National Apology to Victims and Survivors of Institutional Child Sexual Abuse

By Terri Butler MP

01 December 2020

In rising to commemorate the second anniversary of the National Apology to Victims and Survivors of Institutional Child Sexual Abuse, I want to join with the other speakers in acknowledging all of those who suffered as a consequence of that abuse. There are people who lost their lives as a consequence of that abuse. They never recovered from the trauma. They were never able to live with what they had been through, and some of them never even disclosed what they had been through. There were children who tried to report what was happening to them and weren't believed. There were children who weren't able to find the words to report what was happening to them and carried it with them into adulthood. There are adults who made their first disclosure later in life. There are adults who made their first disclosure, having thought about it and lived with it for years and years—decades in some cases.

There were victims who did not survive, and there are survivors. Many of those survivors fought for a long time to be able to live with what happened, to be able to bring the perpetrators to justice and to seek the disinfection of sunlight in relation to child sexual abuse.

In my electorate, I want to mention Lotus Place and Micah Projects, who've worked very hard with victims and survivors. All of the people who attend Lotus Place do so because of historical abuse. I also want to mention CLAN and a friend of mine, Bill Marklew, who has been an advocate for people who are survivors of abuse. But there are so many more people who stood up and said that as a nation we have to come to terms with what happened. We've got to face up to it. We can't wish it never happened and turn our eyes and divert our gaze. We have to look squarely in the face of what happened so it never happens again.

The royal commission into institutional abuse was a moment for looking squarely in the face of what happened to so many people. It was a national moment for doing that. Thousands of people, 17,000 people, came forward in that royal commission and 8,000 of them shared their stories. It was a massive groundswell of pain that was ventilated at that royal commission, and that was a royal commission that Julia Gillard instituted. I pay tribute to her and the government at the time for doing that. I also pay tribute to the now Prime Minister and the former Leader of the Opposition for making the national apology a little more than two years ago. That apology was a really important moment for all of us, certainly all of us here in this parliament to bear witness while our leaders, our elected leaders, the people the nation chose to speak for them, on behalf of the nation gave that apology. It was an important day, not because it signified the conclusion of shining the light, the conclusion of dealing with these issues, but because it signified an important step at the beginning of that long process.

We have the National Redress Scheme. The National Redress Scheme is incredibly important. You can never compensate for pain. You can never compensate for abuse. You can never compensate for trauma. All the compensation, all the redress and all the funding can be are symbols of the grief, the regret, the apology, the pain. No money in the world is enough to make up for what happened, but that's not a reason not to make sure the money isn't adequate to be an expression of the regret, of the pain and of genuine redress.

As at the beginning of November, the scheme had received 8,577 applications. It had made more than 4,900 decisions, issued almost 5,000 outcomes, finalised more than 4,000 applications, including more than 4,000 payments totalling approximately $340.3 million. It had made 588 offers of redress which were currently with applicants to consider, and were processing 4,121 applications. But eight years since the announcement of the royal commission and two years since the apology, survivors in many cases are still waiting and, tragically, some of them are not living long enough to see the finalisation of their applications for redress.

In the last couple of minutes available to me before the debate moves on, I do say it's important to make sure the redress scheme is fit for purpose and accommodates the needs of survivors, particularly those survivors who are elderly, who are frail. It's important as well for those institutions that haven't yet signed on, if they have been named in an application, to do the right thing and sign up. Do the right thing and sign up to the scheme. We on this side have also been arguing for the cap to be lifted to $200,000 rather than the $150,000 the states and the Commonwealth have agreed to. But whatever is done, fairness is important. We should not have a situation where there's insult added to injury, so I do call on the government to make sure they do everything possible to ensure the scheme is fair.

In closing, let me say again to those victims and survivors: as everyone in this debate has said, we believe you, we are grateful for your courage and we hear you.