Senators from both sides of politics broke down in tears yesterdayas they released a report into the abuse of children at church andstate institutions.
More than 100 - many of whom were physically or sexually abused inorphanages and homes - crowded into the public gallery of the Senateand clapped and cheered as the report, Forgotten Australians was tabled.
The result of four months of hearings and hundreds of harrowingsubmissions, the report found governments, churches and care agencieshad shown a "complete lack of understanding or . . . responsibility forthe level of neglect, abuse and assault that occurred in theirinstitutions".
It called for a parliamentary apology and a national compensationfund for people who were abused in institutions and demanded thatchurches and agencies take full responsibility or face a royalcommission.
More than 500,000 Australians spent at least part of theirchildhoods in orphanages or homes run by churches, welfare agencies andstate governments. Many of them were abused.
The report also found state governments should considerexempting civil sexual abuse from the statute of limitations onpersonal injury cases. And it recommended Australia set up memorialsand heritage centres to mark the experiences of children abused in care.
In emotional statements to Parliament, senators on the inquiry urged governments, churches and agencies to heed the report.
Committee chairwoman Labor Senator Jan McLucas said many submissionsto the inquiry made distressing reading. "They tell of neglect, ofshocking abuse, or predatory behaviour from so-called carers and ofcriminal activity. The evidence is also there that authorities in thechurch and in governments either knew or should have known that much ofthis horrific activity was occurring."
Deputy chairwoman Liberal Senator Sue Knowles said it was "about time the wrongs were righted".
Later at a press conference, the senators were given a standingovation by about 100 abuse suffers who had travelled from aroundAustralia for the tabling of the report.
Patricia Cook, 55, who says she was bashed and sometimes drugged atseveral homes in NSW in the 1960s and '70s, wanted to see her abusersface justice.
"I'd like to see the whole lot of them charged. I don't care ifthey're little old men now . . . they were strong men when I was just alittle girl. I've never married. I've been close to people, but I'venever been in love."
Once, an officer at the notorious Hay Girls' Home - a convertedprison - systematically smashed her head into a dozen toilet basins,breaking her nose, splitting her mouth and severely bruising her face.
Chris McIsaac, president of lobby group Broken Rites, said thereport had broken ground in telling the stories of thousands ofchildren who had been failed by governments and churches.
Vivian Waller, head of the sexual assault unit for law firm Maurice,Blackburn, Cashman, said many civil compensation cases were struck outbecause too much time had elapsed since the alleged abuse occurred.
"They are either terrified into not reporting or tricked into feeling they don't need to report," said Ms Waller.
In Victoria, the statute of limitations is three years, but forpeople who are sexually abused as children, the clock does not beginuntil they are 25.
A Bracks Government spokeswoman said the Government would considerthe report's findings but would not comment on the statute oflimitations recommendation.
Salvation Army spokesman John Dalziel said the charity, which hasfaced some of the severest criticism of abuse, had apologised to peopleabused in its care and paid for counselling and other services.
for a listing of alternate locations.