- Prime Minister Scott Morrison has delivered a national apology on behalf of the Australian parliament to survivors of child sexual abuse perpetrated in institutions ranging from religious organisations to government-run facilities.
- The apology was a recommendation from the five-year royal commission that spoke to more than 8000 survivors of child sexual abuse.
- The PM wants to establish a museum that bears witness to what occurred, as well as a centre for excellence to study the impact of child abuse and offer support to survivors.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison struggled to maintain his composure during a national apology to the survivors and their families of institutional child sexual abuse in parliament this morning.
“Today, Australia confronts a trauma, an abomination, hiding in plain sight for far too long,” he said.
“Today, we confront a question too horrible to ask, let alone answer – why weren’t the children of our nation loved, nurtured and protected?
“Why was their trust betrayed? Why did those who know cover it up? Why were the cries of children and parents ignored?
“Why was our system of justice blind to injustice? Why has it taken so long to act? Why were other things more important than this, the care of innocent children? Why didn’t we believe?
“Today, we dare to ask these questions, and finally acknowledge and confront the lost screams of our children.”
The apology was one of 409 recommendations from the $500 million royal commission into the issue instigated by former prime minister Julia Gillard in 2012.
The royal commission took five years, heard from 1200 witnesses and also held private sessions with 8000 survivors.
It concluded that 58.1% of the abuse occurred in religious institutions, and 32.5% in government-run institutions.
As part of the response, a national redress scheme has been established offering survivors up to $150,000 in compensation, that will run for a decade.
The Prime Minister said today was a day to acknowledge the “silenced voices, muffled cries in the darkness, unacknowledged tears, the tyranny of invisible suffering, the never-heard pleas of tortured souls, bewildered by an indifference to the unthinkable theft of their innocence”.
Morrison struggled to regain composure as he thought of his own daughters in recounting a meeting with a mother whose two daughters were abused by a priest the family trusted.
“Suicide would claim one of her two beautiful girls and the other lives under the crushing weight of what was done to her,” he said.
“As a father of two daughters, I can’t comprehend the magnitude of what she has faced.”
His apology induced tears from many MPs in the chamber too.
The Prime Minister said the nation should beg the survivors allow it to apologise, but could not ask for forgiveness.
He said in part:
We must be so humble to fall before those who were forsaken and beg to them our apology.
A sorry that dare not ask for forgiveness, a sorry that dare not try and make sense of the incomprehensible, or think it could, a sorry that does not insult with an incredible promise, that sorry that speaks only of profound grief and loss.
A sorry from a nation that seeks to reach out in compassion into the darkness, where you have lived for so long.
Nothing we can do now will right the wrongs inflicted on our nation’s children.
Even after a comprehensive royal commission, which finally enabled the voices to be heard and the silence to be broken, we will all continue to struggle.
So today, we gather in this chamber in humility, not just as representatives of the people of this country, but as fathers, as mothers, as siblings, friends, workmates and, in some cases, indeed, as victims and survivors.
We honour every survivor in this country. We love you. We hear you. And we honour you.
No matter if you are here at this meeting place, are elsewhere, this apology is to you, and for you. Your presence and participation makes tangible our work today, and it gives strength to others who are yet to share what has happened in their world.
Elsewhere in this building and around Australia, there are others who are silently watching and listening to these proceedings, men and women who have never told a soul what has happened to them.
To these men and women, I say this apology is for you too. And later, when the speeches are over, and we stand in silence, and we remember the victims who are not with us any more, many, too sadly, by their own hand.
With the public gallery packed, and another 800 survivors and their supporters – chosen by ballot – in the Great Hall to witness the apology of both Morrison and opposition leader Bill Shorten, the Prime Minister made four key commitments as part of the government’s response to the findings of the royal commission.
Morrison wants to create a national museum of “truth and commemoration” in order to raise awareness and understanding of the impacts of child sexual abuse.
“We will work with survivor groups to ensure your stories are recorded, that your truth is told, that our nation does not turn from our shame, and that our nation will never forget the untold horrors you experienced. Through this, we will endeavour to bring some healing to our nation, and to learn from our past horrors,” he said.
With support from the states and territories, the government also wants to create a national centre of excellence for understanding child sexual abuse.
“This centre will be the place to raise awareness and understanding of the impacts of sexual child sexual abuse, too deal with the stigma, to support, help and seeking and guide best practice a for training and other services,” Morrison said.
He will also move the National Office of Child Safety into the portfolio of prime minister and cabinet, where it will report directly to the PM.
The Prime Minister said the government was now working on 104 of the 122 royal commission recommendations addressed to the Commonwealth, with the other 18 remaining being examined in consultation with states and territories.
He committed to reporting on the progress in December this year on the progress and then annually for the next five years.
“We will shine a spotlight on all parts of government to ensure we’re held accountable,” he said.
And the institutions which perpetrated this abuse covered it up and refused to be held accountable must be kept on the hook.
The Prime Minister paid tribute to his predecessors, from Julia Gillard to Kevin Rudd, Tony Abbott and Malcolm Turnbull for seeing through the royal commission and subsequent responses.
The official apology was subsequently presented to survivors in the Great Hall following the speeches, but the key part of Morrison’s apology was thus:
As a nation, we confront our failure to listen, to believe, and to provide justice.
And, again, today, we say sorry, to the children we failed, sorry.
To the parents whose trust was betrayed and who have struggled to pick up the pieces, sorry.
To the whistleblowers, who we did not listen to, sorry.
To the spouses, partners, wives, husbands, children, who have dealt with the consequences of the abuse, cover-ups and obstruction, sorry. To generations past and present, sorry.
Opposition leader Bill Shorten also spoke, offering his own apology on behalf of Labor, saying in part:
To everyone to whom this day belongs I say on behalf of the Labor opposition and the Commonwealth parliament and the people of Australia – we are sorry.
We are sorry for every childhood stolen, every life lost.
We are sorry for every betrayal of trust, every abuse of power.
We are sorry for trauma measured in decades for scars that can never heal.
We are sorry for every cry for help that fell on deaf ears and hard hearts.
We are sorry for every crime that was not investigated, every criminal who went unpunished.
And we are sorry for every time that you were not heard, and not believed.
We hear you now.
We believe you.
Australia believes you.
And we are sorry it has taken so long to say these words. We are sorry for wrongs that can never be made right.
We are sorry that you and your brothers and sisters have been left to fight for justice, respect and dignity on your own.
You should not be alone any longer.
Australia is with you.
And we are sorry that the abuse and the assault and the rape of children is still going on and being covered up.
This very day, in this very country.
We are sorry that we still cannot protect all our children.
And we are sorry all of us in this parliament that we’ve not yet done enough to guarantee that this cannot happen again.
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