House debates

Wednesday, 24 October 2018


National Apology to Victims and Survivors of Institutional Child Sexual Abuse

11:43 am

Photo of Anne AlyAnne Aly (Cowan, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

It's a real honour to stand up and speak about this in this House because, like many of the other members, I had the opportunity to meet some of the survivors who were here for the national apology on Monday. I met one of them in my office and I asked him a very, very simple question, and that question was: was the apology meaningful to you? We had a very emotional conversation and he assured me that, yes, absolutely, it was meaningful. It was meaningful to be heard, it was meaningful to finally be acknowledged and it was meaningful to be finally told that what happened to them mattered.

There was one thing that the opposition leader said in his speech that really raised a lot of emotion in me personally. That's because, in his speech in the House on that day, he paid heed to those who suffered sexual abuse as children who were not in institutions, and extended that apology to children who have suffered and survived sexual abuse in all situations.

It brought back some memories, some painful memories, I must say, for me. I grew up in the outer suburbs of Sydney. We lived in a very multicultural street, but across the road from me lived this Australian family. I would look at this Australian family and I would wish that my family was much more like them, because they did these Aussie things. They went to restaurants and movies and my family didn't, because my dad always said, 'Why should I go to a restaurant when your mum can cook me a meal at home?' I really wanted to be like that family, and I formed a friendship with the young girl across the road from me who was my age. I have many, many fond memories of growing up in the suburbs of Sydney with my dearest and my closest childhood friend. As we grew older in our late teens, that family moved away and I lost touch with my childhood friend, who I'd spent so many beautiful hours with, roaming around the bush around the Georges River.

A couple of years ago I got an email from her brother, who asked me if I was the same Anne Aly who grew up in the suburbs of Sydney. He asked me how I was doing and how my family was doing. I was very excited to receive this email, because it meant that I could possibly reconnect with my childhood friend. So I wrote back to him, and I said 'Wow, it's so fantastic to hear from you. How are you? How's your family? How's your sister?' He wrote back not long after and he said, 'I'm really sorry to tell you this, Anne, because I don't know if I should, but my dad's in jail and my sister was sexually abused by him from the age of six.' He ended his email by saying, 'I'm constantly shocked by how many people keep saying my father was such a nice man, because he wasn't a nice man at all.' I cried for days after that, and I felt this immense sense of guilt about how could I not have known—how could I not have known that my closest friend, the dearest person to me, my second sister, was being so terribly and horribly abused by her father all those years that we were growing up? Even though I know I was only a child too at that time, I just couldn't shake this feeling of guilt that I should have known and I should have been able to do something, and this feeling of helplessness that I couldn't have done anything for her.

Not long after that, she came to visit me in Perth and she spent a weekend with me. It was great to reconnect with my childhood friend. Many of the memories that I had of her came rushing back: the shy way that she giggled behind her hand whenever I said something a little bit controversial, her beautiful little elfin features. She hadn't changed much at all, and she was still that young girl that I remember growing up with. She spent a weekend as a house guest in our house, and we had long conversations about our childhoods. There was one thing that she wanted to know. The one thing she wanted to know from me was whether or not her father had also abused me. He hadn't, and when I told her that, it seemed to give her some kind of relief. It seemed to give her some kind of comfort. I know that it was the smallest thing that I could do, the very least thing that I could do, to at least provide her with some kind of comfort and some kind of relief.

So I wanted today to stand up here, acknowledge her and let her know that I think about her every day, that I hope that the national apology on Monday was also meaningful for her as it was for the thousands of other victims and survivors of child sexual abuse, both institutional and non-institutional and that I hope that, as a small gesture that it is, it goes some way to providing all people who have suffered some comfort that we're listening, that we care for you, that we acknowledge you and that you matter.

11:50 am

Photo of Luke GoslingLuke Gosling (Solomon, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

On behalf of my constituents in Darwin and Palmerston I rise to voice their support of the national apology to all those who suffered as a result of institutional child sex abuse. The people I represent in Darwin and Palmerston were not shielded from the atrocities committed. One of the case studies in the commissioner's report was that of the infamous Retta Dixon Home in Darwin. The Retta Dixon Home was established by the Aborigines Inland Mission at the Bagot Aboriginal Reserve in 1946 as a home for 'half-caste children and mothers and a hostel for young half-caste women'. The Aborigines Inland Mission was a non-governmental and interdenominational faith ministry established in 1905. It still operates today but has changed its name to the Australian Indigenous Ministries, or AIM. Some time in December 1947, the home was granted a licence by the Australian government to be conducted as an institution for 'the maintenance, custody and care of aboriginal and half-caste children'. Children stayed at the Retta Dixon home until they were aged 18. The home closed in 1980.

From 1946-1978, various laws permitted the Australian government to take Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children into institutional care. Many of the children who lived at the home now identify themselves as members of the stolen generations. The Australian government was the guardian of many children at the Retta Dixon Home. The Australian government also had a general responsibility to all children in the home, including for their care, welfare, education and advancement, until the time of self-government in 1978. The Australian government was actively involved in activities at the Retta Dixon Home. The home generally housed between 70 and 100 children at any one time. Children were housed in dormitory-style accommodation and most children stayed at the home until they were 18 years of age. They attended local schools.

Ten former residents of the Retta Dixon home gave evidence or provided statements to the royal commission about their experiences of sexual and physical abuse when they were children living at the home. Some of the survivors were here with us this week in parliament. The commission heard of the impacts of the abuse on their lives, including serious effects on their mental health, employment and relationships. They heard of their pain and suffering over a long period and the personal costs associated with dealing with the long-lasting impacts. Most former residents of the home who gave evidence said that they did not report the abuse at the time because they did not understand it to be wrong and later felt too ashamed and frightened to report the abuse. Other witnesses said there was nobody they could report the abuse to.

Children were forcibly taken from their parents and promised a better future but instead were subject to repeated abuse over the course of their childhood, in what the member for Lingiari has referred to as the 'cruellest double-whammy'. They were taken from their actual families and then abused by state-sponsored carers.

While Retta Dixon had some of the most horrific cases in my electorate, the abuse suffered by the forgotten Australians and former child migrants should not be overlooked nor should the tragedy suffered by the many children who were sent to institutions and foster homes to be looked after and cared for and who, instead, were abused physically, humiliated cruelly, violated sexually. They were left hungry and alone with nowhere to hide and with nobody, absolutely no-one, to whom they could turn. There were cases of children shipped to Australia as child migrants, robbed of their families, robbed of their homeland, regarded not as innocent children but instead as a source of child labour. It's a dark chapter of our history and we'll never be able to put this period behind us, nor should we. I'd like to acknowledge the work done by former prime ministers Turnbull, Abbott, Rudd and, of course, the leadership of Julia Gillard in getting us to where we are today and, as mentioned by the Leader of the Opposition, we do not forget the contributions of the member for Jagajaga, Jenny Macklin.

To the survivors in the Top End and anywhere in the Territory, my office is available to you if you'd like to find out more about the redress scheme or the support services available. In my electorate, Relationships Australia and Danila Dilba have received funding from the Department of Social Services as local service providers in Darwin and Palmerston. The NT Stolen Generation Aboriginal Corporation has been an outstanding advocate for survivors and their families.

To all victims, survivors, families and support providers, what you have suffered and have gone through was horrible, and it continues to shock Australians to this day. I know that many people out there will still be asking 'How was this evil permitted to go on for so long?' The healing may take a lifetime, but I hope that the belated actions of this parliament, given voice by the Prime Minister and our Labor leader, Bill Shorten, will go some way to acknowledging the pain and loss. To those victims of these terrible crimes, I add my assurance that you are believed and please take some heart in the fact that some very good recommendations have come out of the royal commission so that we can make our way forward.

We must do all that is possible to ensure that what you have suffered never happens again. But it is happening though. Somewhere right now in this country a child is hurting so let us use this week's national apology to urge action. If you suspect a child is hurting, act. If you are a perpetrator, get help now, confess now, apologise now. Do not hurt our young people or anyone. There have been too many young lives irreparably scarred, no more. Let us not see this national apology as a mission accomplished. Let us see it as a call to listen and let us see this national apology as a call to act.

11:59 am

Photo of Andrew GilesAndrew Giles (Scullin, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Schools) Share this | | Hansard source

This is an important debate on this motion, and I'm very pleased to support it. It's a debate about recognition. It's about justice, it's about responsibility, it's about healing and it's also about trust, accountability and power. I join the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition in saying sorry. It's occasions like this when we can't help but be mindful that we are here as representatives, and I know on this occasion that I am saying sorry on behalf of all constituents in the Scullin electorate.

I also join the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition in accepting that saying sorry is far from enough. Much more needs to be done by all of us with the power to take action. For the victims and the survivors of such awful abuse—of sexual abuse—the royal commission and this debate in this parliament are important staging posts, not an end. They can't be an end for the reasons the member for Solomon so effectively set out just a few moments ago. I don't believe, in making a brief contribution to this debate, that it's for me to seek to tell the stories that so many brave survivors were able to tell, and were supported to tell, through the process of the royal commission. But I want to acknowledge their courage and my obligation, the obligation I share with all of us here, to do justice to their courage and to do more than simply offer an apology in respect of what was done to vulnerable people in the care of institutions—ultimately, in the care of all Australians.

Former Prime Minister Gillard deserves plaudits for initiating the royal commission that leads us to this debate, and I note that she's in this building today—I believe for the first time since she last left it before the 2013 election. I note that she acknowledged that this was one of the harder decisions that she has made, and I think it will be a very significant part of her legacy as a politician. I acknowledge her and also the member for Jagajaga for their roles, as well as the current Prime Minister and his two immediate predecessors, the member for Warringah and Malcolm Turnbull, and, of course, former Prime Minister Rudd. Their bipartisan leadership through this process and through this motion is something that deserves acknowledgement. It shows this parliament operating at its best with a shared purpose, assuming a shared responsibility to people who we have wronged. And make no mistake: we have wronged them.

I said it's not for me to seek to re-tell the stories that are set out in the royal commission, but I just want to note that, as the Leader of the Opposition said in what I thought was a tremendously moving contribution in the House, there are 17 volumes of that royal commission report. That is a pretty significant marker of the scale of the horror, the indignity, the hurt and the damage inflicted on some of the most vulnerable people. I think it's that weight that we all need to take our share in carrying as we seek to do more than say sorry, which is to do justice.

As well as acknowledging politicians and acknowledging, in the broad, the courage of survivors, I want to mention Leonie Sheedy, who would be known to many of us in this place, and the extraordinary work that she has done. My first meeting with her, more than a decade ago when I was in a very different capacity, is something I will never forget. She reminded me of it on Monday. The impression she made, the force with which she engaged with me, showed her qualities as a person and her passion as an advocate, not so much for herself, but, in particular, for her brother Anthony, who I'm thinking of now. I also want to pay tribute to her extraordinary drive in seeking justice from those of us who hold authority and wield power, but also in supporting those who needed her support to tell their stories. I know that she has given so much support to so many. Leonie, I acknowledge you in this place.

I want to end by going back to where I started, which was about what this motion and our wider response to the findings of the royal commission really means. Deputy Speaker Vamvakinou, I know that you'll agree with me that the mark of a good society is how it treats its most vulnerable members. The royal commission represents the most shocking indictment of how we treated the most vulnerable members of our society. It showed that we failed. We know through the work of the Royal Commission and through the work of advocates and victims and survivors that we continue to fail, that lives remain broken and that there are many who are not survivors whom we need to think of as well. It goes back again to questions of authority. We've seen so many people's faith in any institution absolutely shattered. That was acknowledged in the debate in this parliament on Monday as older survivors contemplate their latter years, again, in an institutional setting, which is tremendously unimaginably confronting.

As we seek to do more than simply offer our apologies in this place and put real meaning into our efforts to do justice and to make reparation, let's also think about how authority operates, think about how power operates and make sure that we discharge our obligations to all of those who have suffered and to redouble our efforts to see that nothing like this happens again.

12:06 pm

Photo of Graham PerrettGraham Perrett (Moreton, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to speak on indulgence to the national apology to victims and survivors of institutional child sexual abuse. There are some days in this parliament that stand out more than most. My first day in parliament was the day Prime Minister Kevin Rudd gave the apology to the stolen generation. That was my first ever day sitting in this House. In fact, before that apology was given in the House of Representatives, there was the first ever welcome to country, right underneath the flag in the middle of the building. Even though Indigenous Australians had obviously been here for 50,000-60,000 years, my first day back in 2008 was when Matilda House gave the first welcome to country. That took place right in the middle of the building, underneath the flag pole.

This building is the people's house. I'm sure many wouldn't understand the architecture of it. The flag is right in the middle of it and then there are two crosses, effectively. One goes from the front of the War Memorial down through the middle of this building, under the great verandah, through the marble foyer and then through the Great Hall—the hall that belongs to the people. If you keep going through the doors of the Great Hall, you come to the flag and the fountain, which are right in the middle of the building, and then to the cabinet room and the Prime Minister's office. So, one line of that cross, which meets under the flag, is from the people through to the executive. That is the north-south line. The east-west line basically links the green carpeted House of Representatives, the people's representatives for the 150 electorates, through to the states representatives on the red carpet. That's the east-west line.

The reason I mention it is that on Monday, 22 October this year, the victims, survivors and supporters of those who suffered institutional child sexual abuse gathered in the Great Hall. They could have filled many more great halls. Members of parliament, the MPs, and many of the senators gathered in the House of Representatives and heard the apology to the victims and survivors of institutional child sexual abuse that was given by the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition. After that, some went to the Great Hall and some went out to the front of the building. The reason I mention people gathering in the Great Hall and the House of Representatives is its incredible symbolism. I have just come from an unveiling of the portrait of former Prime Minister Julia Gillard, who actually kicked off the royal commission that did so much to deliver this apology.

Monday was a day for acknowledging the pain, acknowledging the evil failings of many in our society and acknowledging that the apology is part of the journey but obviously not the final destination. Sadly, too many people never got far enough to hear the apology. There is a long road ahead for the survivors. Monday might have been a better day for some, but some of these days aren't easy. Most of us can't even imagine the pain that has been endured and is still felt each and every day, which people carry around in their head.

When I looked around the Great Hall yesterday during the apology, my heart broke to think of all those stolen childhoods, too many stolen dreams, too many shattered lives. There are so many stories. Some of those stories have been revealed. I've actually been hearing these stories basically since about 1992. Apart from the people I know in my own life—I was a school teacher and a lawyer. I know that two or three people that I taught with have since been convicted of being paedophiles, and I can think of two children that I taught whose parents had been convicted of being paedophiles as well. But there were so many other people that I taught or taught alongside, people I lived in the same street as—who knows. I first met my wife in 1992, who has worked in child protection, first as a frontline child protection worker and now as a lawyer working in that area, and I have heard horrible stories over that time. Obviously she would always be discreet and would never give names away or anything like that, but sometimes she had to vent just to cope with what she would see in her job. She's a pretty tough person, but she's still human.

