Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse Adjournment

07 February 2017

Yesterday's evidence to the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse was indeed shocking, and Australians have been deeply angered and upset by those revelations. It is the first time that an Australian arm of the Catholic church has opened its books to reveal the true extent of that abuse over some decades. Importantly, it underlines how significant the royal commission has been in exposing abuse and ensuring survivors get justice. Were it not for the royal commission, that evidence, that opening of the books of the Catholic church, would not have happened.

Many survivors of childhood sexual abuse have been waiting their whole lives for redress for the crimes that were perpetrated against them as children. The Labor Party does understand that nothing can make up for the pain and trauma experienced by survivors of that abuse. But I do want to acknowledge that the royal commission is an important step along the road to justice, and telling the stories and giving visibility to them has been an important part of the road to healing for many survivors, who for too many years were ignored or not believed. Tonight I want to put on record my acknowledgement of all of those extraordinary men and women who survived that horrific abuse and who have shared their painful accounts with the royal commission and indeed put the pressure on churches and other institutional organisations to come forward with their own evidence.

We cannot let the bravery of these people who have told their stories be wasted. We must ensure that the government implements the recommendations of the royal commission. We must act swiftly to implement all of the recommendations when the final report is handed down later this year. As the shadow minister for families and communities, I want to say on behalf of Labor that we are committed to the implementation of these recommendations.

We have already expressed our significant concern about the government's opt-in scheme for redress for this abuse. An opt-in scheme means that only organisations who want to participate in redress will have to do so, and that is simply not good enough. Survivors of these horrific crimes deserve so much more than that. No country should stand by and let perpetrators get away with these crimes. No country should stand by and do nothing to help with the healing of survivors, and that is indeed what would happen if we let people opt-out of redress.

The royal commission is an opportunity for the government to try and right some of these past wrongs and for us to do that as a parliament and to assist in the healing of survivors, and it must include a comprehensive redress scheme. It must also bring us to have some more constructive discussions about government; how government needs to act to ensure that institutions are best positioned to protect children and prevent abuse from occurring. And there are many ways that we will need to work together to make organisations child-safe, and the royal commission is already putting us on notice of the things that need to happen. Indeed, even before they report, they are asking us to implement many of those things.

We know from the interim report that there are things that the government can and should be doing now, in the interests of children and child-safe organisations across the country, to prevent this horrific abuse. They include national working with children checks, national child-safe principles and child-focused programs to reduce vulnerability. These are all recommendations which we must put in place sooner rather than later. I want to note that the communique from community services ministers from across the country last year is making some progress but not nearly enough and not nearly urgently enough. I and Labor will be watching closely to ensure that all the recommendations of the royal commission lead to real change and real action.