Prime Minister Scott Morrison has apologised on behalf of the nation for failing and abandoning the thousands of survivors of institutional child sex abuse.
- The apology was a recommendation of the royal commission
- In its final report the commission estimated the number of child victims was in the tens of thousands
- Opposition Leader Bill Shorten also delivered an apology
In an address to Federal Parliament, Mr Morrison said there was no promise that could be made and nothing that could be done to right the wrongs of the past.
But he said the nation was now confronting a "trauma" and an "abomination" that had been hiding in plain sight for too long.
"Today, as a nation, we confront our failure to listen, to believe, and to provide justice," he said as hundreds of people watched on from Parliament's public galleries and Great Hall.
"To the children we failed, sorry. To the parents whose trust was betrayed and who have struggled to pick up the pieces, sorry.
"To the whistleblowers who we did not listen to, sorry.
"To the spouses, partners, wives, husbands, children, who have dealt with the consequences of the abuse, cover-ups and obstruction, sorry.
"To generations past and present, sorry."
Mr Morrison acknowledged the "silenced voices" and "never-heard pleas of tortured souls" who were bewildered by "indifference to the unthinkable theft of their innocence".
"I simply say, I believe you, we believe you, your country believes you," he said.
Mr Morrison and Opposition Leader Bill Shorten both agreed to cancel today's Question Time in the House of Representatives out of respect for those affected by abuse.
Shorten quotes royal commission testimony
Mr Shorten opened his apology by quoting testimony from the royal commission.
"We were treated as slaves, beaten and abused, used for their perverted desires, no love or kindness, no safety or warmth, always hungry and always frightened," he said.
Mr Shorten acknowledged Australia had "come too late" to the apology and that there were wrongs "that cannot be made right".
"But know that today Australia says sorry. Australia says we believe you," he said.
"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."
Former prime minister Julia Gillard, who established the royal commission in 2013, was in the Chamber to witness the apology.
After the formalities, Ms Gillard received a standing ovation and rapturous applause in the Great Hall.
There were emotional scenes as the two leaders spoke and occasional heckling from the crowd.
Among the survivors watching the apology was 96-year-old Katie, who was abused at the Sisters of Saint Joseph orphanage at Gore Hill, on Sydney's north shore.
As one of Australia's oldest survivors of child sexual abuse, she said the apology seemed "very sincere".
"It was beautiful, really lovely," Katie said.
"I'm really pleased I came, and I feel that it's answered a lot of questions for me.
"I'm able to put a lot in the past now that I wasn't able to before, so it's really helped me."
Also watching was Manny Waks, who was sexually abused by a security guard at the Yeshivah Centre in Melbourne in the 1990s.
Mr Waks, who flew in from Israel especially for the occasion, said the apology should not be the end of the matter.
"They're words and words are important," he said.
"[However], what's far more important is the implementation.
"The Government and institutions cannot for a moment think they're absolved of their obligations."
Much work still to be done: PM
Outside Parliament, victims and survivors tied ribbons around a memorial tree and were joined by Mr Morrison, who said the pain he felt in the room "grieved his soul to the core".
"I just hope that what we've done here today provides some measure of relief, but there is much work to do," he said.
The national apology was a recommendation from the royal commission, which held nearly 60 public hearings and 8,000 private sessions over five years.
In its final report, the commission estimated the number of child victims in the tens of thousands, saying their abusers were "not just a few rotten apples".
"We will never know the true number," it read.
"Whatever the number, it is a national tragedy, perpetrated over generations within many of our most trusted institutions."
Mr Morrison announced that the Government would also set up a museum, to collect the stories of survivors, and fund a research centre to raise awareness about child abuse.