I'm going to tell one story, because it's the one that has always jumped out at me. Many times she wouldn't tell me these stories; she'd go to the gym and work it out and then come home to our family and leave the horrors of the world at work. Many people can't do that job long-term, but she's been doing it for 30 years. You need to have coping mechanisms. But I remember one story she told of a young guy. Every sports day, one brother would select a child, ostensibly for special education or support or something like that, but it was really to be molested and assaulted. The kids knew, so every sports day, when the call would come out for so-and-so to go to see Brother Whoever-it-was, the kids were terrified. And the brother would pick on the most vulnerable children, because that's what paedophiles tend to do; they find the most vulnerable child, the child from a broken home and without a support network. So every sports day this would happen, and on this day the kid who was selected was so horrified of what was going to happen that he decided to put his foot in the lawnmower rather than experience that horror. That's just one story, and I don't know the details; I've only heard my wife telling me that story. It's not like you'd have to run the whole case the way she would or, worse, live with the horror that so many of those victims had to endure.

On Monday, as a nation, we were able to say sorry. It will not make up for such horrors, obviously—the physical scars, the mental scars, the taking of lives, the people who couldn't make it to the apology because they're in prison, because their childhoods were derailed. As a nation, we said sorry that we did not protect our children. We're sorry that we did not believe those children when they first spoke out. We're sorry that, even when the wrongs were acknowledged, we did not do enough to help them fight for justice. But saying sorry shouldn't be the end of the journey for the survivors or for those in this building. It is our responsibility to make sure that every survivor gets the justice they deserve. Our work is not yet done. The final report of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse made 409 recommendations. Until we have delivered in full on all of those recommendations our work is not yet done. Until we can protect the unseen children who are still suffering abuse our work is not yet done. We cannot and should not rest until we can protect all of our children.

I acknowledge the work of former Prime Minister Gillard. Her courage and dogged determination finally brought this human tragedy into the public discourse where perpetrators had nowhere to hide. I also particularly acknowledge former Attorney-General Nicola Roxon and the current member for Jagajaga. I congratulate them both on their legacy, particularly Jenny Macklin, the member for Jagajaga, who did so much work to make sure it happened.

It is up to those of us who now walk the halls of parliament to keep up the fight, to maintain the courage and conviction, and to make right the wrongs of the past. An apology is just words unless it is accompanied by conviction to change the future. Monday, just like my first day in this building, will be one that lives with me forever. I hope that it will be one that gives some comfort to victims and survivors.

12:16 pm

Photo of Ross HartRoss Hart (Bass, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I thank the member for Moreton for his contribution, which really emphasises the fact that the trauma associated with these most horrible crimes, the abuses, extends throughout our communities. Those ripples that have been occasioned by the evil do not stop at one door; they flow right through our communities. As my friend indicated earlier, there are sometimes special days of national timeless significance here in Parliament House. Monday was particularly extraordinary as we delivered a national apology to victims and survivors of child sexual abuse. I'm proud to have the opportunity to echo the words of the Leader of the Opposition—that the apology was offered with humility, with honesty and with hope for healing now. I'm proud to be able to add my voice to the chorus of voices that say sorry and to acknowledge the hurt, the betrayal, the abuse of power and the trauma that many are still dealing with today, including support workers.

I and my staff have had to sit face to face with constituents and hear firsthand of the abuse and trauma that they were subjected to as children. That is a small slice of the shameful part of Australia's shared history as a nation. I'm confident my colleagues—on both sides of the House, as this is a matter beyond politics—have had similar experiences. I have been transfixed by their stories, as I was transfixed this morning, and devastated by what they had to endure. I listened to those stories. Hearing the personal stories from survivors is made even more difficult knowing that there are likely some details left out—details too painful to speak or even remember, details that were held deeply within a vast cohort of bruised and injured children who are now adults.

I cannot imagine the trauma which cannot be vocalised for fear of further trauma and the shame that keeps a person silent and trapped in their memories, however traumatic the original offence, the subsequent treatment or lack of attention to their plight or calls for help. I take this opportunity to celebrate the bravery and strength of those who've shared their stories for the benefit of the next generation of Australian children. The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse received 26,000 letters, 40,000 phone calls and held over 8,000 private sessions. Everyone who was willing to share their experiences of abuse as a child in an institutional setting is to be commended and celebrated. That took real courage—courage that needs to be recognised. And for those who could not face the demons visited upon them in their childhood, we must say that we understand and we support them. We understand how this trauma can be so significant that it cannot be disclosed. We must honour all victims and survivors of child sexual abuse by delivering in full on the promise of the royal commission and its recommendations.

We have a responsibility to ensure that the words we heard in this place on Monday, and the words uttered since then, translate into action. The Leader of the Opposition put it well when he said:

We are never going to get a better set of opinions than this royal commission. We are never going to be presented with a more comprehensive set of solutions than this royal commission.

I agree. This is not the time for either governments or institutions to haggle over dollars or to use the legal system to obfuscate and to delay the cause of justice. The words of the apology may not count for anything by themselves to the extent that these words are not matched by action, I respect that sentiment. To the people who have been denied justice for so long, a delayed apology without redress, without action, can seem inadequate. That is why our actions in the implementation of the royal commission, the actions of those who have been placed fairly and squarely in the eye of the royal commission for creating and/or maintaining a culture that did not protect vulnerable children, should be scrutinised so that governments and institutions are held to account. There must be a commitment to action, and a commitment that is renewed and tested regularly. Time will tell as to whether we will be found wanting or not. I commend this motion to the House.

12:22 pm

Photo of Andrew LeighAndrew Leigh (Fenner, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Treasurer) Share this | | Hansard source

National apologies are a point for a country to look at its past through the harsh eye of the present, and to own up to the wrongdoings of current or past generations. We think of the moment when Britain apologised for the treatment of protesters on Bloody Sunday, when the United States apologised for its internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II, when the Papacy apologised for the persecution of Galileo, when Japan apologised for its treatment of comfort women and, of course, when Australia apologised for the treatment of the stolen generations.

These are not a moment in which the hurt goes away and in which all the harm is suddenly absolved by dint of an apology, but they are crucial moments for a nation to own up to its past and to say, 'We did the wrong thing and we will endeavour to do better in the future.' That's what this House is doing with this apology today to the victims of childhood sexual abuse by institutions.

Shortly before the apology, I met with Hannah Coleman-Jennings. She was 2½ when she was sexually abused in a day care centre in Sydney in 1996. She still experiences flashbacks, which she describes as PTSD. She has attempted to take her own life on multiple occasions and uses medication to get through the day—indeed, to get through the traumatic experience that was the apology. For her, sitting in the gallery was a difficult moment, even with the support of her husband, Connor Coleman-Jennings. As she told TheCanberra Times:

I am happy we are now talking about this. Evil happens in the darkness when we turn our backs. Hopefully by talking about this, by raising awareness and really focusing on the abuse of children we can stop it happening in the future …

Hannah thinks she was probably the youngest person in the gallery when the apology took place. She said that was particularly hard:

When people think of child sexual abuse, they think of something that's happened in a 1970s boarding school. It's hard for people to wrap their minds around the fact that this is still happening today. This happens. It happened. Society failed us by letting this happen and it should never happen again.

I acknowledge Hannah's strength and that of Connor and her mother, Nikki Coleman, who was there when I met with them on Monday.

Another Canberran, Damian De Marco, was made the 2015 ACT Local Hero after he spent four decades fighting to prevent other children from sharing his experience of abuse. He was sexually assaulted by a Marist Brother in the 1980s and battled for the perpetrator to be removed from the education system and brought to justice. He rejected anonymity, he risked his own reputation and in 2014 he was one of those who, like Hannah, gave evidence to the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.

One of the most awful stories which I've read is that of Wilma Robb, transferred from Parramatta Girls Training School to the Hay Institution for Girls as a 15-year-old. She was told at the time by an officer:

Welcome to Hay. We will either make you or break you. Your choice.

She said that girls as young as 13 were forced to perform hard physical labour. They had to look at the ground. They were forbidden from speaking to each other. Everything from toilet paper to food was strictly rationed. The girls were forced to march everywhere and were punished if they didn't sleep in the correct position: on their right side with their hands visible. She spoke of how she was sexually assaulted and the impact that that had on her. Now in her late 60s she is continuing as a campaigner for people who endured abuse in state-run institutions.

There were those who spoke out against the royal commission when it was announced and said that then Prime Minister Julia Gillard was simply playing politics. With the bipartisan apology I hope they have had an opportunity to reflect, now the evidence has come forward, on the statements they made at the outset of this inquiry. Labor welcome the national apology but believe we will be judged in this place not only by our words but also by our actions. There's no excuse for any state government, church, institution or non-government organisation to not join the national redress scheme. We believe the recommendations of the royal commission should be implemented in full. The former shadow minister for social services, Jenny Macklin, has said:

We strongly encourage the Turnbull Government to increase the maximum compensation amount to survivors to $200,000, as was recommended by the Royal Commission.

We believe that all survivors should be eligible for redress, including those who have sustained criminal convictions. We know that the cycle into which many of the victims of abuse were thrown did on occasion result in criminal convictions.

There are more than 60,000 survivors of institutional sex abuse, and in these short few minutes I have been speaking here I have covered only three tales. It is a tiny fraction of the harm that has been done, but we as a parliament recognise that harm, we apologise as a parliament on behalf of the nation to those who suffered abuse and we vow to do better in the future.

12:28 pm

Photo of Pat ConroyPat Conroy (Shortland, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Infrastructure) Share this | | Hansard source

Monday was a significant day in the history of Australia, with the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition delivering the national apology to victims of institutional child sexual abuse. It was a very moving day in the national parliament and I think it demonstrated parliament at its finest. Unfortunately the region I represent has been terribly blighted by this abuse. I take this opportunity to acknowledge the work of the Newcastle Herald and Walkley Award winning journalist Joanne McCarthy in their Shine the Light campaign. This campaign was fundamentally instrumental in the Gillard Labor government establishing the royal commission. Indeed, in one of her last acts as Prime Minister, Ms Gillard wrote to Joanne. It's a beautiful letter, some of which I want to share with the House today.

Dear Joanne

I am sending you this letter in the very final moments of my last evening as Prime Minister. I do so with enormous pride.

Joanne, you are a truly remarkable person.

Thanks in very large measure to your persistence and courage, the NSW Special Commission of Inquiry and the federal Royal Commission will bring truth and healing to the victims of horrendous abuse and betrayal.

Please know that in your remarkable struggle to tell the story about this shameful chapter in our nation's history, you are not alone. Thousands of Australians share your passion for justice – I'm one of them.

I, too, pay tribute to Joanne McCarthy and the Newcastle Herald for the campaign that was critical to the royal commission.

At the time the commission was established, I was working for Minister Greg Combet, who was my predecessor in the seat of Charlton. He brought to the attention of the then Prime Minister and the cabinet the appalling abuses in the Hunter region and advocated very forcefully for the need for a royal commission. So I want also to acknowledge and pay tribute to the role Greg Combet and Julia Gillard had in establishing the commission. History will acknowledge this as one of the most significant achievements of her government.

One of the tragic stories covered by the NewcastleHerald in the lead-up to the royal commission was that of the abuse of John Pirona, who tragically took his own life. I refer to John partly because he was one of the original catalyst stories for the Shine the Light campaign but also because I know his father-in-law, Bert Moonen. Bert is a member of my own Labor Party branch and, in respecting his family's privacy, I want to acknowledge their contribution to the establishment of the commission. Greg Combet was particularly aware of the impact of abuse in the Hunter because of people like Bert, who had shared his family's story with him, and this story was conveyed to Ms Gillard and her cabinet.

Another important tribute to make is to Peter Fox, a detective chief inspector in the New South Wales police force. In a powerful letter to the Newcastle Herald, Mr Fox wrote:

Often the church knows but does nothing other than protect the paedophile and its own reputation.

…   …   …

I can testify from my own experience that the church covers up, silences victims, hinders police investigations, alerts offenders, destroys evidence and moves priests to protect the good name of the church.

The impact of Peter's powerful letter cannot be overstated. Just a few days after its publication in the Newcastle Herald, Prime Minister Gillard announced the royal commission. Because of the bravery and determination of people such as Peter, the royal commission became a reality.

The royal commission spent many weeks in Newcastle and heard from victims of abuse, particularly from the Anglican and Catholic dioceses. Many of my constituents attended St Pius X High School at Adamstown. The commission and the criminal trials over the past decade revealed that what should have been a sanctuary of security and stability for young adults was, for many, a cesspit of depravity and criminality. Former Archbishop Philip Wilson, who spent many decades in the Hunter, including as a teacher at St Pius, is the most senior Catholic cleric in the world to be convicted of the crime of concealing child sexual abuse. Like so many, I was very disappointed at the relatively minimal sentence Wilson received. However, he has been found guilty beyond any reasonable doubt of his crime and exposed locally, nationally and internationally as a criminal and, quite frankly, the scum of the earth for the heinous crime of covering up the abuse of innocent children. This is a moment of healing, but people like Philip Wilson should rot in hell for their crimes.

Having spoken about the role of the Hunter region in establishing the royal commission, I want to turn to some of the most damning findings of the commission regarding the response of the institutions to abuse, which is a fundamental aspect of this apology. The commission examined the sexual abuse of children in educational, recreational, sporting, cultural and religious institutions. This, of course, is a horrific truth to face as a nation. The commission stated:

The sexual abuse of a child is a terrible crime. It is the greatest of personal violations. It is perpetrated against the most vulnerable in our community. It is a fundamental breach of the trust that children are entitled to place in adults.

Regarding religious institutions, based on the information before the commission, the greatest number of alleged perpetrators and abused children were in Catholic institutions—institutions charged with the education, development and care of children. The findings of the commission in relation to the institutional failings of religious organisations are damning. Alleged perpetrators often continued to have access to children, even when religious leaders knew they posed a danger. Alleged perpetrators were often transferred to other locations but were rarely reported to police. The culture of some religious institutions prioritised alleged perpetrators and institutional reputations over the safety of children. The commission concluded that it is almost incomprehensible that religious leaders failed to recognise that the sexual abuse of a child is a crime, not a mere moral failure capable of correction by contrition or penance.

