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article imageAustralia to hold Royal Commission into child abuse

By Tracey Lloyd     Nov 13, 2012 in Politics
Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard has announced a Royal Commission into institutional responses to instances and allegations of child abuse in Australia.
Prime Minister Julia Gillard (ALP) has announced a Royal Commission will be held in Australia to investigate the institutional responses to instances and allegations of child sexual abuse. Speaking at a press conference to announce the Royal Commission, Ms Gillard described child sexual abuse as “insidious, evil acts to which no child should be subject”. A Royal Commission is the highest form of public inquiry in Australia and is provided with the power to summon witnesses, execute search warrants and examine evidence. The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare report that in 2010-11, 14% of child abuse notifications to authorities resulted from sexual abuse and child protection advocates Bravehearts state that 1 in 5 children have been or will be sexually assaulted before they reach 18 years old.
The Royal Commission’s terms of reference have not been finalised however they will not be limited to any particular organisation, such as the Catholic Church, but will investigate all institutions and organisations involved in the provision of state sanctioned children’s care. When questioned about the breadth of the inquiry, Ms Gillard stated:
We will work of the specific terms of reference, but this is about children who were in the care of religious organisations, so that’s all religious organisations. It’s about children who were in state care. It’s about children who were in the care of not-for-profit bodies other than religious organisations. It will therefore go as well to the response of children’s’ services agencies and the response of the police.
Child protection advocate and founder of Bravehearts, Hetty Johnston has been campaigning for a decade for a Royal Commission into the sexual abuse of children in institutions. Ms Johnston welcomed the announcement by Prime Minister Gillard however she would like to see retrospective legislation introduced to ensure that documents which may be vital to the Royal Commission’s investigations is not destroyed. In a statement Ms Johnston said:
We applaud the Prime Minister’s decision to hold a Royal Commission of Inquiry into the systemic abuse of Australian children across a broad spectrum of institutions, but it’s imperative that the Attorney General moves immediately to ensure the Commission can properly do its job. Retrospective legislation must be introduced to ensure the shredding of documents is illegal and that people will face consequences for destroying evidence. We have not come this far to see evidence concealed or destroyed by scurrilous perpetrators who are determined to protect some of the worse sex crime paedophiles in our society. Let’s face it, if you’re not part of the solution; you’re part of the problem.
The Australian Government’s political opponents, legal groups and Australian Churches have announced their support for the Royal Commission. Leader of the Opposition, Tony Abbott (LIB) said in a media release that the Coalition would support a Royal Commission. Mr Abbott said that
Any investigation must be wide-ranging, must consider any evidence of the abuse of children in Australia, and should not be limited to the examination of any one institution. It must include all organisations, government and non-government, where there is evidence of sexual abuse.
The Australian Greens Partycalled for strong input from victims of child sexual abuse into the terms of reference for the Royal Commission.
The Churches have also indicated that they will cooperate with the investigators. In a statement obtained by Digital Journal, the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference stated that they
deeply regret the suffering and trauma endured by children who have been in the Church’s care, and the effect on their families. Mistakes were made and we apologise to victims and their families for these failures.
The Catholic Bishops Conference statement also stated that “a systematic problem of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church is ill-founded and inconsistent with the facts” and controversial Catholic Cardinal George Pell believes that the Royal Commission will clear the air and uncover the truth. In a supplement to the Catholic Bishops Conference statement, Cardinal Pell said
"Public opinion remains unconvinced that the Catholic Church has dealt adequately with sexual abuse. Ongoing and at times one sided media coverage has deepened this uncertainty. This is one of the reasons for my support for this Royal Commission”.
Reverend Keith Jobberns, Australian Baptist Ministries National Director said in a statement obtained by Digital Journal that the church intends to “participate fully with the Royal Commission to uncover the truth and develop a stronger culture of transparency and accountability for all.”
Law Institute of Victoria President Michael Holcroft welcomed the announced of the Royal Commission and said in a statement
Good sense has prevailed. An appropriate investigative structure can now be established. No stone must be left unturned as we examine these shameful events with the ultimate aim being to give solace and redress to victims and, through legislative reform, to prevent future abuse of children
The coordination of the terms of reference will be undertaken by the Attorney General and the Minister for Families. Consultation with state authorities, victims advocates, community organisations and religious groups will take place to finalise the terms of reference. At her press conference, Prime Minister Gillard stated that she hoped that the terms of reference will be finalised and the Commissioner appointed by the end of 2012.
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