One of the worst character flaws in a leader is the ability to say anything without regard to the truth or intention to follow through.
I'm not just talking about garden-variety lying or insincerity.
Rather the pretty rare trait of always being an actor.
You'll go a long way to find a better example of meaningless words than these ones spoken by Bill Shorten just 7 months ago.
The speech was aimed at victims of childhood sexual abuse.
Kathy Sherriff falls into that category. She was in the care of an institution, away at a Young Labor camp when she was raped.
Read this as if you're Kathy.
Today is because of you.
Above all, we do this because of you.
Today is because of your advocates, your networks, your organisations and your leadership.
It is you who have bravely fought the long battle for justice, for recognition, for truth to be believed.
It is you who brought this day into being.
It is you who kept coming forward, again and again.
You dug beneath scar tissue, you told strangers and people in power of the most terrifying moments in your memory.
Australians should understand that you spoke and relived your pain because you want to make sure that what happened to you did not happen to other children.
Today belongs to you.
Today belongs to your families, today belongs to your loved ones who have been there for you in the darkest times.
To everyone to whom this day belongs, I say on behalf of the Labor Opposition and the Commonwealth Parliament and the people of Australia: we are sorry.
We are sorry for every childhood stolen, every life lost.
We are sorry for every betrayal of trust, every abuse of power.
We are sorry for trauma measured in decades, for scars that can never heal.
We are sorry for every cry for help that fell on deaf ears and hard hearts.
We are sorry for every crime that was not investigated, every criminal who went unpunished.
And we are sorry for every time that you were not heard and not believed.
We hear you now. We believe you. Australia believes you.
And we are sorry it has taken so long to say these words.
We are sorry for wrongs that can never be made right.
We are sorry that you and your brothers and sisters have been left to fight for justice, respect and dignity on your own.
You should not be alone any longer. Australia is with you.
And we are sorry that the abuse and the assault and the rape of children is still going on and being covered-up, to this very day, in this country.
We are sorry that we still cannot protect all our children.
And we are sorry – all of us in the parliament - that we have not yet done enough to guarantee that this cannot happen again.
Last week, I was told of a survivor who said:
“These apologies are only so politicians can look good in front of the public”.
And you know what, after decades of betrayal (that person) has every right to be sceptical, to feel that words are cheap.
To you here who have gathered, I say that you have fought for and earned more than words. You deserve real change: in your lives, in the law and for kids in the future.
It means improving the lives of children now, recognising that vulnerable children don’t resolve every issue miraculously the day they turn 18, your support shouldn’t fall-off a bureaucratic cliff based on the date you were born.
And whether it is making redress right, or reforming the law - it’s now up to us in this parliament, not the survivors and victims.
We have the power, we have the authority and we have the responsibility
This is no time for government or institutions to haggle over the dollars, or hide behind lawyers.
This is not the time to ask for more time, as if this process has been ‘rushed’.
People have already died waiting for the justice they are due, people are dying.
I know many Australians have been watching the news and reading the articles and saying to each other in horror and disbelief:
Why are we only hearing about this now? Why didn’t we know? Why weren’t we told?
There are a thousand different reasons, every individual life unique - but at the heart of so many reasons is this deeply uncomfortable truth:
Too many were told. They just didn’t listen.
Too many did know. They just didn’t act.
Some of these people were supposed to be the pillars of our community. They had the power, the status, the authority – but they wielded these as weapons.
Children often kept their abuse a secret – for years and years - to spare themselves the shame.
Because amongst all the vile and unforgivable things the perpetrators did, perhaps the most devious and manipulative was to put the blame onto the child itself. As if somehow, the child had something to be ashamed of.
One of you said to me last week:
“You can’t underestimate the damage that does.
That shame lives with you every day.”
And even though you know what happened to you was not your fault, even though your head tells you that, your heart still feels the powerlessness and the shame.
It is worth repeating now, on behalf of the nation:
It was never your fault, not at all. Not then, not now.
You have nothing to be ashamed of.
There was nothing wrong with you and you did nothing wrong.
The abusers did it because they could and they did it because they were confident they would get away with it.
I said before, people have been saying: Why didn’t we know about this?
Well, make no mistake, institutions knew.
They knew and they did worse than nothing.
Too often they put their land, their buildings, their reputations, their revenues ahead of the safety of children in their care.
They bullied and intimidated the victims, adding vicious insult to injury.
They used their wealth and their resources and their lawyers and their insurance companies to suppress the truth, to engage in a strategy of litigation to exhaustion, to bankrupt survivors.
And they protected the perpetrators, sometimes for decades.
The young people and the children, you were the ones treated like criminals.
Stigmatised, ostracised, your word disputed, your characters assassinated, the trauma rippling down through the rest of your lives.
We read so many accounts of people who’ve never been able to fully trust another human being again.
For whom intimacy, touch and affection are foreign and frightening concepts.
People who can’t bring themselves to do something as simple as use a public toilet because of the memories it re-stirs.
People who left this country and swore they would never return, people for whom abuse began with a chain of events which has led them into prison.
And even people who think that everything has gone away, that they're okay, that they're alright, but being triggered by a phone call out of the blue from a long-lost relative who never contacted you in 50 previous years, but today has lead a sudden spark of interest.
It can be triggered by something as wonderful as the birth of their own child, or the moment that your precious child reaches the age that you were abused at.
Or perhaps, it's even hearing today’s Apology.
Everyone has been affected differently by what they endured. Which is why everyone must have the right to access the counselling and the care they need for their own recovery, in their own time. We can’t measure this on an insurance actuarial table and we can’t do this on the cheap.
The measure of this day will not be known today.
It will be if in months and years to come – as a parliament, as a nation – we can look back to this as a moment that people could feel some hope, some healing.
But it should be this day that people say there was a redoubled commitment to action.
If we can say that this day was the day child sexual abuse could be driven from its final hiding places and brought into the light.
If we can say this day was the day when Australia finally faced up to our responsibilities, that we lived-up to our obligation to do the right thing by the people we had failed for so long.
On these questions, time will tell, history will judge our words today.
But I say to all of you: to people here who treat this parliament with respect by gathering here.
To those in the Great Hall, to those on the lawns and across the nation.
To people who couldn’t be here because of illness, or trauma.
To people in prison or trapped in poverty and addiction.
To family members who have a member who has passed away and who we remember.
You matter to all of us.
We’ve come too late to this day, there are wrongs that cannot be made right.
But know that today Australia says: Sorry.
Australia says: We believe you.
And in years to come, people will learn of your lives.
They will be appalled by the suffering, they will be shocked by the cruelty, they will ask themselves how such evil could be spread so far and wide.
But please, believe me, every single Australian will pause and wonder at your courage.
Believe me, every person takes hope and inspiration from you.
Every Australian will count themselves privileged to share this country with people as strong, as brave, as full of character and heart as you.
So in the name of the Australian people, in the spirit of humility and healing and with hope for the future, I commend this motion to the house.