I will go further than the commission. How could any person who purports to be a religious leader, one whose primary task is the pastoral care of men, women and children, fail to recognise that the rape of a child is not merely some form of moral failing but the most reprehensible and disgusting of crimes imaginable? And then, being aware of these horrible crimes, the priority of these so-called leaders was not the welfare of children but the protection of the abuser and the status and reputation of the church. I find it so disturbing to speak these words, but what is beyond comprehension and most disturbing of all is the fact that institutions, being aware of abuse, then protected and moved on the abuser, enabling the abuse to continue. This is the most appalling and horrific of responses. There is nothing equivocal or ambiguous about this. Put simply: what happened should never have happened.

I want to end my contribution by personally paying tribute to the victims of child sexual abuse; to their families, friends and supporters; and also to those brave people who blew the whistle on the abuse, often against the most mighty and powerful organisations. It's a tragedy that, because of this abuse suffered, so many are not around to witness the apology.

This is an important week in confronting a terrible issue. The apology alone, although significant, is not enough. We as a parliament must commit to providing care, support and compensation to the victims of abuse and their families, and all those institutions responsible for the abuse must commit to the Redress Scheme. There can be no prevaricating or delaying on this. Survivors who have been traumatised deserve nothing less.

I end this speech by noting the fact that I have two young children. As with any parent, they are the most precious things in the world to me. My kids are currently in early education and my daughter goes to school next year. It's every parent's worst nightmare that any harm could come to their child at a school or any other place where trust is placed in others for their care. I end by echoing the words of Ms Gillard in hoping that the apology is a moment when we all commit to doing everything possible to prevent this dreadful systematic abuse of children's trust ever happening again. I repeat the message from the Prime Minister and the Opposition Leader: I am truly sorry for the abuse. I am truly sorry for the abuse. I'm truly sorry that the institutions and the governments did not believe the victims of the abuse and I'm truly sorry that those institutions covered up that abuse.

12:37 pm

Photo of Rebekha SharkieRebekha Sharkie (Mayo, Centre Alliance) Share this | | Hansard source

I take this opportunity to place on the record Centre Alliance's endorsement of the national apology to the victims of institutional child sexual abuse. These crimes were committed with impunity in our orphanages, centres of so-called wayward boys and girls, group homes, charities, schools, churches, youth groups, foster homes and, sadly, also family homes. The Prime Minister is correct; there is nothing we can do to right the wrongs inflicted on our children. All we can do is publicly acknowledge the wrongs and then demonstrate that we have learned from this shameful history. Public acknowledgement, I believe, is important too, because for too long our abused children were silenced as we turned a blind eye to their pain and their suffering. No part of our nation remains unscathed by this shame.

There are many who live in my electorate who bear the scars of abuse suffered within many different groups and institutions, and my heart goes out to you. On behalf of our community I express my sincerest apology. However, it would be remiss of me not to mention one particular institution in my electorate: Eden Park boys' home at Wistow in the Adelaide Hills. This property began life as a grand country home of a wealthy family. It became a probationary school for boys and then a boys' home run by the Salvation Army under state government legislative control for eight decades. It had a chequered history in terms of the quality of care and the experiences reported.

It is clear from the evidence of the royal commission that institutional care is always harmful to our children but it is fair to say there were certain periods in Eden Park where the treatment of children was cruel beyond belief. Even a Supreme Court justice questioned how such a horrific place could operate for such an extended period, virtually under the noses of our community. There are probably many reasons, but no excuses. The least we can do for the children who suffered there is to give them the courtesy of acknowledging the crimes committed against them and acknowledge that they did happen. Some of the cases recorded by the royal commission are hard to read. Little boys were identified by number, not name. Boys were thrown into a six foot by four foot windowless lock-up for days of solitary confinement. Boys were raped, beaten, abused by their carers and by older boys.

In later years, the boys would go to the local high school for their education. One Eden Park resident who was there told of how he got into trouble for not getting changed into his sports uniform because he tried to hide the bruises from his latest beating. A teacher, learning the truth, tried to intervene but, when it was reported that he had seen the authorities, the student was punished with a beating that was so bad he couldn't return to school for some time. As a mother of boys, I feel sick to my stomach. I'm utterly bewildered by these cases. I am so sorry for your pain.

As the elected member for the area where this occurred, I offer a public apology for this abuse that was permitted to happen and for actions not taken that should have been taken and for your voices not heard. You were under the care of the state and our state failed you; our nation failed you. There is nothing we can do to right the wrongs inflicted but what I can do, to the best of my ability, as a member of parliament is ensure the royal commission recommendations that involve federal government action or involvement are followed through. I pledge to do all I can to make sure the National Redress Scheme helps and not hinders the survivors of those who suffered institutional child abuse. We cannot inflict more trauma on you. You have suffered so much.

12:42 pm

Photo of Joanne RyanJoanne Ryan (Lalor, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

It was a privilege and an honour to be in the House for Monday's National Apology to the Survivors of Institutional Sexual Abuse. In the chamber on Monday, as a parliament, we looked to moving forward, to redress. We looked to say sorry to the victims over so many decades of what can only be described as unbelievable crimes.

I recently attended a school reunion and caught up with many old schoolmates. I was educated in local Catholic schools in the electorate of Lalor. It was a celebratory event, as you can imagine. I caught up with Marie Cogan, whose life I shared through our secondary school journey and as housemates while I studied teaching and she studied nursing. I had not seen Marie in 25 years. A short, tearful conversation that night led to a long Sunday where Marie told me her truth. It was harrowing to hear, unimaginable to have lived. It was about an orphanage in Ballarat and about priests in Laverton in the electorate of Lalor. It was about her harrowing engagement over many years now with Towards Healing, the Catholic Church's first process that predated the royal commission. It was about giving testimony to Task Force SANO, the Victorian police sex crimes squad which was established as a special team of detectives to work in this space. It was about the trials and tribulations of making submissions to the royal commission.

I spoke to her again on Monday after the apology and after the unveiling by former Prime Minister Gillard of the CLAN painting. She was pleased that I had called. She had wanted to be here but couldn't get herself on the aeroplane to do so. She told me that she would never forget Bill Shorten's words that it is our moral duty to ensure that child abuse remains on the political agenda. For her, that is what is most important about this apology. She wants to know that every victim will be listened to and that every victim will have access to the redress that they need, so that they can move on with their lives.

She also told me that former Prime Minister Julia Gillard, the former member for Lalor, had changed her life by naming her shame. She recently sent me a note quoting the American activist Maya Angelou, who said:

There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.

Listening to Marie's story and knowing that I shared a school journey with this woman, that I sat in classrooms with this woman, and that she had borne these incredible acts upon her body and upon her mind, gave me extraordinary pause for thought. And that story has been replicated around the country for so, so many. We're estimating that we are saying sorry to 60,000 people. That's 60,000 people, 60,000 families, who've been broken by privilege. Let's face it: the perpetrators were in privileged positions and their privilege caused so much pain to so many.

Marie is a hero, and she typifies the courage and resilience of so many who joined us on Monday and so many around the country. Marie returned to university to study social work when she first started engaging with her truth and engaging to tell her truth. She has now worked for 15 years for the Department of Human Services in Victoria in the Latrobe Valley, making an extraordinary contribution assisting other families with traumatised children.

I was struck on Monday by the impact the trauma has had on peoples' lives, and I'm sure every member here was. For Marie and for all those who found a way to speak their truth and to name the shame, and to those who have yet to find their way or who may never find their way, our love and our thoughts in this place hopefully go some way to helping you. The royal commission was about exposing the crimes, about believing the victims, about stopping the harm. Although I acknowledge that these are complex legal issues, I echo Bill Shorten's call on Monday: stop hiding behind the lawyers; face up and pay up. To quote the Leader of the Opposition, this cannot be done 'on the cheap'. So many lives have been damaged.

I want to finish today's contribution, as Marie has asked me to, in a tribute to Julia Gillard, who, half an hour ago, spoke of the sleepless nights she had making the decision to call the royal commission. I want to thank her for laying awake and thinking so critically about these people's lives, for listening to the stories, for taking the national action that needed to be taken. I want to thank both the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition for their words in the chamber on Monday.

Ms Gillard, when she made the announcement, said she couldn't promise that there would be easy days ahead. Thank you for making the time, for taking the days, months and years out of your lives to make the rest of Australia listen. Like everyone in this place, I will commit to making sure that the redress occurs in a timely way, when the victims and the survivors are ready.

12:49 pm

Photo of Chris HayesChris Hayes (Fowler, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I think it's fair to say that Monday was a deeply emotional day, not only for people in the House but for those who were actually able to join us. We saw the parliament come together and unite to deliver the national apology to victims and survivors of institutional child sex abuse. That abuse was something that clearly should never have occurred, but it was something that did, and it occurred under our collective watch as the Australian government and as those in authority. This occurred, and it is only right that we say sorry. It's right that we say sorry for what occurred to children and apologise as profoundly as we can. We also say sorry for our ignorance and for our collective failure to listen to the words of children when they complained. As a nation, we accorded more respect to those in authority than to those who were laying the complaints, being children.

While saying sorry is a very small step towards justice for survivors, it's certainly a recognition that finally, after far too long, as a nation we are listening and we recognise these past injustices suffered by children at the hands of people who are and were entrusted with power. The apology is an acknowledgement that successive governments have grossly failed in their responsibilities to protect the most vulnerable in our communities, particularly children. To all those children who had their childhood robbed, and who no doubt suffered and continue to suffer abuse-induced trauma, the apology is not enough. Perhaps some will see it as simply words or simply being symbolic, but it is more. It is certainly a commitment that we, as a nation, must do better.

As I say, the apology is not just about words. I'm not referring to the adequacy or otherwise of the National Redress Scheme or the levels of financial compensation that follow. It does mean that we acknowledge the harm and the hurt that occurred to children and that continues to permeate through their lives and the lives of their families. It's significant that we acknowledge the abuse that occurred and make our apologies on behalf of the whole community. I understand that for many this will never be enough—nor should it be—particularly when they have suffered at the hands of people in positions of authority or positions of trust and respect within the community. No words can actually change the past, but it is a significant step that we, on behalf of the nation, acknowledge what did occur. It wasn't the fault of children; they were the victims in situations that were contrived, in many respects, to protect children. It was those very institutions that caused the harm.

It's most important for any government that we protect citizens. We always say it is the first role of government to protect our citizens. Probably coming ahead of that is the fact that we protect those who are vulnerable and, clearly, children were seen to be most vulnerable in these arrangements. We hear stories about those that have been abused by governments, police, courts throughout the law, foster parents, orphanages, teachers, schools, sporting clubs, scout groups, churches, charitable organisations—that's a very wide list in the community. It reflects on various structures and organisations within the community which are designed to actually do good, yet people have been able to use the power vested in them by the membership of those organisations to carry out evil. We acknowledge our failures in this regard.

We also acknowledge what is carried by the survivors and by those who regrettably did not survive. We heard on Monday of those who have already taken their own lives. They couldn't be there. Nothing will change those events, but we must make sure that they are not simply committed to another volume of Hansard. This must be a lived truth, one that we maintain; otherwise, it will just simply be words.

Having grown up, as many in this place have, with the benefit of faith based education, I've got to say that I was oblivious to these actions occurring. I find it hard to understand. It's utterly reprehensible that people of faith could contemplate such evil undertakings against children, hiding behind their position of trust, hiding behind what the community thought of religious leaders, sporting leaders and scout leaders. They hid behind their position to simply participate in evil. Whether they're your kids or my kids and now my grandkids, children require unconditional love. Unfortunately, these past injustices have in many instances not only destroyed the survivors' faith in humanity but also shaken their belief in God. How could this be allowed to occur?

There are many families who, regrettably, have been affected by this institutional abuse. One of my cousins had a very similar education to me. He also attended a Catholic school. But, unlike me, he was a victim of abuse. He suffered at the hands of a Catholic priest. Not only have I seen what this incident has done to him; I have seen the toll that it has taken on his family and those around him who love him. Good religious and charitable works administered by many of our institutions, whether they be schools, orphanages or institutions that look after people in need, have been undermined. It has destroyed much of the credibility of these organisations, despite their overwhelming motivation for good and for fulfilling a genuine interest and need in our community.

I want to pay tribute first and foremost to the victims and acknowledge the survivors who were brave enough to tell their stories to the royal commission. I also acknowledge those who are not able to be with us, having already taken their own lives. I understand that, for those who did present their stories to the royal commission, it must have been incredibly painful for them. We can't forget their courage in doing so.

Like the member for Lalor, I would also like to pay tribute to the courage and determination of the former member for Lalor, Prime Minister Gillard, for initiating the royal commission. I think it did take courage and determination on her part. It was something that she described as causing her many sleepless nights, but it has been shown to be the right thing to do. The commission was able to undertake the work that it did over a period of five years. I think it has been an incredible power of good in our community. I also take this opportunity to acknowledge the royal commissioners and their staff, who have served their community well and listened to these incredibly heartbreaking stories. This apology does not mark the end of a journey but rather the beginning of a new level of protection for children.

Photo of Maria VamvakinouMaria Vamvakinou (Calwell, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I thank the member for Fowler, and I thank the chamber for allowing the member for Fowler to finish.

Proceedings suspended from 13 : 00 to 16 : 00

Photo of Ian GoodenoughIan Goodenough (Moore, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The question is that the motion be noted.

4:00 pm

Photo of Tim WattsTim Watts (Gellibrand, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I want to begin my contribution on the apology to the victims of institutional child abuse today by saying to all victims and survivors of institutional child sexual abuse that I am sorry. I'm sorry for the unimaginable hurt, pain and suffering that you went through and I'm sorry that you had to wait for so long for our nation to acknowledge your trauma. I am sorry that this apology came only after decades of suffering in plain sight at the hands of people you should have been able to trust. The true scale of abuse that has occurred on Australian soil, and occurs still today, is still unknown. What we do know is that almost 17,000 people contacted the royal commission about institutional child sexual abuse; 9,325 victims and survivors provided oral and written testimonies, including children under the age of nine and adults over the age of 80. It is the courage of these people and their resilience—victims and survivors—that have spurred our national apology to you. You faced your fears, told your stories and fought for justice.

It has been a long fight. For advocates like Chrissie Foster, it has been a lifelong fight. After learning their two daughters, Emma and Katie, were raped by their local priest in the 1990s, Chrissie and Anthony Foster began their tireless fight for justice. They sued the church and gave damning evidence against the church hierarchy at the Victorian government's inquiry into this issue. Chrissie fought as her family suffered. To avoid haunting memories, Katie turned to drink, was hit by a car and is now permanently disabled. After her abuse, Emma began harming herself and died of an overdose in 2008. Anthony collapsed in his car and died in 2017. He was given a state funeral by the Victorian government.

