they have been cheated because the person who was the perpetrator has passed away, when they had an opportunity to seek to charge, to seek to have them held accountable. And in those circumstances it's always hard.

But children should always feel safe and be protected from abuse. Children's safety is a paramount consideration. To all of the people that I've met and to all those who were here in the House and those who weren't able to be here: we are truly sorry for what happened to you. We're truly sorry that many of the things that happened to you happened under the supervision of adults who should have shown far greater responsibility and civility. So, we will work together in this House and in this parliament to ensure that the future is safe and, more importantly, to look at ways where we recognise and take care of the elements that made your life the hell that you experienced.

5:45 pm

Photo of Linda BurneyLinda Burney (Barton, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Preventing Family Violence) Share this | | Hansard source

Can I recognise colleagues from all sides of the political aisle who have spoken in this debate, in particular, my dear friend Ken Wyatt, who spoke just then, as well as many others. Throughout my life, I have been very deeply involved in a number of apologies. I was here as the Director General of the New South Wales Department of Aboriginal Affairs when Kevin Rudd, in 2008, gave the apology to the stolen generations. I was part of the reconciliation council during the special commission that led to that recommendation. I was in this place when I think the Prime Minister of the day, Ms Julia Gillard, made the apology to the forgotten Australians. I was also the Minister for Community Services in New South Wales and had the responsibility and leadership for organising the apology in New South Wales to the forgotten Australians. Of course, yesterday, I was here in this House, incredibly humbled, as we all were, to participate in the apology to survivors of institutional child sexual abuse.

I think the most important thing that I would like to say in this debate today—and I'm sure other people have done this already—is that it is not just about those individuals who were directly affected by the terrible actions and policies during the stolen generations; it is also about the intergenerational trauma, and that needs to be focused on as well. Perhaps many of the people we saw yesterday were older people, as we did see with the stolen generations. And many of them have passed on. It is not just the pain of those individuals; it is actually the intergenerational effects of those policies and actions which we must also be most mindful of. There is a group who was not mentioned yesterday, but I would like to mention them today—the child migrants. Many children came here from the British Isles as a result of World War II. They were caught up in shocking situations, and so they should also be recognised as part of this cohort—which is a very corporate word to describe the group of people whom we apologised to yesterday.

As other members have said in this House, we join with the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition in the most heartfelt of apologies. In so doing, we acknowledge the terrible evils, the breach of trust and the systemic failings committed by the very powers—governments and religious and social institutions—that were entrusted to care for and look after these children. We saw many adults yesterday, but we must remember them as children and also remember their children. I want to particularly acknowledge—I won't say their names, because I have not sought their permission—the mother and daughter who experienced these horrors and who attended the apology yesterday from the electorate of Barton. To those two extraordinary people, I hope that it was healing and that it did help. We know that for too long your pleas were ignored. We also know that the horrors were hidden away and the abusers were moved from place to place. Absolutely outrageous behaviour by people in powerful positions, who may have not been abusers themselves, but, certainly in my eyes, were as guilty as those that were abusing because they knew what was going on and covered up those horrors. I'm sure the member for Newcastle will speak about this. No apology can ever repair the pain and suffering inflicted. I know that for many there are wounds that will never heal for them and their families.

It's also clear that these crimes cannot go unacknowledged, and that is what this apology has done: acknowledged and paid honour to the stories that many have come forward with. People have spoken about Leonie Sheedy and Chrissie Foster and many others, but every single person—whether they came to the parliament yesterday, whether they have decided to be part of the redress scheme, whether they have said an apology isn't good enough and they're going to take their chances in the courts is really not the issue. For me, the issue is that finally, out of all those letters, all those emails, all those private sessions, all those public hearings, all those referrals and all of the callings to account of the authorities, we saw thousands of brave and courageous individuals sharing thousands of brave and courageous conversations—and, as the member for Lindsay said, probably for the first time in their lives.

I do want to acknowledge the former Prime Minister Julia Gillard, the former Attorney-General Nicola Roxon and the member for Jagajaga, Jenny Macklin, in advancing these reforms. They are three remarkable women in the public life of this country.

This apology cannot mark the end. It marks a new beginning. It is incredibly important that we do remind ourselves that sexual abuse does not discriminate: not only does it affect the individual, but also friends, family and subsequent generations. I want to say very, very clearly, as others have said, that we can't be naive about this. As the shadow minister for families and social services and as a previous New South Wales Minister for Community Services, I know that most of the abuse that happens in this country happens behind closed doors, in the homes of children who are still experiencing these horrors.

