Of all the politicians, Julia Gillard was the only one survivors really wanted

By Jacqueline Maley
October 22, 2018

Chrissie Foster and Julia Gillard during an address to survivors after the national apology on Monday.
Photo by Alex Ellinghausen

Ms Gillard spoke only briefly, thanking the survivors for telling their stories, and for their stoicism.
Photo by Alex Ellinghausen

A man, Frank, falls to his knees as he meets Ms Gillard.

[with video]

A survey of our recent prime ministers’ whereabouts on Monday: Kevin Rudd, in Canberra, promoting his new memoir by dripping out criticisms of his former colleagues. Malcolm Turnbull, in transit from his exile in New York, blamed for the Liberals’ trouncing in Wentworth. Tony Abbott, on the backbench of the House of Representatives, his expression blank, but his leg jiggling madly as Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Opposition Leader Bill Shorten addressed the victims of institutional child sex abuse.

Then there was Julia Gillard, who came back to Parliament House, where she was dealt (and doled out) some brutal treatment during her prime ministership, to be there for the national apology.

Gillard’s last act as prime minister was to order a Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sex Abuse, and its political culmination was on Monday.

She was not the politician doing the apologising, but she was the only one the survivors really wanted.

There was applause for her on the floor of the House of Representatives and in the public galleries when Morrison acknowledged her. She was sitting in the seats for distinguished guests on the floor of the House, with the revered campaigners Chrissie Foster and Hetty Johnston .

Later, when Morrison and Labor leader Bill Shorten left the House and went down to the Great Hall where the survivors had gathered under the Arthur Boyd tapestry, Gillard tried to sneak in first.

There was no way they would let her.

As soon as she entered, the room erupted and they all stood for her.

When Shorten spoke, he said he was proud of her, and there was more applause and cheering.

“Get her on stage please!” yelled one audience member. “Thank you!” and “Love you Julia!” shouted others. “Come over to my house for a cuppa, love!” cried another.

Eventually they coaxed her on stage, but Gillard spoke briefly, only to thank the survivors for telling their stories, and for their stoicism.

Moving around the room, she was mobbed. Everyone wanted a chat, or a photo, or just to embrace her.

One man went down on his knees to kiss her feet.

“No, no,” she said, and she bent down and got him back up again.

Later, there was a lunch and reception on the lawn in front of Parliament.

Mr Morrison spent an hour walking around talking to people, just being with them and sometimes embracing them.

The man who had kissed Gillard’s feet was in the crowd.

His name was Frank.

He was a former student at St Patrick’s College in Ballarat. His abuser was Robert Claffey, now jailed, one of several priests from that place who casually broke the children in his care with vile abuse.

“I’m not a Labor person," he said.

“But I always said, if I ever see Julia Gillard, I will drop to my knees and kiss her feet.

“Our unmarried, deliberately barren, atheist female prime minister, she has done more to protect the safety and welfare of children into the future than all the other prime ministers combined.”


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