Australia’s Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, has made a public apology following a four-year investigation into child sexual abuse in some of the nation’s institutions.
The state-led inquest, which was opened by ex-PM Julia Gilliard, confirmed allegations against prominent individuals and large-scale organisations – including the Catholic Church. With evidence from more than 17,000 survivors and an estimated figure of 60,000 victims, Mr Morrison said: ‘why weren’t the children of our nation loved, nurtured, and protected? […] Why was our system of justice blind to injustice? […] Today, we say sorry.’
The apology has had mixed reactions from the survivors. Although many have long-awaited the day, others claim that they are ‘empty words’ if they not followed by actions. With suicide taking a large number of the victims, many say that it is ‘too little, too late’. Victim associations such as the Survivors and Mates Support Network (SAMSN) call for the creation of a national institution which would work with a variety of different support organisations.
Mr Morrison claimed that the government had taken into account most of the Royal Commission’s findings. Nevertheless, the more polemic proposal of the need to make reporting abuse mandatory was formally rejected by the Catholic Church in August; it would force priests to break confession rules, which in turn would promote further hostility towards the Church.
In attempts towards starting to take action, the Australian government have established a AU$4 billion programme called the ‘Redress Scheme’ to help ease the pain of the survivors, where they will all be eligible to receive payments, alongside access to counselling and apologies from the responsible institutions. Many of the institutions, including some churches, as well as some charities and other organisations, have also signed up to offer compensation. The average payment to survivors by the state will be of an estimated AU$67,000; however, lawyers are recommending looking into payments from the direct institutions before-hand, for they could be higher.
The PM concluded his speech by stating ‘we can never promise a world where there are no abusers. But we can promise a country where we commit to hear and believe our children.’
‘I believe you. We believe you. Your country believes you.’