It is important also to recognise the commissioners who were involved—it must have been horrendously difficult—and the brave people who came forward. We cannot undo what's happened. It can't be undone. But it can be acknowledged, and that's what apologies are about, as the member for Hasluck has said.

And I do want to say in the last couple of minutes of my participation in this particular debate—and this is also from personal experience—in the late eighties in Australia we had a royal commission into Indigenous deaths in custody. You would remember that, all of you, very well. Unfortunately, the recommendations of deaths in custody royal commission were cherrypicked terribly by both federal and state governments. Perhaps if they hadn't been cherrypicked, we would not see the level of incarceration of Aboriginal people in the adult prison system or juvenile justice system today. So let us commit ourselves in this parliament, and I think the Prime Minister has articulated this, that this royal commission is not cherrypicked so that only recommendations that are convenient, cheap and easy are undertaken. We have to see it in its entirety and it must be dealt with in its entirety, otherwise this horror will continue, and this horror will be another generation of young people that are abused in institutional care. Institutional care and child protection should be about intervention, and early intervention, not dealing with it when those children have gone over a cliff.

So, once again, I just say an enormous thank you to all of those who participated, the people who helped organise, the people who have spoken in this debate. But, most importantly, I thank the people who suffered these horrors at the hands of people they thought they could trust.

5:55 pm

Photo of Rowan RamseyRowan Ramsey (Grey, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Mr Deputy Speaker:

I believe the children are our future

Teach them well and let them lead the way

Show them all the beauty they possess inside

These are the words of the song Greatest Love of All, written by Michael Masser and Linda Creed, but most famously sung by Whitney Houston. They could not have been more true. Children are our future. They are to be protected, loved, nurtured and cherished. But, sadly for some children, physical, sexual and emotional abuse, neglect, violation and exploitation robs them of their ability to reach their potential and see their true beauty. Trauma, betrayal, shame and paralysing fear have no place in the life of a child. Children subjected to abuse are often never rid of the feelings, even in adulthood.

Yesterday in this place the Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, and our nation apologised to the children who have been crushed and broken and scarred forever by an abomination. The most unthinkable betrayal is the abuse of a child at the hands of an adult. The Prime Minister tabled a formal apology in the parliament on behalf of the Australian people, the Australian parliament and the government. We hope this can help the healing process for all of the survivors.

Many brave victims contributed to the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse commissioned by former Prime Minister Julia Gillard in November 2012. Following the release of the final report, the Australian government has accepted 104 of the 122 recommendations handed down by the royal commission and 18 are still under consideration. None have been rejected. We are determined that the voices of the abused will no longer be silenced and we've committed to report every year for the next five years on the progress of the royal commission's recommendations, and a report will be handed down in 10 years time.

Institutionalised sexual abuse affects children and adults across every element of the community: ethnic, socioeconomic, educational, religious, geographic. Those among us who spent our childhoods completely unaware, because we were in lucky and blessed households, never knew how many survivors there were in our communities—those around us. The inquiry opened the floodgate of misery, torment and agony. The commission received more than 40,000 telephone calls and 25,000 letters and emails and held about 8,000 private sessions. The stories of the survivors are emotive, heartbreaking and beyond comprehension.

I have a real character who lives in my electorate. He's a bit alternative. He's adopted an unusual name and is a regular in my office for a chat. He's a highly intelligent, caring man. One day he brought in something for me to read. It was pages of laboriously handwritten memories of his childhood. He had been spurred to put his experiences on paper when the royal commission was announced. He'd never told another soul of the things he had written down, they were so buried inside. Once read, those words could never be forgotten. His was the story of a little 4-year-old boy who, with his brother, was put into care by his father. It was a story of abuse in every form at the hands of carers, carers in orphanages, foster carers and older institutionalised children. He was abused, neglected and tortured. He never knew a loving touch; he never experienced care or a hug. He only knew pain, humiliation, shame and hurt. My constituent is a survivor, but the cost has been enormous and every single day is a challenge. There are many survivors like him, but, sadly, there are many who could not survive the pain.

