National Apology to Victims and Survivors of Institutional Child Sexual Abuse

I rise to contribute some remarks to the debate on the motion of Senator Cormann. I'd also like to acknowledge those of my colleagues who have spoken before me. Our children are our greatest gifts. Their innocence should always be protected. The crimes against these children who were robbed of their innocence have stained our nation.

The cover-ups of these crimes have stained our nation. The fact that these children were not heard or believed has stained our nation. The stain on the nation has touched all of us. It's heartbreaking. I want to pay tribute to the so many who have helped us to get to this point. Whether they be survivors, advocates, in the legal profession or policymakers, I thank you. To those who made the painful and brave decision to come forward to the royal commission, thank you. You've made a difference and you are part of the reason why atrocities like these will hopefully never happen again.

I'd like to acknowledge the former Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, for setting up the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse in 2012. I thank the former Prime Minister for her courage and for ensuring that the royal commission got to the bottom of all these harrowing stories, because her acknowledgement and her belief that the children should be heard have done more to protect the children of the future than anyone else has done. The applause she received and the way the room erupted when she was in Canberra last month for the national apology is a testament to the profound impact she had on the lives of so many. Today, we honour every survivor in this country. We hear you, we believe in you and we are so sorry. We also honour and remember those who are no longer with us. The words spoken in this place today are for you. Our words are also for your families. As many have said in the other place, as a nation, we failed you, and this will always be our shame. The perpetrating institutions of this abuse, who covered it up and refused to be held accountable, failed dismally. They failed these children and they failed all of us. As former Prime Minister Julia Gillard said back in 2012, 'These are insidious, evil acts to which no child should be subject.' I'm sorry for this pain that can never be undone.

I don't think there is any state or church in Australia that wasn't touched by this evil. As a woman of faith, I'm deeply appalled at the institutions and the churches that failed so abysmally to stand for the values they were supposed to represent. I'm profoundly sorry for the experiences that people have had at the hands of people who should have known better, at the hands of those who breached their trust—trust given by our society, trust that was so disgracefully destroyed. Nothing can take away the deep, harrowing sadness, pain, emptiness, helplessness and betrayal that you have all lived with for too long. Nothing can take away the tears and the emotional exhaustion that still fatigues you to this day. You carry the pain with you every day, and I am so sorry for the things you have missed out on, the things you've been unable to enjoy, the things you've been held back from and the lives you will never get back. There are survivors who have spoken about not wanting to go on anymore. They feel crushed under the astonishing weight of the pain they carry with them every single day. Thank you for showing up, for fighting and for being part of the process. Thank you for being brave and giving strength to others who are yet to, or may never, share what happened to them.

I know a lot of words are used in this place, and I know that actions speak louder than words. There has been great momentum from the royal commission, but we need to keep moving forward. As the Leader of the Opposition, Bill Shorten, rightly put last month, it is now up to those in power, no longer just the survivors and the victims and their advocates. Sadly, even though I wish we could, we can't promise a country where abuse no longer exists. But we can promise a country where we commit to hearing and believing our children. We can commit to ensuring that we, as a government and a community, do our very best to ensure such abuse never happens again. We can ensure that we continue to do what the royal commission did so well, and that was to listen to the people whose lives have been damaged by treatment that they did not deserve and that they did not ask for. In acknowledging how real this pain is, we can commit to an effective redress system.

I won't for a second pretend that the National Redress Scheme can make up for the pain, the suffering and the trauma experienced by survivors, but redress is a vital step along the path to healing for survivors of child sexual abuse and is a vital step for all of us as a nation and a community. It's incumbent on all of us as parliamentarians to work together to get the rollout of the National Redress Scheme right. This is imperative. Survivors have been through so much and have waited so long. It is absolutely imperative that we get this right. I think it's so important that we continue to work together to right the wrongs of years gone by and to ensure that those events can never be repeated so that the institutions and the sporting groups and the Scouts and the churches that are entrusted with the care of children actually deliver that care. The stain left on our nation is something we will have to live with. These churches and institutions must work to restore the faith and trust of the community that they serve. There's been so much damage and hurt, and trust has been broken. It's time for healing; it's time for our nation to say sorry.

I will close by simply saying that we are sorry. I am so sorry. We believe you. I believe you.