Thursday, 3 December 2020
National Apology to Victims and Survivors of Institutional Child Sexual Abuse
When I was preselected for the electorate of Corio, one of the first people who reached out to me was Leonie Sheedy, who was the convener and one of the founders of Care Leavers Australasia Network, a group that represented and provided advocacy on behalf of those who had grown up in orphanages. She made clear to me that I had a particular responsibility, representing the community of Geelong, to be engaged in the issues facing those who had grown up in orphanages—something like half a million Australians, a number which staggered me. The reason she said I had a particular responsibility was that Geelong had had a greater number of orphanages within it than any other city in Australia outside a capital, which, to put it another way, meant that there were probably a greater number of people who had grown up in orphanages living in my electorate than perhaps any other in the country.
So, from the very first day of my being in this place, this is a journey that I have followed, from the Senate report that I mentioned through to the first of the national apologies, which was given by Prime Minister Rudd on 16 November 2009. The then Minister for Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs, Jenny Macklin, was a critical part of seeing that apology be given. I worked very closely with the member for Blaxland and the member for Swan in seeing that apology come to fruition. All of us have been patrons of CLAN ever since. A number of others in this place, such as the former senator from Queensland, Clare Moore, the member for Kingston and indeed the member for Maribyrnong, who is here with us now, have also been active in advocating on behalf of CLAN and their issues.
I remember that apology very clearly. It was a moment of enormous relief—a sense of relief that thousands of people around the country had, that there was a belief in the stories of their childhood that they were telling in a way that that belief had never been given before. But there was also an astonishing amount of pain—a sea of pain really—which you could see on the faces of so many on that day. The sheer scale of what had been and what this meant was put on graphic display in that first apology, as it was, that was delivered two years ago—and I do note the presence in the chamber at the moment of the member for Maribyrnong, who was part of the apology that we are speaking of today.
From there, there was, of course, the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, which was instituted by the Gillard government and remains, I think, one of the great achievements of the Gillard government. It allowed in a granular way people to tell their own particular stories and for them to be heard by the state, by our nation, and for that to materialise into something that was both a record of what had occurred but was also practical in terms of what should happen going forward. Perhaps the most significant piece of policy which came out of that was the Redress Scheme, which I was amazed came to fruition.
It's a wonderful piece of policy, commenced on 1 July 2018—and, in that sense, is a credit to governments of both persuasions—but it remains inadequate. That's an important point to note: it does remain inadequate in terms of the level of compensation that it offers but also the speed with which people are able to access it. What became clear to me at that time was that the symbolism of this story, of this journey, as important as it is, only has meaning if it is matched by action, and there is much more action that needs to be done beyond redress. For example, we do need to have particular measures in respect of aged care for those people who started their lives growing up in institutional care.
Last Saturday week I had the pleasure of being the guest speaker at the annual general meeting of the Care Leavers Australasia Network, which took place in Geelong in what will be the Australian Orphanage Museum, a premises that has come into the possession of CLAN but really on behalf of the nation, to establish the museum in that place. The museum itself was an important step in the process because. For those who have grown up in orphanages who don't have family with whom they can commune throughout their lives, who can be a touchstone of their youth, a museum, a place they can visit where they can see things that are familiar to their youth, good and bad, is a really important measure in terms of being able to ground their adult life. So there is an enormous desire amongst this community to have an orphanage museum for them but also to help tell their story to the rest of the nation.
One of the things that has come through dramatically in my working with CLAN is the strength of the survivors—people like Vlad Selakovic, who is in my electorate, Leonie Sheedy and Joanna Penglase who helped establish CLAN. Leonie has taken the time throughout her life to listen to the individual stories of literally hundreds upon hundreds of people who have survived. To immerse oneself in that sea of pain in the way in which Leonie does is an act of enormous courage and selflessness. She's a saint and a national treasure, and I really want to acknowledge her today.
Whilst acknowledging what more needs to be done, this is also a moment to just remember what has been achieved. That apology back in November 2009 was to the forgotten Australians. That's a term those who grew up in orphanages don't like to use anymore, because there is a sense now that their story is not forgotten anymore; their story is part of the national story. That has changed our history and it has changed our perception of who we are as a country and what our journey has been.
Finally, I want to remember one person in particular, and that's Anthony Sheedy. Anthony, at the age of two, was put into an orphanage and spent his youth growing up in a series of orphanages, including one in Geelong. He thought he was an orphan. He literally thought he didn't have parents. When he was 12, miraculously, his parents came and visited him. Imagine that. They spent the day with him. He might have thought on that day that they were going to take him home. They didn't. They left him there that night and he didn't see them again. It's an incredible interaction and I can't imagine what that was like for a 12-year-old. He was physically and sexually abused repeatedly throughout his time in orphanages. At the age of 15, he was put in handcuffs and taken to an orphanage in Bendigo. His adult life was one of misery. He took solace in alcohol. He drifted between boarding houses. At the age of 60, he was discovered by his sister, Leonie Sheedy. He volunteered in my office in the last nine years of his life, where he did achieve some sense of happiness. The person I met was somebody who was cheery and cheeky. He loved Frank Sinatra and a loved the Cats. He was at the apology in November 2009. I remember him on that day. When he died suddenly of a heart attack in 2011, in his effects was a letter which would have begun the process of getting redress. That never occurred, and it's a reminder that we need to get redress now for all those who are out there so that no more miss out. (Time expired)