We owe it to every victim to do our best to make sure no child will experience what my constituent lived through every day of his childhood. Sexual abuse is a sinister betrayal because of the shame it instils in the victim. With childhood sexual abuse, victims are often too young to know how to express what is happening to them or to seek help. When children do report abuse, they aren't believed. The result can a lifetime of depression, anxiety, substance abuse and pain, and people charged with looking after vulnerable, defenceless, innocent children, are too often the abusers—teachers, priests, scout masters, coaches—and the most trusted in communities.

In the past, for much of the time that the royal commission examined, those most at risk were in orphanages, group homes, foster homes or under the care—at least for periods of time—of church figures who normally receive the greatest respect. And I suspect, hope and pray that, largely, those times are behind us. But as the member for Barton raised, and I must say, on this sombre occasion, while we have made good ground in this area, the high rate of family failure in the modern world has opened up opportunities for other depraved individuals closer to home. Perhaps rates of neglect and abuse are not higher than in the historical context, but I suspect that that is not the case, and children are regularly mistreated in settings much closer to home. In fact, the high level of intervention coming from state departments as they try to deal with the failure of family is only too evident. The overloading of the kinship care model and the necessity for some children to be removed from family care and be housed in motels with departmental officers is a graphic example of the outcome of the failure of family.

As a society, we must have nil tolerance for child neglect and abuse. If anyone knows and they do not act, they are complicit. We must act because 50 years on is just far too late. We know all forms of abuse can cause harm to a child's health, survival, development and dignity. Children deserve our love and care and they need to know that we will never betray their trust. And that is why wall members of the parliament pledge to ensure that all children today and in the future are protected to the best of our ability, and those who are victims of abuse are believed and cared for.

6:02 pm

Photo of Sharon ClaydonSharon Claydon (Newcastle, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

It is an honour to be able to stand in the Australian parliament to make a contribution to the debate that began yesterday when we, really, stood as one in the Australian parliament to deliver a national apology to the victims and survivors of institutional child sexual abuse. It's one of those days that I had many people contact me from my electorate of Newcastle to say that's the kind of parliament that we want to see, a parliament that worked constructively together to deliver a very long-overdue apology. That will be met differently by each person who heard it and people have felt the impact of that abuse in different ways over their life. But there is a universal agreement, I think, that the parliament stood yesterday as one and acted on a very grave wrong from the past. And that was coming off a very long history of this parliament trying to come to terms with what has been a really horrific and appalling part of our national history, of the deep, systemic abuse that has existed in institutions. Yes, there were people who heckled yesterday. There were people who made their own very vocal contributions from the floor in the Great Hall, and indeed, from the galleries but I think both the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition showed great grace in accepting that there were different points of view and that, notwithstanding those points of view, this parliament had to, really, still acknowledge the grave and systemic abuses that have taken place in so many of our institutions over time.

I want to pay tribute, first and foremost, to the survivors and indeed to acknowledge those who didn't survive to see that apology yesterday. There were many, many people in that room who carried a lot of stories of their brothers and sisters and other family members who didn't survive to see that apology yesterday, and I think it's really important that we acknowledge those people who are no longer with us and feel the pain of those families who continue to grieve. I'd also like to acknowledge that, whilst we had the apology here in the national parliament, there were many local events taking place across the country and in my home town of Newcastle. I thank the lord mayor and the Newcastle City Council for hosting a screening in the city hall so that the many, many people in Newcastle who are deeply touched by this chapter of our history were given an opportunity to be with friends, family and those who support them as they witnessed the screening of the apology.

As I said, I pay tribute to both the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition for leading the debate yesterday. I was truly honoured by the presence of Julia Gillard, returning to this House—as she should, given her very primary role in the establishment of the royal commission. I think it is one of the extraordinary hallmarks of her prime ministership. I have a very strong memory of the note she penned to Newcastle Herald journalist Joanne McCarthy in the last hours of her prime ministership, thanking Joanne for never giving up, for being that journalist who was relentless in her pursuit of truth and in exposing the shocking and deep systemic forms of abuse that were happening in Newcastle and the Hunter region in those religious institutions. Jenny Macklin, Nicola Roxon and now Linda Burney will be three other Labor women who will play a very prominent role, I believe, not just in the apology that was delivered yesterday but in what this parliament does going forward. I think Linda Burney will be playing a critical role in helping us shape the way that the redress scheme will work in this nation.

