Royal Commission's message to Australia

The final sitting of the royal commission into institutional responses to child sexual abuse was packed to overflowing Thursday and ended with a standing ovation when Justice Peter McClellan concluded his message.

Scores of survivors of sexual abuse, and the people who supported them, alongside the Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and leader of the opposition Bill Shorten, applauded loudly as the commissioners took their seats for the final time in the Sydney hearing room.

The tissue boxes provided on the seats were passed around as Justice McClellan began his final address into the royal commission which began on November 12, 2012 when then prime minister Julia Gillard announced its creation.

Over the past five years, more than 15,000 Australians contacted the royal commission. Over 8000 of them spoke with a commissioner in a private session; for many it was the first time they had told their story.

Newcastle Anglican Bishop Greg Thompson and Audrey Nash after the final public hearing to mark the end of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse Photo: AAP

Newcastle Anglican Bishop Greg Thompson and Audrey Nash after the final public hearing to mark the end of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse Photo: AAP

More than 4000 individual institutions have been reported as places where abuse took place. More than 2500 allegations had been reported by the royal commission to the police; many of them from private sessions. So far 230 prosecutions have been commenced.

"The failure to protect children has not been limited to institutions providing services to children. Some of our most important state instrumentalities have failed. Police often refused to believe children....child protection agencies did not listen to children," Justice McClellan said.

"Many institutions we examined did not have a culture where the best interests of the children were a priority. Some leaders did not take responsibility for their institution's failure to protect children."

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But the elephant in the hearing room was all those who weren't there. The absence of the many thousands more victims of sexual abuse, who found peace from their endless torture "the only way they knew how by taking their lives," as Joan Isaacs, one of the first to give evidence against the Catholic church four years ago said later outside the hearing room.

Those like Andrew Nash, who 43 years ago as a 13-year-old student at Hamilton Marist Brothers in Newcastle came home from school and hanged himself in his bedroom. His sister Bernadette, who found him, and his mother Audrey were at Thursday's hearing. They later learnt he had been abused by one of the six confirmed paedophiles at the school.

"We had no idea, no inkling, so today is an emotional day," Mrs Nash said outside the hearing room.

Also absent were Catholic Archbishops, bishops and hierarchy of that denomination, where the greatest number of alleged perpetrators and cases of abuse took place. Also absent was Anthony Foster who died earlier this year after years of tireless campaigning on behalf of his daughters Emma and Katie, who were repeatedly raped by disgraced Melbourne priest Kevin O'Donnell.

But his mother-in-law Dawn Watt was there and spoke to both the Prime Minister and leader of the opposition as she looked through the book of messages from abuse survivors.

A message from a commemorative book that was handed over to the National Library of Australia during the final sitting of the royal commission. Photo: Supplied

A message from a commemorative book that was handed over to the National Library of Australia during the final sitting of the royal commission. Photo: Supplied

The messages were all heartfelt and many were handwritten. "I came to share my story for those who didn't make it," one said. "It was 54 years before I revealed my secrets," said another. "In 1978 a little boy started crying. In 2014 he still is..." summed it up poignantly. Many thanked the 680 people who worked for the royal commission during its stressful and often confronting life.

While the Prime Minister attempted to leave the child abuse royal commission through the back door without answering questions, Bill Shorten met with abuse survivors out the front of Governor Macquarie Tower. He said a proper compensation deal for survivors was necessary but "that doesn't give them back a stolen childhood".

An Aboriginal smoking ceremony took place after the final session and the commission's 44-volume report will be presented to Governor-General Peter Cosgrove.

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