For journalist Joanne McCarthy, receiving a call in 2006 began a journey that led to writing over 1,000 stories on this issue, stories that unravelled the truth about clergy child sex abuse and the institutional cover-up. When John Pirona, a firefighter and abuse victim, committed suicide in 2012, Joanne decided enough was enough. She wrote an editorial that called for the government to establish a royal commission into this issue. Soon after that, the then Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, ordered the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.

On this note, I want to pause. I've been thinking a lot since Monday about the nature of what we're apologising for here. In one way, it's easier for me to comprehend the existence of evil in the form of perpetrators than it is to comprehend the response. There is something about the pure evil and perversion of offenders that will always be with us in one sense. But the fact that people could turn to people they ought to have been able to trust to call this behaviour out and to have those people turn the other cheek, to ignore these cries for help, is incomprehensible and that's the nature of what we are apologising for in this building today—the failure of institutional responses to the evil of child sexual abuse.

Without the perseverance of individuals like Chrissie and Joanne, this national apology and the royal commission would not have happened. Child sexual abuse took place under the watch of society's most important and trusted institutions in the most common places imaginable. Almost 90 per cent of the abuse happened in out-of-home care, schools and during religious activities. Ninety per cent of the abuse took place in an institution managed either by a religious or government institution. Children were abused daily at their homes, at schools and at places of worship and leisure under the watch of religious and governmental institutions.

This apology shows that, with enough perseverance and grit, individuals like Chrissie Foster and Joanne McCarthy can expose the failures of our nation's most powerful institutions. They exposed institutional norms and practices that not only protected perpetrators but also allowed these heinous acts to continue. Over and over, survivors shared experiences of powerful individuals protecting their reputations over the wellbeing of children who had been entrusted to their care.

Denis Ryan was a policeman in Mildura when he began investigating a local priest. He compiled a list of victims and sought to have the priest charged, only to be prevented by a senior police officer who was also a close friend of the priest. Denis wrote to then Bishop of Ballarat Ronald Mulkearns, but received no reply. The church and police protection of the perpetrator caused Denis to lose his career and gave a green light to paedophile priests in the vast Ballarat diocese.

When Paul Tatchell reported that he was raped by Brother Dowlan, a master at his primary school boarding house, he was expelled from the school. On the night he was raped, he fought back against the clergy man, ran from the room and tried to call his parents for help. The school's headmaster and other staff locked him in a closet until the morning.

These examples, and thousands of others, are examples of a child's welfare being trumped by institutional traditions, of powerful and revered individuals in our society protecting the reputations of the institutions that they were a part of over the rights of the child. Chrissie Foster, Joanne McCarthy, Denis Ryan, Paul Tatchell and countless others have shone a spotlight on the need to always question these longstanding traditions and to put children first.

This need to question institutions continues as we implement the recommendations of the royal commission. One of the most debated recommendation is 7.4, which recommends that information disclosed during a religious confession must be reported to child protection authorities in compliance with mandatory reporting laws. Perpetrators admit to abusing children during these confessions. One Catholic priest, Father Michael McArdle, in a sworn affidavit, said that he had confessed to abusing children 1,500 times to 30 priests over 25 years. He was told, in his own words, 'Go home and pray.' Not only were these disclosures during confession not reported to police, they were also used by perpetrators as a way to seek their own absolution.

The Catholic Church has already rejected this recommendation. When asked whether he would report an admission of child abuse made in confession to police, Ballarat's Bishop Paul Bird said:

What I'm trying to balance there is the tradition or the value of confidentiality, which in regard to the confessional for the church's history has been treated as absolute.

I would argue that never has it been the time to balance traditions with the safety of children, but now is the time to recognise that longstanding institutional traditions can be wrong and harmful, even to the most vulnerable members of our community. Now is the time to put child safety and welfare first. I am proud that in Victoria we have bipartisan support that child abuse admissions made under confession will not be exempt from mandatory reporting.

Whether we are in government or in opposition, regardless of our role in this place, we must make sure that this apology is not just a symbol; that it is not just well-meant and powerfully-spoken words, but there is substantive action to prevent these kinds of cover-ups continuing and to prevent the perpetuation of this abuse. We must put force behind our words. We must not allow the tireless work of advocates like Chrissie Foster and Joanne McCarthy to languish in an apology that is simply empty words.

It is incumbent on all of us in this chamber to continue the hard work and difficult decisions made by people like the former Prime Minister Julia Gillard; my predecessor in Gellibrand in this place, the former Attorney-General Nicola Roxon; and then minister for families, the member for Jagajaga, in their decision to establish the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. They finally said the government would not continue to turn the other cheek, but would shine a spotlight and expose what had been going on for so long. It is incumbent on all of us to follow through on turning the recommendations of the royal commission from words into actions. We must not allow this national apology to be a symbol alone, and I call on my colleagues to turn it into action.

4:10 pm

Photo of Andrew GeeAndrew Gee (Calare, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I express my support, and that of the Calare electorate, for this motion. The sexual abuse of children occurred all over Australia, including places in our region like Bathurst, Orange and Molong. It was perpetrated by those in our society who often held positions of trust, respect and honour in some of our most trusted institutions. The victims were amongst our society's most vulnerable: the children. Some still find it hard to imagine that it happened, but it did. While the long arm of the law has caught up with some of the criminals responsible for these monstrous crimes, many never had to answer for what they did, and their victims never saw justice either. These crimes destroyed lives. Some of the victims weren't believed when they spoke up. Some were told it was their fault. Some victims took their own lives.

At the apology I was given accounts of abuse so cruel and degrading that they are difficult to comprehend. Amongst many emotions there was intense sadness at both the apology and lunch on the lawns of parliament afterwards. I was privileged to spend time at the apology with Aunty Mary Hooker, a proud Bundjalung woman who lives just outside Mudgee. One of the stolen generations, at age 12 in 1970 Aunty Mary was told that she was going on a two-week holiday. She was in fact forcibly removed from her family. Eight of her siblings were removed as well. She, one of her sisters and two of her brothers were never returned to her mother's care. She got to see her family briefly again some years later at her brother's funeral but, apart from that brief encounter, didn't see them again until about 1977, seven years after she was taken away.

During that time, aged just 13 years, she was sent to the now infamous Parramatta Girls Training School. What went on at that place was revealed during the royal commission, at which Aunty Mary gave evidence. The horrific nature of those crimes appalled the nation. She gave evidence that she and other girls:

… would steal pins and needles from the sewing room to self-harm because their treatment at the home was so harsh.

It was their way of releasing the pain. The rules were designed to dehumanise inmates. She said:

We had numbers, not names. I was 127.

She also told of the Parramatta Girls Training School's isolation unit, referred to as the dungeon, and the crimes committed there against her and many others. Aunty Mary has asked me to show you this. It is very painful for her to relive this and it takes a toll on her, but she wants the parliament and the nation to know what happened. This is the front page of The Daily Telegraph dated Friday 7 March 2014. The headline on the front page is:

HELL HOLE—Inside this sandstone dungeon, hundreds of children suffered the ultimate betrayal.

There on the front page is Aunty Mary as she was as a child.

Aunty Mary also gave evidence of the abuse she suffered at Ormond Training School, Thornleigh, in 1971, prior to being sent to Parramatta. The evidence of the royal commission told a story of abject cruelty, degradation, criminality and a total abrogation of the state's duty of care to these vulnerable young children. Make no mistake: this was institutionalised evil. When external social workers and child protection officers visited, the children were told to keep their mouths shut and say that everything was fine. Aunty Mary said that they were only allowed to talk about the weather and not the physical abuse, the bashings, the sexual abuse and the denial of food. She also gave evidence of the impact the abuse had on her family relationships. Although she eventually found her family again, she said of her mum, 'We were never mother and daughter again.'

However, Aunty Mary's story is not just about the abuse she suffered in our state institutions but also the sexual abuse she suffered at the hands of a family member before she was taken away from her mother. Aunty Mary told me about this horrific experience as we prepared this speech.

Yesterday Aunty Mary returned to the parliament, where we had time to reflect on the apology and what it meant. It was a lot to take in. She appreciated being able to talk to the Prime Minister and also royal commission chair Justice Peter McClellan. Aunty Mary said she hoped that the apology helped victims and survivors heal. I asked her how, having been through those experiences, she was able to carry on. She replied that, as a Christian, she was able to look into her heart and find forgiveness. 'The hatred that you have inside you can eat you up and destroy you,' she said. 'Forgiveness was like a weight lifting from my shoulders.' She has a generosity of spirit that is very rare. She's an inspiration.

I should add that this forgiveness should not be confused with a lack of desire to see the perpetrators of these crimes brought to justice. Aunty Mary wants her story to be told so that people understand what she and others went through. She said that she was also doing it for those no longer here to speak up. She wants to ensure that nobody else has to go through what she did.

She was accompanied to the apology by her husband of 35 years, Rodney, and her granddaughter Tracey, who attends Mudgee Public School and wants to be a police officer one day.

To be sexually abused by a family member, to be taken away from your family, to be abused by the institutions that were entrusted to care for you and protect you, to be told that you would amount to nothing and have your abilities denigrated—it's hard to imagine a more difficult start in life for a young child. Yet Aunty Mary's story is also a story of courage, conviction, faith, determination and love. Aunty Mary has achieved much in her life. She's an inspiration and role model to many, including the vision impaired. She's raised a family. She's a mum to Alan and Heather. She's a mother-in-law to Sarah and Chris. Aunty Mary is also a grandmother to Tracey; Violet; Dylan, who's in the Air Force and wants to be a pilot; Darren, who's an apprentice carpenter; Jackson; and Corey. I also have to make special mention here of Jackson's type 1 diabetes alert dog, Stormtrooper.

Of course, Aunty Mary is also wife to Rod. She is a highly respected Indigenous elder, a talented artist and an advocate for the vision impaired, for reconciliation and for justice for the victims and survivors of institutional sexual abuse. However, it's not only victims of institutional sexual abuse Aunty Mary advocates for. She speaks out about abuse within families as well and seeks greater support for those victims too.

Aunty Mary was present for the apology to the stolen generations on 13 February 2008, and while in Canberra this week she presented me with her apology day books, which contain newspaper articles, thoughts and comments from around Australia and around the world about that apology. We've been liaising with our parliamentary library to determine where they can best be displayed and preserved. I recently asked Aunty Mary what was next. Her answer was simple: she wants to complete the education that she was denied as a child and that they told her she wasn't capable of attaining, but she doesn't want to do it at a TAFE or other training centre. She wants to sit her HSC at a high school, with other students and teachers who want to see her succeed. It doesn't seem too much to ask.

The national apology can't take away the immense pain that is felt by victims. Nothing could do that. What the apology does do is let victims of institutional sexual abuse know that we, as a nation, recognise that this happened, that victims are believed and that all Australians are sorry. It also affirms the national commitment to never let it happen again.

4:20 pm

Photo of Susan LambSusan Lamb (Longman, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

On Monday of this week, the parliament came together for the national apology to victims and survivors of institutionalised child sexual abuse. This was not an easy day for anyone who was here in Canberra or for anyone else who was affected by this, no matter where in Australia they may have been. It was not an easy day for me, it was not an easy day for any of my parliamentary colleagues and it was definitely not an easy day for the survivors, their families, their loved ones and those who stood beside them, supporting them. It was an incredibly difficult day, an emotional day, for everyone. It was a day that was a very, very long time coming.

The Gillard-led royal commission that engendered this apology was commenced over five years ago now. But, sadly, even that inquiry should have been initiated long before it was. The suffering that has been experienced by many victims has been endured for decades now. This was not fair. This was not right. It should never have happened. The survivors were let down by us all. Over the years, they've been let down by successive governments who wanted to avoid confronting a very difficult topic. But what I feel truly makes things worse is that the governmental inaction was a grim reflection of our society. The atrocities that occurred within Australian institutions were nothing short of vile. They were abhorrent. For each of us, they were shameful. This was a shame that was felt by all Australians who had heard of these atrocities—a shame that disgracefully manifested itself as denial and as inaction. When these victims needed us, they were let down. Some were vilified. Many were ignored. Too few were offered the support they deserved, the support they needed, and for this, for everything, we are sorry. This is something that we as a nation will never forget. We will learn from this, but, more importantly, we will act.

I was there in the Great Hall on Monday. I stood alongside survivors. There were some from my community. Many were from elsewhere around the country. What I witnessed was sheer pain, grief and trauma in that room. I can't pretend as though I can possibly imagine what that feels like. But, as I stood there, my hand held tightly by a survivor beside me, I was able to recognise just how different the experiences of each of these individuals are. There was a man there whom I'd never met before in my life. His name was Adam. He was from Newcastle. I asked him if I could hold his hand. He said yes, and we held hands. At the end of the event, we embraced. He kissed me and said thank you. We were strangers, but, in that moment of holding hands—of sharing in his story, which he briefly shared with me—I will be forever grateful to be part of that day with him.

But, as I looked around the room, I also saw how differently people expressed that pain and grief and trauma, how differently people were personally dealing with that. There were people at many different stages of grief in that room, grief that not one of them should ever, ever have been burdened with. I know that many survivors were grateful for this national apology. I heard how, despite being words, it represented change, it represented a step forward. But I've also heard from survivors who felt this national apology did nothing. For them, it was nothing more than mere words from the mouths of self-congratulating politicians. And others are angry that this national apology brought up old traumas—psychological pain that they carry with them every single day of their lives.

I'm meeting with one of these survivors when I return to the community next week. She wasn't able to be here on Monday. I've known her for some time now. I've always known her to be a very courageous individual. She is a brave leader within our community. When we meet, I'll be there to listen. I'll be there to provide the support that she will ask of me.

I know that survivors and many others see this national apology as having no real consequence—of not being able to undo the past, of not doing enough for them, as survivors of vulgar abuses, now or into the future—and I hear them. For what it's worth, I don't completely disagree. But what I say here and what I say back in our community is that this is not the end; this is the beginning. Where once voices were silenced, now they are being heard. Now it is on us as a society to do the hard work to take the steps we can towards finding some kind of justice.

Sorry may just be a word, but it means a lot more. It means that finally, as a society, there has been a shift. It means that we are acknowledging the past and we are looking forward. It means that, while we can't undo our society's shameful past, we can do what we can to make the present—and, of course, the future—one that no longer causes pain but, instead, alleviates it.

4:28 pm

Photo of Michael McCormackMichael McCormack (Riverina, National Party, Leader of the Nationals) Share this | | Hansard source

I, too, endorse the fine words, the eloquent words, of the member for Longman and the emotion she showed in delivering them. I know it means a lot to her—it means a lot to each and every member of parliament—and I certainly agree with her that, for many of those affected, Monday's apology was not something that they sought and was not something that they felt that the parliament did to cover up what they endured. Those people will go on hurting, as will those for whom the parliament's words really meant something. It was a message that the parliament gave that meant a lot for those who spoke, those who gathered in the Great Hall and those who gathered on the lawns before this parliament. In country towns and regional cities, just as in metropolitan areas, the message from the parliament was and is this: we believe you, we support you and we are sorry.

Too many country communities and too many Australian communities were home to some of the most unimaginable events for young people, especially those in the care of people they should have been able to trust. Sadly, as history is written and more survivors find their courage and their voices, this picture of predatory behaviour expands to more and more people, more and more families, more and more communities. On behalf of a believing nation, we are sorry. I know each and every member in this Federation Chamber, each and every member of the parliament, says sorry. We say it today. We will repeat it tomorrow, and we'll go on repeating it. It's what we believe. It may not be enough for some people. I can't even start to imagine what they have gone through and what they continue to endure.

We in the regions have seen that far too often our young people are survivors of abuse—which is a good thing; they have survived; they've come through—but their stories happen in our communities too, happen in institutions that we held dear and, in many cases, still hold dear. We owe it to those who tell their story—city or country—to take the time to listen and to believe them. We're taking action. The National Redress Scheme has commenced. It's a critical part of recognising and in some way alleviating the impact of past abuse and providing some justice for survivors. I won't just say justice, but some recompense and some justice for survivors. It will provide survivors with access to counselling and all-important psychological services, financial payments and, if a survivor wants, one direct personal response from an institution where the abuse occurred.

The National Office for Child Safety is about prevention and detection. There was a wonderful cartoon in one of the papers of this blackened scene all around a little boy, a small child holding a teddy bear, clutching it. For me, that really told a story. What some of these small children endured—the pain they must have gone through when they felt that they couldn't go to anyone, when they had been abused in the most unspeakable ways. It's taken some of them many years to finally come out with the truth, and many years for people to believe them. Some of those people went to the grave never having been able to speak about the atrocities perpetrated on them. That is just so, so sad.

The National Office of Child Safety was announced as part of the response to the royal commission. It started on 1 July this year within the Department of Social Services. We are working with states and territories on the recommendations of the royal commission to ensure those who need our protection get the right help and the right advice, because it is the right thing to do. As a father, it is simply unimaginable that the people you charge with the responsibility of looking after and caring for your children would prey on them. The stories which were shared in the royal commission revealed just how the innocence of the young, their hope for the future and their belief in the goodness of people can be stripped away forever by those who were meant to protect them. Each story breaks your heart, each story is a happy life stolen, each story is a person.

While it's difficult to imagine just how those who were affected could pick themselves up and continue, the greatest insult is the stories of those who found, however shaky, the voice they needed to share their story, and then were not believed. They were heard but they were not believed. This is a gross injustice, and it only adds to a life of potential lost to predatory behaviour. For far too many, it's a life which would never recover, never speak up and never shine, thanks to these acts of pure evil.

Monday was their day. Today, tomorrow and every other day should be those people's moment to know that this parliament, this nation, was sorry and is sorry. By believing them, by saying sorry, by saying that it was not their fault, that day, Monday, was when this nation came together in grief and in support. I want to pay special tribute to a special lady, and that woman is Julia Gillard, who had the courage, who had the foresight, who had the vision to speak up and to make sure that the royal commission was held. On this day, when her portrait was revealed, it was a special day for her. But she put others first. She always did. Monday was, I know, a special day for her. In her own selfless way, when praise was being heaped upon her, as it should have been, she said, 'No, today's not about me; it's about the people around me, the people to whom we should be saying sorry'. That's the sort of gracious and good person that Julia Gillard was and is, and I pay tribute to her today. I think Monday was the day when we came together. I think when the people watch parliament act in a very bipartisan way, they know that that's when our parliament is at its best. It's a shame that we don't do it more often.

I also pay special tribute to those who exposed this evil—those in the police forces, those in community groups and those who've borne witness to tragedy and torment—for the courage they share in this sorry, sorry chapter. Investigating and exposing crimes of such depravity has cemented for ordinary men and women a place within the heart of this nation and a road to survival and recovery for some, but not all, of those innocent victims whose stories we share and hear this week in the parliament. They have helped us to come to hear tales of torment which should never have occurred. Investigators also have numbered in the hundreds, if not the thousands, over the years. I want to acknowledge our colleague from the New South Wales parliament, police minister and member for Dubbo, Troy Grant, a former police officer who investigated these crimes. I know for Minister Grant this was a special passion of his, if I could use that word. He was determined to make sure that evil was exposed and that justice was done, and I pay tribute to him as well.

These stories help motivate the police to take action and the nation to listen. Imagine how hard it would have been for those officers, in some cases in those small rural and regional communities, when the perpetrators were known to them—very well known to them—and they found out that, behind closed doors, that this sort of evil was being perpetrated. Those stories motivated good people, such as Minister Grant, into action. That's one of the reasons he ran for parliament. It's those stories which brought this parliament together on Monday. Each person believed is a person vindicated, a person made human, a story—a tragic story, in many cases—made real.

The speeches from the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition were a moment of the parliament at its best. I pay tribute to the members for Cook and Maribyrnong for the fine and eloquent words that they said and that they meant. They were real, they were raw, they were emotional speeches. They summed up the view of the parliament and of the people. It only comes because of survivors' courage, thanks to good people seeing evil and speaking up, and thanks to the people being believed. This was a day for bipartisanship such as we saw on Monday. We note the role all parliamentarians have played in establishing the royal commission and, I say again, particularly the former Prime Minister Julia Gillard in exposing the depraved, unimaginable evil and in supporting those who need it in the cities and in the regions. To those in the regions and all around Australia who shared that day on Monday, our message is, again, just this: we believe you, we support you and we earnestly apologise to you.

4:38 pm

Photo of Gai BrodtmannGai Brodtmann (Canberra, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Cyber Security and Defence) Share this | | Hansard source

I'd like to commend and thank the previous member, our Deputy Prime Minister, for those moving words and also for his compliments to former Prime Minister Julia Gillard, who is here today for the unveiling of that extraordinary portrait. It's a portrait that will definitely stand out in the parliament and will definitely be a significant drawcard and a feature of the parliament. She wanted it to be different because she was the first female Prime Minister, and that she's got. We have got a very powerful piece of portraiture there that conveys her personality, her dignity, her graciousness, as the Deputy Prime Minister mentioned, her sense of self and her humility. It's beautifully captured in that piece.

Thank you so much, Deputy Prime Minister, for those very moving words about what we saw on Monday and also in response to the former Prime Minister and the significant contributions she's made. Thank you so much for acknowledging that. We on the Labor side are very proud of what she's done in so many ways. We are very proud, particularly today and particularly this week, of the fact that she brought this apology about. She initiated the royal commission and she addressed those scars and those wounds that had been around for decades and decades. Thank you so much to our Deputy Prime Minister. Thank you for those beautiful words.

As our Deputy Prime Minister and everyone else who's spoken so beautifully today has said, Monday was a very significant day for this parliament, for every member of parliament and every senator but, most importantly, for those who had made the journey from all over Australia, who'd made the journey from all over the world to finally hear the apology after those decades and decades of pain, of abuse, of living with the demons from the past. How hard would it have been for so many of them to make that journey?

As the Leader of the Opposition said, words are good but what is the action? We have a moral duty as a parliament not to second-guess the royal commission but just to get on and implement its recommendations. As the Leader of the Opposition said, imagine the strength and the courage of those who made that journey from Canberra, from New South Wales, from across the other side of the country, from across the other side of the world who made that journey, and imagine what they were going through when they were making the journey, on the way here. How brave of them to actually come to the Great Hall, to come to the parliament in, as the Leader of the Opposition said, an exercise of triumph, of hope over experience. Because these are people who, as children, were let down by institutions. These were children who were not only let down by institutions but were abused by institutions. They were demoralised by institutions. They were disgraced by disgraceful people in institutions. The fact that they had the fortitude, the courage, the strength, the resilience to actually make that trek, that journey here to parliament, this institution, shows that they overcame, I imagine, so many fears and so many demons. I just think it is quite extraordinary. The fact that they were here is a show of hope, of strength, of courage, of resilience. I commend them and I thank them for being here for the apology, an expensive but gutsy move. And I thank them for coming and staring down those demons and for, as the Leader of the Opposition said, showing hope over experience.

My community, unfortunately, was not immune to the disturbing incidents that were uncovered by the royal commission. The royal commission exposed Marist College in Canberra as the most notorious of Catholic schools in Australia for child sexual abuse claims. In fact, it had its own volume. It found 63 claims of child sexual abuse were made against the school but the true figure is believed to be much larger. The sexual abuse of students at Marist College was happening in the seventies, eighties and nineties and it has affected many in the Canberra community. Marist College was not the only culprit but it was the worst offender.

I want to read an incredibly powerful piece that was written last year about this dark time in Canberra's history. It says:

About 20 boys crammed into the small hotel room in Wellington and the mood was sombre. Marist College Canberra's First XV had gathered to hold court.

The 1978 rugby tour of New Zealand was going well, but they weren't there to talk about football. The night before an incident had profoundly shaken the group.

One of the players had been called to a Marist brother's room on the pretence of treating an injury from that day's game. The coach tried to sexually assault the boy. He fled, told his closest friend, and word had spread quickly through the touring party.

The boys, aged between 16 and18, called a meeting. At its end they passed a resolution: the coach was to be banned from the change room, when the team returned to Canberra, the brother was to leave the school and the Marists were called on to guarantee that he would never teach again.

The shocking incident caused one 17-year-old to question a commitment. At school's end he had resolved to leave for Sydney, to train as a priest.

So he sought the counsel of another brother travelling with the group, a popular man who ran a movie club at the school.

When the boy confided his fears about the act of a man who professed to be a model of faith he got an unexpected response.

The brother's face darkened with fury: why would your vocation be affected by the actions of one man? The boy felt ashamed of his doubts.

…   …   …   

Other reports emerged about sexual assaults at Marist Brothers in Canberra in the 1970s and 80s. Among the accused one name stood out—

And that is the name of the very well-known Brother Kostka—

In 1978, Brother Kostka had reacted with fury when confronted with the sins of his confrere because the questions of a child shone a light into his black conscience.

…   …   …   

These shards of memory have been revived by the evidence given to the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. The breadth of the abuse is astounding, the damage to the standing of the Church permanent and the failure of its bishops unforgivable.

And one thing is clear. In 1978 a group of Catholic schoolboys was confronted with evil and called to make a moral decision.

They did so in the light of the best teachings of their faith. The vote had been unanimous. They demanded justice for their friend and that the threat to other boys be removed, forever.

This piece was penned by my husband, who was part of that rugby team in New Zealand. He was part of the group who stood up against the system to call out wrong, to call out evil, and it was ignored. The fact that this went on for so long and was ignored for so long is a great shame for Marist College and the Canberra community.

I want to take this opportunity to thank Marist College for the considerable effort in recent years—recent years—they have put into acknowledging what happened in the past, for apologising for the sexual abuse by staff in the past, for acknowledging the many victims, the survivors, their families and the current community of students, staff and parents.

I particularly want to thank ambassador for Bravehearts, Damian De Marco, who showed incredible courage and commitment in calling this out. There are thousands and thousands who have been incredibly brave, and I want to commend, acknowledge and thank them for their commitment and their courage. It must have been incredibly lonely for you for so long. You must have doubted yourselves for so long. You must have doubted your sanity for so long. You must have doubted your faith for so long. You must have doubted your trust in the system for so long. And you must continue to doubt. I can imagine there were so many nights and so many days where you were staring down so many demons for so many decades.

In closing, I want to again quote from Chris's article, because it clearly outlines that what is good and what is evil is crystal clear. There is no grey about this. It highlights that there is good and evil in life and that those who are in authority chose to ignore that. They knew that. They knew that good and evil was crystal clear and they chose to ignore it, and for that they are a disgrace. Chris writes:

In that room, on that day, those boys showed more moral courage and were better disciples than the princes of their Church. That is a triumph, and a tragedy—

at the same time. May this never, ever happen again.

4:48 pm

Photo of David GillespieDavid Gillespie (Lyne, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise today to say a few words about the national apology to victims and survivors of institutional child sexual abuse. As so many other speakers have pointed out, it is a scar on the national psyche that the breadth and frequency and the extent of child abuse in institutions has been uncovered for all to see. It is so wonderful that now it is in the consciousness and there has been a national apology.

Earlier on, I was deeply involved with other ministers in this building in setting up the National Redress Scheme and dealing with some of the organisations that have formed to cope with the pressure and the consequences of child abuse. I, too, attended institutions but, fortunately I, myself, wasn't a victim of paedophilia or predatory older children. But it isn't a proud moment when institutions that you thought were exemplary turn out in retrospect to have been not isolated but not extensive—as was outlined by the member for Canberra—areas where child abuse was perpetrated by people in positions of authority, religious figures and ordained officers of the church.

But what was more shocking, I thought in my time in that portfolio and subsequently looking at pieces of the royal commission findings, was that not only had a blind eye been turned to it; there were sometimes cases where they were actively suppressing the information, moving the perpetrator around to other colleges, parishes or institutions. It was the same across all denominations and institutions: the Salvation Army, scouts, foster homes, government and non-government institutions. It was breathtaking how much of a scourge on Australian life this issue is.

A couple of years ago my wife and I got involved with Bravehearts in the Port Macquarie area so that we would empower teachers with skills to educate children on personal child safety, and we continue that commitment. But the apology was so necessary. There were a lot of people there. I was very pleased to see people that I'd worked with like CLANnies Tim and Leonie—they know who they are. There was a lot of cleansing of their conscience and their anger, and all of the emotions that they'd suppressed came rolling out on the day of the apology. It's quite understandable, but the fact that the Prime Minister and the nation stood up and said, 'We're sorry for what you've suffered. We appreciate the damage it's done to your life, to your psyche, how it has limited in many cases, your own personal achievements, your educational outcomes, your financial wellbeing, your emotional relationships with other people through the remainder of your life and also, in many cases, post-traumatic stress disorder responses,' has been very beneficial.

But all that apology is meaningless unless we as a nation are taking practical actions and deeds to make sure it doesn't happen again—and we are. We have set up the Redress Scheme. There will be a non-litigious way of them getting both a written and verbal apology, counselling support and a recognition in a financial sense for the damage that was done to them. As well as that, we have set up the National Office for Child Safety and we have announced and delivered the national child-safe principles, to be rolled out across all organisations—government, non-government, sporting clubs, corporate institutions. They can have child-safe principles in their governance, and that's really the thing that will be a lasting legacy of this. Now, because of the royal commission, Australia has set in train a lot of principles and a lot of actions which other nations will look to.

