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Thursday, 21 October 2021
Page: -1


Mr MORRISON (CookPrime Minister) (09:31): I move:

That this House commemorate the anniversary of the national apology to the survivors and victims of institutional child sexual abuse.

Three years ago tomorrow, this parliament, on behalf of all Australians, offered an unconditional apology to the victims and survivors of institutional child sexual abuse. Our national apologies have always been days of reckoning. Those days of reckoning have become, importantly, part of our national story: the apology to the stolen generations—an apology for the racism, cruelties and injustices inflicted on our First Nations peoples; the apology for forced adoptions—an apology for the shame and the stigma and the brutality that forcibly split parents from their children; and the apology to the forgotten Australians and former child migrants—an apology for the unconscionable cruelties experienced by children removed from their families and placed in institutional homes. The apologies reflect our acknowledgement of our failures as a people. As a liberal democratic people, we aren't afraid of our history, nor do we recoil from engaging with terrible truths.

Truth was always at the heart of the apology to victims and survivors of institutional child sexual abuse. This is what the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, initiated by Prime Minister Gillard, was all about, with thousands of people coming forward and sharing their painful experiences, bringing into the light what had been in the darkness. In private sessions with the royal commission, 8,000 women, men and young people recounted their abuse. A further 1,000 gave written accounts. As well, the royal commission received 26,000 letters and emails and 42,000 phone calls. To the thousands who came forward and the thousands who could not, this parliament said, 'We believe you, and the country believes you.' Our apology didn't, and cannot, undo our national failures. Nor can an apology return a lost childhood or repair the damage inflicted by the guilty or those who are complicit by their silence, but it can be a marker on a path of healing and the start of a serious attempt by our nation to make amends. Today, I am reporting further on those amends that we have been making.

The royal commission made 409 recommendations, of which 206 were directed wholly or partially at the Australian government. Eighty-four of those were about redress and led to the establishment of the National Redress Scheme, which is now in its fourth year. As of last month, over 6,200 payments have been made under the scheme, amounting to almost $535 million. The average payment is $85,000. That's $20,000 more than what the royal commission estimated. In the budget we put aside more than $80 million over the next four years to progress improvements to the National Redress Scheme, and I acknowledge the work of Minister Ruston in leading that initiative. We're committed to making it more trauma-informed, responsive and utterly and ultimately more survivor focused.

In June this year the final report of the second-year review of the scheme was published, and the government is taking initial action on 25 of its 38 recommendations. We've made available advance payments of $10,000 to survivors who are older or terminally ill. We've pushed institutions to meet their moral obligations to survivors. Those that fail to participate have already been named and will become ineligible for future Commonwealth grants. As well, they risk being stripped of their charitable status. The government will keep working through the recommendations and release a final response early next year.

Another major commitment arising from the royal commission was the establishment of a National Centre for the Prevention of Child Sexual Abuse. I'm pleased to announce that the Blue Knot Foundation, along with its partners the Australian Childhood Foundation and the Healing Foundation, will establish and deliver the centre. With $22½ million in Commonwealth funding, the national centre will build knowledge and expertise and raise awareness of the impacts of child sexual abuse. The voices of victims and survivors will shape their work. It will build workforce capability so that we can better respond to child and adult survivors. It will conduct research and evaluation and provide practical guides for responsive functions like help-seeking, advocacy and therapeutic treatment. The national centre will also undertake vital work to prevent child sexual abuse happening in the future.

As well, we're also going to construct a national memorial here in our nation's capital to honour victims and survivors and to remind ourselves of catastrophic failures to protect children—to make sure they do not happen again. We expect the memorial to be completed next year and to serve as a place of remembrance, reflection, truth, healing and hope.

This anniversary always requires us to reckon with our past, but it also draws our attention to the present and the very near future. Child sexual abuse is happening now. It's happening online in appalling numbers. The shocking truth is online child sexual abuse was already increasing, and it has spiked in response to the COVID-19 restrictions. It makes our response all the more urgent and our resolve all the more unshakeable.

