December 15, 2017

SUBJECT/S: The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse 

STEVE MARTIN: Jenny Macklin, good morning to you.


MARTIN: You were there when the decision was made to hold this Royal Commission. Five years down the track now, what is being handed over today? What are you thinking, what are you feeling, now that we are at this point? I do want to talk about going back, but at this point, how are you feeling?

MACKLIN: Probably first and foremost, very emotional, particularly yesterday, being with so many victims and survivors of child sexual abuse. So many parents, so many people whose lives have been so damaged by institutional abuse, and to see the way in which they appreciate the work of the Royal Commission was quite overwhelming. I think it was a very very unusual approach that the Royal Commission took, providing enormous opportunities for the survivors of sexual abuse to come forward in private sessions and, as so many people have already said but it really deserves repeating, many, many people just had never told their stories and those who had had not been believed, and so for them to come to such a formal place as a royal commission, for them to tell their story and to be believed, often for the first time, was enormously powerful for them. You might have seen the book that the Royal Commission has created and given to the National Library to be held in trust for Australia. Many - I think over 1,000 - Survivors have written their stories, and to me the main message looking through the book was that people had found their voice, had finally been able to say what happened to them, and as a result of that, can start to heal. So that’s the most important thing.

MARTIN: Has the Commission progressed in the way you thought it would in the early stages of setting it up, in decided what it would look at, how far it would go, framing Terms of Reference, have you got to where you thought you would get to?

MACKLIN: Much, much further. Much further. I had no idea of the dimension of the number of institutions where abuse was taking place. As Justice McClellan was saying yesterday, 4,000 institutions were found to be responsible for the abuse, sexual abuse of children. Thousands of people came forward. Tens of thousands, and of course, as Justice McClellan said, it’s quite likely that there were many many more that have still not felt able, have not been able to come forward. So the dimension of the tragedy is quite shocking, and still so, for me, even though of course I’ve had so much exposure to this issue but nevertheless it is truly shocking.

MARTIN: The work of the Royal Commission comes to a conclusion today. But the work on this does not.

MACKLIN: It certainly does not.

MARTIN: How much more is there to go before you will be satisfied that we’ve managed to get most of this right?

MACKLIN: Well I am really looking forward to the recommendations of the Royal Commission. I think the message to all of my parliamentary colleagues, right across the political spectrum at the Commonwealth and the State levels is that these Commissioners, have been working on these issues now for five years. It is incumbent on us to now take their recommendations and implement them. They’re the people that have thought about this the most and it’s our responsibility, our collective responsibility now, to change the laws, to put in place the supports, to make sure that the institutional changes that are necessary actually happen. I think it will take enormous advocacy in a continuing way. We would not have even got this far without superb advocacy outside of the Parliament as well as inside, and I say parliaments, State and Federal, because the Parliamentary Inquiry here in Victoria of course was so important to the momentum for the Royal Commission. The Senate Inquiries into the Forgotten Australians were so important, the Apology to Forgotten Australians. But the advocacy groups themselves, the Alliance of Forgotten Australians, the Care Leavers Australia Network, all of these groups have done so much to demand change so that children are properly protected.

MARTIN: How much bipartisanship is there between the main parties on this issue?

MACKLIN: Of course it was very important at the time, at the creation of the Royal Commission, it was the immediate support from the then Liberal Opposition, it may have not been expected at the time but it did come. It’s going to be absolutely essential. So many people, so many of the Care Leavers said to me yesterday in Sydney at the Final Hearing, how critical they know it is that there is bipartisan support. Because we need of course, not just the Federal Government, but the States as well, and they are always going to have varying political makeup, so we need both sides to be absolutely committed to bringing about the change that is necessary.

MARTIN: Okay, I’ll come back to the States in a second, but on that Federal level, because the numbers in Parliament are very tight, and there are all sorts of opportunities here and there to score points, as you do in politics, it’s part of the process, but on this, do you get a sense that there’s unity across the political divides about much of this?

MACKLIN: Well I certainly know from the way that much of this has been conducted over the last five years that both sides of politics understands how critical it’s going to be to have that unity of purpose. We do need the Commonwealth and the States, I do have to keep emphasising both, because we can’t do this without both levels of Government. Even the Redress Scheme, of course, needs Commonwealth leadership, but it needs the States to be part of it. The States ran institutions that abused children. They have a responsibility to pay Redress.

MARTIN: And that’s where they come into this so much? Because most of the laws are State laws, is that right?

MACKLIN: Many of them are, so the criminal justice laws, for example, the State institutions that look after and continue to look after children, the child protection systems, the police. Of course, the police themselves have been criticised roundly for covering up abuse, for not pursuing the Catholic church for abuse they knew was taking place. You know this, from the reporting that you’ve done in the past, and so each of these State institutions has a very real responsibility to change the law, yes, but also to change their practise. To change the way they behave, and fundamentally to believe children when they come forward and not to cover it up.

MARTIN: How important is speed in the political response, state and federal, in this to you? Or is it more important to get it right?

MACKLIN: We have to do both. I think speed is important because, well, for a very sad reason, once again so many people yesterday were saying to me that a friend of theirs, or a relative had already died and were not going to see the redress that they should get, so there are people who are ageing and for that very basic reason of common decency we need to make sure that the redress scheme is put in place as a matter of urgency, and that will require the States to come in, but also all of the Institutions that were responsible for this abuse. They must join the Redress Scheme and pay just compensation.

MARTIN: Is there a message here that alludes to an ongoing Commission to look in to this. Is there any room for that or has the Royal Commission done the work and now it’s time to get on with it?

MACKLIN: Well I think certainly the Royal Commissioners feel that they’ve done their work. They’ve done an extraordinary job over a five year period, but it’s a very serious point.

There has been a joint parliamentary committee established which Derryn Hinch is going to Chair, which has people from across the political spectrum on it. Their first task is to make sure the recommendations from the Royal Commission on Redress are implemented, so that has already been established, and the first piece of legislation to establish the Redress Scheme is already in the Parliament. I have to say at the moment we are very disappointed with it. There’s a lot of room for improvement, so that’s why this Parliamentary Committee will be very important to improve it and to see that it’s implemented.

MARTIN: Jenny Macklin, it’s been a big couple of days. Thank you for your time this morning.

MACKLIN: My pleasure. Thank you.