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Terms set as child abuse victims demand to be heard

Oral testimony will be central to the Gillard government’s royal commission in child sexual abuse, victims groups say. They’re eagerly awaiting the terms of reference to see if they will all be heard.

Victims’ groups say personal testimony will remain central to the Gillard government’s landmark royal commission into child s-xual abuse, despite suggestions there will be limits placed by the commissioners on the thousands of individuals keen to tell their stories.

Attorney-General Nicola Roxon revealed on AM this morning that the six commissioners responsible for possibly the biggest official inquiry in Australian history will be initially appointed for three years and will produce an interim report in 18 months time.

Drops in today’s newspapers reported a special unit will be set up to gather evidence and assist individual cases to avoid the commission getting bogged down in much personal detail. The RC would take a broad view of institutional malfeasance, investigate systemic problems and propose policy solutions to expunge the abuse scourge from pillars of Australian society including the Catholic Church.

However, a spokesperson for Catholic victims’ group Broken Rites told Crikey this morning individual testimony from thousands of abused Australians will remain central, given it’s the bravery of victims speaking up that shine the brightest light on crimes and cover-ups. Chris MacIsaac told Families Minister Jenny Macklin during consultation over the terms of reference that the RC’s success would be gauged on the number of victims able to tell — many for the first time — their harrowing tales of mistreatment:

We believe that it’s the effort of the victims that’s brought out [the crimes], it’s not the Church itself. It’s the cover-up we want the royal commission to get at, to show how this terrible abuse became so widespread through society.”

That view is backed by other victims’ groups like Adults Surviving Child Abuse, which says the act of providing cathartic oral testimony is a key part of the healing process that should lead to a lessening of psychological trauma.

As Crikey hit deadline today the Prime Minister was preparing to front a press conference setting out the specific terms of reference and naming the six commissioners. It was foreshadowed last year that a broad dragnet would be cast across institutions including orphanages, youth groups and the Scouts in addition to the Church.

Roxon said today the specific details of width and breadth will remain in the hands of the commissioners, who are totally independent from government. An extension to the initial three-year appointment period was possible, and specific investigative tactics are yet to be decided, she said.

Importantly, the special investigative unit will be able to immediately brief police, who could then launch prosecutions against individuals. But MacIsaac says personal testimony will comprise the core evidence police will use to prosecute p-edophile priests. And she says there will be no shortage of volunteers: “We would assume that if the Victorian inquiry is any guide thousands of people will be willing to come forward and make submissions.”

Broken Rites believes the Church, rather than Australian taxpayers, should be forced to stump up the inevitable tens of millions of dollars in compensation that could end up being paid out. On Radio National Breakfast this morning the group’s laywer Jason Parkinson claimed the “Australian taxpayer had been underwriting priest p-edophilia for years” via Medicare and Centrelink payments to victims.

The Roman Catholic Church, in particular, has the reserves: it controls an estimated $100 billion in property and assets and has an annual turnover of $15 billion. However, unlike the Anglican Church, the Uniting Church and the Salvation Army, it does not exist as an official legal entity in Australia, a loophole that has in the past prevented victims from suing priests and accessing Church assets to secure proper compensation.

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  • 1
    Edward James
    Posted Friday, 11 January 2013 at 2:11 pm | Permalink

    Some of us see the quickly promised Federal Royal Commission as a way for the Federal Government to defuse what was happening and being reported in the Newcastle Herald! I believe there should be a police presence in what is hoped to be public hearings of the Royal Commission. with the ida those police may advise some people that they have enough evidence to run a viable prosecution of those identified. I understand information obtained by a Royal Commission is not automatically able to be used as evidence in a criminal prosecution. This process is not only just about listening to victims, it is also about putting as many as possible of those responsible for abuse and coverup before the courts. Lets not forget the on going decades long coverup is possible because those with power and influence supported the abuse and cover up. Consider the Heiner Affair and Shreddergate. Mr Lindeberg has been fighting for decades. Edward James

  • 2
    Pamela
    Posted Friday, 11 January 2013 at 2:18 pm | Permalink

    What about the systemic child abuse under way right now in Australian detention camps both on and off shore, exposure to adult violence, suicide attempts, verbal and physical abuse by rough / racist guards, overtired working 12 hour day guards, crowded rooms where children sleep with parents and siblings, no school for children aged 6 years and over?

