SPEECH - National Apology to Victims and Survivors of Institutional Child Sexual Abuse
26 October 2021
It is a great privilege to rise in this chamber to speak on this motion on the third anniversary of the apology to survivors of institutional child sexual abuse, as I have on each and every anniversary in this House. Each year we take the time to gather here in this place, the Australian parliament. As we should—it's the very place in which the national apology took place. It's a time for us to critically reflect on the progress being made in terms of the implementation of the recommendations of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.
Just before we go to some of those details, I think it's really worthwhile to take a moment to reflect on the historical context of the apology. I really want to pay tribute, again, to the work of the royal commission, which really did an extraordinary job. I have talked to literally hundreds of survivors who gave testimony to that royal commission who tell me repeatedly that it was the gold standard for royal commissions in Australia. It was an essential exploration of one of the darkest and ugliest chapters in our national history.
In paying tribute to the royal commission, I want to acknowledge the former Prime Minister, Julia Gillard—who took the brave move, as one of the final acts of her role as Prime Minister, to sign off on the royal commission—and, of course, the extraordinary work of the former member for Jagajaga, Jenny Macklin, in seeing this through.
As I said, the royal commission uncovered some of the most horrific abuse of innocent children, perpetrated by the very people that they were entrusted to. It was that gross violation of trust that sat so badly with every Australian. I have no doubt about that. It was felt very deeply in my community of Newcastle. Not unlike Ballarat, we were indeed an epicentre of institutional abuse that took place over many decades, and there are a lot of very traumatised people in my community as a result.
There was a National Apology Reference Group formed in order to help craft and shape this apology. I was very privileged to serve on that committee. I was appointed under the then Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull, and was joined by a number of parliamentary colleagues, including former senator Derryn Hinch; former Greens senator Rachael Siewert; Steve Irons, a member of the government; and a whole lot of community people. The group was chaired by Cheryl Edwardes. Caroline Carroll was on there, as well as Christine Foster, Craig Hughes-Cashmore, Hetty Johnston and Richard Weston. I always like to take a moment to acknowledge their work—their steadfast advocacy—in helping to ensure this apology took place in the first place.
Of course, an apology is really just the start of the process. It's not where you put a full stop and say, 'Job done.' That is really what we want to focus on here today. That leads us to the implementation of the National Redress Scheme.
Indeed, a number of inquiries have come before this parliament. I have put on record many times my concerns about the lack of progress of this parliament and of the government in terms of leadership and ensuring that the National Redress Scheme lives up to the expectations of the royal commission in its recommendations. Victims and survivors of child sexual abuse in institutions have consistently told us about their concerns with the redress scheme and its many inadequacies. Most of these issues were, again, revisited by the independent reviewer, Robyn Kruk, who canvassed and tabled her report, the second anniversary review. But, again, we really need to put on record that this review was a reiteration of the many, many issues that have been well known and have been put before this parliament again and again since 2019.
So, this is not an opportunity to pat ourselves on the back about small, tentative steps made in this regard. I have highlighted, as has my colleague who has joined us, the member for Barton, a number of the pitfalls in the national scheme. Indeed, back in 2019 I tabled the first report from the joint committee on the implementation of the scheme about getting the redress scheme right and moving towards justice. I note that the government has made some tentative steps towards putting in place some of the recommendations from Robyn Kruk's report, and I do welcome that. Labor stood and supported those recommendations in the legislation that came before the House recently. We supported the advance payment of $10,000 to older people with terminal illness or vulnerabilities. That is something Labor has for a very long time been calling for. It's something the Scottish parliament had put in place. They should take it as a form of flattery that we shamelessly borrowed it! I think it was a great initiative. We welcomed the reduction of the time frame, the indexation of prior payments, some changes around not requiring people to make a statutory declaration in order to lodge their applications and changes to allow redress payments to be made in instalments. All of these are good things—hence Labor welcoming and supporting the legislation that came before the House.
But so many things remain unresolved. Again, I can only repeat—we have been drawing the government's attention to these since 2019—things like the fact that we still do not have lifelong access to counselling for all survivors or their families. We have an assessment matrix that continues to prioritise penetrative abuse, despite the fact that we know full well that trauma is not caused only by penetrative abuse. We know this to be a fact. We know that the assessment guidelines still will not be made public, and that puts survivors at a gross disadvantage in completing their applications, as it does all the legal counsel involved in doing so. There is still not a minimum payment level for the redress scheme. There are so many issues that Labor has put before government, as indeed has the joint committee, which is a multipartied committee, making very constructive recommendations in our report in the last term of parliament and in our interim report again this time. We are about to lodge another report to the government, because we still have extremely low rates of participation in the National Redress Scheme.
Don't sit back on your laurels now, thinking, 'Job done!' The appallingly low rates of First Nations people participating in the National Redress Scheme are cause for alarm. The Commonwealth still has very live questions to answer around its role as a funder of last resort. We are not talking about history here; we are dealing with new cases of abuses that are contemporary, that are occurring today. So let's not think we have dealt with or have somehow managed to resolve issues of prevention, because we haven't.
That takes me to some of the comments that the Prime Minister made in his speech. He made an announcement that they have finally awarded a tender for the National Centre for the Prevention of Child Sexual Abuse. Well, terrific, but that promise was made three years ago. I have had survivors contacting me and asking: what is going on? Now I can at least say that a tender has been awarded. There hasn't been a hole dug or anything else, but we do have a tender in place. That is good work, but do not seek to get patted on the back for doing a job that is long overdue.
For the sake of survivors and their families we cannot continue a pathway of just ticking boxes to make ourselves feel like we're satisfying some kind of checklist. We've got to remind ourselves consistently of the importance of the apology and the tasks that lie ahead to deliver genuine justice for people who were betrayed and had criminal acts perpetrated against them. We have a responsibility to deliver justice to each and every one of them.