Statement - House of Representatives, ACT

22 Oct 2020
Prime Minister

Prime Minister: Thank you Mr Speaker.

I move that the House commemorate the anniversary of the National Apology to the survivors and victims of institutional child sexual abuse.

Mr Speaker, two years ago today, this Parliament — on behalf of all Australians — apologised unreservedly to the victims and survivors of institutional child sexual abuse.

It’s a day that I’ll never forget.

I’m sure it is a day that all the members of this chamber will never forget, and the then Leader of the Opposition also, who joined with me in that important apology will never forget. 

And nor should we.

The Parliament was full of Australians from all walks of life.

Some of those, in this place also as members, who know only too personally of these matters.

All here to reclaim a part of their life - or to honour a loved one who could not be with us.

Through an action as gentle and as powerful as an apology, we confronted generations of suffering.

Their stories, strength, courage and presence allowed us to confront some terrible truths: that for generations our country chose silence over truth, the powerful over the vulnerable, and the reputations of institutions over the safety of children.

On that day, we apologised for the pain. For the suffering. The trauma inflicted upon victims and survivors.

We apologised to their children and parents.

To their siblings and families.

To those who have shared their experiences, and for those whose pain is still too searing to share.

And sadly, may forever be.

As I said on that day: “As a nation, we confront our failure to listen, to believe and to provide justice.”

Our apology didn't, and can’t undo our shared failures.

Nor did it return lost childhoods, or bring back those no longer with us.

But I earnestly hope it provided some small measure, some moment of solace to all those who suffered, and continue to.

And affirmed a national determination to never let those times be repeated.

Mr Speaker, prior to the apology I along with many others, met with members of the Survivor’s Reference Group who said “an apology without actions is just a piece of paper”. And that is right.

Today I will honour that sentiment and once again, report further on our actions.

The foundation of our response are the findings of the Royal Commission.

Of the Royal Commission’s 409 recommendations, 206 are directed wholly or partially at the Australian Government.

84 were about redress, and led to the establishment of the National Redress Scheme — now in its third year.

Of the other 122 recommendations, 45 have been fully implemented. And 76 are continuing to be in progress.

And only one is still to be implemented.

The Government continues to work with states and territories on another 56 endorsed joint recommendations, and we are playing a role in more than 50 additional recommendations that are primarily directed at the states and the territories.

Our first Annual Progress Report was tabled in December 2018, the second last December, and the third will be done by year’s end.

The National Office for Child Safety has, once again, invited a range of non-government institutions to provide a report — on their actions to keep children safe.

69 institutions have been invited this year — an increase on the 53 in 2019, and 11 in 2018.

The National Redress Scheme is now in its third year.

It continues to support victims and survivors with the support they need.

I can report that the latest figures show 8,297 applications have been received.

Of those, 4,670 decisions have been made.

This includes 3,826 payments, with an average redress payment of around $82,000.

This is a rapid increase on the 600 payments that I reported last year.

I said then this wasn’t good enough. It wasn’t. And we still have more work to do.

This was why Minister Ruston announced a further investment of $11.7 million in the Scheme.

We are now in the process of reviewing the Scheme, with an additional $104.6 million to be invested over the next four years.

This will ensure that the Scheme can meet victims’ and survivors’ needs.

It will ensure the Redress Support Services continue.

And it will allow us to finalise the on-boarding process for the 158 institutions that have committed to join the Scheme, to be completed by the end of the year.

The Royal Commission, the Apology - and these yearly reports are about accountability.

Bringing the truth into the light.

So I am reporting that on 1 July this year, 6 institutions were named as having failed to declare their intention to join the scheme.

Since then, 2 of these have joined.

We still have, reprehensibly, 4 institutions who have been named publicly and who have blatantly refused to join the Redress Scheme.

They are:

  • Jehovah’s Witnesses
  • Kenja Communication
  • Lakes Entrance Pony Club Inc
  • Fairbridge (Restored) Limited.

It is not acceptable.

We are currently finalising the further sanctions, I know that are supported by the Opposition, the Commonwealth will place on institutions who continue to refuse to join the Scheme. Including withdrawal of their charitable status for these offending organisations.

Mr Speaker, one of these areas that the Royal Commission recommended the federal, state and territory governments work together on, was on a National Strategy to Prevent Child Sexual Abuse.

Unfortunately, progress to finalise the Strategy has been significantly impacted by the pandemic.

I know this is deeply disappointing for everyone involved. Including the Government.

But let me reassure the House: the Government will deliver this Strategy, and we now expect it to be finalised in 2021.

Mr Speaker, the pandemic has seen the National Office for Child Safety redirect its efforts over the past several months.

It has focused on supporting organisations, sharing resources with states and territories, and progressing policy work within the Commonwealth.

Efforts continue on implementing the Commonwealth Child Safe Framework.

This Framework sets minimum standards for child-safe culture and practices within Australian Government entities.

New resources are also being developed to help children and young people understand that they can speak up when they feel unsafe — and how.

This work is being spearheaded by the Commissioner for Children and Young People in Western Australia — with funding from the National Office — and will be available in December.

Other resources are also in the works, including supporting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisations and communities to implement the National Principles for Child Safe Organisations.

And in a way that is culturally safe and relevant.

I am also pleased to announce that additional investment is being made to expand the Australian Child Maltreatment Study.

This is the first national study of its kind, and it looks into the prevalence and health impacts of all forms of child maltreatment in Australia.

The results will be released from September 2023, and will help guide Australia’s child safety policy priorities in the years that follow and well into the future. It’ll be a key tool.

Mr Speaker, last year I quoted a survivor who said, “Let our voice echo”.

My response was: May it ever be so. 

My Government’s commitment to this — to ensuring the voices of victims and survivors are remembered and heard— will be enshrined in permanent form with a National Memorial.

The Memorial will be built here in our nation’s capital.

The Budget allocated funding for the Memorial, and it is expected to be completed in 2022.

Mr Speaker,  our actions are not only about the past - but protecting Australian children now and into the future.

The safety of our children is all of our first priority.

That’s why in the past year, we have strengthened our laws to reflect this.

We’ve introduced a range of new offences.

We’ve increased maximum penalties.

We’ve introduced mandatory minimum sentences for the most serious and repeat offences.

We’ve also made it easier for agencies to investigate and prosecute child sexual abuse, and created offences for Commonwealth officers who fail to protect children under their care, supervision or authority.

As well, we’ve put more resources into responding to reports of child sexual abuse, and are working closely with our international partners to make sure the digital industry plays its part protecting children online.

I acknowledge the work of Australia's eSafety Commissioner Julie Inman Grant and her efforts in schools and universities working with young people, with those institutions - helping keep our young people safe.

I can report we’re on track to launch the National Centre for the national Prevention of Child Sexual Abuse next year.

The Centre will put a national lens on improving outcomes for victims and survivors — reducing stigma, raising awareness and understanding, and of course preventing child sexual abuse.

Mr Speaker, I said two years ago “We can never promise a world where there are no abusers. But we can promise a country where we commit to hear and believe our children.”

That is what we reaffirm today. Together.

This is our shared and constant responsibility. Together.

A responsibility I know, in this place, we are all determined to meet.