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Thursday, 29 November 2012
Page: 14055

Mr IRONS (Swan) (11:00): I congratulate the member for Scullin and the member for Cook for their contributions on both the items they addressed. I guess the member for Scullin's was a segue into what I am going to speak about.

We have just passed the date of the third anniversary of the national apology to the forgotten Australians. The horror stories of abuse, negligence, starvation and rape told by many people in the care of Australian institutions and orphanages were formally recognised by the federal parliament on 16 November 2009. The then Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, and the then Leader of the Opposition, Malcolm Turnbull, apologised in parliament to an audience of more than 1,000 people. Mr Rudd delivered a speech that gave the attendees and their families a warm feeling of relief that the man who held the highest office in this country had recognised their grief and their lives. The flood of tears and emotion were released like a tsunami over the crowd when Mr Turnbull delivered the line, 'We believe you,' in his speech and then hugged Peter, who came to the stage when Mr Turnbull mentioned him during his speech. It was those speeches that gave the apology the gravitas and genuineness it required, and it sparked a celebration of joy and achievement at the front of Parliament House for the whole of that afternoon.

The pursuit of recognition and the seeking of the apology was for a group of Australian British and Maltese children who had been in a system that had many good intentions and many charitable people working in it but which was infiltrated by paedophiles, sadists and perverts, who would not gain employment working with children in today's regulated working-with-children framework. Three years on, the government has announced a royal commission, and I, along with the Opposition, welcome that.

I recently met with a group of the forgotten Australians in Perth, along with Senator Siewert and my wife, Cheryl, to celebrate the third anniversary. During that meeting, I addressed the meeting. One of the things I stated to the group, who were overly excited about the pending announcement of a royal commission, was that they should be careful about statements they make so as not to pre-empt any outcomes of the royal commission. I will now attempt to do that myself.

It was disappointing to see parts of the mainstream media, and particularly the ABC, so blatantly and obviously attack one institution and the sanctity of confession. These attacks were so vindictive that many people will be surprised if the point of the attacks are not in the findings, and that it is through their efforts that this royal commission might not achieve the outcomes that will provide the justice for the people who suffered during their times in the institutions. The mainstream media and the ABC should be very careful not to use their influence to direct and coerce the royal commission because of their own prejudices.

In a speech in 2010, I said that many of the charities and churches that received taxpayers' money to care for these children should contribute to the redress funds and care services. They should return the money they were paid because they did not provide the services that were paid for and have falsely claimed the monies from taxpayers through governments. I would have liked to have seen them confess their sins and to contribute to help those who lost their innocence and their childhoods in their care.

We need to recognise that not all children suffered in this system, that many were given the care that they deserved and have gone on to lead what we call normal lives in our society. I know that the forgotten Australians will continue their fight for redress and support, and that this third anniversary will provide a spark for them to continue with renewed vigour. They will never give up.

It was this time last year that on this day—the last day of the sitting year—that we had a new Speaker. I see that the former Speaker is in the chamber. A lot has happened in that time since that day last year. I would like to take this opportunity to thank all the people in my electorate, particularly my staff and my family, and all my parliamentary colleagues on both sides of the House, and to wish them a merry Christmas and a happy and safe New Year. I know there are times when we get excited and address each other in the wrong ways across the House, but at the end of the day this is the job I love doing and I love doing it with the people with whom I share this place, on both sides of the House. I know we all come to this place with good intentions and we all want to achieve the best that we can for all Australians as well as those in our electorates. To everyone out there, merry Christmas and a happy and safe New Year.