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Speech by Senator the Hon Mark Arbib

Forget Me Knot Day 2010

Location: Sydney

*** Check Against Delivery ***

I would like to pay my respects to Indigenous owners of this land, past and present.

ASCA Chair, Dr Cathy Kezelman
ASCA Board members
Other distinguished guests

Ladies and gentlemen

I am extremely humbled to be back again.

Last year I was honoured to launch Forget-Me-Knot Day.

And I am especially humbled to be invited back this year. So to ASCA, thank you for the opportunity.

Caroline just told a story which was quite remarkable.

I was raised in a very loving family, so to me her story is something that I never truly imagined.

To hear her courage and her views is just truly remarkable and I’ll certainly pass on her views to Government because I think it is very important we continue the work that the former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd started last year.

I am extremely passionate about this issue. I speak from a personal point of view and not on behalf of the Government.

This is something which touches at the heart of all of us. And for me a great deal of it is about raising awareness for those who have been abused.

And when I think about it and when you try to make sense of why there hasn’t been enough attention, not just here but globally, there needs to be a change in the way we all think about child abuse.

Child abuse is an issue which horrifies most of us.

It’s so horrible and confronting that we don’t want to talk about it.

We don’t want to believe it is happening.

We want to hide from it – because the reality is it’s impossible to comprehend.

Views and beliefs have changed markedly over the years.

But when you wake up in the morning and read that Amazon Books is trying defend the sale of a book called “The Paedophile Guide to Love and Pleasure” it makes you wonder – attitudes have to change even further.

In Australia I recently read a report which shocked me.

It was a survey of 22,000 Australians, looking at their attitudes to child abuse and neglect.

The survey found that although more than 90 per cent of people consider child abuse to be a serious issue, many are hesitant to take action if faced with a situation of child abuse.

In fact fewer than 50 per cent of those surveyed said they would take action to protect a child by ringing a child-protection authority or the police, even if there was clear cut evidence.

That is truly alarming.

People gave a range of reasons for not taking action – from worrying they might be wrong, to not wanting to admit things like that happen.

Most troubling was that more than 40 per cent of people just don’t think it is their business.

I would argue that protecting children is everyone’s business.

And helping those survivors of abuse is everyone’s responsibility.

I became involved with this cause as the Founder of PACAN – Parliamentarians Against Child Abuse and Neglect.

Our group campaigns in cooperation with the National Association for the Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect to raise awareness for the plight of children and to try to reduce incidents of neglect and abuse.

For me it was about prevention.

But one day a very determined woman came through my door – Cathy Kezelman –and she set me straight.

Cathy explained to me that while preventing abuse was key, we also needed to look at what happens to the victims.
As a society we sometimes forget that abused children grow up.

And they don’t leave that abuse in their childhood.

Many go through life with a misplaced sense of shame.
They suffer in silence.

They have low self esteem and little self worth.

The figures are staggering.

More than 70 per cent of people with severe mental illness have been abused.

More than 80 per cent of women in Australian prisons are victims of incest or other types of abuse.

It robs kids of their childhood.

But the abuse has much deeper and longer lasting scars.

The Blue Knot is a symbol of the tangle of childhood abuse – a tangle that affects whole lives.

It affects their personal relationships and their families.

I see this in my role everyday – looking at issues like homelessness – and in my previous role as Employment Minister.

Early on as a Minister I visited a youth centre on the outskirts of Brisbane.

The people running the program told me about 70 per cent of the young adults under their care trying to get jobs there were victims of child abuse.

And it was still impacting on their lives as they went into adulthood.

It is also shocking to find the numbers of homeless Australians who have been abused as children.

We know that nearly half of our homeless young people report sexual or physical abuse to be the major factor in why they leave home.

So the impacts of abuse are wide-reaching.

Community and Government acknowledgement and support for survivors is critical for the healing process.

That’s why I’m here today.

It might be disturbing, but it’s too important to sweep under the carpet.

Ignoring it doesn’t stop it from happening.

Ignoring it gives the power to the abusers.

Ignoring it means that victims continue to suffer in silence without the vital support they need.

And my message is that we are all responsible for.

My colleague Jenny Macklin has overseen the first ever National Framework for Protecting Australia’s Children.

This is the first time an Australian Government has acknowledged it has a role in child protection and taken national leadership to secure effective early intervention services for children at risk.

I would say to those people I talked about earlier who don’t want to get involved that they too have a responsibility.

I am very honoured to be here to support you in this campaign and even more honoured to welcome Dr Cathy Kezelman to the microphone.

Few people know more of the life long struggle wrought by child abuse than Cathy.

And now, courageously, she has put it all in her book, Innocence Revisited.

Cathy’s story of survival as a child and as an adult coming to terms with her trauma is a testament to human resilience.

Her unselfish dedication to helping others to untangle the same tortured knot is beyond praise.

Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome Cathy Kezelman.