• Members of the crowd hold hands as Prime Minister Scott Morrison delivers the National Apology to the victims and survivors of instutionalised child sex abuse (APH)Source: APH
Prime Minister Scott Morrison has delivered a national apology to the thousands of victims and survivors of institutionalised child sex abuse.
22 Oct 2018 - 5:58 PM  UPDATED 22 Oct 2018 - 7:00 PM

Harold Weetra was just nine-years-old when he was removed from his family and placed in five to six different foster homes.

Justifiably, he finds his experience difficult to talk about.

“They [were] a bit rough on me. That's all I can say,” he says through tears.

Harold comes from Point Pearce, a small town on South Australia’s Yorke Peninsula. Now living in Adelaide, he travelled to Canberra to hear the long-anticipated apology from the government. 

“Today, Australia confronts a trauma – an abomination – hiding in plain sight for far too long,” Prime Minister Scott Morrison said in his national address.

“Today we say we are sorry…. As we say sorry, we also say we believe you. We say what happened was not your fault.”

Hundreds travelled to Parliament House and sat in the public gallery as Mr Morrison acknowledged the “evil, dark crimes” committed by priests, teachers and scout leaders, and apologised for the nation’s failure to believe victims over many decades.

“Look at the galleries, look at the Great Hall, look outside this place, and you will see men and women from every walk of life, from every generation and every part of our land, crushed, abused, discarded and forgotten.”

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten echoed a similar sentiment.

“Today belongs to you,” he said, referencing victims.

“We will remember them today and Australia must promise to always remember them. We hear you now. We believe you. Australia believes you. And we are sorry it has taken so long to say these words.”

Mr Shorten also acknowledged the members of the Stolen Generations, 'children who were taken from country and culture and connection, many of whom then suffered abuse on top of that trauma'. 

“Aboriginal children silenced by isolation and discrimination, cut-off from country and culture,” he said.  

But for Harold, and many others, the national apology does not go far enough.

“It’s good, but we need more things to be done for the people who’ve passed away,” Harold said.  

The government has already set up a national redress scheme to pay compensation to survivors, with contributions from the states and some of the main responsible institutions, including the Catholic Church. 

But for survivors like Brian McNair, victims have heard the "same stuff over and over again but getting nowhere".

“There’s no justice in what we're going to receive. The redress isn't going to help anybody. Three of my friends died this year because they were too late getting an apology,” he said.

“Mr Morrison brought up love again, and I can't handle love.”

Watch the apology:

But beyond the hundreds who were able to attend, there were many others who preferred not to. Some simply couldn't.

Eighty-year-old survivor Eric Wheeler missed his chance due to a communications error between him and the Attorney-General's Department. 

"I'm over it, I'm cranky, I'm just fed up," he said. 

As a nine-year-old, Eric was placed into foster care at Coolah in the central-west of New South Wales. 

"I think there was 7 of us taken all together in one hit, two sisters and five brothers," he said. "After 30 odd years I eventually got contact with my brothers and sisters, except one." 

For Eric too, words only mean so much.

"They can stand up there, talk and do what they like, but they can't (cries) bring back what they took away. My childhood is gone, can't bring it back, never got to have brothers and sisters, just got abused." 

"They can give you compensation, they can say they'll give me a million dollars but it won't fix what they did. It's something they've taken, they can't give it back to me." 

Hundreds of Australian victims of institutional child sexual abuse were addressed by Scott Morrison:

Eighty-year-old Brian Butler is from the Stolen Generations Alliance.

He represented his grandmother who was just a young girl when she was forced to work with police troopers in Alice Springs, during the mid-1900s, to identify Aboriginal children of mixed descent.

“My grandmother was forced not only to go with these police troopers, [but was used] as a sex slave,” he said.

“I’ve got a very strong reason on my behalf of family and the Aboriginal people from Alice Springs to keep making sure that she doesn’t get forgotten along with all of the other ladies that were sexually abused, and the men that were abused as well.”

“I’m 80 years old now and I’m still grieving as much as I was in those early days.”

Prime Minister Morrison’s historic apology follows a five-year Royal Commission which exposed horrific abuse of children at institutions around Australia, and systematic attempts to cover it up.

The inquiry heard from 17,000 survivors, of which 8,000 recalled their abuse in private sessions. More than 14 per cent of respondents came from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.

The Healing Foundation, a national body working with survivors of the Stolen Generations, say while the apology is welcome, more action is required. they have released a cultural framework  to drive healing responses and to ensure action on the royal commission's recommendations.

Healing Foundation CEO Richard Weston said the inaction from the Bringing Them Home report necessitates a direct response.

“This report documents a cultural framework for addressing child sexual abuse and protecting our children now and into the future, because we know the legacy of trauma is not just in the past,” he said.

“Community capacity to overcome the challenges of colonisation in general, and sexual abuse in particular, has been severely diminished due to the breakdown of cultural structures and processes that previously prevented harm.”

The Royal Commission was set up by former Prime Minister Julia Gillard, who also attended the event and rose to speak, despite her participation not being part of the original program. 

From the side stands, Ms Gillard said she was sitting where she wanted to be, "with the survivors and their families and friends".

"Thank you to the very great honour you have paid to me today by acknowledging me in the room," she said.

Today, the government also announced a national museum to remember the abuse. It will also set up a National Centre for Excellence to research the impacts of abuse on survivors.

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