Speech: National Apology To Victims and Survivors of Institutional Child Sexual Abuse

3.15pm | November 13, 2018

After decades of enforced silence, business in our parliament was suspended last month to publicly acknowledge and apologise for the pain that was caused by institutional child sexual abuse. I cannot imagine how that must have felt for those who have spent years striving to be heard and striving to be believed. I can only add my voice to what has already been said. I, like the rest of the nation, am truly sorry. I am sorry for what was done to you, and I am sorry for what was not done for you. It is truly unforgiveable.

It was impossible not to be moved by the stories of deeply personal grief and betrayal that were revealed at the royal commission. All of Australia has heard witness after witness speaking with the perfect eloquence of truth. It shouldn't have taken a royal commission for these voices to be heard and to be believed, yet for many it was the first time that they were. Every Australian now knows how children suffered in places that they should have felt safe—in their schools, in their scout halls, in their churches and in their beds. This is uncomfortable knowledge. But that discomfort is not something that we should shy away from; it is something that should motivate us.

We do a great disservice to victims and survivors if we pass off what happened as the work of some other. The perpetrators held positions of authority and respect in our communities. It is wrong to say that evil happened; evil was done. Years ago, in a very different context, thinkers grappled with the concept of the banality of evil—and their conclusions hold some truth for us today. These abuses happened among us. These horrible acts were done by people who led otherwise respectful lives; they were ignored by others who found it easier to stay silent in institutions that were happy for children to pay the price for maintaining their public reputations. We cannot begin our reckoning with that past until we recognise our culpability as a community for what occurred, and we cannot complete that reckoning until we make sure that the past cannot be repeated.

I know that the act of appearing before the royal commission and reliving what happened took a toll on many people. So too did the years of advocacy and the battle for justice that came before it. Victims and survivors did this not just for themselves but to make sure that no other child would have to live through what they did. The royal commission has generated a comprehensive list of reforms, and there is no excuse or reason for resiling from them. As the opposition leader, Bill Shorten, said in the other place, Labor will, wherever we sit in this parliament in coming years, unequivocally support the implementation of the royal commission, with no discounting or delay. This is something we owe to the children whose suffering brought about the royal commission. It is also something we owe to those yet to come. The apology has been described as a once-in-a-generation event. It must not become a 'once-a-generation event'. This must never happen again.

Delivered on 13 November 2018