Our enforcement, intelligence and research agencies are tasked with tracking down child sexual abuse wherever it happens. They work together on many fronts, with new and advanced technologies to deter, disrupt and prevent abuse. The Australian Federal Police, the Australian Centre to Counter Child Exploitation and the Australian Border Force are on the front lines. Operation Arkstone is the largest-ever domestic investigation into online child sexual abuse. It continues to yield results, with more than 1,300 charges laid so far. The Australian Institute of Criminology drives national research to better understand child sexual abuse. The Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission helps law enforcement agencies to respond to online child sexual abuse by linking datasets and using advanced analytics capabilities. AUSTRAC works with financial institutions to detect and disrupt payments for child abuse materials, including the disgusting practice of abuse that is live streamed. Since 2018, this partnership approach has resulted in an almost 400 per cent increase in reports of suspect financial activity around child exploitation.

AUSTRAC and the Australian Border Force have collaborated to harden the Australian border to child sex offenders. Our law enforcement agencies have partnered with the Philippines's financial intelligence unit to use information on people arrested overseas to identify previously unknown offenders based in Australia. The Department of Home Affairs is building relationships with digital industry that prevent offenders from using online platforms to groom, exploit and abuse children or share child abuse material. These and other agencies are working together and with state and territory partners to respond to child sexual abuse. We continue to work with our five-country partners to hold industry to account.

We cannot allow our digital environment to offer anonymity and impunity to offenders. It cannot shelter them. Nor can we allow it to become a prohibitively hostile and hazardous place for children to be, since so much of their learning and experience depends on being able to enter it safely—all of our children.

Next week is National Children's Week, a time to celebrate children's achievements and a call to all of us to uphold children's right to enjoy their childhood. Next week we will launch the national strategy to prevent and respond to child sexual abuse. The national strategy will be a 10-year whole-of-nation framework to establish a coordinated and consistent approach. It will deliver ambitious and world-leading measures to prevent and respond to all forms of child sexual abuse.

In May I announced a program of $146 million over four years for the national strategy's first phase, including close to $60 million worth of measures to be delivered by the Australian Federal Police. We also committed close to $14 million to equip our intelligence, research and border detection agencies to disrupt the cash flow behind child sexual abuse, to prevent and disrupt live stream child sexual abuse, to intercept material and offenders at the border and to enhance our ability to identify offenders in the community. We also committed over $27 million to support victims and survivors of child sexual abuse, expanding legal assistance to victims and survivors and co-designing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander healing approaches. The full national strategy will include additional measures and further funding. My government looks forward to working with the states and territories to deliver these reforms.

Finally, at the end of this year we will table the government's fourth annual progress report against the royal commission's recommendations. These yearly reports, as well as the royal commission itself and the apology we commemorate today, are all about accountability. They are about confronting the deepest, darkest secrets in our past and, indeed, in our present, bringing that truth into the light. Two years ago on its first anniversary, we placed a parchment etched with the apology's words in the members' hall near the apologies made to the stolen generations, the forgotten Australians, to former child migrants and for the forced adoptions. These items of ceremony and suffering sit in the symbolic heart of our Australian parliament on public display because that is where they belong. As a remembrance of wrongs and our willingness to right them, they call us to our own stories and, indeed, to make better ones.

Tomorrow, as we mark this third anniversary, we commit ourselves again to honouring these lives and to the safety of all Australian children. I say to those who even today can't get out of bed, who still cannot face and who feel alone: you are not. This parliament has heard you and each year, and each day we will continue to remind you that you are heard, that you are listened to and that you are not alone. Our country understands what happened and our country wants to heal. We want to help you heal, but we know that even now you are finding that incredibly difficult, and for that we can only say to you that you are very much here with us today even if you cannot be.

I want to conclude by offering one thanks to the member for Swan. The member for Swan is retiring at the next election. There are many members in this place in the opposition ranks and government ranks for whom this has been quite a cause, but the member for Swan's passion, determination and quiet achievement in this area has been truly extraordinary. He has served his country admirably, and I thank him very much for his own personal counsel to me of this most important of issues.