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'We failed them' - Australian PM apologises to child sex abuse victims

Date:22 OCT 2018

Australia's new Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, issued 22 October a nation-wide apology to victims of child sex abuse. 

During an emotional and unusually personal address to the country's parliament, Morrison said that Australia had "failed to stop evil dark crimes."

Morrison told parliamentarians, as well as viewers via a live TV address, that "this was done by Australians to Australians, enemies in our midst, enemies in our midst."

"As a nation, we failed them, we forsook them, and that will always be our shame," a visibly shaken Morrison said.

HIs apology follows after a five-year Royal Commission that detailed more than 15,000 survivors' child sex abuse claims, involving hundreds of organisations and institutions.

According to the Royal Commission, around 7% of Catholic priests in Australia were accused of abuse between 1950 and 2010, but the allegations were never investigated, with children widely ignored and some even punished. The full statement can be read below.

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AUSTRALIA'S PRIME MINISTER, 22 OCTOBER: Thank you. I understand the anger. And can I ask Cheryl Edwardes to come and join me up on stage, please? I'm asking Cheryl to come and join me here today, Cheryl Edwardes led the leadership of the advisory group that led to today's apology. Cheryl was joined by Hetty Johnston who is here. Thank you, Hetty. Richard Weston, CEO of the Healing Foundation and descendant of the Meriam people of the Torres Strait. Caroline Carroll OAM, founding chair of the Alliance for Forgotten Australians. Chrissie Foster, who along with her late husband Anthony, drew national attention to the issue of clergy abuse. Leonie Sheedy, CEO of Care Leavers Australasia Network. And Craig Hughes-Cashmore, CEO of the Survivors and Mates Support Network.

I would like you to join me in doing something. I'm going to take Cheryl's hand. This is the apology that I tabled in the Parliament. I have not read this anywhere. This will be the first place that I read the formal apology, which will be provided to you today. And it is being done for you here in this place. I would like you to take the hand of those next to you, because... stand with you, stand together, and I want to read the apology to all of you.

“Today the Australian Government and this Parliament, on behalf of all Australians, unreservedly apologises to the victims and survivors of institutional child sexual abuse. For too many years our eyes and hearts were closed to the truths we were told by children. For too many years governments and institutions refused to acknowledge the darkness that lay within our community. Today we reckon with our past and commit to protect children now and into the future. Today we apologise for the pain, the suffering, and trauma inflicted upon victims and survivors as children, and for its profound and ongoing impact. 

As children, you deserve care and protection. Instead, the very people and institutions entrusted with your care failed you. You suffered appalling physical and mental abuse and endured horrific sexual crimes. As fellow Australians, we apologise for this gross betrayal of trust, and for the fact that organisations with power over children, schools, religious organisations, governments, orphanages, sports and social clubs, charities were left unchecked. 

Today we say we are sorry. Sorry that you were not protected. Sorry that you were not listened to. We are sorry for refusing to trust the words of children, for not believing you. As we say sorry, we also say we believe you. We say what happened was not your fault. We are sorry that perpetrators of abuse were relocated and shielded, rather than held to account. That records have been withheld and destroyed and accountability avoided. We are sorry that the justice and child welfare systems that should have protected you were at times used to perpetrate yet more injustices against you. We apologise for the lifelong impact this abuse has had on your health, your relationships, and your ability to live life to its full potential. 

We also extend this apology to your children, your parents, siblings, families, friends, and supporters. All those who have helped carry the burden of your experiences and help advocate for accountability. We regret that your children's lives have been changed and relationships have been broken by the enduring effects of abuse. We hear the rage, despair, and hurt of parents, whose trust was betrayed along with your own. We admit that we failed to protect the most vulnerable people in our society from those who abused their power. Our community believed people and institutions who did not deserve our trust, instead of believing the children who did. Because of our action, too many victims are no longer with us to hear this apology. They did not live to see the justice they deserved. But today we remember them and we extend this apology along with our sincere sympathies to their families, friends and supporters. 

As we say sorry, we honour the courage of survivors and advocates who spoke out to expose sexual abuse in our institutions, often at great personal cost. Your voices save lives. Your bravery has allowed us to uncover this dark chapter of our national life and understand what we must now do to protect children. We also acknowledge the many victims and survivors who have not spoken of their abuse. Your suffering is no less anguished for your silence. 

Together, as a Government, a Parliament, and a community, we must all play a role in the protection of children from abuse. We must accept our responsibility to keep our eyes and ears open and speak out to keep our children safe. We must listen to children and believe what they tell us. Child sexual abuse is a serious criminal act, and a violation of Australian law. Perpetrators must and will be held to account. Today we commit to taking action to build awareness in our community and strengthen our systems to promote children's safety across Australia. We commit to ensuring that all our institutions are child safe. We know that we must and will do better to protect all children in Australia from abuse and that our actions will give true and practical meaning to this apology. Our children deserve nothing less.”

We are sorry.

Can I conclude by thanking Julia Gillard for initiating the Royal Commission. And can I thank you all for your attendance here today.