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Australia

Malcolm Turnbull to deliver national apology to child sexual abuse victims

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 08 February, 2018, 4:32pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 08 February, 2018, 9:06pm

Malcolm Turnbull says he will make a national apology before the end of the year to victims of institutional abuse in the wake of the royal commission into child sexual abuse.

The prime minister confirmed the government’s intentions in a statement to parliament on Thursday.

“We owe it to survivors not to waste this moment and we must continue to be guided by their wishes,” Turnbull said. “As a nation, we must mark this occasion in a form that reflects the wishes of survivors and that affords them the dignity to which they were entitled as children – but which was denied to them by the very people who were tasked with their care.”

He said a “survivor-focused reference group” would be appointed to help craft the apology, which would be delivered by the end of the parliamentary year.

The Labor leader, Bill Shorten, said the final report of the royal commission contained words “that shake us to our core”.

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“The child with disability, abused daily, who couldn’t get a disinterested police officer to take any notice of their plea for help,” he said. “The good Catholic boy, who, after each time he was abused sexually by his priest, had to go to confession and confess his sin of impurity – to his abuser. And then this boy, this child being preyed upon by this monster, would be asked if he was sorry. And told to do three Hail Marys for his penance.

“They were children, seen and not heard. They could not find a counsellor to listen to their story, they could not find justice in the criminal court or compensation in the civil. These institutions failed our fellow Australians – and then our nation did.”

Shorten also told parliament his mother had spared him proximity to the paedophile priest Kevin O’Donnell by stopping him from becoming an altar boy in his parish.

An apology to the victims of child sexual abuse would come a decade after Kevin Rudd’s landmark apology to the stolen generations.

The prime minister in his statement to parliament provided an update on a redress scheme for survivors, which was one of the central recommendations of the royal commission. The proposed scheme will cap payments at A$150,000 (US118,000) and will allow survivors access to counselling.

It will also force institutions in which abuse occurred to respond personally to victims if such a response is sought.

Turnbull urged the states to sign up to the scheme and he indicated the issue would be discussed at Friday’s Council of Australian Governments meeting in Canberra.