Abuse Royal Commission Expects 5000 Submissions
By Barney Zwartz
From today, victims can contact the royal commission to register to tell their stories because trained staff are now ready, chairman Justice Peter McClellan announced at the commission's first public hearing, in Melbourne.
Sydney Morning Herald
April 3, 2013
Royal commission into child sex abuse begins
In his opening remarks, Justice Peter McClellan tells the commission that bearing witness to victims' stories will help the community in preventing abuse from happening again.
The royal commission into child sex abuse is now open for business. It expects more than 5000 submissions, has already spent more than $22 million, and is unlikely to complete its task by the end of 2015 as requested.
He said the commission had already serviced notice to produce documents on the Catholic Church, its insurer, the Salvation Army and the NSW Director of Public Prosecutions.
It is revolutionary in having six commissioners, and enabling one or more to sit in private to hear victims' stories, which will be how they spend the next five months.
Justice McClellan said one of the commission's tasks was to "bear witness" to the abuse and suffering of victims, which it did by making known what happened, including archives for posterity.
"It seems likely that at least 5000 people will want to talk to the commission. The leaders of some groups representing survivors suggest the number could be much higher," he said.
He said he did not want people under any illusion about the cost of the commission – "it will be expensive". It has already committed to spending $22 million, and running costs, including holding hearings across Australia would "continue to require the commitment of very significant sums of public money".
The next stage will involve private meetings with victims, probably carried out in function rooms at hotels and motels around the country to encourage informality and privacy, and Justice McClellan predicted there would be no public hearings before October.
The private sessions do not count as hearings and the information, which is given without an oath, is not evidence, but witnesses can appear again in a formal hearing.
The commission is investigating institutional responses to child sexual abuse, with "institution" broadly defined, he said, including churches, schools, child-care centres, sports and recreational bodies, any state run institution or government department, and non-government organisations that dealt with foster care.
But he said psychiatrists had warned the commission that the accounts they heard would contain serious and shocking allegations and there were limits to how many personal accounts they could safely hear in a day. Therefore they would focus hearings to allow a detailed examination of institutions where there had been problems.
Justice McClellan reminded people that the commission would not decide compensation for victims or convict anyone, although it had established links with police in each state and territory. The police taskforce attached to the Victorian inquiry into child sex abuse has already led to three arrests, with more expected.
On the length of the inquiry, Justice McClellan said a South Australian inquiry into abuse in state institutions heard 800 witnesses and took three years, while Ireland's Ryan Inquiry took nine years. He said it was unlikely the commission could finish by 31 December 2015, but it would work hard to get as much done as possible by the interim report, due on June 30 next year, so the government could judge the commission's future course.
He said the commissioners wanted to be as open as possible, though it would be careful when allegations could damage a person or institution's reputation.
Because an important duty was to recommend changes to laws, policies and practices, the commission has set up a research arm to look at previous reports and possibly do its own research. Senior counsel Gail Furness said the commission had sought details of all current and concluded government inquiries over the past 20 years involving allegations of child sexual abuse in an institutional context - more than 40 of them.
Francis Sullivan, chief executive of the Truth, Healing and Justice Council set up by the Catholic Church to liaise with the commission, said after the hearing that the church had agreed to waive every confidentiality agreement to allow victims to tell their stories freely.