The gesture followed a five-year inquiry into child sexual abuse that delved into more than 8,000 cases of sexual misconduct, most of them at religious and state-run institutions responsible for keeping children safe.
“Today, as a nation, we confront our failure to listen, to believe, and to provide justice,” Morrison told lawmakers in the Australian capital, Canberra.
“We say sorry. To the children we failed, sorry. To the parents whose trust was betrayed and who have struggled to pick up the pieces, sorry.”
Expressions of national regret such as Monday’s are reserved for egregious misdeeds in which the state has played a role.
In the previous instance in 2008, then prime minister Kevin Rudd apologized to members of the Stolen Generations of indigenous Australians, forcibly taken from their families and communities as young children under assimilation policies.
Morrison also repeated Monday’s apology in a speech to nearly 800 victims, some of whom began to cry, images broadcast on television showed.
“It was very, very intense to be in that room,” Graeme, a victim who identified himself only by his first name, told the Australian Broadcasting Corp.
“I looked around and I thought to myself there is not a room of stronger people anywhere in the country.”
He added, “I am proud to be a victim and I am proud of all victims.”
Morrison vowed tougher oversight, although some victims say the government has failed to do enough.
“If they think saying sorry is going to finish it, it’s not,” Tony Wardley, who suffered abuse in the 1980s, told the broadcaster. “There’s still so much to be done.”
Australia set up a redressal scheme this year to pay abuse victims compensation of up to A$150,000 ($106,000) each.
But the conservative government has yet to decide if it will adopt recommendations from the wide-ranging national inquiry, most notably one requiring Catholic priests to report child abuse they may learn about in the confessional.
In August, a top Catholic body, the Australian Catholic Bishops’ Conference, said it would not comply with proposed state laws.
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