Unfortunately, the scourge of paedophilia and child sexual abuse has been in societies forever and still exists, so it's a matter of eternal vigilance and having systems in place so that it doesn't happen. Organisations like Bravehearts spring to mind, but there are many other organisations committed to it, and the nation is now committed. Having got the principles there, government organisations are rolling them out. The states and their organisations are rolling them out. The education will continue for parents, teachers and people who weren't aware of what can happen with our young Australians.

When parents are not there, we have to ensure children are put into the care of responsible people who aren't grooming them and leading them into danger. That's why we have working-with-children checks, which most people are familiar with, but principles of child safety have to be embedded into the governance of every institution—volunteer, community, state, federal, military; you name it—so that these things never happen the way they have happened in the past. The royal commissioners penned many wise words. We all thank the people that worked on the royal commission. It must have been harrowing for them to hear all these reports, but they have put a great body of work together. We have a system in place now. The redress scheme is up and running. It won't fix everyone but it is a great initiative for us as a nation to acknowledge together those that have suffered and to put things in place so that it doesn't happen again.

4:56 pm

Photo of Kate EllisKate Ellis (Adelaide, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

It's important to me that I rise in this parliament today and add some remarks about the National Apology to Victims and Survivors of Institutional Child Sexual Abuse, for a couple of reasons. The first is that, as a result of sick children, I wasn't in the chamber on Monday when the apology was given, and I need it placed on the record that there is only one reason for that, but the bigger reason is that this has been an important undertaking of the parliament. The apology was a very important moment for this parliament, and the calling of the royal commission was a very important act by the previous government.

On Monday, as the speeches were given, whilst I was surrounded by illness and some unpleasantness, I was watching both the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition address the chamber through the television. No matter what was going on around me at that time, you couldn't help but feel the sincerity of the words that they were saying. I place on record my gratitude to both the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition for the important roles that they played and the messages that they delivered on Monday.

It's also important to acknowledge the role of former Prime Minister Julia Gillard. Hindsight's a helpful thing at times, but we should never forget that this was an incredibly brave and controversial call at the time. Earlier today former Prime Minister Gillard was saying that she had sleepless nights tossing and turning over whether we should call this royal commission and open up a whole lot of wounds. She made the right call. We should acknowledge that this has been, no doubt, an incredibly painful process at times, with deeply uncomfortable information coming to light, but if we as a parliament are going to commit to ensure that we can stamp out this kind of abuse, we cannot tackle it head-on without looking at the clear facts and making sure that we address them, so I thank the former Prime Minister for her courage in getting that call so very right.

I also mention the commissioners who undertook this inquiry. Hearing some of the stories that we've heard in this parliamentary discussion, I can't imagine what it would be like hearing firsthand from victims and survivors—awful, unthinkable crimes being outlined in front of you, day after day—and what it would take to respond to that not just with anger and grief but actually with a clear-minded approach as to what is the best way forward and how we navigate our way from here. I thank them for that incredibly difficult role.

Most particularly I address my words to the victims and survivors and add my apology. I am so incredibly sorry that any child in this nation has been subjected to the kinds of stories we heard far too often throughout this process. I am so deeply sorry that the people who you thought that you could trust turned out to be full of an unthinkable evil, and that you were subjected to that. I'm so incredibly sorry that we had institutions and trusted organisations that failed to act and failed to have protections in place. And I am so incredibly sorry that for far too many of these children, now adults, when they did speak up, they weren't believed or weren't taken seriously.

There can never be any justice that can undo those wrongs which have occurred, but we will say here in this parliament that we are deeply sorry to you and that we are deeply sorry for the ripple effects felt by those around you. The parents feeling the guilt of not being able to fulfil that one primary function of protecting their children, thinking they were doing the best for them and sending them off into the hands of monsters. I'm so sorry that that happened to you.

Most significantly, I know that we have passed legislation in this parliament for the National Redress Scheme. We acknowledge that this process, that this apology, does not undo everything that's happened, that there will need to be ongoing support and counselling. We commit to ensuring that the government sees that through. But most of all, I just want to add in my remarks that this has been an incredibly important process, but it doesn't count for anything unless we do absolutely everything in our power to do better for today's children and for tomorrow's children, and to make sure that Australia is a country that stands up and says: 'Not on our watch. Not our children.'

5:01 pm

Photo of Andrew HastieAndrew Hastie (Canning, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

There is not much that I can say that will alleviate the pain and suffering experienced by those children who suffered sexual abuse at the hands of abusers in a Christian church, those wolves who paraded in sheep's clothing and preyed on children in their care. But the New Testament is starkly clear on the mistreatment of children, especially by those in authority. They are words that chill me to the core, as they should all of us. I want to put on the record in this House, for those children who were betrayed by people professing Christ, specifically Matthew 18:1-6. It reads:

At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, "So who is greatest in the kingdom of heaven?" He called a child and had him stand among them. "Truly I tell you," he said, "unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child—this one is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever welcomes one child like this in my name welcomes me.

"But whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to fall away—it would be better for him if a heavy millstone were hung around his neck and he were drowned in the depths of the sea.

Those abusers stand condemned by the Master they profess to follow.

5:03 pm

Photo of Brian MitchellBrian Mitchell (Lyons, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I take those words of the member for Canning, because I know he is a man of deep faith and how much it would have meant to him to utter those words. Today I'm humbled to stand here to join the chorus of voices in this parliament acknowledging what is Australia's great shame, acknowledging how we as a nation have failed so many Australian children—children from all generations, from all walks of life, from every corner of our country and, indeed, children from overseas.

As a member of this parliament, I am sorry. Under our watch and in our institutions too many Australian children endured abuse, leading to lives of heartbreak and loneliness. Those years can never be recovered and the abuse cannot be undone. If there is one thing we can learn from the thousands of people who testified before the royal commission, it is this—believe. When children report abuse, believe them. When children say they are being hurt, believe them. And act. Because it is clear from the testimony that so many children were abused simply because they were not believed. The trusted priest, the beloved uncle, the popular coach or Scout master—what chance did children have against these pillars of society? For decades, the survivors have lived with the abuse they endured. Some lived with it quietly; others campaigned openly for justice. I cannot begin to imagine the feelings that must have swum through survivors' heads when Julia Gillard announced the royal commission—perhaps something like 'At last!' mixed with a profound dread.

Throughout that commission, survivors told their stories, sometimes for the first time. The commission handled more than 40,000 calls and more than 25,000 letters and emails. It held more than 8,000 private sessions and made just under 2,600 referrals to authorities. Recently I read through some of the narratives that appear on the commission's website. The narratives are an important part of this process, providing people with a place to tell their story. The stories are graphic and confronting. Their publication is necessary, and I urge colleagues to read them. The specific detail of each story is different, but they are tragically all the same: happy, innocent children taken advantage of by adults they trusted. Linked by shared experiences of abuse, neglect, isolation and alienation, of growing up with poor mental health, the stories tell of children becoming withdrawn and angry and of far too many adults who failed to listen and failed to help.

A Tasmanian man told of his experiences growing up in a small remote town in the 1930s. He's carried this with him since then! His mother was a devout Anglican and occasionally would provide accommodation for a visiting Anglican priest. He would shower the young boy with compliments and gifts. In his testimony, the man said he was vulnerable to the attention but in hindsight recognises he was being groomed:

… he had the ability to make me feel good. In today's language, he made me feel valued. And that was terribly important to me.

That was the start of a period of regular abuse that lasted until this man reached his early 20s. That was in the 1950s and 1960s, and it's still with him.

A Tasmanian woman tells of the abuse she received from her father. Running away, she became a ward of the state before, at the age of 12, being placed in a convent where she endured further abuse twice a week for more than a year from nuns. She reported it to the mother superior, but was punished, and then to the child welfare officer, who laughed her off. Running away from the convent, she received what she says was good treatment from the police, who she believes did make a formal report to the minister but it was swept under the rug. At 13 years of age, she was placed in a hospital for the mentally ill. She stayed there till she was 18 and was subjected to abuse through those years. Describing the impact that the abuses have had on her life, she says:

It's like a nightmare for the last 45 years … and you never wake up. I can just sit at home and then just all of a sudden I'll start thinking of why they did this. For the love of God I'll never work out why humans do this. I just can't.

She has never been able to seek assistance as she doesn't trust doctors.

Many of the narratives contain similar experiences of being groomed by trusted pillars of the community, of families and friends not knowing what was happening under their roof, of staff in facilities, schools, organisations and clubs abusing children in their charge. Too many Australians have suffered and continue to suffer, both from abuse that occurred in the past and abuse that continues today. At least now, no Australian can ever say they are ignorant about the realities of the institutional abuse of children. Hopefully the abusers, the predators, will have a much more difficult time ahead than they had in the past. But we have a long way to go, and it starts with governments around Australia and the children in the direct care of governments.

According to statistics published in the 2016-17 Australian Institute of Health and Welfare report on children in child protection, 48 per cent of children in child protection endured emotional abuse and 24 per cent neglect, 16 per cent were victims of physical abuse and 12 per cent were subjected to sexual abuse. The very first commitment governments around Australia can make is to identify and eradicate the abuse of children who are in government care. This will take money—for more child protection officers, for more mental health services, for more places of safety—but that is a small price to pay to save the lives of children.

It is clear the royal commission started by former Prime Minister Julia Gillard is like few others before it. It was both a commission of inquiry and a vital step towards healing for individuals, organisations and the nation. I thank the commissioners and all associated with the commission for the dedication that they showed during what I can only imagine must have been a very arduous, emotional journey. Yes, the commission was one step in a journey, but none of us must allow it to be the final step. The recommendations of the royal commission are comprehensive and confronting, and must be implemented in full and without equivocation.

Before I depart, I just want to make mention of the fact that we have thanked Julia Gillard, and I'm delighted to add my name to that. She has done a magnificent job in bringing this on. But, being a former journalist, I really do want to note the exceptional work of the Newcastle Heraldand Joanne McCarthy, backed by editors Roger Brock and Chad Watson. This all started back in 1997 in the Newcastle Herald with reporter Jeff Corbett, who reported on court cases involving allegations of pedophilia amongst priests. Back then, the church led a spirited defence of its priests and, in the years since, we've come to know that the allegations, of course, were more than true. So, if it weren't for the dogged determination of Jeff Corbett, Joanne McCarthy, Roger Brock and Chad Watson, print journalists from a little paper in Newcastle, who knows whether we would be having this national apology this week. Joanne McCarthy has written more than 1,000 pieces on this issue over the last 15 to 20 years. It has consumed her life. I've never met the woman but she is a national treasure. The Shine the Light campaign by the Newcastle Herald is a must-read. You must read it because it is undoubtedly that campaign that put us on the path to the royal commission and this apology.

With that, I thank all involved who got us here. It took far too long to get here, but I do wish to commend the role of journalism and journalists in getting us here and thank them for their service.

5:13 pm

Photo of Milton DickMilton Dick (Oxley, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I humbly rise to speak on the motion of the national apology to victims and survivors of institutional child sex abuse. Like many of my fellow parliamentarians, I listened to the powerful words of the member for Lyons. It's an honour to follow his contribution and that of all members of this House.

Earlier this week, we saw the moving, emotional acknowledgements by the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition in front of hundreds of survivors who joined us in the House, and hundreds more who attended other events later in the day. This included a local resident—one that I'm aware of; there could have been others—from my own community who had made the trip down by himself, I believe, from the suburb of West Lake in my electorate of Oxley for this historic apology. I was able to speak to and have a chat with this resident to show my support for him and to acknowledge what a historic day it was. As friends and family gave support to survivors who wept, our thoughts also turned to those who have since passed and were not present to hear the apology, for it is their stories that will never be heard, their scars that will never heal, and their truths will never be told.

Whilst we can't undo the wrongs of the past, we can look to the future and work towards one where this never happens again. This will take a whole-of-community approach: to listen, to protect and, most importantly, to believe children and young people when they come forward, rather than turning a blind eye. As a member of the Joint Select Committee on oversight of the implementation of redress related recommendations of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, I was proud to speak on the enabling legislation earlier this year. As I said at the time, the National Redress Scheme is a result of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, which the previous Labor government, as we've heard, created under then Prime Minister Gillard in 2013. Over the subsequent five years, 16,953 people contacted the royal commission who were within the terms of reference. The commission heard from 7,981 survivors of child sexual abuse in 8,013 private sessions. It received 25,964 letters and emails and referred 2,562 matters to police.

I read this into the Hansard of this parliament because every single one of those people matter. Every single conversation of those people matter. These striking numbers only begin to scratch the surface of just how big this issue is for thousands and thousands of Australians. My Labor colleagues, and, I believe, everyone in this House, sincerely, genuinely, thank each and every single survivor who shared their story. I simply cannot imagine what amount of courage and composure this took. Words are simply not enough to describe the harrow and horror of the stories that came forward. The average age of victims when first abused was just 10 years old, with 85 per cent of survivors saying they had experienced multiple episodes of abuse.

Monday's National Apology delivered by the parliament was a result of one of the 99 recommendations handed down by the royal commission. I want to echo the words of the Leader of the Opposition to victims of abuse. He said on Monday:

Today we offer you our nation's apology, with humility, with honesty, with hope for healing now, and with a fire in our belly to ensure that our children will grow up safe in the future. We do this because it is right, because it is overdue, because Australians must know and face up to the truth about our past. But, above all, we do this because of you.

Words cannot heal the scars of the past, but they can acknowledge the hurt it has caused. I've seen this through my role in the committee, just doing a small amount of work overseeing the recommendations of the royal commission into child sexual abuse. As of 4 October 2018, the committee had accepted 41 submissions, of which 30 are from organisations and 11 are from individuals. The committee continues to work through key issues, which have been broadly categorised into the following areas: applying for and accessing the scheme; policy concerns and specific issues; and questions for the Department for Social Services, the Department of Human Services and the Commonwealth Ombudsman. It is really important that we make the redress scheme easily accessible for survivors to ensure a smooth pathway to compensation that minimises them having to relive their terrible experiences.

Today, I also want to specifically acknowledge Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk and my home state of Queensland, which has signed up to the redress scheme. In announcing that the Queensland government will pay its share to survivors of sexual abuse in government run institutions, Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said it was an important milestone acknowledging the suffering of those abused in care:

Although no amount of money can return a lost childhood, it's important that we acknowledge what these victims have been through.

Ten thousand Queenslanders are expected to be eligible—5,000 abused in government institutions and another 5,000 in non-government institutions.

