Peter Gogarty warns the federal government things can't go back to the way they were
By Peter Gogarty
October 21, 2018
ON Monday we get another apology – this one from our newest Prime Minister Scott Morrison.
By “we” I mean the tens of thousands of Australians who were sexually abused in hundreds of trusted institutions over the past 70 years while other people looked on. They looked on because they looked after themselves rather than the vulnerable children in their care.
“We” also means the family and friends of those survivors. It means the hundreds of thousands of people in the community who were lured into providing these (mostly religious) institutions with tax exemptions and extraordinary influence over our lives.
Much of this apparently disgusting, appalling and often criminal behaviour was carried out in the name of Jesus Christ and the various forms of his church.
Monday’s apology in our federal parliament building, after more than five years of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, is a bit different to others we have seen over recent years. This time our national parliament is saying sorry for not doing enough to keep the institutions which pledged to care for children, often on behalf of governments, safe, transparent and accountable.
Other than saying sorry, I am concerned that this national apology might be the same as many others that have been delivered over the past few years by the institutions that allowed crimes to be committed against children in their care – meaningless, self-serving and patronising.
Other than saying sorry, I am concerned that this national apology might be the same as many others ... meaningless, self-serving and patronising.
An apology, it seems to me, is meant to be genuine and sincere. Importantly, it is meant to convey a commitment to avoid repeating past wrongs. Monday’s apology may well be sincere, but I have doubts that there is much in the way of genuine Commonwealth determination to prevent future institutionalised abuse of our children.
Earlier I mentioned “apparently disgusting behaviour”. I did so deliberately because there has been precious little in the way of action from those who orchestrated this scandal. There’s been not much more than that from our parliament to demonstrate that it believes it really was disgusting and inexcusable behaviour – much less worthy of sanction. The National Redress Scheme is not what the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse recommended. It excludes some of the most vulnerable child abuse survivors because institutions have the right to “opt in”, and because many people with a criminal conviction need not apply. Even successful applicants to the scheme will receive an average of $2.26 per day compensation for their life-long suffering. I have calculated that based on 70 years of suffering and the average estimated $60,000 redress payment.
Rather than imposing new independent accountability mechanisms, the federal government has just given many culpable institutions a share in billions of dollars in extra education funding. The government continues to provide tax exemptions.
It also told them it is okay to expel homosexual students and sack homosexual teachers because such inclinations are, according to the Catholic Church, “gravely disordered”. The government only backed down after widespread community outrage.
It is also worth noting the Catholic Church is apparently not so “gravely disordered” when it comes to abusing little boys and girls. The church’s history is that the sexual abuse of children has been seen as more like a naughty mistake to be dealt with by prayer, an overseas trip and a new town to operate in. Meanwhile, many states are sitting on the fence regarding the secrecy of the Catholic confessional. The Catholic Church is doing exactly what it said it would never do again – monitoring and investigating its own compliance with child protection laws. It has set up a company (which it wholly owns and which reports directly to the Bishops) called Catholic Professional Standards Limited. It is nothing like the external and independent body the community expects.
There has been only one prosecution and one high-profile resignation in Australia for concealing child abuse, despite royal commission revelations that lots of people in numerous institutions knew what was going on for decades. Yet we have not heard one politician call for the mass resignation or dismissal of the bishops, archbishops and cardinals who pointed their fingers in all directions when they were asked “who knew what and when did they know it?”
So Mr Morrison, if I sound sceptical, it’s because I am. This apology will look good on our national record and it may help some people with their recovery, but unless you use some very stern language, and you deliver seriously decisive action, it will ring very hollow to those who have waited so long for justice.