I want to touch on the work of the royal commission. There was some extraordinary testimony given in that royal commission that would shock anybody to their core. There were over 16,000 people who reached out to make contact with the royal commission. I thank each and every one of those commissioners, who to this day provide us with a model of the gold standard royal commission in any community. Their capacity to do the outreach work into communities to ensure that everybody coming forward was well supported in doing so was extraordinary. We had many weeks of testimony in Newcastle, and, to our deep regret, we have volumes in that royal commission dedicated to the abuse that took place in our region. As I said, Joanne McCarthy from the Newcastle Herald and Peter Fox, a former detective from the New South Wales police, were incredibly brave people who were determined, against all odds in the early days of these discussions, to shine a great big light on this part of our national shame and to do so in a way that ensured that those survivors and victims did not ever feel shamed. Their approach was always one that was what I would call very survivor centred. They believed from day one the voices of those survivors, and of course what went on to become so important in the Royal Commission, was the fact that people were able to speak very freely about some of the most horrific aspects of their childhood. But they knew they were being believed. They were being listened to. They were being well supported into giving that evidence, and they had faith that the royal commissioners would come down with strong recommendations, which they did.

That really brings me to the challenge before this parliament today. I was honoured, as was my colleague Steve Irons opposite me. We were very privileged, as were some colleagues in the Senate, Derryn Hinch and Rachel Siewert, one from Victoria and one from WA, I think, to be part of the Prime Minister's reference group in helping to shape something of the apology yesterday. I don't take any credit away from the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition—they were their own words and speeches—but we assisted in a series of 58 face-to-face consultations and lots and lots of work around what it was that survivors wanted to see in that apology. I did want to give an acknowledgement to Cheryl Edwards, who chaired that, and Caroline Caroll, Chrissie Fosters, Craig Hughes-Cashmore, Hetty Johnston, Leonie Sheedy, Richard Weston and the four parliamentarians who I spoke of before. It was a real privilege to be a part of that group, and I am still constantly in awe of the generous spirit with which people came to the consultations and gave openly despite often reliving trauma themselves.

But it does bring us to the very real work of this parliament going forward now, and that is ensuring that this National Redress Scheme supplies the body of real action and long-living response to the royal commission. I think what we need to be very mindful of is ensuring that this is a scheme that is co-designed at every step of the way and that survivors are always front and centre of everything we do from now on.

6:12 pm

Photo of Steve IronsSteve Irons (Swan, Liberal Party, Assistant Minister to the Prime Minister) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to support the debate on the motion moved by the Prime Minister for the national apology to the victims and the survivors of institutional child sex abuse. Before the member for Newcastle leaves the chamber, I'd like to thank her for her input to the Reference Committee and also, I guess, the journey of discovery along the way for her of finding out what the member for Jagajaga and I have been dealing with for a long time. There are some terrible stories, but there are also some wonderful stories, and we see humanity in a different light when we see it not being served well, as it should be, not only in this place but in every place around Australia, particularly in the institutions that treated our nation's children with despicable behaviour and the destruction of their lives. So thank you for being a part of that and thank you for your contribution.

It was in this place 10 years ago that I delivered my maiden speech in the House of Representatives chamber. I said that I wanted to draw attention to the national issue of institutional child sex abuse. As a former ward of the state, I saw it as my responsibility to champion the issues of care leavers and children who had suffered abuse in institutions across the country. So for the last 10 years I've continued to advocate for a redress scheme, which we now have seen has commenced. We would see institutions that inflicted this abuse held accountable for what they did to far too many of the nation's children. I mentioned the member for Jagajaga also. In her speech that she gave to Peter McClellan she said it was a problem of our entire society.

In my maiden speech I also mentioned a little girl named Shellay Ward. She wasn't in an institution, but she starved to death in a home in New South Wales under the care of her own parents. We've heard many stories about institutional child sex abuse over the last 10 years. They're often reflected in private homes around Australia as well. There will be no redress for them; there is no form or, I guess, visiting their experiences for us as well either. After our achievement today, we need to look at child abuse in private homes as well and how children continue to be returned to their abusers. That was in a speech that I made earlier this year.

I would like to thank many people for the experience and for the many contributions made by many people over a long time to get to yesterday. First of all, I'd like to thank both the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition for their heartfelt speeches. I met with some of the survivors and victims yesterday and today who said that they were happy with the way they were delivered. Some of them said that those speeches and the way they were delivered had actually restored their faith in this parliament—and the fact that politicians do have empathy for them. One of them, Peter, from my electorate, who I saw today in my office, came in and said that the words that the Prime Minister used in his speech to describe the horrors that were visited upon children, 'under the shield of faith', was something that hit home to him—that the politicians who were delivering these messages had actually got the issue. I also spoke with Patricia who said that the word 'anger' used by the Prime Minister in his speech was something that really hit home for her.

So the speeches delivered by the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition had differing effects, and the words that were used in those speeches made a different impression upon each one of them, but they were delivered with genuine, heartfelt empathy and they were delivered to achieve not a closing of the experiences these people had—we've heard the word 'healing', but, as we know, these people never heal. It's a lifetime of pain, a lifetime of fighting and a lifetime of horror and terror that they will always remember. But what the speech did yesterday was give them the benefit of the fact that we do believe, as a parliament, the suffering they've experienced and we recall their stories, which were delivered during the royal commission, to make sure that this nation never forgets. It would be very easy for us to stand up in here and promise for it to never happen again, and I notice the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition didn't do that, because wherever there are opportunities for the evil in our society to exist and take place, it will happen.

We must be forever vigilant to make sure that we minimise the dangers to the children of our nation. Both the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition did call for people to be ever vigilant and make sure that, if ever a child comes to us and says that they've been abused, we make sure that we believe them or at least give them the opportunity to have that investigation visited upon those who would deliver that evil and criminal sexual abuse upon them.

I did a speech last year and I spoke about what was mentioned by many survivors and victims, that they were often queried about the harm that was being done to them and the abuse that was being done to them by the people who were actually visiting that abuse upon them. And they weren't able to give evidence sufficiently in the fact that they knew that when they were going to get back to that institution, or that person who was their abuser, they would be abused again.

We saw a case in New Zealand where that had happened, where the stepfather had abused the two daughters and, finally, abused them and then murdered them. That is a case where many times the authorities and the people who were there to protect the children just didn't listen to the stories of the children. So, if there is one thing that can come out of all of this sorrow and all of this pain for these people, it is that we can promise them that we will make the people who look after those institutions, or look after child care, as safe as possible. Unfortunately, we can't make it 100 per cent. As we know, even in the Northern Territory, there are still things happening today and all around Australia probably still. But we need to make sure that we get the pieces in place to make sure that we can try to let these children live a better life and be nurtured and protected and loved as they should be.

There are a few people that I'd like to mention: firstly, all the victims and survivors who turned up yesterday. I knew that there was an air of excitement, but there was also an air of a lot of pain and anger in the Great Hall when we walked in. I'm just trying to give a bit of a picture to the people listening who might not have been there yesterday. I warned both the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition that they were going to get a few shouts at them, and they did, and I thought that they weathered the storm well. This is the way that these victims and survivors live. They have lived through antagonistic, angry and aggressive childhoods, and this is all some of them know. They've never had the education that we've been lucky enough to have. I think that their shouts reminded both the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition of the anger and the pain that they've been through in their times.

I also thank the advocates of the victims and survivors who have been fighting for years and years to see redress finally implemented in this nation on a national basis and to make sure that we sign up as many as we can of the churches, charities and other institutions who so far haven't been part of any of the redress schemes, because they need to pay up. They were paid handsomely by state and federal governments to look after these children, and they didn't, so they should be part of the redress system and should be apologising, and I'm sure many of them have. Some of the institutions and churches have come on board, but some are still not committed enough, and we heard the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition both say, 'You can't get off the hook, you need to be a part of this scheme and you need to be able to support the victims and survivors whom people in your institutions visited abuse upon.' As we heard yesterday, there was a system that fostered and ignored abuse, and the people who survived in that arena were the abusers. They used the system and were allowed to use the system. Stump up, please, churches and charities and other institutions! If you haven't signed up, we need you to sign up for this redress scheme for the benefit of the children of our nation.

There are lots of people whom I've thanked over many years in many speeches on this road to national redress, and I reiterate that it has been a great journey for me. I know that my siblings went through hell when they were in institutions as kids. My sister, Jennifer, died at the age of 12 while in an institution. Luckily enough I found her unmarked grave about 2½ years ago and she now has a headstone. I'm sure there are many cases around Australia like that, and I've heard great stories of people being reunited with their families many years after they were separated as youngsters. To all of the victims and survivors out there, please get on with your lives, get your national redress, and I look forward to seeing you again back in this place or out in the communities around Australia. Australia does love you as you should be loved.

