Apartheid State: Compensation For Sexual Abuse Victims, Betrayal For Australia’s Stolen Generations

The image from the front of the 1997 Bringing Them Home report.


Below is a small portion of this detailed and important report. Please go to newmatilda.com to read the full text. JP

The Turnbull Government has responded swiftly and justly to the final report into the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses To Child Sexual Abuse. And then there’s the response to the Bringing Them Home report, and the stolen wages scandal across two decades, and successive governments. The double standard is there in black and white, for anyone who cares to look. Chris Graham reports.

11 Feb 2018 | Chris Graham | Publisher

“One of the really useful things about the #changethedate campaign is that it serves as an effective litmus test for our maturity as a nation. For how we see ourselves, for our capacity to honestly face our past, and our ability to empathise with a people who were brutalized in our names, for our benefit.

That we even have to debate celebrating a day which marks the dispossession and slaughter of another people speaks volumes about our national maturity. That we have a Prime Minister who then sees the political capital in assuring his base nothing will change while he’s in charge; and that we have an Opposition leader who falls over himself to get in step quickly, adds to that sad picture.

But you don’t have to look a whole two weeks back for the results of the national litmus test. You only have to go back to Thursday, when news broke that Malcolm Turnbull’s Government has upped the pressure on the states and territories to get behind a Commonwealth scheme that will compensate child victims who were sexually assaulted while in government care.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull. (IMAGE: Dept. of Defence photo by Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Dominique A. Pineiro/Flickr)

It follows the handing down in December last year of the final report from the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. There are 189 recommendations.

Turnbull’s scheme was actually announced in November 2016, more than a year before the final report was delivered. Then, he promised a “massive compensation scheme” for victims. This week he announced there would also be a parliamentary apology before the end of the year: “Now that those stories have been told, now that they are on the record, we must do everything within our power to honour them.

“As a nation, we must mark this occasion in a form that reflects the wishes of survivors and 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.”

No-one batted an eyelid. And why would they? The notion that children who are sodomised, beaten and tortured at the hands of the state and their (largely religious) agents should be compensated for a lifetime of deep pain and suffering is hardly a controversial one.

Bill Shorten was quick out of the gates as well, joining Turnbull in heaping pressure on those responsible.

“As of today, not a single dollar has come from any of the states or the institutions whose names and deeds fill the pages of this report,” Mr Shorten said. “I say to the institutions, and indeed the states: the time for lawyers is over, the time for justice is here.”

Opposition leader Bill Shorten, pictured on ABC’s Four Corners program.

The fact is, the Commonwealth doesn’t have to provide a national apology, nor does it have to create a Commonwealth scheme. Liability for the atrocities committed against children in institutional care lies largely with the states and territory governments, and their agents.

But Turnbull is doing so – and Shorten is backing him – because any other response is unthinkable. It would be contrary to our national values to turn our backs on such visceral pain. It’s leadership in response to a dark chapter in our recent past. And speaking of dark chapters….

Bringing Them Home

Contrast the Turnbull and Shorten responses to the Royal Commission with the major parties’ responses – which now span 21 years – to the Bringing Them Home report, the end product of the National Inquiry into the Separation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children from Their Families.

The Inquiry was established in 1995 by Paul Keating’s Attorney-General, Michael Lavarch and documented the theft and removal of Aboriginal children over decades by government institutions and, again, their agents. Bringing Them Home also shed light on their treatment while in care. The words ‘rape’, ‘abuse’ and ‘assault’ appear dozens of times throughout the report.

One of the report’s recommendations references how the states and the Commonwealth should specifically deal with the victims of torture.

Unfortunately for the mob, Lavarch and Keating were not in power when Bringing Them Home was published, two years after the inquiry commenced. John Howard was.

524 pages long with 54 recommendations, the report was begrudgingly tabled in Federal Parliament on May 26, 1997. The Howard government made no real effort to mask its disdain. A day later, Howard travelled to Melbourne as a guest of the National Reconciliation Convention. That’s the speech where Howard banged his hands on the lectern and yelled at the gathering, only to have audience members stand and turn their backs on him.

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