Nov 12, 2012

Gillard announces royal commission into child abuse

The government has reacted to growing pressure for a royal commission into child abuse by the Catholic Church by announcing a federal royal commission into institutional child abuse, wi

Bernard Keane

Politics editor

The government has reacted to growing pressure for a royal commission into child abuse by the Catholic Church by announcing a federal royal commission into institutional child abuse, with terms of reference to be developed in coming weeks by the Attorney-General and Families Minister Brendan O’Connor working in consultation with the states.

The inquiry will not focus on Catholic or religious institutions only but on all institutional child abuse, by religious and non-religious groups alike. The Prime Minister said the focus would primarily be on child sexual abuse. The head of the royal commission is yet to be decided.

Pressure steadily built over the weekend in the face of new claims of sexual abuse and its systemic cover-up by sections of the Catholic Church, with Nick Xenophon, Tony Windsor and the Greens all pushing for a royal commission and ALP backbencher Joel Fitzgibbon announcing his support this afternoon. Former Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser joined the calls on the weekend.

And in a significant development this afternoon, Tony Abbott also bowed to pressure and said the Coalition would support a major inquiry if it wasn’t limited to the Catholic Church.

It had become increasingly clear in recent weeks that the extent of the cover-up of child abuse and protection of pedophiles within the Catholic Church up until a few years ago was so great that normal mechanisms of investigation and prosecution were failing to sufficiently deal with what appeared to be culture of facilitation and cover-up. In announcing the royal commission, the Prime Minister repeatedly noted that the inquiry would also address adults who failed to take appropriate action to deal with abuse.

The nature of the commission announced by the Prime Minister avoids the central political problem of calls for a royal commission into the Catholic Church, of appearing to focus on a single institution and denomination, which informed Tony Abbott’s acceptance of the need for some form of inquiry.

Pending the terms of reference, the royal commission will be similar to the wide-ranging, decade-long Irish commission from 1999-2009, although that inquiry had a broader remit in relation to abuse, and a more deeply-embedded culture of institutional abuse to investigate. The Prime Minister said she expects that the royal commission will take considerable time, and she’s likely to be proven to be correct.

The government has moved with surprising speed to resolve the issue after last week there appeared to be a bipartisan consensus that a royal commission was unnecessary, after Bill Shorten and Joe Hockey both rejected the idea. Ms Gillard indicated that recent revelations and the NSW government’s decision to establish an inquiry into child abuse in the Hunter region had been important in changing the government’s mind.

The text of the Prime Minister’s announcement follows:


Today I have announced that I will be recommending to the Governor-General the establishment of a Royal Commission into institutional responses to instances and allegations of child sexual abuse in Australia.

The allegations that have come to light recently about child sexual abuse have been heartbreaking.

These are insidious, evil acts to which no child should be subject.

The individuals concerned deserve the most thorough of investigations into the wrongs that have been committed against them.

They deserve to have their voices heard and their claims investigated.

I believe a Royal Commission is the best way to do this.

The proposed terms of reference and proposed Commissioner will be submitted to the Governor‑General in due course, pursuant to the Royal Commissions Act 1902.

I will speak with relevant Premiers and Chief Ministers in coming days to discuss how the Royal Commission should relate to any current inquiries into similar matters currently proposed or underway in their jurisdictions. Discussions will also take place with victims’ groups, religious leaders, and community organisations.

The Attorney-General and the Minister for Families will co-ordinate this work on behalf of the Government in coming weeks.

Further announcements, including the proposed Commissioner and detailed terms of reference, will be made in coming weeks.

I commend the victims involved for having the courage to speak out.

I believe we must do everything we can to make sure that what has happened in the past is never allowed to happen again.

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14 thoughts on “Gillard announces royal commission into child abuse

  1. Scott

    There is no doubt that the Catholic church have some hard questions to answer in this Royal Commission. The church heirarchy were very slow to see the menace they had in their ranks, though to be fair, I don’t think they were alone. While I’m sure protecting the church from bad press had a role to play in the coverups’s, there were also alot of historical reasons why they occurred (Catholic vs Protestant conflict being the big one…Australian governments have been historically influenced from England whereas the Catholic Church, more from Ireland. This led to a culture of reclusiveness and protection rather than openess and exposure on the part of the church. Vatican 2 changed this, but it came too late and was slowly implemented).

    That said, From the late 60’s all the way through to the 90’s, I think a lot of people dropped the ball in regards to child sexual abuse. Coverups were all around (look at the BBC stuff coming out in the UK, the Penn State stuff in the US). I think you will find the blame can (and will) be shared around with a royal commission.