    Darwin - no child in school from April 2010-Oct 2010, living in Motel rooms wIth guards crashing through 3 times a night.
    MANUS ISLAND now - PARENTS AND CHILDREN ALL CRAMMED IN ONE ROOM.

  • 3
    Zjonn
    Posted Friday, 11 January 2013 at 2:25 pm | Permalink

    I don’t know, but I have some major reservations about involving Police after previous reports about The Hunter Region’s Chief Inspector Peter Fox’s experiences with senior police by having been stood down from an active investigation into the catholic church and it’s version of “suffer the little children to come unto me”.
    Perhaps the senior police officers involved in this attempted cover-up should also be held to account for their actions by investigating their actions through this RC.

  • 4
    Robert
    Posted Friday, 11 January 2013 at 2:33 pm | Permalink

    Isn’t it past the time for all religious organisations to be incorporated and taxed as businesses?

  • 5
    CML
    Posted Friday, 11 January 2013 at 5:36 pm | Permalink

    @ Pamela. - If you had listened to the outline of the Royal Commission given by the PM and others at the press conference today, you would know that the terms of reference as stated say that the RC will be confined to the S-XUAL abuse of children in institutional care. As I understand it, the only time evidence of other (eg physical/psychological) abuse will be accepted, is where such evidence is integral to the s-xual abuse of a witness.
    The children you are talking about have nothing to do with this RC. But of course you would have to divert attention from the children/adults who have waited for decades to tell their stories of horror and receive some assistance. You refugee advocates make me sick with your selective compassion. There are other people in this country who have a far greater need for justice than those you support.

  • 6
    Edward James
    Posted Friday, 11 January 2013 at 5:43 pm | Permalink

    Perhaps all of you should read the work product which should still be available on the Newcastle Herald Website. Then if confused contact Joanne Mccarthy. After that then you can offer an opinion ! Edward James.

  • 7
    Malcolm Street
    Posted Friday, 11 January 2013 at 5:46 pm | Permalink

    The Roman Catholic Church, in particular, has the reserves: it controls an estimated $100 billion in property and assets and has an annual turnover of $15 billion. However, unlike the Anglican Church, the Uniting Church and the Salvation Army, it does not exist as an official legal entity in Australia, a loophole that has in the past prevented victims from suing priests and accessing Church assets to secure proper compensation.”

    That is absolutely outrageous! This must be sorted out before the Royal Commission gets underway otherwise any compensation proceedings that come out of it can be ignored!

  • 8
    Edward James
    Posted Friday, 11 January 2013 at 5:51 pm | Permalink

    @ Malcolm Street I ask you, do you wonder how an entity the RCC which has no legal identity arranges its taxation ? Edward James

  • 9
    Edward James
    Posted Friday, 11 January 2013 at 5:54 pm | Permalink

    The Federal Royal Commission is underway, its purpose is to defuse what was unfolding in Maitland and Newcastle. Do you Malcolm Street believe we the peoples of NSW are well represented ??? Edward James 023419140

  • 10
    Lynne Slade
    Posted Monday, 14 January 2013 at 10:28 am | Permalink

    It’s hard to imagine a more hideous crime than the sexual abuse of a child. The associated misuse of positions of trust, predatory behaviour and grooming to achieve this abuse is equally hideous. Police, the media and some others have selectively pursued this crime with missionary zeal for decades. Unfortunately many people who don’t fit the profile of predatory abuser are caught up in the campaign. Imagine a situation where a young man has consensual sex with a fourteen year old girl,who much later decides to press charges. A possible outcome for the young man could be a two year prison sentence, being placed on the sex offenders register and the attendant impact on his employment and social circumstances. Such a scenario is very likely given that a large percentage of youg girls have experienced some sexual events by age thirteen. There are two distinct crimes here but, sadly, only one punishment.

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