Australian Coat of Arms

Member for Blaxland

Shadow Minister for Trade and Investment

Shadow Minister for Resources and Northern Australia 

Speech on establishing a National Redress scheme for survivors of institutional child sexual abuse

House of Representatives - Parliament of Australia

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We tell our kids that monsters don’t exist, but that’s a lie.  

 

They do exist.  We have always known it.  We have just chosen to ignore it or pretended that they’re not there.  

 

Hiding in the darkness.  In places that most of us never see.

 

But we can’t do that anymore, because the Royal Commission has dragged these vampires out into the sunlight.

 

Stan was 12 when one of these monsters arrived at Christian Brothers Orphanage in 1953.  

 

His name was Brother Benton.

 

A couple of weeks after he arrived he started raping Stan.

 

Sometimes he raped him three times a week.  That lasted for two years.

 

Just try and imagine that.  

 

Just try for a minute and imagine the trauma that little boy suffered for all of that time and as a man still suffers to this day.

 

It took Stan 59 years to tell anyone what had happened to him.

 

A few years ago he told the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.

 

He never told the other boys at the orphanage what was happening to him. He never knew what was happening to them as well.  But now he does. The same thing was happening to them.  

 

Two of them have since committed suicide.

 

There are thousands and thousands of stories like this.  Children raped and tortured by monsters in shepherd’s clothing.

 

No amount of money can compensate you for that.  It can’t repair the damage they did to Stan.  

 

What could?

 

But that’s not a reason not to do it.

 

Getting the governments, the churches and the organisations that allowed this to happen to pay for what they have done - to pay for what happened under their roofs - is the very least that we can do.

 

And that’s what this Bill does.

 

It sets up a redress scheme.  A compensation scheme for people like Stan.

 

It is the key recommendation of the Royal Commission.

 

The Bill doesn’t do everything that the Royal Commission recommended. And I am disappointed about that.  

 

The amount of money that you can claim is less than the Royal Commission recommended.  

 

The amount of time that you have to accept an offer is also less than the Royal Commission recommended.

 

It also doesn’t implement the Royal Commission’s recommendation that people like Stan have lifelong access to counselling services.

 

The legislation is not perfect.  It not the way we that would have done it. 

 

But I am not going use my time in this debate to pick apart what we are about to vote on.

 

We can’t amend it here without unravelling the agreements that the government has already struck with the states. And I don’t want to do that – I don’t think anybody wants to do that. We all want this scheme to start as soon as possible.

 

So instead let me thank the people that have got us this far.

 

I want to thank Justice McClelland and the six other Royal Commissioners for the time and dedication and the professionalism they took to this task.  

 

I want to thank them for the recommendations they have given us.  

 

And most importantly for making sure that so many people so silent for so long were finally heard.  Heard and believed.

 

And I want to thank them.  I want to thank Stan and I want to thank the more than 75,000 other people who mustered the courage to tell their story.

 

The Royal Commission would have failed without them.

 

I want to thank the Member for Jagajaga, Jenny Macklin.  

 

I know a lot of people in this debate have mentioned Jenny and the work that she has done.  It is impossible to thank her enough.  

 

And I want thank Julia Gillard.  I feel very sure in saying there wouldn’t have been a Royal Commission without either of them.

 

Without Jenny or Julia we wouldn’t be here today setting up this scheme.

 

And I want to thank someone who hasn’t been mentioned in this debate so far, but really she be. And her name is Joanne McCarthy.

 

Joanne is a journalist at the Newcastle Herald.

 

She is no ordinary journalist.  She is a Gold Walkley winner.  She won that award for the more than 1,000 stories she wrote that exposed what happened in the Maitland-Newcastle diocese over so many years. 

 

She is everything that any young journalist would hope to be.

 

She is fearless and unrelenting.  She earned the trust of people like Stan who had no reason to ever trust anyone ever again.

 

And she inspired a Prime Minister to act.

 

On her last night as Prime Minister, the last letter that Julia Gillard wrote was to Joanne McCarthy and it was to thank her for everything she had done.

