Australian PM offers national apology to child sex abuse victims

Child sex abuse survivor Carolyn Unwin, 74, from Cairns, Queensland, on the front lawn of Parliament House in Canberra after Prime Minister Scott Morrison delivered a rare national apology yesterday.
Child sex abuse survivor Carolyn Unwin, 74, from Cairns, Queensland, on the front lawn of Parliament House in Canberra after Prime Minister Scott Morrison delivered a rare national apology yesterday.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

SYDNEY • Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison yesterday offered a rare national apology, only the second since 2008, to victims of institutional child sexual abuse and their families, bringing some survivors to tears.

The gesture followed a five-year inquiry into child sexual abuse that delved into more than 8,000 cases of sexual misconduct, most of them at religious and state-run institutions responsible for keeping children safe. "Today, as a nation, we confront our failure to listen, to believe, and to provide justice," Mr Morrison told lawmakers in the Australian capital, Canberra.

"We say sorry. To the children we failed, sorry. To the parents whose trust was betrayed and who have struggled to pick up the pieces, sorry."

Expressions of national regret are reserved for egregious misdeeds in which the state has played a role. In the previous instance in 2008, then Prime Minister Kevin Rudd apologised to members of the Stolen Generations of indigenous Australians, forcibly taken from their families and communities as young children under assimilation policies.

Mr Morrison also repeated the apology in a speech to nearly 800 victims, some of whom began to cry, images broadcast on television showed.

"It was very, very intense to be in that room," Mr Graeme, a victim who identified himself only by his first name, told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. "I looked around and I thought to myself there is not a room of stronger people anywhere in the country."

Mr Morrison vowed tougher oversight, although some victims say the government has failed to do enough.

"If they think saying sorry is going to finish it, it's not," Mr Tony Wardley, who suffered abuse in the 1980s, told the broadcaster. "There's still so much to be done."

Australia set up a redressal scheme this year to pay abuse victims compensation of up to A$150,000 (S$147,000) each.

But the conservative government has yet to decide if it will adopt recommendations from the wide-ranging national inquiry, most notably one requiring Catholic priests to report child abuse they may learn about in the confessional.

In August, a top Catholic body, the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference, said it would not comply with proposed state laws.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 23, 2018, with the headline 'Australian PM offers national apology to child sex abuse victims'. Print Edition | Subscribe