Tuesday 11 August 2020
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Australian PM - 1 month ago

Motion - National Apology to Victims and Survivors of Institutional Child Sexual Abuse

Mr Morrison: (Cook—Prime Minister and Minister for the Public Service) (16:16): I move: That the House commemorate the anniversary of the national apology to the survivors and victims of institutional child sexual abuse. I join with all in our chamber today, I join with the Leader of the Opposition and I join with all of those across the country as we mark the first anniversary of the Australian government s and parliament s apology to the victims and survivors of institutional child sexual abuse. I remember that day incredibly well. It is burned in my memory forever, and I remember on that occasion speaking of those around the country who still would not be able to get out of bed without the horrific memory of what they have lived with ever since those unutterable things were done to them all those years ago or even most recently. And so we come again today and, as we commemorate this day, they, the survivors, are the ones we have in the front of our minds and deep in our hearts. And we also remember those for whom it was just too much, and they are no longer with us. A year ago, our nation said sorry. I described it as: … a sorry that dare not ask for forgiveness … a sorry that does not insult with an incredible promise … It was a sorry as if we lay prostrate before those to whom it was offered, with nothing to say other than to reflect on the terrible events that have afflicted their lives. We acknowledge the national trauma—a national trauma that was hiding in plain sight—the silenced voices and what I described as the muffled cries in the darkness and the never-heard pleas of tortured souls . That is still true today—ritual crimes of sexual abuse committed by enemies in our midst, enemies that all too often cloak their evil in roles where they should be trusted more than any: teachers, priests, pastors, coaches, counsellors. Because they held positions which our society deems respectable, they were believed. A survivor named Ann said, My mother believed them rather than me. As a parent, those words still just make me shudder. Our apology, which brought all parties, all people in this place, together in this House, was one of our most difficult moments, but it was also the parliament at its best. I particularly want to thank the then Leader of the Opposition, Bill Shorten, for his partnership on that day, for sharing and carrying that burden on behalf of this parliament with me on that day as we stood in this place, as we spoke to those who sat silently in the chairs and around the gallery—many of whom are back here again today—and as we went out onto the lawns also and as we went into the Great Hall. So thank you, Bill. Thank you very much. We can both tell those stories. Last year, I met Aunty Mary Hooker, a Bundjalung woman who was on the lawns of Parliament House after the apology . I was reminded of that today. She told me that she gave evidence to the royal commission because, she said, The truth needed to be told. Aunty Mary passed away two weeks ago, and until the time of her death she had on the television in her home a photo of the two of us from that day. It wasn t about any one prime mi it was about what that day meant to her and how what we did a year ago at least provided her with some measure of solace. The apology required us to confront a question, a terrible question, too horrible to even ask: why weren t the children of our nation loved, nurtured and protected? So we said sorry for the hurt and the horrors, for the violation of dignity and self-worth, for what was done, the acts too unspe sorry for what was not done, and should have been, as we looked the other way instead of helping or inter sorry to families who are forever scarred and des sorry to those who weren t believed. Our failure as a nation was catastrophic and inexcusable, and no apology can undo it, yet we apologised because we should have and we must have. And I would like to think of it as an ongoing, continuous apology. I agree with the survivor who said, Child sexual abuse is not just a crime against the it s also a crime that attacks the social fabric of the nation, and in these acts the fabric of our society was rent, and our apology was just one humble but important step in trying to mend it. On this day one year ago, we paid tribute to the thousands of people who came forward bravely, with courage, to tell their story to the royal commission. And there weren t just a the numbers make us shudder. Seventeen thousand came forward, and nearly 8,000 recounted their abuse in private sessions of the royal commission. A year ago, we pledged—I pledged—that we would report back to the Australian parliament, to the people, on the progress we are making on the implementation of the recommendations of the royal commission, because now it s only actions that can prove the worth of our sentiments, and that is what today is the opportunity to do. But, in providing these introductory comments, I think it s important for us to go back to where we were a year ago and simply allow the horror of those events to impact us with a heavy blow. The government will continue to report annually on this progress, as we should. Of the royal commission s 409 recommendations, the 84 regarding redress have been addressed through the implementation of the National Redress Scheme. The Commonwealth has a further 122 recommendations that we are working on either wholly or partially with our state and territory colleagues. I am pleased that work on these recommendations will advance. Around one third have already been implemented, and the remainder are well underway. The Commonwealth has also taken on a national leadership role for more than 30 additional recommendations that were primarily addressed to the states and territories, and we are working closely with those states and territories on those matters. We tabled the first annual progress report last December and we will continue doing that each year for five consecutive years or, frankly, for as long as it takes. All states and territories also published 2018 annual progress reports and will also provide annual reporting. This year, we have also encouraged a further 42 non-government institutions, whose conduct was called into question at the royal commission, to report on their actions and to change their practices. The public accountability across governments and non-government institutions is crucial and vital. One year on, I can report the National Redress Scheme has been operating for just over a year and is giving survivors access to counselling, psychological services, monetary payments and, for those who want one, a direct personal response from an institution where the abuse occurred. So far, more than 600 payments have been made, totalling more than $50 million, with an average redress payment of $80,000. More than 60 non-government institutions or groups of institutions are now participating in the scheme, and that represents tens of thousands of locations across Australia where this happened. And there are other institutions that have chosen not to join, perhaps captured by lawyers, legal advice—perhaps deaf to the cause of justice. All they are doing in not joining this is doubling down on the crimes and doubling down on the hurt. And so to them who have not joined, I say: join. Do the decent thing. Do the right thing. Do