Julia Gillard: National apology must mean more than just ‘sorry’On 08/09/2019 by admin
Momentous: Julia Gillard, as Prime Minister, announcing the establishment of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse on November 12, 2012.Today is an exceptionally important occasion for the survivors of sexual abuse in institutional settings and their loved ones.
For those who have suffered so much, whether they gather in Parliament House or watch and listen from elsewhere, the apology being delivered today is an overdue acknowledgement. Finally, the nation is saying we see you, hear you, believe you, value you and we are sorry.
As Prime Minister, in consultation with my Labor colleagues, I determined to establish the royal commission that ultimately came to recommend the apology we will hear and witness today, along with a multitude of other actions our nation should take to try and make some amends for the past, and to better protect children in the future.
The decision to instigate the Royal Commission was not an easy one to make.I wrestled with it.
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Based on what was apparent in 2013, which was barely a fraction of what we would come to understand, I wanted the most powerful form of inquiry to investigate and uncover the harm done to children behind closed doors and veils of secrecy.
But I deeply worried about the impacts of a royal commission probing peoples’ hurt. I was anxious too about the fact that such an inquiry would inevitably take a long time and cause frustration.
These fears might seem like odd ones now, given how successful the royal commission has been.
But when I look overseas, it is clear to me that my worrying was not irrational. You only have to consider the UK’s Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse and the litany of problems it has faced, including resignation and replacement of its lead commissioner three times, to understand how the flaws of an investigation can worsen the grief of survivors.
In the end, I decided that not having a royal commission would in fact bea further betrayal.
People who have experienced so many doors being slammed in their faces when they tried to tell the truth would once again experience the distress of another banging shut. I also believed that the commission would find new insights about how to protect our children in the future.
Having decided as a government that we should act, we selected the royal commissioners with the greatest of care.
Jenny Macklin, Nicola Roxon and I worked over many weeks to get the most experienced and expert team of people to be the commissioners. Wayne Swan provided some wise counsel along the way. We knew that those agreeing to take on a role of commissioner would be immersing themselves in years of evidence filled with pain and distress, a task that would take a toll on even the most resilient.
The nation owes a debt of gratitude to commission chair The Hon Justice Peter McClellan AM, and commissioners the Hon Justice Jennifer Coate, Bob Atkinson AO APM, Robert Fitzgerald AM, Professor Helen Milroy and Andrew Murray, who all agreed to take on this society-changing task.
Day after day they read and listened to the most horrific and distressing personal stories. By its final report, over 16,000 individuals had contacted the commission, and over 8000 stories were heard in person.
The commissioners fulfilled their roles with dedication and care, gaining the confidence of survivors and those who support them. Crusading journalists like Joanne McCarthy, of the Newcastle Herald, ensured the truth they uncovered was known throughout our nation.
All commissioners remained with the investigation from the beginning through to the final report. There can be no stronger demonstration of their commitment to a just outcome for victims, survivors and their families.
But those who did the most to make the commission work, and to ensure its report endures, are the survivors who came forward.What incredible courage. What a profound contribution to our nation’s future.
I would like to personally record my thanks to the survivors, the commissioners and those who supported them.
Your truth-telling and diligent work means we have achieved something remarkable as a nation.
Australia is one of the only places in the world to complete such a comprehensive government-instigated nation-wide inquiry into institutional abuse. We are also one of the only nations to have such far reaching recommendations to guide us for the future. Other countries like New Zealand are now following Australia’s lead and initiating inquiries of their own.
Today’s national apology is about more than just the word “sorry”. The institutional failures and cover-ups that compounded and prolonged the suffering of victims are a stain on our country’s history. While we cannot fully erase the pain of the past, we can help to ease its burden.
My hope is that today stands as an important milestone on the journey of healing and reflects our commitment to walk forward hand-in-hand with survivors.
I also hope it is a moment when we all commit to doing everything possible to prevent this dreadful systematic abuse of children’s trust ever happening again.
Julia Gillard was the prime minister of Australia from 2010 to 2013