Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has pledged to deliver a national apology to victims of institutional child sex abuse before the end of 2018.
In a surprise statement to parliament on Thursday morning, Turnbull said that “there is no more important obligation for every Australian adult than keeping our children safe from harm.”
A Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse delivered its final report in December, making 409 recommendations for change to the system.
Commissioners heard from more than 8,000 survivors of abuse, 61 percent of whom were abused in an institution managed by the Catholic Church, throughout the five-year inquiry.
They recommended that celibacy become voluntary among priests and that religious ministers be forced to report any child sexual abuse revealed to them during religious confessional.
Turnbull on Thursday confirmed that a national redress scheme which will see survivors financially compensated by the organization responsible for their abuse will come into effect on July 1.
“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.”
The Labor leader, Bill Shorten, said the final report of the royal commission contained words “that shake us to our core”.
“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 counselor 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 pedophile priest Kevin O’Donnell by stopping him from becoming an altar boy in his parish.
An apology to the victims of child sexual abuse will come a decade after Kevin Rudd’s landmark apology to the stolen generations.