TODAY’S national apology can and should be more than an expression of profound sorrow by the Australian Government to child sexual abuse survivors, as absolutely essential as that is.
In the wake of the Wentworth by-election and public dismay, bordering on contempt, after years of revolving door prime ministers and self-interested, taxpayer-funded political outrages, the political class should look around the Great Hall of Federal Parliament at the people it’s failed.
Politicians were the very last – with a few notable and honorable exceptions like NSW Greens MP David Shoebridge – to realise a royal commission into institutional child sexual abuse was needed.
Politicians in the past have clearly sided with the powerful – the churches, prestigious schools, powerful sporting organisations, welfare groups, lawyers – and ignored courageous individuals who’ve said “They’re lying. They did this to me.”
And there were many of them.
One of the most distressing aspects of the royal commission was seeing evidence of those courageous efforts. Adult survivors sought help in writing from the institutions that allowed crimes to be committed against them, and received cruel letters in return daring them to take matters further.
Then there were appeals to government departments, reports to police, letters to politicians and confidential settlements mediated by senior lawyers and retired members of the judiciary. Where were those powerful voices along the way, saying in public that something was very wrong? All silent for years.
They were as silent as bishops when survivors demanded a royal commission. They were just as silent when victims of appalling power abuses in the banking and finance industry rallied and demanded the same.
And where were politicians in all this? Last to the party until jumping on board at the end in both cases. It’s why politicians as a class are close to being loathed in this country, and that is a dreadful thing.
I want politicians to look around today, walk up to survivors, introduce themselves and then listen to people who as children had no voice. In too many cases they knew there was no point saying anything – the powerful people abusing them stood beside politicians, police, lawyers and other so-called pillars of society, smiling, making it clear they were another hurdle that had to be jumped. An insurmountable hurdle for some child sex victims who are no longer with us.
This is what abuse of power is, in its most disgraceful form.
Today’s politicians need to look around them while Prime Minister Scott Morrison delivers his speech and remind themselves: these are the people we serve.
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Politicians are the biggest potential risk to Australia following-through on the royal commission’s clear lessons and warnings. They have appallingly relegated child protection when it comes to the children of asylum seekers on Nauru. They have sent dreadful mixed messages by backing special education funding deals for the Catholic Church. This is while elements within the church are all too happy to make it clear they still have power with the major parties, as if nothing has happened over the past six years, and despite crimes against thousands of completely powerless children.
We’re having a national apology for child sexual abuse survivors today because the Australian public backed a royal commission from the start. This should be a day of atonement by the honourable members sitting in that place - for history’s failings, but also for more recently losing sight of why they’re there.