the honourable thing. It is not just what survivors expect and their families and the families of those who did not s it is what every decent, honest Australian demands and what we in this place, all as one, demand as well. I also acknowledge that the Redress Scheme needs to do better in supporting survivors. The rate of response is not good enough, and it must improve. Applications have not been processed as fast as I want them to be. That is why earlier today, Minister Ruston announced a further investment of $11.7 million in the National Redress Scheme, to improve its operation and to better support survivors. I want better outcomes. The funding will support case management of applications to reduce the number of different people a survivor may be required to deal with while their application is being processed. It will also allow the government to hire more independent decision-makers to finalise applications as quickly as possible. On 5 March 2019, the government also committed funding of $52.1 million to boost support services for survivors of institutional child sexual abuse. This funding will support 34 existing agencies to June 2021, as well as five additional providers, to offer redress support services to survivors in remote and regional areas, male survivors, survivors with a disability, and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander survivors as well. The royal commission made many recommendations for the Australian state and territory governments to work together to prevent the horrors of the past from occurring again. One of those was a national strategy to prevent child sexual abuse, and I can report that all governments are currently working on a 10-year strategy. Over 350 consultations have now taken place as part of that work, and I expect it will be released in coming months. As recommended by the royal commission, the strategy will include education and awareness raising, improved support services for victims, initiatives targeted at offender prevention and at children with harmful sexual behaviours, and improved information sharing, data and research. We ve also been working with our state and territory colleagues to enhance working-with-children checks in line with royal commission recommendations. We re closer to our goal of making the standard of checks consistent across the country and have started rolling out a database to be able to share this information more easily. This database will also allow agencies that issue these checks to be aware of whether an applicant has been refused a check in another jurisdiction. In response to the royal commission, the parliament has recently passed the Combatting Child Sexual Exploitation Legislation Amendment Bill 2019. The act introduces new failure-to-report and failure-to-protect offences—much needed for Commonwealth officials who have care, supervision or authority over children. It strengthens laws on forced marriage and overseas child sexual abuse committed by Australian citizens and residents. To address challenges facing our law enforcement agencies, the act strengthens child sexual abuse material laws, including in relation to material accessed online. The act also amends Commonwealth law so it is no longer using the term child pornography —an outdated phrase that did not reflect the heinous criminal acts depicted in child sexual abuse materials. We re close to finalising our online safety charter, which sets out the government s expectations—on behalf of the Australian community—for social media services, content hosts and other technology companies. Businesses that interact with children in the real world have to meet high standards of safety, and digital businesses should be treated no differently. The charter is due for release by the end of this year. The eSafety Commissioner is making the online environment safer for children by developing resources for Australian schools and organisations to provide best practise online safety education. The royal commission produced some groundbreaking research work on the nature and scale of sexual abuse in Australia. We want to build on that work, and that s why I ve announced Australia s first national child maltreatment study. This will be the most comprehensive study of its kind undertaken anywhere in the world. We re establishing the National Centre for the Prevention of Child Sexual Abuse. The royal commission recommended the national centre should raise awareness of the impact of abuse, increase our workforce s knowledge and their competence in responding to victims and survivors, and coordinate a national research agenda. The government has committed $25.5 million over five years to establish that centre. I ve asked all states and territories to also contribute. We ll be consulting on the scope, function and governance arrangements in coming months. The royal commission also found that more needs to be done to ensure that places where children and young people meet are safe, so I was pleased earlier this year when COAG endorsed the National Principles for Child Safe Organisations. There are 10 principles, and they include things like making sure that leadership takes responsibility for child safety, that staff and volunteers are properly trained to care for our children and that children are taken seriously. All government agencies are implementing these principles. We re also working with state and territory governments to get them implemented consistently across our nation. We also want organisations that work with children to adopt these principles so they can guide their decision-making and the way they operate. Earlier today, Minister Ruston handed over to the parliament the parchment etched with the apology s wording. It will now take its place in the Members Hall, along with other items that tell some of the stories of our nation. It s not one of the pretty stories. It s not one of the stories we can be proud of. It s only one that we can be deeply ashamed of. The oak table used by Queen Victoria when signing the royal assent that enacted Australia s Constitution is there and the Yirrkala bark petitions are there, but also are the apologies made to the Stolen Generations, to the forgotten Australians, to the former child migrants and for the forced adoptions. These items of ceremony, struggle and suffering sit in the symbolic heart of our Australian parliament on public display, because that s who we are as a people. We confront the ghosts and horrible misdeeds of our past because it s right to do so, but we also do it as a living memory to us all—that we should never see them repeated. For it to be here in this place, let it be a remembrance for us, let it call us to account, because these things are part of our national story, and we ve got to own all our stories to be a complete people. Many of the survivors who gave evidence to the royal commission were asked to share a message with the Australian people about their experiences as part of this display, and more than a thousand Australians have done so. One of them, whose name is not known, wrote to us and said, Let our voice echo. Well, it does in this chamber today, and may it ever be so. May all those brave voices continue to echo. Let it bounce, but not just let it permeate into how we remember what they have told us. They are believed, we said a year ago, We believe you. We still believe you, we will forever believe you and we are sorry, as we said a year ago, and we remain sorry.


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