Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison yesterday delivered a formal apology to Australia’s victims of child sex abuse, saying that the nation must acknowledge their long, painful journey and its failure to protect them.
Morrison’s emotional speech given in parliament before hundreds of survivors followed the conclusion of a Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, the nations’ highest level of inquiry.
“Today, as a nation, we confront our failure to listen, to believe and to provide justice,” he said, adding: “We say sorry.”
Abuse survivors who had gathered in parliament’s Great Hall cried, yelled and applauded as Morrison read the apology.
“I believe you, we believe you, your country believes you,” he said.
The four-year inquest that delivered its final report in December last year revealed shocking evidence from more than 17,000 survivors and heard allegations against government, church and private institutions, as well as prominent individuals.
It also heard evidence from leaders such as Vatican Cardinal George Pell, who is charged with committing historical sex abuses himself and was accused of failing to protect children.
The prime minister said that it was time for Australia to confront key questions.
“Why weren’t the children of our nation loved, nurtured and protected? Why was their trust betrayed?” he said.
“Why did those who know cover it up? Why were the cries of children and parents ignored? Why was our system of justice blind to injustice? Why has it taken so long to act? Why were other things more important than this, the care of innocent children? Why didn’t we believe?” Morrison said.
He said nothing could be done to right the wrongs inflicted on children.
“Even after a comprehensive royal commission, which finally enabled the voices to be heard and the silence to be broken, we will all continue to struggle,” he said.
“So today, we gather in this chamber in humility, not just as representatives of the people of this country, but as fathers, as mothers, as siblings, friends, workmates and, in some cases, indeed, as victims and survivors,” Morrison said.
Australian lawmakers stood for a minute of silence following the apology, which came with the announcement of government plans to create a museum and research center to raise awareness and understanding of the impacts of child sexual abuse, and to ensure the nation does not forget the horrors victims have suffered.
The research center is also to assist those seeking help, and guide best practices for training and other services.
The Australian government would also commit to reporting every year for the next five years on the progress of the royal commission’s recommendations.
It has already accepted 104 of the commission’s 122 recommendations, including a redress payments program, with the other 18 recommendations still under examination.
The government has also established a new office of child safety, to report to the Australian prime minister.
Opposition leader Bill Shorten joined the apology, saying that Australia had failed tens of thousands of children across generations.
“Our nation let you down. Today, we offer you our nation’s apology, with humility, with honesty, with hope for healing now and with a fire in our belly to ensure that our children will grow up safe in the future,” Shorten said.
While many survivors and campaigners welcomed the apology, others called for more to be done to address the history of abuse.
In Canberra, Rick Venero, who was abused at a Marist Brothers school in Sydney, said action should be taken against institutions that protected pedophiles.
The apology “meant a great deal. It’s fantastic to get that from the Australian people,” Venero said.
However, “it’s pretty shattering actually, to come here and everyone’s behind it, and the power of these institutions means that nothing’s really happening,” he said.
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