Australia child abuse body welcomed


The Australian government last night announced the creation of a national royal commission on child sexual abuse.

A royal commission is Australia’s highest form of inquiry on matters of public importance.

Prime minister Julia Gillard said it would look at all religious bodies, state care providers, non-profit organisations and evidence provided by child service agencies and the police.

“The allegations that have come to light recently about child sexual abuse have been heartbreaking,” Ms Gillard said. “These are insidious, evil acts to which no child should be subject.”

Ms Gillard and her Labor Party government had been under great pressure to call an inquiry following allegations made last week by a senior New South Wales police investigator that the Catholic Church covered up evidence concerning paedophile priests.

Over the weekend some Labor and independent MPs joined the call for a national inquiry.

Earlier yesterday opposition Liberal Party leader Tony Abbott said he supported a “wide-ranging” royal commission into child sex abuse but said it should not focus only on claims involving the Catholic Church.

The government says it will consult with stakeholders over the coming weeks before announcing the investigation’s terms of reference.

National response

“Australians know . . . that too many children have suffered child abuse, but have also seen other adults let them down. They’ve not only had their trust betrayed by the abuser but other adults who could have acted to assist them have failed to do so,” said Ms Gillard.

“There have been too many revelations of adults who have averted their eyes from this evil. I believe in these circumstances that it’s appropriate for there to be a national response through a royal commission.”

Det Chief Insp Peter Fox, whose claim the Catholic Church covered up crimes of paedophile priests has led to the royal commission, says he is stunned it has happened so quickly.

“[I’m] absolutely delighted for all those victims out there because this gives us so much of an opportunity to get things right, to look at recommendations for laws that should be changed to protect kids,” he told ABC radio.

Insp Fox praised the prime minister for her decisive action. “I’m not politically aligned to anyone, and I haven’t always been a big fan of Julia Gillard personally, but my God she’s had some guts this afternoon.”

Acting minister for families Brendan O’Connor emphasised last night that the commission would not single out any particular church.

“The child sex abuse offences, and indeed allegations of child sex abuse, are not confined to one church,” he said.

“They’re not confined to one religious organisation. Unfortunately, offences against children have occurred to children in state care and indeed, have occurred to children under the care in other religious organisations and of course also not-for-profit organisations. It would be very unfair and quite cruel to confine . . . the commission’s examination to one body.”

The announcement has been broadly welcomed by victims of child sexual abuse. Peter Blenkiron, who was abused by Christian Brothers, said he and fellow survivors were in tears when they heard that a royal commission was being set up.

Tears of joy

“This is massive. I’ve just been speaking to blokes in tears, tears of joy,” he said.

“People have asked me what about the hardship it’s going to create for everybody. It’s a necessary short-term pain for long-term gain that brings out the truth.”

The leader of the Catholic Church in Australia, Archbishop of Sydney Cardinal George Pell, said the church would co-operate fully.