Her harrowing family story made Prime Minister Scott Morrison cry live on TV across the nation. But for leading child abuse advocate Chrissie Foster, tears are not enough. It’s not over yet.
Mr Morrison was visibly upset as he told how Mrs Foster’s family was torn apart by abuse as he made the most important speech of his career so far.
He spoke compassionately during the National Apology in Parliament to thousands of Australians whose childhoods were ruined and destroyed in institutions by perpetrators including priests, teachers and carers.
Referencing Mrs Foster in particular he said; “As a father of two daughters I can’t comprehend what she has faced,” he said.
Mrs Foster, an author and campaigner who served on the advisory group for the apology, told The New Daily exclusively afterwards she was touched that Mr Morrison briefly lost his composure due to her personal story.
Mrs Foster, whose daughters Emma and Katie were repeatedly abused by their local Catholic school priest in Oakleigh, Melbourne, said she was “delighted” Mr Morrison connected with her family’s horrific journey.
However, she stressed that his apology should not be seen as the end of the issue as children were still at risk and victims needed more funding for extensive, life-long counselling.
“It’s not the end. We’re not done,” she said.
She told how she explained to Mr Morrison personally of the abuse inflicted on her daughters at a special meeting in Sydney with the PM and the advisory group just 10 days ago.
“He clearly connected with me as a father himself, which is important as he gets it. When people get it there is action and he’s in a position to do something.”
"To the children we failed, sorry…" Listen to @ScottMorrisonMP deliver a national #apology to the victims and survivors of institutional child sexual abuse. Full audio here: https://t.co/Q0a5k8jXZk @eleanorhall1 #auspol pic.twitter.com/5bLDBhua6x
— ABC News (@abcnews) October 22, 2018
Mrs Foster’s two daughters later struggled with their childhood abuse and plunged into a destructive spiral of drugs and alcohol.
Katie was hit by a car while binge drinking, leaving her permanently physically and mentally disabled. Her sister Emma later died of a drugs overdose aged 25.
It later emerged that there had been complaints about the priest who abused them, Kevin O’Donnell, as far back as the late 1950s but nothing was done by the Archdiocese of Melbourne.
During the apology Mrs Foster sat next to former prime minister Julia Gillard, who was mentioned several times and applauded for establishing the $500 million Royal Commission probe into child abuse in 2012.
“She asked to be seated next to me, which was very flattering. I was completely blown away,” Mrs Foster said.
During the speech Mr Morrison vowed that the government were already taking action on 104 of the 122 final recommendations of the Royal Commission.
Morrison said many victims abused in institutions – from schools to church-run orphanages and scout groups – had been “crushed, disregarded and forgotten” by their perpetrators.
“As a nation we failed them, we forsook them and that will always be our shame.”
Mr Morrison also announced that the newly created National Office for Child Safety would report directly to him and that there would also be a new museum honouring those who had been abused as children.
He said: “We honour every survivor in this country. We love you. We hear you and we honour you.”
However, Mrs Foster fears momentum may have been flagging since the final report.
“We are now totally in the hands of the government and I feel some momentum has been lost since the final report,” she said.
During a further formal apology to a gathered group of more than 400 survivors in the Great Hall, Mr Morrison faced heckling among those who are angry over the new redress scheme.
Victims are angry the recommended $200,000 compensation had been capped at $150,000 and was proving to be a difficult process to navigate.
Many also expressed their anger that the government recently announced extra funding for Catholic schools while the redress payments hadn’t all been completed.
Ingrid Irwin, a Ballarat-based lawyer who specialises in historic sexual abuse cases, attended the apology and felt Mr Morrison and also Labour leader Bill Shorten made “caring and passionate speeches”.
“They really were very wide ranging and compassionate,” she told The New Daily.
Like many, Ms Irwin said she shed tears during the occasion.
“It was a hugely momentous and historic occasion,” she said. “But for many the struggle goes on, through the complex court systems and through their attempt to get redress.
“The story doesn’t end with sorry. The fight for institutions such as the Catholic Church to make profound internal changes will go on for many years to come.”