6:22 pm

Photo of Warren SnowdonWarren Snowdon (Lingiari, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for External Territories) Share this | | Hansard source

Before he leaves, I thank the member for Swan for his contribution today and over the decade he has been in parliament, highlighting, as he did in his maiden speech, issues that have been addressed now and for which we apologised yesterday. I say thank you most sincerely—and for your work with the reference group and with your colleagues, particularly the member for Newcastle, who I think has done a sterling job as well—but you in particular, because of your own background, have made a significant impact on this place and you should understand that, so thank you.

Yesterday we were privileged to be part of that historic apology from the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition from the parliament on behalf of the nation. I was here when Kevin Rudd apologised to the stolen generations, and yesterday we saw another significant day in our parliament's history. As others have pointed out, it shows the best in us. Despite the battle that goes on outside and inside the parliament on a daily basis over the political differences that we have, make, construct or connive, we have it in our hearts to talk as one when it comes to issues like this on the care of Australian children. I think it needs to be acknowledged that, whilst it's historic, it's not unprecedented. It is important that the Australian community sees that this parliament is as one in accepting its responsibility to undertake the work initiated by Prime Minister Gillard which yesterday came to its conclusion with this fantastic apology, a moving occasion affecting tens of thousands of Australians. As the member for Swan said, it's now time for those people to move forward and see that they are loved by us all, for us to reflect upon our role in this place and elsewhere in the community around them and for us show our support for them and our love for them.

In the last 12 months, I went to my 50th anniversary of leaving school. Now, you could say—looking at me—'How could that be?' But, nevertheless, it was. It was at a school here in Canberra, a Christian Brothers school, and there were about 40 of us in attendance. We'd been to school together. About 11 of them or thereabouts had started primary school together and another significant proportion had started at another school and joined us in 4th class so we went through school together. At this reunion, we were discussing the issue of abuse of children. One of our number said, 'Look, we must visit the change rooms.' So we said, 'Well, we will,' because the change rooms were where the children were molested. So we walked down through the building to the change rooms, which were no longer used, to the place in which at least one of our number of that day was abused. It was a cathartic experience. As it happens, a couple of the teachers from that period were then prosecuted for their behaviour. But I had no idea about the extent of this abuse at my school that I was at yet here it was in front of us and it was a cathartic experience. So when we saw yesterday this welling of emotion, of love and support, I thought that there would be many more Australians who have never reported their abuse, who will never disclose their unease, who have never disclosed the pain and the suffering that they've endured for many years.

Sadly, of course, as others have said, many of those who were abused are now passed. Many abusers have now passed. The fact is, there are many who still live with the pain and suffering, the hurt, the ignomy of being abused. As I've said in this place previously, there are many, many Australians who have suffered as a result of the perversity and the horrendous victimisation by abusers and suffered the depravity of the abuse perpetrated upon them. As a parent, I can't imagine how that could possibly be yet we know it to be.

I want to make reference to a particular group of people. They are people in the Northern Territory hit by the double whammy of being members of the Stolen Generation in the first place and then being abused in one of the homes they were sent to on behalf of the Commonwealth government, homes such as the Croker Island Mission, the Garden Point Mission, the Kahlin Compound, Retta Dixon Home, Emerald Hill Mission, St Mary's near Alice Springs racecourse, the Bungalow at the Old Telegraph Station at Alice Springs. Thousands, literally, of young people, were taken to these places. Between 1905 and 1969, it's estimated that one in 10 Aboriginal and Torres Strait islander children were stolen. Think about it. Some have received compensation as a result of a court action taken by residents of Retta Dixon Home as a direct result of the royal commission. They were able to take the Commonwealth to court because of a lack of a duty of care. That's not for everyone who suffered because of the lack of a duty of care; a particular group of people at one home were compensated for the abuse they suffered when the Commonwealth was their carer.

It seems to me we have a number of things yet unfinished in this place, one of which is to compensate members of the stolen generation, for being members of the stolen generation—for having been stolen. I'm proud to say that Bill Shorten and the Australian Labor Party are committed to that process. Yesterday I met quite a few members of the stolen generation who were here for the apology—for the emotion, the support. I want to thank them for coming here and allowing us to be part of their lives.

Photo of John McVeighJohn McVeigh (Groom, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I thank the member for Lingiari for his contribution. It being 6.30 pm, the debate is interrupted in accordance with standing order 192(b). Debate is adjourned. The resumption of the debate will be made an order of the day for the next sitting.