Cardinal George Pell: Gail Furness Sc, the Voice behind the Calm, Relentless Questioning about Child Abuse in the Australian Catholic Church
By Anne Barker
March 2, 2016
|PHOTO: Counsel Assisting the Royal Commission Gail Furness SC at the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. (AAP: Jeremy Piper)|
She is the calm but persistent voice who, for two-and-a-half years, has publicly grilled confessed paedophiles, alleged child abusers, countless victims and many others about the magnitude of child sexual abuse in Australia.
Gail Furness SC was appointed as senior counsel assisting the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse when it began in September 2013. Yet until this week she was hardly a household name; instead overshadowed by whichever witness was giving evidence.
Now she is likely to be best remembered for her relentless questioning of Australia's most senior Catholic, Cardinal George Pell, who for months has resisted pressure to appear before the inquiry to answer questions about what he knew about alleged child abuse within Australia's Catholic Church.
Several days of evidence have not exhausted her questions or tempered her responses to Cardinal Pell's evidence. On day three she rejected his claims that he had been deceived by church leaders about abuse in Ballarat and Melbourne.
FURNESS: Cardinal, I have to suggest to you that your evidence in relation to not being briefed properly or adequately by the Catholic Education Office and the reasons for that are completely implausible.
PELL: Counsel, I can only tell you the truth. The whole story of Searson is quite implausible and the cover-up is equally implausible. I can only tell you the way it was as far as I'm concerned.
FURNESS: I suggest, Cardinal, that the evidence you have given has been designed to deflect blame from you on doing nothing in relation to Father Searson that had any real effect after the delegation came to you.
Ms Furness was admitted to the New South Wales Bar in 1997. She was made a silk in 2010.
In March 2012 she was appointed by the NSW Independent Liquor and Gaming Authority to conduct an inquiry into the Star Casino in Sydney.
Before that she assisted several other inquiries, including the Special Commission of Inquiry into Campbelltown and Camden Hospitals, the Judicial Commission Inquiry into Judge Dodd and various statutory inquiries. She also conducted various inquiries into public health.
She worked for the Independent Commission Against Corruption for five years, and was the head of its legal department under then commissioner Ian Temby QC. She also served as deputy commissioner of the NSW Health Care Complaints Commission.
In the 1990s, Gail Furness worked as a researcher for the Victorian Parliament's Legal and Constitutional Committee. She completed a BA and MA in Law in the 1980s from the University of Melbourne, and a Bachelor of Arts from the University of Queensland in 1982.
A brief biography online says she majored in journalism and dabbled in philosophy.