I rise to make my contribution on the Children Legislation Amendment Bill 2019 and in doing so state that I will be supporting this bill. As has been mentioned by many of the other speakers, the bill has four main components to it. Firstly, it requires those within religious ministries to make mandatory reports of child abuse and harm, it removes the exemption for the confessional seal to mandatory reporting requirements, it strengthens our working with children checks through limiting VCAT appeal rights for serious and alleged serious offenders and it removes civil litigation barriers that confront survivors of institutional child abuse for unjust and inadequate judgements and settlements. I want to, from the outset if I can, note that there has been some public comment, as has been referred to by previous speakers, from the Most Reverend Peter Comensoli, the Archbishop of Melbourne, about a perceived lack of consultation with the Catholic Church on the detail of this legislation. Notwithstanding that this claim is absolutely refuted by the government, surely none of what this Parliament is debating today can be of surprise to anybody. I suspect the real issue the church is having with this legislation is not whether it was consulted about it or not but the fact that it exists at all. To provide some context to this, on 26 August I received a four-page letter from church representatives, in my capacity as the chair of the Scrutiny of Acts and Regulations Committee, on this legislation. That correspondence acknowledged that it was focusing solely on the provisions of the bill which remove the reporting exemptions for religious confessions. In that letter there was one statement that really grabbed my attention, and I quote: We wish to emphasise that the safety of children is and remains of paramount importance to us. I found the use of the word ‘paramount’ interesting because, as we all know, it means to place something before anything else or, if you like, to give something primacy above all else. But the remainder of that letter then sought to unpick all aspects of this bill and how it would impact the human rights of others, such as a diminished right to freedom of religion. The letter then went on to claim that the bill would have no impact on the safety of children or, and I quote, ‘will actually make children less safe’. The letter was co-signed by a number of senior people of the church, including the Most Reverend Peter Comensoli, Archbishop of Melbourne; the Most Reverend Paul Bird, Bishop of Ballarat; the Most Reverend Patrick O’Regan, Bishop of Sale; the Most Reverend Leslie Tomlinson, apostolic administrator, diocese of Sandhurst; and the Very Reverend Associate Professor Shane Mackinlay, Bishop-elect of Sandhurst. This letter suggests to me that the Catholic Church still has a very long way to go in meeting the community’s expectations of them on this issue. But this is not an exercise in church bashing, nor is it an exercise in diminishing the religious rights and freedoms of our citizens and nor does this legislation purport to lay all aspects of child abuse at the feet of religious organisations. In many respects it would be far simpler if it were quarantined to a few, but we know that crimes against children are unfortunately perpetrated by those from many quarters in our society. A decent society offers the legal frameworks, the legal systems and the humanity to protect and nurture the most vulnerable amongst us. Surely nothing is more vulnerable or precious to our community than our children, and when they are under attack we are compelled to act. This legislation is saying very loudly, very clearly and unequivocally that the safety, wellbeing and protection of our children is paramount and that nothing is more important to us than that. As many have described here today, and in the other place when they debated this in the last sitting week, the origins of these reforms can be traced back to the spotlight that has been placed upon child abuse crimes by the thousands of brave and courageous survivors, their families and their advocates. They have told their stories, reliving their nightmares in the process, but never wavering in their quest for genuine reform. Without them, the work that was undertaken by the 57th Victorian Parliament, the Betrayal of Trust inquiry and subsequently the federal Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, which reported in December 2017, may never have happened. But to further illustrate how we arrived at this legislation, it is important to reflect on just a few statistics, and I will draw from the royal commission. This does not diminish the outstanding work of the Betrayal of Trust inquiry, and I could of course recount many moments from that body of work if time permitted. During its five-year process the royal commission reported many key statistics, and they include: 16 953 people who within the royal commission’s terms of reference contacted the royal commission; the royal commission heard from 7981 survivors of child sexual abuse in 8013 private sessions; there were a further 1344 written accounts of abuse; 2562 of those accounts were referred to the police for action; and 58.1 per cent of survivors reported that their abuse occurred in an institution managed by a religious organisation. I hope those numbers are front of mind when we come to vote later today, because they are shameful and they are stomach-churning. No-one who followed either the Betrayal of Trust inquiry or the federal royal commission will ever forget the details of the sickening and vile crimes against those innocent children or the protection rackets that operated to provide a haven for the criminals who preyed upon those children. We of course also learned of the inadequate compensation offered by some of those organisations to the survivors and the remarkable and extraordinary lengths that they then went to to keep it all hush-hush and deny those survivors proper justice. That is where this legislation has come from. It is a response to the thousands of horrific stories that were told. It is a response to the thousands of children who have been let down by the legal frameworks and systems for far too long in this state and in this country. It is also a response to the thousands of stories that remain untold by the thousands of children who have not spoken about the crimes committed against them. Believe me when I say that for some it is too hard. This legislation is about our children and their right to live a life free of abuse and to be protected, wherever we can, from the evils that lurk in our society. It is this Parliament and the people of Victoria forever saying that nothing is more important in our community than you, our children, and that they will never place anything before your welfare. That is paramount. The greatest and most obvious failure of this bill, of course, is that it will not prevent further abuse of a child. But it never could, and it saddens and disgusts me, as I am sure it does all members of this Parliament, that try as we might, there will be more incidents of child abuse with the passage of time. How I wish that there was a bill that would prevent any further child abuse from ever happening again, but in the absence of that it is our duty to strive to eliminate it to the best of our ability and provide our kids, of now and the future, with better ways to protect themselves. We must enact laws that remove havens and protection rackets for perpetrators. We must enact laws that compel those in positions of privilege to accept responsibility when they suspect or become aware of abuse. We must enact laws that make it harder for those who would do our kids harm to be able to gain access to them, and we must enact laws that deliver real justice and real compensation for survivors. That is what a decent society would do, and we owe it to our kids. Survivors have spoken so courageously of their own circumstances, the crimes committed against them and how lonely they felt and still feel and of wandering down a darkened path searching for answers to the questions that screamed so loudly in their heads—that never leave—’Why me? Did I encourage him to do it? Am I a bad person? Will people think I’m disgusting if I tell? Will anyone ever believe me?’. And of course some victims never make it off that darkened path. They relieve their pain in ways that are heartbreakingly tragic and that most of us can never really imagine or understand but wish we could prevent. For those people and their families, as well as the survivors who are still walking today, this Parliament has the capacity to shine a light on those darkened paths, and we should. I implore this Parliament to show the courage and strength that those brave survivors have shown. I commend this bill to the house.