It's events such as these that give great hope for the future. Listening to the heartfelt speeches from my colleagues across the political aisle and across Australia, everyone has in some way been touched and moved by the enormity of what this parliament has dealt with. It is such a privilege to be a member of parliament and to be able to honour, respect, recognise and pay tribute to all of those brave people who came forward, to all of those brave people no-one believed and to all of those brave people that simply suffered in silence. Over the past few days, we have heard the horror stories of the past. Today I reaffirm my pledge in my role as a member of parliament to do everything I can to ensure that the tragic events of the past are not repeated. I commend this motion put before the House and offer my unequivocal support to brave survivors who continue to show tremendous courage to ensure that others do not have to suffer the way they have. Together let's work as one to see that history does not repeat itself. Together we can achieve a better future for all.

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.

5:27 pm

Photo of Richard MarlesRichard Marles (Corio, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Defence) Share this | | Hansard source

I also rise to join in the National Apology to Victims and Survivors of Institutional Child Sexual Abuse and, in so doing, I say sorry to those victims, particularly those victims who suffered at institutions in my home town of Geelong, which housed more orphanages than any other place outside of a capital city, which, in turn, means that there is a significant proportion of the population of Geelong today who grew up in institutions of this kind. A tremendous validation to those who have suffered came from the National Apology that occurred on Monday, which is the subject of today's debate. It is incredibly important from that point of view. It was an act of a nation saying that those who suffered are being believed in circumstances where, for so long, they told their stories in a way which was not believed—not the way in which they told their stories but those who received the stories did not believe them and acted, all too often, in indifference to the way in which those children were suffering.

It is hard to understand exactly what motivates a person to engage in this kind of abuse. One thing is clear: there is an enormous power imbalance between the abuser and the children who are suffering. Those who have no parents, who grew up in orphanages were particularly vulnerable. There was no-one looking out for them and they were particularly the subject of those who sought to prey. It seems to me that there is something cold, indifferent and cowardly about choosing people of that kind as victims to satisfy whatever was sought to be satisfied. But what has also been clear in my work, as a patron of the Care Leavers of Australasia Network, is that people who grew up in orphanages, the kids who were being abused, grew up to be adults and they did so carrying a heavy burden with them and, in so many cases, with an enormous amount of damage which, for many, will be with them for the rest of their lives.

As we've heard over the last couple of days in talking about the experiences that people have, many end up taking their lives as adults. I remember speaking with Senator Andrew Murray, who himself was a child migrant, and he noted that the cost to the nation from the pain, the hurt, the dysfunctionality, the loss of productivity and the loss of being able to live a life of those who ultimately grow up is profound and makes this a national issue upon which there needs to be action. There was, as has been explained to me by so many of the people whom I've spoken to during my parliamentary career as a patron of CLAN, also an absence of familial love. Quite aside from the question of abuse, the idea of putting children without parents in large institutions, where no-one called them special, does a particular damage in a universal way to all those who grew up in those circumstances. For them, we say sorry.

On 16 November 2009, when the first apology to the forgotten Australians, as they were known at that time, was given, I very much remember the emotion of that day, the validation of it, and the same sense of being believed but also the acute pain that was on display from all of those who were in that room. This Monday was a reminder of it and an example of this parliament at its best, but there is a tremendous pain associated with this. Words are important in terms of healing, but much more needs to be done.

In saying that, there is an acknowledgement I would like to make of Jason Clare and Steve Irons, colleagues of mine in this place who have been patrons of CLAN as well from day one. We've worked very closely together to try to be advocates for this issue in this place. In the same vein, I would like to also mention Claire Moore, Amanda Rishworth, the late Steve Hutchins and so many more who have been patrons of CLAN and who have tried to raise this issue. Certainly, it is thought of and discussed in a completely different way now from how it was a decade ago. Those who have worked alongside me would agree with this: it's as important a task, it's as important work, as any we have done in this parliament.

There is an uplifting side to this story as well. What has been amazing to me are the people whom I've met on this journey and the strength that they've demonstrated—the courage and the ability to survive perhaps the worst set of cards that people could be dealt with on entry into this world, yet they have done incredible things. Leonie Sheedy comes to mind as the driving force behind CLAN. There are others: Joanna Penglase and Vlad Selakovic. Leonie is a force of nature. She is the single most determined activist I've ever met. None of this would have happened but for her. She's also an angel. She's a saint. There are the times that she has spent listening to people tell their stories—and these are really difficult stories to hear. It is difficult to place yourself in a position of exposure to these stories night after night, but Leonie does it. In doing it, she is tangibly engaging in the act of healing. She is a huge person in this country and has made an enormous difference.

In terms of the act of the profession that we're all engaged in, no-one stands taller than Jenny Macklin. I look at my colleagues here, and she is, to all of us, thoughtful, professional, eminently sensible and an inspiration for how you get things done—not being showy but just going off there and being diligent, working out the problem and getting an answer. She has done all of that. Julia Gillard, as mentioned, has been in this parliament today with her amazing portrait having been unveiled. The royal commission happened on her watch and would not have happened but for her. The achievements of the royal commission, the inquiry that went with it, the ability to have stories be told, the Redress Scheme that was passed through this parliament earlier this year occurred because of the likes of Leonie, Jenny and Julia. All of them can look with an amazing sense of pride about that.

But there is still work to be done. On Monday the Prime Minister mentioned the need to look at the ways in which those who have grown up in these circumstances enter into aged care. We do need to figure out that problem. We're aware of it, but we're perhaps not aware of the solution. It's also really important to establish a museum, a place, a touchstone for those who lost their youth. I know Leonie would have loved to see that established in her home town of Geelong.

I do want to finally mention Anthony Sheedy, Leonie's brother. He was, throughout his youth, entered into an orphanage. His number was 69411, and he was more often than not referred to by that number rather than his own name. He thought he had no parents, but, at the age of 12, Anthony's parents came and visited him. He thought maybe this was the moment he might be taken home, but sadly it was not that day. They left and he stayed. Can you imagine the confusion of having that experience? In handcuffs, he was taken as a youth to the Turana boys home. His life descended into alcoholic abuse, as an adult, and it was a life spent in homelessness, going between streets and shelters. But a long way down the path, he was discovered by his sister Leonie and in a sense rescued. And in the last nine years of his life he saw happiness. Some of that time he spent as a volunteer in my office, and it was a person who was cheeky and actually enjoying life who we got to meet. Saverina is here in the Chamber today, and I know that, at moments like this, we think about Anthony. He died suddenly back in 2011. He was able to see that first apology. Sadly, he did not experience redress. Indeed, in his personal effects after he died, a letter which would have begun or taken the next step in the redress process was there, and he was unable to pursue it. I'd like to acknowledge his life now. His journey is a vignette of what this story is about: pain, strength, survival but ultimately the fierce urgency of now in taking the next step down this path.

Honourable members: Hear, hear!

Photo of Luke HowarthLuke Howarth (Petrie, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I remind all members to use correct titles. Member for Corio, you referred to five members by their Christian names just then. I didn't want to interrupt you.

5:37 pm

Photo of Cathy O'TooleCathy O'Toole (Herbert, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I want to start by acknowledging the brave men and women who attended Parliament House on Monday, 22 October to witness their long-overdue apology. They were robbed of their childhood. They were powerless children who were subjected to unspeakable and horrific acts of abuse that were physical, sexual and psychological. I want to acknowledge the courage and commitment of those who gave evidence to the royal commission. Your testimony and evidence has made the difference, and that is why we are finally here and you have finally received your apology. I acknowledge those who campaigned and lobbied tirelessly for the royal commission. Your efforts made it possible for so many to give evidence, and that has led to this apology as well. I want to acknowledge those family members and close friends who have provided support to many victims of abuse over many years and continue to provide that support today. I also want to acknowledge our First Nations people, who also suffered unspeakable abuse, often with no-one to stand by them. I acknowledge those people in my community who experienced such appalling abuse, people like Trish, who has had to live with her experiences for her whole life. This apology was for you too. And I acknowledge those who are sadly no longer with us, those who did not get to witness the apology. Many people have passed away on the journey to justice, sometimes by their own hand, often without revealing their pain to another human being and certainly without acknowledgement or validation, because they could no longer bear the pain; it all became just too much. Your voices have also finally been heard.

It would be remiss of me not to acknowledge those members of the parliament, both current and former serving members, who had the political will and strength to do the right thing, to launch a royal commission into this dark time in our history, into something that so many had swept under the rug for far too long.

I want to thank the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition for their sincere words of apology on Monday to the victims of abuse. I also want to acknowledge the work of the commissioners. Their work was critical, but the impact of hearing of such horrendous abuse, day in and day out for years, must have also been incredibly difficult. I also want to acknowledge and thank former Prime Minister Julia Gillard for her commitment and her political courage in establishing the royal commission, because without her drive and commitment I am sure the royal commission would not have happened. She was the Prime Minister with the courage to stand up for the victims of abuse. She also declined to be restrained by the political nervousness and pressure from the powerful institutions. I also want to acknowledge my Labor colleague, the member for Jagajaga, the Hon. Jenny Macklin, who led the way on the royal commission. She worked tirelessly with victims, family members and advocates to ensure that this royal commission did its work.

The royal commission has forced the people of this nation to face a very dark truth. After five years, it found governments, schools, sporting clubs, churches, charities and other institutions had for decades failed to keep children safe. At 11 am on 22 October 2018, the Australian parliament assembled and said sorry to the brave souls who had been betrayed by men of God, by people in power, by people with a duty of care to protect innocence. We said sorry to the many people who had every reason to break but refused to be broken. And, with great humility, we honoured the people who had been spurned but lived to hear their parliament acknowledge their trauma and apologise.

The trust you gave those who were meant to care for you was broken, your innocence betrayed, and there is nothing that can ever be offered to rectify such a wrong. However, with great humility, the national apology offers a beacon of hope—a beacon of hope that says, 'Yes, we believe you.' Time and time again many tried to report injustices, and for years they were not listened to or believed. During this royal commission, as a nation, we asked you to do what would have seemed almost impossible: to tell your story again. You put in every ounce of hope, not knowing whether this time you would be heard, let alone believed. Allow me to offer the little reassurance that is all I can offer: yes, we as a nation believe you, and I believe you.

My mother-in-law was a victim of abuse in an orphanage in South Australia. She was a little girl when she and her sisters and her brothers were separated and put into orphanages. The neglect that she suffered at home was probably much better than that she faced in an institution. She never spoke about her experience at all, except to say that they were in and out of orphanages all the time as children. She lived with the torment of her experiences until she lay on her deathbed, when she had the chance to speak to a mental health nurse a couple of days before she died, and she talked to him about her experiences. She was 86 years old. She was robbed of her childhood and an education, which she would have dearly loved. She loved reading and she often said that she really liked school and that she did quite well but had to leave at the age of 14. I cannot imagine a little girl crying and cold at night with no-one to comfort her. But her story is not an isolated case. Sadly, as we have learned, it is very widespread.

The achievements of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse are a tribute to the victims and survivors, their families and their supporters. Their courage has helped create a culture of accountability and of trust in children's voices that helps all of us take responsibility for keeping children safe, secure and cared for.

But a sorry without action is meaningless. Right now we cannot guarantee that this won't happen again. In 50 years time, I don't want those who came after me to be standing here in this place issuing a second apology to those that we did not protect with carefully crafted legislation. The necessary changes to protect children must be made. From this day forward, this apology must be accompanied by action—actual meaningful change. The government has issued our apology, but we need to legislate to protect children. Failing to do so would make it possible to break the trust of those we said sorry to on 22 October, those who put their trust back in government after the apology to follow through with action to ensure that this does not ever happen again and that every effort is made to ensure that children will be kept safe into the future. If we do not do this then we will have failed those survivors.

I want to assure the survivors that it is our turn as elected representatives to take the baton now. The survivors have told their stories, the recommendations have been made and they have lobbied very hard for change. There will be no greater recommendations than those made by the royal commission. It is now our responsibility in this place to act. We have the power, we have the authority and we have the responsibility to turn these recommendations into action without caveats and without compromise. I make this commitment and I will work every day in this parliament to ensure that we make the changes that are necessary to protect vulnerable children, to ensure that your efforts and courage have not been in vain, to ensure that no child's voice will not be heard or believed again and to ensure that no child is ever a victim of such horrific abuse.

5:45 pm

Photo of Matt ThistlethwaiteMatt Thistlethwaite (Kingsford Smith, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Treasury) Share this | | Hansard source

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.

5:53 pm

Photo of Sharon BirdSharon Bird (Cunningham, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

On Monday we saw a national apology extended to the survivors and victims of institutional child abuse. Along with my colleagues, I want to take the opportunity to endorse and support the words of the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition, which were significant, sincere and critically important in providing a national apology to those children. So many of those children are now adults, but too many did not make it to adulthood. In adding my voice, I want to indicate that I know I do that as someone who sits here representing my electorate; I echo of the voices of so many people across my electorate who want that sorry said on their behalf as well. I do it in that spirit.

This was an almost incomprehensible evil that was perpetrated. We confronted that in this apology, and we have made a determination to do everything possible to not see that occur again. Like other colleagues, I've met with local constituents—I'm not going to name them—who came and sat in my office and bared to me the truly traumatic experiences of their childhood and the devastating, ongoing effects that had on their life. It was difficult to hear. It broke my heart, and I could only begin to imagine what bravery, what courage, what resilience it took for them to share that story in that small office where they met with me. For so many of those people to have shared that story, that experience, that pain through this process is an unfathomable recognition of their determination to protect children in the future from what had happened to them. I think we all pay the deepest respect to that witnessing that they did about their own traumatic, personal experiences, taking in good faith the determination of the royal commission to make sure they were heard, they were believed and that actions were taken to stop these sorts of events happening again. This is for people who, as children, were not seen, were not heard and were not believed.

I think all of us here cannot imagine the loneliness, the fear and the desperation of children who are dealing with a monster that's supposed to be responsible for providing care and sustenance and protection to them day after day. Imagine those children who tried to speak up, who tried to tell what their experience was, who tried to seek protection and were so often not only not believed but punished further for doing that. I think it's incomprehensible that those people went through that as children and turned around and told their stories. I want to acknowledge, in saying that, the role of advocates. Some of my colleagues have spoken about organisations like CLAN, advocates across the country who, for decades, have been the ears and the heart listening to those stories, before there was a formal way for that to be dealt with. I want to acknowledge the work of the commission, all of those people in the commission, who, day after day, did that really hard work, out of respect for those people and the stories that had to be told.

Of course, the royal commission was set up by former Prime Minister Julia Gillard, who was here this week for the apology. It has been progressed by all prime ministers since then. I think what was important in the apology provided by the current Prime Minister and the comments added by the Leader of the Opposition was that all of us, into the future now, carry a great responsibility to ensure that all the actions that were required out of that royal commission process are put in place and that we are determined to shine a constant, unwavering light into the organisations and institutions in this country that have a responsibility for looking after children, and that this is never repeated again. I think we would be failing the bravery of those who've told their stories if we are not vigorous at all times in making sure that we are doing that.

