(Image: AAP/Mick Tsikas)

When Prime Minister Scott Morrison used the controversial words “ritual sexual abuse” — the language of an extreme alt-right conspiracy — in his historic apology to survivors in federal parliament last year, he appears to have disregarded the advice of child sex abuse survivors and a panel of government-appointed experts.

Documents obtained by Inq, as well as interviews we’ve conducted with key players, show that the prime minister departed from a tightly choreographed set of actions and words, several months in the planning, when he used the term “ritual sex abuse” to refer to the institutional sex abuse uncovered by the McClellan royal commission.

The term normally refers to satanic ritual abuse, an extremely rare practice for which there is little evidence. Inq has previously revealed that Morrison family friend and leading Australian promoter of the extremist US-based QAnon conspiracy movement, Tim Stewart, had been pushing for the words “ritual abuse” to be included in the prime minister’s speech, as part of QAnon’s agenda to expose Luciferian or Satan-worshipping paedophiles who they believe secretly run the world.

The Prime Minister’s Office told Inq last month that Morrison heard the term “directly from the abuse survivors and the National Apology to Victims and Survivors of Child Sexual Abuse Reference Group”, a bipartisan 11-member body of survivor advocates and MPs set up to advise the government on the wording of the national apology and the conduct of the apology ceremony, drawing on four months of consultations with communities around Australia.

However members of the reference group have no memory of the phrase “ritual abuse” being raised during the group’s discussions or in its state by state consultations with abuse survivors.

Panel member Chrissie Foster, who led efforts for an inquiry into church sex abuse after two of her daughters were serially abused by a Catholic priest, told Inq that the term was “not something we would have used”.

“We were consulting with victim groups,” Foster recalled, “and if that had come up at all we would have got rid of it. If anything it would have been ‘don’t use this’,” she added.

Child sexual abuse survivor advocate Chrissie Foster (Image: AAP/David Crosling)

Labor MP Sharon Claydon, whose seat of Newcastle is home to a large number of Catholic and Anglican church abuse survivors, flatly denied that the term had been raised or that the reference group had any notice Morrison would use the words in the national apology.

“I’ve never ever heard anybody in my community or others use the term ‘ritual abuse’. Honestly, no one in that reference group has ever uttered the word ‘ritual’ or ‘ritualised abuse’,” Claydon recalled.

Other panel members requested anonymity because they rely on federal government funding. “I’ve only heard the term once before, from [a well-known conspiracy theorist] and I thought it was strange,” one member said. 

“It’s odd. No one knows where it came from,” said another.

Inq has obtained a 20-page briefing given to the prime minister which details the forms of language which should be used to avoid offending or retraumatising survivors. The 50 terms and phrases should, according to the panel’s advice, be “heartfelt, sincere and respectful”.

They include:

  • We believe you
  • It is not your fault; You did not do anything wrong
  • We are sorry we did not believe you before/in the past
  • We are sorry we trusted the churches, charities and state governments over you children
  • This is a societal problem.

The phrase “ritual sex abuse” does not occur anywhere in the document.

Part of a 20-page briefing given to the PM with advice on which terms to use, and avoid using, during his apology speech to survivors of child sex abuse.

As reported by Inq last month, Tim Stewart is a prominent promoter of the QAnon conspiracy movement that believes there is a secret “deep state” plot against Donald Trump and a cabal of Satan-worshiping paedophiles who rule the world and control politicians and the media.

Stewart’s wife is best friends with the prime minister’s wife, Jenny Morrison, a relationship which goes back to teenage years, and has been employed by the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet on the recommendation of the Prime Minister’s Office, working at the PM’s Sydney residence Kirribilli House.

In the days before Morrison’s apology speech, Tim Stewart — who tweets as “Burn Notice” under the Twitter handle @BurnedSpy34 — claimed to have influenced the prime minister to make a reference to “ritual” abuse because it introduced the idea of secret ceremonies with Satan’s involvement, which aligns with QAnon’s theory of global threats.

He was backed in his efforts by abuse campaigner Fiona Barnett, who claims to have witnessed the beheading of children as part of a ritual ceremony in Bathurst Town Hall and who has alleged that she was trafficked as part of a VIP paedophilia ring.

After Morrison’s use of the word “ritual”, Stewart tweeted to his 20,000-plus followers: “A new conversation began today in Australia … It was a stepping stone to be sure, but we took the step. @ScottMorrisonMP took control of the narrative powerfully and commenced phase 1 of our restoration.”

Comments are switched off for this article.

Peter Fray

Follow the team that follows the money

Nobody digs into corruption in this country better than Crikey does.

Now we’re digging even deeper with our new multi-part series, The Dirty Country: Corruption in Australia, where our team lifts the lid on corruption, telling us how it’s done, who wins and what it costs.

Get involved. Follow the team that follows the money. Save 50% on a year of Crikeythat’s just $99 for an annual membership — when you subscribe today with the promo code CORRUPTION.

Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey