Thank you Mr Speaker.
I rise today to say sorry.
To say to the victim-survivors of child sexual abuse that I believe you. It took a lot of courage for those who came forward to tell their stories of abuse.
And, Mr Speaker, I acknowledge the bravery of people who couldn’t come forward as dealing with the consequences of child sexual abuse requires bravery every day, whether they shared their stories or not.
If there is one thing we must acknowledge, it is that children must be believed.
As the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse concluded, there are many barriers to children disclosing abuse, including being disbelieved or even punished as a result of a disclosure.
Adults need be educated in recognising and responding appropriately to behavioural signs or a disclosure of abuse.
Mr Speaker, this did not happen in Tasmania.
Every child has a right to a childhood, a right to safety and protection.
These are fundamental rights, something every parent would want their children to have.
That’s not just me saying so, it’s enshrined in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.
Somehow we, here in Tasmania, allowed horrific atrocities to occur to children that were entrusted to our care.
We failed them, their families and the Tasmanian community.
Little Tassie. One of the safest places in the world, we tell ourselves and others, but a blind eye was turned to unspeakable horrors right here in our institutions. For the victim-survivors “safe Tassie” is a cruel veneer.
Institutions such as hospitals and schools whose very existence is to protect and nurture children, somehow became havens for evil people to do their worst.
Like most Tasmanians I am devastated and ashamed.
The revelations from witnesses before the Tasmania Commission of Inquiry revealed harrowing tales of inaction, obstruction, ineptitude, indifference and incompetence to the litany of complaints, boundary breaches and red flags that victims and their families raised.
In case after case we were told of a staggering lack of trauma-informed approaches to complaints, and often no proper investigation at all.
And Mr Speaker, when attempts were made by victims, their families or staff to report concerns, there were disastrous failures within government systems, record-keeping and training procedures, and a clear lack of support for victim-survivors, families and whistleblowers.
Overall, a common experience from victim-survivors and their families is that they felt ignored. There’s a persistent theme of being put off, side-lined or the abuse minimised.
To the parents and families of the children who have been abused, I am so sorry. I cannot begin to imagine your anguish. You have carried the burden of your child’s experiences and made heart-felt and often very difficult submissions to the Inquiry, which we are grateful for. I am so very sorry that your children’s lives have been shattered and, terribly, lives lost and family relationships broken.
To the victims-survivors of child sexual abuse, I am deeply sorry.
I am sorry that the State failed to protect you and believe you. I promise I will listen and learn so that you receive the support you need and deserve, and so that no other child suffers as you have.
To watch Ms Johnston’s apology, please go to: https://youtu.be/IvOrQS0o6M0