I want to recognise former leaders of not only this parliament but community organisations, police services and so forth who have been speaking out and trying to take action. In doing that, I want to very briefly acknowledge Joanne McCarthy of the Newcastle HeraldI come from Wollongong, and Newcastle and Wollongong share many things in common, including our local paper—and the work that Joanne did in exposing those stories.

I recognise Deputy Speaker Claydon, now coming to the chair, who was part of the reference group in the formation of the apology and Newcastle's strong links to this work. Joanne epitomises journalists who hear and listen to people and are determined to have a story told in the national interest, and I pay respect to her work as well.

In the time that's available to me, I just want to indicate that a constituent from my electorate attended the apology here in Canberra on Monday and reported back to me their reflections on the emotion and, indeed, in some cases, the distress of those that were in attendance. Our attendee from Wollongong had suffered whilst employed in the Defence Force. They advised there were a number of attendees who had suffered whilst in our armed forces. My constituent let me know that they were a little upset that they felt that the defence forces were not specifically mentioned on Monday. I want to acknowledge them and let them know that the Prime Minister yesterday, during question time, said:

There were many people yesterday who I know felt they weren’t recognised, and I particularly also want to recognise, if I can have indulgence on this one point, to recognise those in our defence forces who also suffered sexual abuse. I want to acknowledge them here today…

That was very important to my constituent, and I personally also want to ensure that they know that the apology is for them too. My constituent had previously never met anyone else from the organisation where their abuse had occurred, and Monday was the first time they were able to meet people who had a similar experience to theirs and they found that interaction to be healing. While acknowledging that Defence now has a number of processes in place for its employees through the White Card, they would love to see more opportunities for people, particularly from Defence, to create a permanent community, a place to be able to share their stories, relieve their isolation and provide support for each other.

My constituent felt that the apology on Monday was a step forward in breaking down the silos that existed within the life experience of so many people. They felt that yesterday also alleviated the isolation they had felt and, to some extent, some judgement they had felt about the way their lives had gone. For my constituent, in amongst all of those people, they felt completely understood and not judged. There was a sense of belonging. They felt loved and understood and, without any words needing to be spoken, they felt like all the barriers had been removed and that they belonged. I really appreciate the opportunity for my constituent to be there and I'm very proud to be able to put their reflections on the record in this place.

6:02 pm

Photo of Anne StanleyAnne Stanley (Werriwa, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

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.

6:07 pm

Photo of Michelle RowlandMichelle Rowland (Greenway, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Communications) Share this | | Hansard source

I add my voice to those of the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition to say how sorry I am for the abuse that occurred and was uncovered by the royal commission. I'd like to reflect on a couple of points.

The first is going back to reports on Monday, 12 November 2012 and the then Prime Minister Julia Gillard's words. It was reported on the ABC News website:

The Prime Minister said the commission would look at all religious organisations, state care providers, not-for-profit bodies as well as the responses of child service agencies and the police.

"The allegations that have come to light recently about child sexual abuse have been heartbreaking," Ms Gillard told reporters in Canberra.

"These are insidious, evil acts to which no child should be subject.

"Australians know … that too many children have suffered child abuse, but have also seen other adults let them down—they've not only had their trust betrayed by the abuser but other adults who could have acted to assist them have failed to do so.

"There have been too many revelations of adults who have averted their eyes from this evil.

"I believe in these circumstances that it's appropriate for there to be a national response through a royal commission."

…   …   …

"I commend the victims involved for having the courage to speak out.

"I believe we must do everything we can to make sure that what has happened in the past is never allowed to happen again."

I say those words to demonstrate how reflective those words from some six years ago are even today, because of how similar they are. What forthright judgement of Prime Minister Gillard at the time to have called that royal commission. Certainly what she said is very true about the need for an outcome and to ensure that this did not happen again. Again, how much does this show how the royal commission was set up for the right purposes. There was knowledge that there were these instances of abuse, and they needed to be explored.

I also pay tribute, as the member for Werriwa just did, to Nicola Roxon, who was the Attorney-General at the time and, in the parliament on 26 November, just a couple of weeks later, noted:

The submissions that have been received so far highlight a couple of important things: the importance of designing the hearing process appropriately so that victims feel supported through the process of preparing and giving evidence; and the need to appoint multiple commissioners with broad expertise. Legal expertise and child protection expertise are those that were most commonly mentioned in the submissions. Also the view of many who have put in comments to the government is that the commission should take whatever time is needed to get it right but also include timely reporting, with suggestions of every one or two years, with the recognition that the commission will need sufficient time to investigate thoroughly.

The fact that this royal commission was properly established with terms of reference that were so widely supported says so much about the people who believed in this process and who were finally in positions of authority where they could make that stamp and do it properly. Again this shows that we had such good people in positions of responsibility at the time, including Julia Gillard and Nicola Roxon.

In my remaining time I turn specifically to Joanne McCarthy from the Newcastle Herald, who won a Gold Walkley for her investigative reporting. It has been mentioned that Julia Gillard wrote to Joanne McCarthy to say:

Thanks in very large measure to your persistence and courage, the NSW Special Commission of Inquiry and the federal Royal Commission will bring truth and healing to the victims of horrendous abuse and betrayal.

Much has been debated about regional media and investigative reporting, and Joanne McCarthy herself noted:

I am a regional person, and I think only a regional paper could have done this. The truth is the truth. It doesn't matter where it appears. You just have to keep banging away.

I also think it is incumbent on us to recognise the importance of investigative journalism and where it fits these days in such an era of increased media consolidation and fake news. I draw to the attention of the House one of the attachments in a submission made by Dr Denis Muller, a senior research fellow at the Centre for Advancing Journalism in Melbourne. He wrote a case study in investigative journalism as part of a research project examining the civic impact of journalism. It's entitled How journalism got Australia the child abuse royal commission. It is an essential read. It starts out by noting:

In 1995, police in the Hunter region of New South Wales investigated Vincent Gerard Ryan, a Catholic priest, for sex crimes against boys spanning 20 years. Brought to trial in 1996 and 1997, he pleaded guilty to multiple offences … He ultimately served 14 years.

Apparently—I will go through some of the excerpts very briefly:

The Maitland-Newcastle diocesan office had become aware of his sexual predations in 1975 but continued to protect and promote him over those 20 years.

The article goes on. There was a sentencing of one Father James Patrick Fletcher:

The sentencing proceedings took place in the District Court at Gosford … The Newcastle Morning Herald assigned its Central Coast reporter, Joanne McCarthy, to cover the sentencing. She filed a brief routine report and returned to other duties.

However, towards the end of 2007, McCarthy was asked by the Herald's features editor to look into why enrolments at Catholic primary schools in the Hunter were dropping … she made a couple of phone calls, and in the second one the person on the other end said, "It might have something to do with the child sexual abuse stuff".

So the investigative journalism started—I acknowledge the member for Paterson in the chamber as well:

Still pursuing the falling-enrolments story and the possible link with sexual abuse, McCarthy visited the website of Broken Rites, an advocacy group established in Melbourne to support victims.

I think Dr Muller uses an incredible turn of phrase in this article:

… it was at this point that McCarthy cast off the school-enrolments story like an abandoned chrysalis: she was now in full pursuit of the allegation that Monsignor Cotter had covered up for Ryan. Cotter had gone to his grave seven or eight weeks earlier, hailed as a holy man.

It goes on:

This story was a watershed. "Suddenly I was just being inundated with calls that went beyond just Ryan. That was when I got a call from somebody I didn't know and this person said to me, 'You want to look at a priest by the name of McAlinden. You won't need a first name'.

It goes on, and I really recommend that members of the House have a look at this. It says:

The momentum for a royal commission was starting to build, and it was now that the Newcastle Morning Herald began to use the campaigning banner "Shine the Light", the introduction of which was accompanied by an editorial calling for a royal commission.

And a royal commission, of course, was called. The following Monday, they were in an office:

… when an ABC Lateline producer texted her to get to a television set immediately.

"We turned the TV on, ABC, and all of a sudden the TV crosses to Julia Gillard, and then with the first words she said, she was announcing a royal commission. Well I just fell apart. Just lost it. Absolutely lost it. I didn't hear one word that she said.

Madam Deputy Speaker Claydon, I acknowledge your great representation of Newcastle. What a tribute to the people of Newcastle is someone like Joanne McCarthy. The work that she did really formed the basis of a lot of these inquiries. I acknowledge that there were other inquiries that came about, including the work of Strike Force Georgiana, and that snowball effect really combined to get us to where we are today.

I will end by saying that a lot of this has now been put into popular culture, and some excellent screen work has been done on this. Many people will have seen the movie Spotlight from a couple of years ago, where The Boston Globe uncovered incredible, appalling cases of child abuse. I note, and here I'm quoting from an article by David Pilgrim in The Conversation, that:

At the end of this film, the director makes a point of printing a long list of all the places worldwide where the problem has been exposed, leaving the audience in no doubt as to the continuing pervasiveness of the scandal.

At least we had the apology this week.

A division having been called in the House of Representatives—

Sitting suspended from 18:17 to 18:33

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.

6:44 pm

Photo of Meryl SwansonMeryl Swanson (Paterson, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

On Monday, we reached another milestone in our growth as a nation with the national apology to victims and survivors of institutional child abuse. When in government, the former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd delivered an apology to the stolen generations in this very place. Sadly, many of those children were also victims of institutional abuse. I, along with all Australians, have been incredibly distressed by the revelations that were revealed during the royal commission which was instigated by the former Prime Minister, Julia Gillard. Julia's presence in the House on Monday was warmly acknowledged by all present and so very well deserved. Without her strength of conviction, the victims' stories may never have been told. During a time of political unrest, I'm sure the survivors of this horrific chapter in our history were heartened at the bipartisan approach to proceedings which culminated in the suspension of question time on Monday.

I know that in my electorate of Paterson there are many survivors of child sexual abuse trying to make sense of what happened to them. There are also many families of victims who could not continue to live with the memories and the pain, and they died too soon. The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse opened a world of pain for many survivors and their families. For some, this would be the first time in decades they had allowed the memory of what occurred to surface. In many cases, families were not even aware of the burden their loved ones had carried all of their lives.

I was pleased to be able to meet Katie on Monday, who had travelled with her daughter to Canberra in our very small FlyPelican plane from Newcastle Airport, from my electorate, to hear the apology firsthand. Katie is a survivor. At the age of six, she and her sister were abandoned into the hands of the Sisters of St Joseph. In the orphanage, where she stayed for six weeks, she suffered unspeakable abuse. Yet at the age of 97, Katie found the strength to tell her story, to call her abusers to account and to attend here in the nation's parliament to receive an apology from her Prime Minister. The Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition stood together and said 'I'm sorry, and we believe you'. At the age of 97, it is well and truly long overdue, but so well deserved.

I want to add my voice to tell those who avenue suffered at the hands of people who were supposed to protect them, to the survivors and to their families of those who did not survive, I am sorry, I believe you and I admire your resilience.

I would also like to thank the tireless work of Newcastle Herald journalist Joanne McCarthy, who continued to listen to victims and, importantly, to write about their horrors at a time when it was incredibly difficult to do so. Joanne's empathy and advocacy in no small part led to the issue gaining momentum. I can still remember her shock and delight at receiving a letter from the then Prime Minister Julia Gillard, thanking her for her work in helping make the royal commission a reality. I know it is still one of Jo's most treasured possessions.

I just want to take leave from my prepared speech for a moment to also acknowledge the member for Newcastle, who sits in the chair of the Federation Chamber on this day in 2018. I want to thank her for her tireless effort in the representation of the people of Newcastle, knowing that it really was, in many points, the focal point for much of the abuse. Shine the Light ,which the Fairfax newspaper Newcastle Herald led, was important, but your advocacy was also very important for our communities.

I would like to recognise Pat Feenan. Pat is the mother of four boys. Her son Daniel is the eldest of those. Daniel was brutally sexually abused by the notorious Father James Fletcher, known as Jim Fletcher to his congregation, from the Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle. One of the more shocking aspects of the case against Jim Fletcher was how the priest, who was a close family friend of the Feenans, set about grooming not just a young boy but the entire family. He was later found guilty of nine charges in a public trial in 2004. Jim Fletcher passed away in prison in 2006.

Pat was not to be defeated or worn down by the horrors that her family had endured. Not only was her precious boy completely abused, in every sense of the word, but her family were ostracised from the one thing that they had had in their life as their rock, the Catholic Church. Pat was not to be defeated. She set to and wrote a book called Holy Hell, and if I can commend any literature to anyone who is at all remotely interested in this story, it is powerful and personal, yet it portrays what happened to her family in a very sensitive way. I want to commend her for being brave enough to write it. The book is called Holy Hell. Thank you, Pat, for sharing it. I read it a number of years ago. Before I was elected to this place, I worked in the media. Talkback radio was the main part of the media that I worked in, and I had the pleasure of interviewing Pat. It was probably one of the hardest interviews I've ever done, as she recounted to me what she'd written about and what had happened to her family.

I also had the great honour of talking many times to Joanne McCarthy on the radio about her work. I asked: 'How do you keep doing this? How do you keep the strength?' She said: 'Meryl, the people keep coming to me with their stories. When you sit with them and hear the stories, there's just no way you couldn't write about them.' I'm highlighting these two individuals because they were brave enough to write about their stories. It's the way that we saw convictions come to pass. So, whilst the royal commission was incredibly important, the shared experiences and the bravery of those people is most important.

Returning to Monday, it was such an emotional day for everyone. While an apology to the victims and survivors of institutional sexual abuse is a start, it is not the end. In the spirit of bipartisanship that started this process, we must continue. The royal commission has made a suite of recommendations, and they must be actioned. Peter Gogarty, another survivor from Newcastle, has said it will mean nothing if we don't do something about the recommendations and put them into place. Doing nothing is just not an option. Justice is deserved, demanded and it must be delivered. Many of the recommendations included in the report focus on prevention. Sadly, there are still many children, for reasons that we don't know, who remain with their family members and find themselves in foster care and other types of temporary and permanent care today. In fact, I know that in the Newcastle and Maitland area there are up to 60 children, at times, every night in a motel room.

As a society, we must ensure that in another 20 or 30 years we are not hearing the same stories as those revealed during this royal commission. We must listen to those who lived the horrors and the experts who formulated the response and, as the Leader of the Opposition said on Monday:

It is now the moral duty of this parliament and future parliaments not to second-guess the royal commission but just to implement the recommendations of the royal commission.

To everyone who forced us not to look away, thank you and well done. I hope that this acknowledgement will help heal long-held trauma and emotional scars. Thank you.

Debate adjourned.

Federation Chamber adjourned at 18:53