December 14, 2017

SUBJECTS: Royal Commission into child sexual abuse, national redress scheme.   

BILL SHORTEN, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Good morning everybody. This morning, Jenny Macklin and myself are going to confine our remarks to the Royal Commission and the momentous event we have just gone through.

I have colleagues standing up in the course of the day to cover other matters, but out of respect, not just for the Royal Commission but for the stories of thousands of people, that is what we want to talk about.

In talking about today's Royal Commission, first of all I want to congratulate all those who worked on the Royal Commission, including the Royal Commissioners. But in particular, I want to congratulate the thousands of our fellow Australians who came forward with their stories, in some cases telling stories which they have never told anyone before.

It is not easy, if you have spent decades being told that you are making up stories, that you are not being truthful, that all of the things which have happened to you in your life, and all of the bad things which stem from abuse as a child, it is not easy having been told for decades that you are wrong – to suddenly find out that you are believed.

I want to thank those thousands of Australians who've educated a lot more of us about the terrible battles that so many of our fellow Australians have been living with since childhood. I think it is also appropriate here, to acknowledge former Prime Minister Julia Gillard and her Labor Government. None of what we hear today would have been possible to be heard but for Prime Minister Julia Gillard and the actions of her then Labor Government.

In terms of the Royal Commission, the fact that 8000 people had private discussions in talking about their stories, the fact that literally hundreds and hundreds of prosecutions are now underway. The tens of thousands of people involved in this process speaks volumes for what is, as the Royal Commission have described it, a national tragedy - it's a national shame. 

We've now received, will receive the report tomorrow but today is a significant milestone. I congratulate the advocacy groups, from CLAN and Forgotten Australians, all of the support groups who have stood up for some shocking stories of institutional abuse and poor government abuse as well. This is a day where a whole lot of people who have been told for many decades that they were wrong, have been officially told "you were right.” The nation owes you an apology, today is part of that healing process.  

I would like to hand over to Shadow Minister Jenny Macklin, who has been a champion on seeking compensation redress and dealing with the issues of institutional abuse.

JENNY MACKLIN, SHADOW MINISTER FOR FAMILIES AND SOCIAL SERVICES: Thanks very much Bill, this is a very emotional day. I thought I was going to be alright, but anyway, take a deep breath. Okay.

Child sexual abuse is a crime. It is a crime against the most vulnerable people in our community. And the wonderful thing that has been exposed to all Australians over the last five years is the truth. The truth of what happened, by so many adults and institutions - people in whom children and their parents often put their faith. Put their children into the care of these people who then abused them and abused them in the most shocking way.

I just can't say enough to the advocates who've really, over the last 20, 30, 40 years, been campaigning to bring this truth to light. And that is really what this Royal Commission has done. It has brought the truth out into the open so that Australians really do understand what has been going on in institutions all around this country for so many years.

If it wasn't for the advocates this would not have happened, there is no doubt in my mind. And to each and every one of you who has campaigned so hard for so long, today is your day. It really is your day. We salute you. And it is now the responsibility of parliaments around Australia to make sure that the laws are changed, that the redress scheme is put in place so that you get the justice that you deserve.

Thank you.

SHORTEN: Are there any questions?

JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten, will there be bipartisan support for all of the recommendations?

SHORTEN: The Royal Commission hands down its final recommendations tomorrow, my default position is that we should support the recommendations of the Royal Commission. 

As someone put it to me upstairs, we should show faith in the Royal Commissioners and the thousands of people who gave evidence. I don't believe that Australians will accept excuses from the Parliament if we don't fully embrace the Royal Commission, and that starts with a redress scheme, a proper national compensation scheme.

And I might just say on behalf of victims, no one thinks that compensation will ever adequately repair the damage that's done to young lives. And I want to say on behalf of the people who would be affected by a redress scheme, this doesn't put them back in the position - it doesn't give them back their stolen childhoods - but it is some recognition that the adults in Australia let these children down.

And I also say to governments and to religious institutions – now is not the time to use legal tactics or insurance company practices to somehow discredit or demolish the Royal Commission report.

Australians of good conscience should unanimously get behind this report and help fulfil and restore some of the betrayed and broken trust for young people which they suffered for decades. 

JOURNALIST: Some of the survivors and advocates here today say they're concerned that survivors who have gone on to have prison sentences won't be eligible. What's your position on that?

SHORTEN: There is a debate in some conservative circles which says that a victim of terrible child abuse, if they subsequently fell into drugs or crime or some other matters, somehow by their own conduct means they shouldn't be subject to redress. That is creating a notion that there is two classes of victims - good victims and bad victims. As far as I'm concerned there are just victims of child abuse.

When you look at this issue at the State level, different jurisdictions have already answered this question. I do say to some in our community who would seek to divide the community when it comes to proper and overdue redress - please don't play games and set the people against each other.

Successive generations of Australian leadership have let these kids down. Now it is time for all of us to actually for once be the adults in their lives that these kids never got.

JOURNALIST: What's your message to church leaders? Obviously a lot of churches have, have, you know - we've heard evidence about -

MACKLIN: Committed crimes.


MACKLIN: Committed crimes.

JOURNALIST: Exactly. What is your message to them now? 

SHORTEN: My message to church leadership is the same message which survivors and their supporters and families have been saying for years and years. You have got to believe victims. You have got to accept responsibilities for what was done in your institutions - it's not just churches, it's governments as well.

But what I would say to churches privately is what I'll say to them right now. Don't listen to your lawyers, don't listen to your insurance actuaries, listen to your heart and listen to your conscience and do the right thing. And listen to the survivor advocates because they will not take no for an answer.

Thank you.