National Apology to Victims and Survivors of Institutional Child Sexual Abuse

It's important to me that I rise in this parliament today and add some remarks about the National Apology to Victims and Survivors of Institutional Child Sexual Abuse for a couple of reasons.

The first is that, as a result of sick children, I wasn't in the chamber on Monday when the apology was given, and I need it placed on the record that there is only one reason for that, but the bigger reason is that this has been an important undertaking of the parliament. The apology was a very important moment for this parliament, and the calling of the royal commission was a very important act by the previous government.

On Monday, as the speeches were given, whilst I was surrounded by illness and some unpleasantness, I was watching both the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition address the chamber through the television. No matter what was going on around me at that time, you couldn't help but feel the sincerity of the words that they were saying. I place on record my gratitude to both the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition for the important roles that they played and the messages that they delivered on Monday.

It's also important to acknowledge the role of former Prime Minister Julia Gillard. Hindsight's a helpful thing at times, but we should never forget that this was an incredibly brave and controversial call at the time. Earlier today former Prime Minister Gillard was saying that she had sleepless nights tossing and turning over whether we should call this royal commission and open up a whole lot of wounds. She made the right call. We should acknowledge that this has been, no doubt, an incredibly painful process at times, with deeply uncomfortable information coming to light, but if we as a parliament are going to commit to ensure that we can stamp out this kind of abuse, we cannot tackle it head-on without looking at the clear facts and making sure that we address them, so I thank the former Prime Minister for her courage in getting that call so very right.

I also mention the commissioners who undertook this inquiry. Hearing some of the stories that we've heard in this parliamentary discussion, I can't imagine what it would be like hearing firsthand from victims and survivors—awful, unthinkable crimes being outlined in front of you, day after day—and what it would take to respond to that not just with anger and grief but actually with a clear-minded approach as to what is the best way forward and how we navigate our way from here. I thank them for that incredibly difficult role.

Most particularly I address my words to the victims and survivors and add my apology. I am so incredibly sorry that any child in this nation has been subjected to the kinds of stories we heard far too often throughout this process. I am so deeply sorry that the people who you thought that you could trust turned out to be full of an unthinkable evil, and that you were subjected to that. I'm so incredibly sorry that we had institutions and trusted organisations that failed to act and failed to have protections in place. And I am so incredibly sorry that for far too many of these children, now adults, when they did speak up, they weren't believed or weren't taken seriously.

There can never be any justice that can undo those wrongs which have occurred, but we will say here in this parliament that we are deeply sorry to you and that we are deeply sorry for the ripple effects felt by those around you. The parents feeling the guilt of not being able to fulfil that one primary function of protecting their children, thinking they were doing the best for them and sending them off into the hands of monsters. I'm so sorry that that happened to you.

Most significantly, I know that we have passed legislation in this parliament for the National Redress Scheme. We acknowledge that this process, that this apology, does not undo everything that's happened, that there will need to be ongoing support and counselling. We commit to ensuring that the government sees that through. But most of all, I just want to add in my remarks that this has been an incredibly important process, but it doesn't count for anything unless we do absolutely everything in our power to do better for today's children and for tomorrow's children, and to make sure that Australia is a country that stands up and says: 'Not on our watch. Not our children.'