  2. Pinklefty

    Sorry Achmed, I think Good Gracious has a point (although I could do without the ‘PM’ references). But, before we go off comparing the relative hardnesses of our hearts, let’s wait and see what the terms of reference are, the principals involved and the resources provided.

    If I was thinking of the Royal Commissions of Neville Wran I wouldn’t get my hopes up.

  3. Achmed

    So Abbott only agreed to support a Royal Commission provided it wasn’t limited to his beloved Catholic church. A case of “well they do it to”.
    I wonder if Abbott’s time in the Seminary will be looked at?

  4. Achmed

    @Good Gracious….what a cynical comment lacking any compassion for the victims. The people who should criticised are the Liberal and Labor Govts of the past for not acting. But you choose to be critical of the person who is actually doing something. Your comment rates down there with Pell’s.

  5. Limited News

    That is interesting Hamis. In a similar vein, I wonder if the Catholic Church’s opposition to contraception has continuing support from, or was even inspired by, a desire to create a multitude of impoverished and vulnerable children which the clergy could prey upon?

  6. Good Gracious

    I think is is rather an opportunistic move by Gillard, this has been going on since the the early fifties though both LNP & Labor governments but none of them seemed to want to act on anything, even though other thorough investigations & compensations had taken place, but all of a sudden we are faced with an atheist & childless PM who cares, come on Australia wake up to the political play here.

  7. beachcomber


  8. Hamis Hill

    “Institutionalised Child Abuse” is the proper description of a method of “discipline” used against children.
    This is the “Climate” conducive to abuse which in turn escalates to sexual abuse.
    An extension of corporal punishment.
    So, in order to detect the aiders and abettors of “Institutional” child abuse first seek those who call for corporal punishment for children, as a form of control.
    This discipline can be traced to the slave culture of Ancient Rome where the “Paterfamilias” exercised corporal punishment to the point of execution.
    “In loco parentis” is a term found in the Satires of Juvenal and refers to teachers being in the place of the parent and exercising the same authority including corporal punishment.
    No doubt the paterfamilias practiced sexual abuse of slave children in order to discipline them into obedience.
    Celtic people defeated in battle with the Romans and facing a life of slavery, knowing in particular what lay in store for their children, preferred suicide.
    John Howard, a Methodist convert to Anglicanism, declared it to be not very different to Romanism, come on into the broad church was his invitation.
    All the various authoritarian off-shoots of Romanism and Anglicanism are directly tainted by the ancient crime of Roman slavery.
    This ancient “institutionalised” abuse of children in the name of discipline is the seed bed of “institutional child abuse”.
    Any student of history knows this to be true.
    The edifices will have to be dismantled, brick by brick.
    The present Anglican Church is a continuation of the papal crusade against the original Anglo-saxon church of Alfred the Great.
    The English were falsely accused of being infidels, were stripped of their lands and weapons and reduced to SLAVERY.
    The conquerors were much in need of the techniques of slave control they inherited from the Romans.
    None of this is Christian and is part and parcel of the inheritance of English and Irish Australians, enslaved to authority over the centuries and quite capable of, as history shows, turning a blind eye to institutional abuses, as good little, contemptible, fore lock-tugging slaves are wont to do.
    Will this Royal Commission lead these indoctrinated aiders and abbettors of institutionalised child abuse to cast off their chains?
    Or will they just draw them tighter, serenaded by the screams of the abused children they still fail to protect?
    A sick, sick nation has its chance; she’ll be right moight?

  9. Achmed

    Great move. Should have been done years ago.

  10. GeeWizz

    So Gillard the follower only signs up to a Royal Commission after Abbott called for the measure.

    What we need is a Royal Commission into Union and Labor corruption next, aka. Obeid, Williamson, Thomson, etc etc.

    Won’t hold my breath for that one to happen…

  11. floorer

    We grow up with religion an it’s so ingrained into our culture we think it’s normal, probably off topic I know but it has been a great enabler for so many misdeeds.

  12. Harry1951

    No body expects the Spanish Inquisition! Seriously it is good move and it is time for the Catholic church hierarchy to confess, co-operate and repent, not destroy the evidence.

  13. Ian Roberts

    Well, the Catholic Church too much political influence if the Prime Minister contacts Pell before acting and then blurs the focus from it to “institutional responses”.

  14. Bobalot

    Kudos to the government for moving relatively quickly after these recent allegations.

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