 

I was there the night Joanne McCarthy won her Gold Walkley, and I remember what she said to an enraptured audience.

 

She said:  “It just shows you don’t need an army, you just need people believing that something had to be done”.

 

Joanne McCarthy is one of those people.

 

26 years ago another extraordinary woman named Joanna Penglase put an ad in 21 local papers across Sydney.

 

She was doing a thesis at university and she was reaching out to other people like her who had grown up in homes, and institutions, and orphanages. Asking them to ring her and tell her their story.

 

A lot of people rang.

 

One of the people that picked up the phone and rang Joanna was a middle aged mum from Georges Hall, in my electorate.

 

Her name is Leonie.  Leonie Sheedy.

 

Leonie called Joanna and it was a phone call that changed bother their lives.

 

Joanna still remembers the phone call. Leonie said to her: “How come nobody is talking about this?  How come we never hear about it?  Why isn’t it known?”

 

Well it’s known now. That’s due in large part to the work of Joanna and Leonie.

 

Because they set up an organisation called CLAN – Care Leavers Australasia Network. An organisation dedicated to fighting for people like Stan, fighting for recognition, fighting for justice, fighting for an apology and fighting for compensation.  

 

Just to give you an idea about what these two women have achieved over that time, in 2003 they fought for and they got the Senate to conduct an inquiry into children in institutional care.

 

In 2010 they fought for and they got an apology from the Prime Minister at the time, Kevin Rudd and then Opposition Leader Malcolm Turnbull, and the Australian Parliament.  

 

Leonie is still fighting today.

 

If you look carefully at the TV footage of the Royal Commission over the last five years or so, you will often see Leonie there, out the front of the Royal Commission - not inside it - with other members of CLAN, emblazoned in their blue and gold outfits making sure that everyone inside the Royal Commission knew that their job was to make sure that justice was done.

 

She is still fighting today to get South Australia and Western Australia to sign up to this scheme that we’re legislating right here.

 

She is still fighting to get all the churches and all the organisations responsible for what happened to sign up to this scheme as well.

 

And to make sure that in the future this legislation is fairer and better than it is now - and as good as it should be.

 

There is only one Leonie Sheedy – anybody that knows Leonie Sheedy knows that. And like my good friend in this place, Richard Marles, we’re privileged to call her our friend.

 

A few weeks ago Leonie’s office in Bankstown was robbed.  

 

The robbers tole eight lap top computers, some money and a bunch of other stuff.

 

Leonie put out a tweet telling the world what had happened.  

 

The Clan office had just been robbed.

 

Soon after that she got a call from Channel 10. They wanted to know what had happened and that night on the news they did a big story about a robber in the middle of the night coming in and stealing all of this equipment from people who had dedicated their lives to looking after people who had grown up and been neglected and abused and suffered so much in Australia’s orphanages.

 

A few days after that story appeared on the Channel 10 news, the eight laptops were back. When Leonie’s team turned up at work they found eight laptops in a gym bag near the garbage bins just out the front of the office.

 

I like to think that the person who robbed the office saw that story on Channel 10 that night and realised who they had robbed.

 

An organisation that does so much good - for people who have already been robbed of so much.

 

Maybe he grew up in an orphanage as well. Maybe he’s got a similar story to Stan, or Leonie, or Joanna, or so many others.  I don’t know.

 

But I do know this.

 

This legislation is long overdue.

 

It won’t help every person who grew up in institutions, neglected and abused.

 

It won’t heal wounds that can’t heal.

 

It is too late for too many who died waiting for something like this to happen.

 

But at least it is here now.

 

And to you Leonie - I know it is not good enough, but at least we are here.  And we wouldn’t be here without you.

 

All those thousands of people like Stan...

 

So wronged as children,

 

So haunted for so long by monsters that we told them did not exist. 

 

They are fortunate that a little girl left alone in a cold, damp orphanage in Geelong, and suffered so much, grew up to be so strong, and never forgot and never gave up.

ENDS

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