National Apology

Mr RAMSEY (GreyGovernment Whip) (17:55): Mr Deputy Speaker:

I believe the children are our future

Teach them well and let them lead the way

Show them all the beauty they possess inside

These are the words of the song Greatest Love of All, written by Michael Masser and Linda Creed, but most famously sung by Whitney Houston. They could not have been more true. Children are our future. They are to be protected, loved, nurtured and cherished. But, sadly for some children, physical, sexual and emotional abuse, neglect, violation and exploitation robs them of their ability to reach their potential and see their true beauty. Trauma, betrayal, shame and paralysing fear have no place in the life of a child. Children subjected to abuse are often never rid of the feelings, even in adulthood.

Yesterday in this place the Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, and our nation apologised to the children who have been crushed and broken and scarred forever by an abomination. The most unthinkable betrayal is the abuse of a child at the hands of an adult. The Prime Minister tabled a formal apology in the parliament on behalf of the Australian people, the Australian parliament and the government. We hope this can help the healing process for all of the survivors.

Many brave victims contributed to the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse commissioned by former Prime Minister Julia Gillard in November 2012. Following the release of the final report, the Australian government has accepted 104 of the 122 recommendations handed down by the royal commission and 18 are still under consideration. None have been rejected. We are determined that the voices of the abused will no longer be silenced and we've committed to report every year for the next five years on the progress of the royal commission's recommendations, and a report will be handed down in 10 years time.

Institutionalised sexual abuse affects children and adults across every element of the community: ethnic, socioeconomic, educational, religious, geographic. Those among us who spent our childhoods completely unaware, because we were in lucky and blessed households, never knew how many survivors there were in our communities—those around us. The inquiry opened the floodgate of misery, torment and agony. The commission received more than 40,000 telephone calls and 25,000 letters and emails and held about 8,000 private sessions. The stories of the survivors are emotive, heartbreaking and beyond comprehension.

I have a real character who lives in my electorate. He's a bit alternative. He's adopted an unusual name and is a regular in my office for a chat. He's a highly intelligent, caring man. One day he brought in something for me to read. It was pages of laboriously handwritten memories of his childhood. He had been spurred to put his experiences on paper when the royal commission was announced. He'd never told another soul of the things he had written down, they were so buried inside. Once read, those words could never be forgotten. His was the story of a little 4-year-old boy who, with his brother, was put into care by his father. It was a story of abuse in every form at the hands of carers, carers in orphanages, foster carers and older institutionalised children. He was abused, neglected and tortured. He never knew a loving touch; he never experienced care or a hug. He only knew pain, humiliation, shame and hurt. My constituent is a survivor, but the cost has been enormous and every single day is a challenge. There are many survivors like him, but, sadly, there are many who could not survive the pain.

We owe it to every victim to do our best to make sure no child will experience what my constituent lived through every day of his childhood. Sexual abuse is a sinister betrayal because of the shame it instils in the victim. With childhood sexual abuse, victims are often too young to know how to express what is happening to them or to seek help. When children do report abuse, they aren't believed. The result can a lifetime of depression, anxiety, substance abuse and pain, and people charged with looking after vulnerable, defenceless, innocent children, are too often the abusers—teachers, priests, scout masters, coaches—and the most trusted in communities.

In the past, for much of the time that the royal commission examined, those most at risk were in orphanages, group homes, foster homes or under the care—at least for periods of time—of church figures who normally receive the greatest respect. And I suspect, hope and pray that, largely, those times are behind us. But as the member for Barton raised, and I must say, on this sombre occasion, while we have made good ground in this area, the high rate of family failure in the modern world has opened up opportunities for other depraved individuals closer to home. Perhaps rates of neglect and abuse are not higher than in the historical context, but I suspect that that is not the case, and children are regularly mistreated in settings much closer to home. In fact, the high level of intervention coming from state departments as they try to deal with the failure of family is only too evident. The overloading of the kinship care model and the necessity for some children to be removed from family care and be housed in motels with departmental officers is a graphic example of the outcome of the failure of family.

As a society, we must have nil tolerance for child neglect and abuse. If anyone knows and they do not act, they are complicit. We must act because 50 years on is just far too late. We know all forms of abuse can cause harm to a child's health, survival, development and dignity. Children deserve our love and care and they need to know that we will never betray their trust. And that is why all members of the parliament pledge to ensure that all children today and in the future are protected to the best of our ability, and those who are victims of abuse are believed and cared for.

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