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Motion: National Child Protection Week

Adjourned debate on motion of Hon. T.J. Stephens:

That this council—

1. Recognises National Child Protection Week was held from 2 until 8 September;

2. Acknowledges that Child Protection Week is a wonderful opportunity for everyone in the community to think about how we can work together to keep all children safe; and

3. Acknowledges and thanks all individuals, organisations, agencies and service providers working in our community to support children and families impacted by child abuse.


The Hon. T.A. FRANKS (17:20): I rise to support this motion and commend the mover for bringing it to this place, and associate myself with the remarks of both the Hon. Terry Stephens and the Hon. Irene Pnevmatikos. National Child Protection Week is an incredibly important week, as the Hon. Terry Stephens noted, because, as Rosemary Sinclair, the founder of NAPCAN, has herself said, the abuse and neglect of children is often seen to be a taboo topic. We are talking about it in this place, in one of the most public places of our state, and that is rightly so, but for far too long the abuse of children, particularly the sexual abuse of children, has been silenced and shut down and those children who have sought support have had the reality of that sexual abuse denied.

I particularly note the work of the royal commission, established by then prime minister Julia Gillard. I think there is possibly no less that any prime minister could have done than to have established that particular royal commission into institutional child abuse. For that, I think Julia Gillard will be very kindly reflected in the history books.

The words of the children to that royal commission are profound. One particular respondent, Martina, told the commission of her rape by a priest. She noted that when she was nine and she left the confessional box with blood running down her leg, the nun saw her, called her over and gave her a rag and said, 'Go there and clean yourself up,' telling her, 'Don't be so disgusting and don't come out of here until you're cleaned up.' She stated, 'And I didn't do that. He did,' referring to the priest.

Martina found she could not tell her parents about the abuse because they were often drunk and abusive themselves. She certainly could not tell the nuns at school because they would call her dirty and disgusting. Martina believed policeman were like soldiers and could fix anything. Knowing what the priest was doing was wrong, she went to the policeman and tried to explain what was happening to her at that time. She stated:

He knelt down to my level, he looked right at me and he said to me, 'You are a naughty, naughty little girl'. And I remember it, I'll never forget it. I can see him now, the policeman. I wanted him to save me.

The policeman did not save her. The abuse continued until Martina left for high school. As a young adult, she became restless and unable to stay in the same job for very long, despite enjoying particular parts of her work. She had difficulty trusting people and she had problems with intimacy. She became an adult. At that time, she eventually received counselling, which she stated:

…makes you feel a bit better, especially you know someone believes you. And that's so nice because no-one before believed you.

Her final quote was:

I'm getting believed. It's such a relief.

Martina, should she have qualified for compensation, stated in her evidence that she did not want the money; she wanted the money to go to the children of here and now. What I do want to reflect on today is the adults who were once abused as children, because they are difficult cases. Another who spoke to the royal commission stated:

Glad I spoke to the Royal Commission but it has opened a Pandora's box in my head, I feel dangerously angry it scares me a lot but I'm ok, you just ask me. Substance abuse is helping. What a lie to live with. Please don't let this happen to others.

Adults need our support, too, when they have been abused as children. We must believe the children and we must believe the adults and provide them with the supports they need. We must see beyond the behaviours and the trauma that result from the abuse and provide those supports.

The royal commission was incredibly groundbreaking, and we have seen quite extraordinary scenes in this country where one of the highest ranking religious officials of this nation has now been found guilty of child sexual abuse but, even more extraordinarily, even after that conviction and that finding of guilt, former prime minister John Howard has written him a letter of recommendation because apparently he is a 'good bloke'.

Andrew Bolt, to his shame, continues to campaign against the court's finding. He continues not to believe those children. Those children who are now adults—one dead, one still alive—are blamed for their behaviours; not the perpetrator but the victims continue to be blamed for those behaviours.

In this place we often debate issues of drug and substance abuse, issues of bad behaviours, of antisocial behaviours, of mental illness, of trauma-related illness, so when we debate motions like these I think that they are a fine opportunity to reflect just where some of those behaviours have come from when we set up the systems that will ensure or deny these people justice. With those few words, I commend the motion.

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