opinion

'Thank you Julia Gillard, for leaving a legacy we can all be proud of.'

This week, Prime Minister Scott Morrison has faced increasing demands to release asylum seeker families and children from Nauru who have been subject to reprehensible human rights abuses at the hands of the Australian government.

Perhaps this is the perfect moment to reflect upon a subject we probably don’t think about enough.

Legacy.

On Monday, October 22, history was made.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison voiced an apology that was almost six years in the making.

It was a national apology to victims of child abuse, the living and the dead.

But it was not Morrison, our Prime Minister of 61 days, who families of victims and survivors were desperate to thank.

It was Julia Gillard.

In November 2012, then Prime Minister Julia Gillard announced the national royal commission into institutional responses to child sexual abuse.

“These are insidious, evil acts to which no child should be subject,” Gillard said of the allegations.

“There have been too many revelations of adults who have averted their eyes from this evil.

“Australians know… that too many children have suffered child abuse, but have also seen other adults let them down – they’ve not only had their trust betrayed by the abuser but other adults who have acted to assist them have failed to do so.

“I believe we must do everything we can to make sure that what has happened in the past is never allowed to happen again,” she said.

So Gillard, a woman ironically lambasted for being unmarried and childless – details which apparently made her hard and unfeeling – advocated on behalf of some of Australia’s most vulnerable.

Since then, more than 17,000 survivors were heard by the commission.

At least 8,000 recounted their experiences in private sessions.

One in 10 people who spoke to the commission, had never before told anyone about the sexual abuse they experienced as a child.

To those victims, Scott Morrison said:

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Muffled cries in the darkness.

Unacknowledged tears. The tyranny of invisible suffering.

The never heard pleas of tortured souls bewildered by an indifference to the unthinkable theft of their innocence.

Today, Australia confronts a trauma – an abomination – hiding in plain sight for far too long.

Today, we confront a question too horrible to ask, let alone answer.

Why weren’t the children of our nation loved, nurtured and protected?

Why was their trust betrayed?

Why did those who know cover it up?

Why were the cries of children and parents ignored?

Why was our system of justice blind to injustice?

Why has it taken so long to act?

Why were other things more important than this, the care of innocent children?

Why didn’t we believe?

Today we dare to ask these questions, and finally acknowledge and confront the lost screams of our children.

While we can’t be so vain to pretend to answers, we must be so humble to fall before those who were forsaken and beg to them our apology.

A sorry that dare not ask for forgiveness…

You can read Scott Morrison’s apology in full, here.

But it was when Morrison acknowledged Gillard, that he received the loudest applause from the House of Representatives.

“Get her on stage,” one person yelled, while others added, “love you Julia,” and “thank you”.

When she was finally pulled up onto the stage, she took the opportunity to simply thank survivors for their bravery.

Moments later, one man, who had been abused by a priest when he was a student, bowed down, attempting to kiss Gillard’s feet.

She pulled him up.

Jacqueline Maley, a journalist for The Sydney Morning Herald, spoke to that man during the reception held on the lawn of Parliament House.

“I’m not a Labor person,” Frank said to her.

“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.”

Today, we know the legacy of Gillard, the 27th Prime Minister of Australia.

Last year she said that child sex survivors showed “amazing courage” and stoicism in reporting their abuse to police.

“Nothing I’ve ever had to do in my life in any way equates with that,” she added.

But the question that remains, at a time when Scott Morrison has a choice to make about the safety and welfare of children, is:

What will his legacy be?

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