The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sex Abuse shone a light on the harrowing and devastating sex abuse that tens of thousands of children endured whilst under the care of a number of national institutions across Australia, including the Salvation Army, Catholic Church and Scouts Australia.
Now, Prime Minister Scott Morrison has issued a national apology to those who fell victim to horrendous abuse in their youth, as he announced the establishment of a national museum as well as a centre of excellence, dedicated to raising awareness and an understanding of the impacts of child sexual abuse.
Speaking to the lower house in Canberra on Monday, Morrison struggled to hold back tears as he addressed the country, while hundreds of survivors, gathered in the gallery, Great Hall and on the lawns of Parliament House, watched his address live.
“As a father of two daughters I can’t comprehend the magnitude of what she has faced,” Morrison told his colleagues, as he relayed the story of one survivor. “Not just as a father, but a prime minister, I am angry too, at the calculating destruction of lives and the abuse of trust. Including those that have abused the shield of faith and religion to hide their crimes, a shield that is supposed to protect the innocent, not the guilty. They stand condemned.”
The PM relayed the stories and harrowing experiences of many abuse survivors, describing the mental health issues faced by many and offering an apology to not only the children who were “failed”, but also the spouses, families and younger generations.
He added: “Today as a nation we confront our failure to listen, to believe and provide justice and again today we say sorry. To the children we failed, sorry. To the parents whose trust was betrayed and have struggled to pick up the pieces, sorry. To the whistles blowers who we did not listen to, sorry. To the spouses, partners, wives, husbands and children who have dealt with the consequences of abuse, cover ups and destruction, sorry. To generations past and present, sorry.”
Morrison also vowed that the government will deliver an annual progress report on the work it has done to implement the recommendations outlined by the royal commission, promising to do so for the next five years and into the future.
“The foundations of our actions are the findings and recommendations of the royal commission, the steady compassionate hand of the commission and staff resulted in 17,000 survivors coming forward and nearly 8,000 recounting their abuse in private sessions,” he added.
“It is because or your strength and your courage that we are gathered here today. Our children must be heard. They must know who they can tell and they must be believed.”
Leader of the Opposition Bill Shorten also addressed the crowd: “Australia failed tens of thousands of children, across generations and across the country. Our nation let you down. 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. Above all we do this because of you, I say this to you here in the galleries, in the Great Hall, on the lawns and beyond, in the big cities and country towns, today is because of you. Today is because of your advocates, networks, organisations and your leadership. It is you who bravely fought the long battle for justice, for recognition, for truth to be believed. It is you who kept coming forward again and again. You dug beneath scar tissue, you told strangers and people in power of the most terrifying moments in your memory. You’ve given so much of yourselves through your stories. You spoke up, you relived your pain in the royal commission, for the next generation of Australian children.”
Former Prime Minister Julia Gillard, who ordered the national inquiry in 2012, was in the lower house today and penned a moving opinion piece for the Sydney Morning Herald ahead of the Morrison’s public address, in which she described the apology as “overdue”.
“The apology being delivered today to survivors of institutional child sexual abuse is an overdue acknowledgement,” she said. “Finally, the nation is saying we see you, hear you, believe you, value you and we are sorry.
“Today’s national apology is about more than just the word ‘sorry’. The institutional failures and cover-ups that compounded and prolonged the suffering of victims are a stain on our country’s history. While we cannot fully erase the pain of the past, we can help to ease its burden.
“My hope is that today stands as an important milestone on the journey of healing and reflects our commitment to walk forward hand-in-hand with survivors. I also hope it is a moment when we all commit to doing everything possible to prevent this dreadful systematic abuse of children’s trust ever happening again.”