I express my support, and that of the Calare electorate, for this motion. The sexual abuse of children occurred all over Australia, including places in our region like Bathurst, Orange and Molong. It was perpetrated by those in our society who often held positions of trust, respect and honour in some of our most trusted institutions. The victims were amongst our society's most vulnerable: the children. Some still find it hard to imagine that it happened, but it did. While the long arm of the law has caught up with some of the criminals responsible for these monstrous crimes, many never had to answer for what they did, and their victims never saw justice either. These crimes destroyed lives. Some of the victims weren't believed when they spoke up. Some were told it was their fault. Some victims took their own lives.
At the apology I was given accounts of abuse so cruel and degrading that they are difficult to comprehend. Amongst many emotions there was intense sadness at both the apology and lunch on the lawns of parliament afterwards. I was privileged to spend time at the apology with Aunty Mary Hooker, a proud Bundjalung woman who lives just outside Mudgee. One of the stolen generations, at age 12 in 1970 Aunty Mary was told that she was going on a two-week holiday. She was in fact forcibly removed from her family. Eight of her siblings were removed as well. She, one of her sisters and two of her brothers were never returned to her mother's care. She got to see her family briefly again some years later at her brother's funeral but, apart from that brief encounter, didn't see them again until about 1977, seven years after she was taken away.
During that time, aged just 13 years, she was sent to the now infamous Parramatta Girls Training School. What went on at that place was revealed during the royal commission, at which Aunty Mary gave evidence. The horrific nature of those crimes appalled the nation. She gave evidence that she and other girls:
… would steal pins and needles from the sewing room to self-harm because their treatment at the home was so harsh.
It was their way of releasing the pain. The rules were designed to dehumanise inmates. She said:
We had numbers, not names. I was 127.
She also told of the Parramatta Girls Training School's isolation unit, referred to as the dungeon, and the crimes committed there against her and many others. Aunty Mary has asked me to show you this. It is very painful for her to relive this and it takes a toll on her, but she wants the parliament and the nation to know what happened. This is the front page of The Daily Telegraph dated Friday 7 March 2014. The headline on the front page is:
HELL HOLE—Inside this sandstone dungeon, hundreds of children suffered the ultimate betrayal.
There on the front page is Aunty Mary as she was as a child.
Aunty Mary also gave evidence of the abuse she suffered at Ormond Training School, Thornleigh, in 1971, prior to being sent to Parramatta. The evidence of the royal commission told a story of abject cruelty, degradation, criminality and a total abrogation of the state's duty of care to these vulnerable young children. Make no mistake: this was institutionalised evil. When external social workers and child protection officers visited, the children were told to keep their mouths shut and say that everything was fine. Aunty Mary said that they were only allowed to talk about the weather and not the physical abuse, the bashings, the sexual abuse and the denial of food. She also gave evidence of the impact the abuse had on her family relationships. Although she eventually found her family again, she said of her mum, 'We were never mother and daughter again.'
However, Aunty Mary's story is not just about the abuse she suffered in our state institutions but also the sexual abuse she suffered at the hands of a family member before she was taken away from her mother. Aunty Mary told me about this horrific experience as we prepared this speech.
Yesterday Aunty Mary returned to the parliament, where we had time to reflect on the apology and what it meant. It was a lot to take in. She appreciated being able to talk to the Prime Minister and also royal commission chair Justice Peter McClellan. Aunty Mary said she hoped that the apology helped victims and survivors heal. I asked her how, having been through those experiences, she was able to carry on. She replied that, as a Christian, she was able to look into her heart and find forgiveness. 'The hatred that you have inside you can eat you up and destroy you,' she said. 'Forgiveness was like a weight lifting from my shoulders.' She has a generosity of spirit that is very rare. She's an inspiration.
I should add that this forgiveness should not be confused with a lack of desire to see the perpetrators of these crimes brought to justice. Aunty Mary wants her story to be told so that people understand what she and others went through. She said that she was also doing it for those no longer here to speak up. She wants to ensure that nobody else has to go through what she did.
She was accompanied to the apology by her husband of 35 years, Rodney, and her granddaughter Tracey, who attends Mudgee Public School and wants to be a police officer one day.
To be sexually abused by a family member, to be taken away from your family, to be abused by the institutions that were entrusted to care for you and protect you, to be told that you would amount to nothing and have your abilities denigrated—it's hard to imagine a more difficult start in life for a young child. Yet Aunty Mary's story is also a story of courage, conviction, faith, determination and love. Aunty Mary has achieved much in her life. She's an inspiration and role model to many, including the vision impaired. She's raised a family. She's a mum to Alan and Heather. She's a mother-in-law to Sarah and Chris. Aunty Mary is also a grandmother to Tracey; Violet; Dylan, who's in the Air Force and wants to be a pilot; Darren, who's an apprentice carpenter; Jackson; and Corey. I also have to make special mention here of Jackson's type 1 diabetes alert dog, Stormtrooper.
Of course, Aunty Mary is also wife to Rod. She is a highly respected Indigenous elder, a talented artist and an advocate for the vision impaired, for reconciliation and for justice for the victims and survivors of institutional sexual abuse. However, it's not only victims of institutional sexual abuse Aunty Mary advocates for. She speaks out about abuse within families as well and seeks greater support for those victims too.
Aunty Mary was present for the apology to the stolen generations on 13 February 2008, and while in Canberra this week she presented me with her apology day books, which contain newspaper articles, thoughts and comments from around Australia and around the world about that apology. We've been liaising with our parliamentary library to determine where they can best be displayed and preserved. I recently asked Aunty Mary what was next. Her answer was simple: she wants to complete the education that she was denied as a child and that they told her she wasn't capable of attaining, but she doesn't want to do it at a TAFE or other training centre. She wants to sit her HSC at a high school, with other students and teachers who want to see her succeed. It doesn't seem too much to ask.
The national apology can't take away the immense pain that is felt by victims. Nothing could do that. What the apology does do is let victims of institutional sexual abuse know that we, as a nation, recognise that this happened, that victims are believed and that all Australians are sorry. It also affirms the national commitment to never let it happen again.