FORMER prime minister Julia Gillard has urged Australian governments to stay “as close as possible” to the child abuse royal commission recommendations for a National Redress Scheme, after strong criticism by survivor and other groups that it has strayed from the “open-hearted” scheme proposed by the commission.
In an interview before the national apology to survivors in Canberra today, Ms Gillard said governments were obliged to exercise “due diligence and judicious decision-making to bring the royal commission’s recommendations to life” but “I think it is possible for governments to develop schemes that operate with a culture of openness and generosity”.
A Senate inquiry submission from support group knowmore, which received $37.9 million in government funding to provide legal advice to survivors, said urgent action was needed to address significant concerns, particularly in areas where the scheme was operating contrary to royal commission recommendations.
Ms Gillard will sit with survivor advocate Chrissie Foster and her family for the national apology in Federal Parliament today. Two of Mrs Foster’s three daughters were sexually abused by a Catholic priest and her late husband Anthony was given a state funeral after years of challenging the church on behalf of survivors.
Ms Gillard, who established the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse on November 12, 2012, said the national apology by Prime Minister Scott Morrison was “the right thing for the nation”.
In an opinion piece for the Newcastle Herald Ms Gillard extended her personal thanks to survivors, the royal commissioners and hundreds of staff who delivered a landmark final report in December, 2017.
“Your truth-telling and diligent work means we have achieved something remarkable as a nation,” Ms Gillard said.
The royal commission’s success meant “other countries like New Zealand are now following Australia’s lead”, she said.
The 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,” she said.
“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.”
In an interview from London on Friday Ms Gillard said former prime minister Kevin Rudd’s national apology to the stolen generations was “pitch perfect”.
“It was generous and warm-hearted and the reception as a result was an amazingly broad and deep one,” she said.
Asked what advice she would give Prime Minister Scott Morrison about delivering a national apology, she said “You’ve got to let yourself feel it, which sounds like an odd thing to say”.
“Political leaders can feel very strongly that they have to stay in control and keep their emotions in check on certain occasions, and stylistically deliver a good speech, but I think it’s better to let yourself feel it, even if the delivery is more uneven, or there’s a break in your voice.”
Asked what politicians should take from the royal commission, she said “I think we’ve all got to take with us the need to implement the recommendations of the royal commission as fully as can humanly be done”.
In her opinion piece Ms Gillard said the nation owed a debt of gratitude to royal commission chair Justice Peter McClellan and commissioners Justice Jennifer Coate, Bob Atkinson, Robert Fitzgerald, Professor Helen Milroy and Andrew Murray, “who all agreed to take on this society-changing task”.
But her fear in 2012 that a royal commission would increase the pain of survivors “was not irrational”, she said.
“You only have to consider the United Kingdom’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 one of his last speeches as commission chair before handing over the final report, Justice McClellan said children were sexually abused during an era when there was a police “understanding” about protecting church figures accused of child sex allegations, reflecting a broader view that “the community would suffer if its ‘pillars’ were exposed as criminals”.
“Assumed stability of society was seen to be more important than the protection of the child or justice for children through the prosecution of offenders,” Justice McClellan said.
Ms Gillard said she agreed with Justice McClellan that the truth is always important.
“If you try and build a society on shaky foundations that require cover-ups and averting eyes from very great wrongs, then you have a society with real problems,” she said.