SPEECH: Fifth anniversary of National Apology to Victims and Survivors of Institutional Child Sexual Abuse


Ms CLAYDON (Newcastle—Deputy Speaker) (10:46): It's an honour to stand in this chamber following my colleague the Minister for Social Services, Amanda Rishworth, and the member for Bass. I thank them both for their exceptional efforts to ensure that we find justice for those who have had the most heinous crimes committed against them as children. I, too, rise to make a contribution today to mark this fifth anniversary of the national apology to victims and survivors of institutional child sexual abuse. The apology was delivered five years ago by the former prime minister Julia Gillard AC, a colleague and friend, and it marked a historic moment in recognising the tens of thousands of innocent victims of child sexual abuse, much of which occurred in what should have been our most trusted institutions.

More than 17,000 victims, survivors and advocates gave evidence at the royal commission. Having had the commission sit in my hometown of Newcastle for a number of days, sadly we have two volumes dedicated to the shocking crimes that were committed over many decades in the diocese of Maitland and Newcastle. Many, many survivors have told me that that royal commission and their experience of that was the gold standard of royal commissions, and I really congratulate, retrospectively, not just the former prime minister Julia Gillard but those prime ministers that followed, as well as the current Attorney-General, who was also the Attorney-General then and had so much to do in shaping that royal commission process, ensuring it was a safe space for survivors and that they would be able to get the evidence that was required to shine a very big light on what had previously been part of Australia's very darkest histories.

The royal commission certainly did expose the horrors that thousands and thousands and thousands of Australian children experienced in places where, as I said, they should have felt safe. Their courage in coming forward and reliving their trauma cannot be understated. It was the result of that courage that, finally, after many years of living with untold trauma, their perpetrators got exposed and the institutions that in some cases turned a blind eye—or, even worse, engaged in acts that covered up what were clearly explicit crimes—were held accountable. The excellent work of the royal commission and the subsequent establishment of the National Redress Scheme have gone a long way to validating survivor experiences and reminding us all of the need to always ensure that our responses are survivor focused and that everything we do is, indeed, trauma informed.

I do wish to make note of a recent High Court ruling that has paved the way for many survivors of abuse from perpetrators now deceased to go ahead and seek justice. The significance of this decision is enormous. We're yet to see it really play out in Australia, but it means that survivors of child sexual abuse will no longer be excluded from a pathway to justice simply because their abuser has died before this matter has come forward. The High Court decision to overrule the infamous dead man's defence is especially important given that we know that it takes an average of more than 20 years for a survivor of child sexual abuse to tell someone about that experience. The case will put to an end, as I said, the shocking misuse of the dead man's defence, ensuring that more survivors can pursue justice for the lifelong trauma of the horrific abuse they experienced as children.

Given the prevalence of institutionalised child sexual abuse in the Maitland-Newcastle diocese and the extensive use of permanent stays in New South Wales, there will be many survivors in my community who will be greatly relieved by this High Court decision. They may now even dare to hope that justice, albeit long delayed, is within reach.

I'd also like to acknowledge the work of the Albanese Labor government in making sure that the National Redress Scheme for Institutional Child Sexual Abuse Amendment Bill is now fairer and more transparent. I sat in the chamber yesterday listening to the minister as she introduced the National Redress Scheme for Institutional Child Sexual Abuse Amendment Bill 2023.As deputy chair of that committee that was set up to oversee the National Redress Scheme, I was there from 2017 to 2022. This work is deeply important to not just my community but also to me and my work in this parliament over many years now. I am and remain deeply committed to seeking justice for survivors of child sexual abuse, and some of the most harrowing evidence given in the royal commission came from Newcastle and the Hunter region. We have much work to do to ensure that those people are supported to heal and to seek the justice they deserve. It's for those people, their bravery and their commitment to ensuring the abuse they experienced never happens again that this work is so important.

I acknowledge some people in Newcastle—survivors—who have been steadfast in their advocacy in this work. I acknowledge Bob O'Toole and his group, the Clergy Abuse Network; Peter Gogarty, now an associate lecturer at the Newcastle School of Law and Justice, who has been an absolute champion; Audrey Nash, who lost her beloved son, Andrew, through suicide as a result of the abuse he experienced in his life, and her other children—Geoffrey and others—who have been dogged in their insistence that justice is served. I want them to know that I stand beside them each and every day in pursuing that goal too.

I echo the words of the minister and acknowledge the powerful advocates who have called on the government to do something about addressing those wrong of the past. There have been many more from across the nation, and this helped shape the legislation that was put before the House yesterday. The bill has some key changes to allow applicants to provide additional information when they're requesting a review of their decisions, reducing the circumstances where applicants must undertake a special assessment process. This is particularly important for people with criminal convictions or who are doing time in prison, removing restrictions that prevent incarcerated survivors from lodging an application. We know that so often many of those people in prison have been survivors of child sexual abuse, so enabling that to progress and a reassessment of final applications if a relevant institution joins the scheme down the track, has been an important amendment.

I understand there are now 496 nongovernment institutions that are participating in the National Redress Scheme. There have been 13,400 payments, totalling $1.2 billion, that have been paid to survivors to date, but this is not a note of self-congratulation here. This is just the tip of the iceberg. We know that. The royal commission estimated some 60,000 people would seek to make use of the National Redress Scheme, and only 13,400 have been paid out. There is always room to improve the scheme, and we will continue to do that. I acknowledge the terrific work of the national centres now established to focus on the eradication of child sexual abuse in our country, and I thank the House for the opportunity to speak today.