scouts australia
Scouts chief commissioner Phil Harrison apologises to the victims of child sexual abuse during their time in the organisation YouTube/ScoutsAustralia

Scouts Australia has apologised to the victims of child sexual abuse during their time in the organisation. It said its apology was a “genuine and heartfelt admission” and was part of its commitment to acknowledge and address the harm that some of its members had suffered in Scouting.

Chief Commissioner Phil Harrison made the apology in a two-minute video to admit there were some children and young people who had a negative experience in their organisation because of the action of others.

“We apologise unreservedly to those who suffered abuse during their time in Scouting. We failed you, and we apologise for the pain that this has caused,” he says in the video. “Scouts Australia has a responsibility to survivors of abuse and we will honour that.”

He further said that the organisation fully supported the National Redress Scheme, which started on July 1 and would run for 10 years. Since then-prime minister Julia Gillard announced the national Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse in 2012, Scouts Australia said it has willingly participated in the program. All state and territory branches of Scouts Australia have signed on to participate in the National Redress Scheme.

“Our most senior members around Australia have met with many of you and have made personal apologies. And we are willing to meet with anyone else who wishes to meet us. We understand how important this apology is to you and to your families.”

And although Scouts Australia said it has started listening to the victims and will continue to do so, Harrison said the organisation has regretted not listening to those who shared their stories with adults in Scouting in the past.

“For this we most sincerely apologise and pledge to do whatever we can to help you,” Harris says.

However, the apology was futile, according to the lawyers of survivors, who said their words did not match their actions.

“In our view, Scouts NSW stand out amongst institutional defendants for their appalling and heartless conduct towards survivors seeking compensation,” Maurice Blackburn NSW head of abuse law, Danielle De Paoli, was quoted by the ABC as saying. “The experience of many of our clients in matters against Scouts NSW has left them significantly retraumatised, namely because of what they are put through and the aggressive and obstructionist approach taken.”

She said that Scouts NSW had sought to use a defence used by unincorporated organisations in recent weeks to avoid being sued.

NSW Scouts chief commissioner Neville Tomkins, meanwhile, said the organisation should be looking to sell some of its assets to compensate abuse victims.

“This is a heart-wrenching experience, simply because our assets are mostly in the form of scout halls, scout camps, and we acknowledge that many members see them as community assets, but our priority has to supporting the survivors of sexual abuse.”

He said they have received 12 complaints of abuse so far, but they expected to receive more.