Anglican abuse complaint body leads way

By Megan Neil
7 News
November 27, 2016

The Anglican Diocese of Melbourne hopes the independent body it has set up to investigate sexual abuse complaints will be adopted by other Australian dioceses.

Chancellor Michael Shand QC said the new complaints body could serve as a model for other dioceses and potentially be used by organisations outside the Anglican Church.

The new approach has been adopted by Melbourne and Bendigo, and is being considered by the other Victorian dioceses of Wangaratta, Ballarat and Gippsland.

Mr Shand says it could potentially be adopted by many other Anglican Church of Australia dioceses, which are autonomous, as well as Anglican social welfare agencies and schools.

"We would hope that other agencies see merit in participating in the independent scheme," Mr Shand told AAP.

Each of the 23 Australian dioceses has primary responsibility for developing their own complaints-handling system, as does each autonomous Anglican agency, school and organisation.

Mr Shand said the new dedicated complaints organisation could also potentially be used by universities and colleges.

"Having an independent, transparent process can bring some integrity to both the process and the participating institutions.

"It's a way of setting some standards of conduct in these institutions and standards that can be enforced, albeit according to procedural fairness."

First proposed in 2014, the new complaints body will operate as a separate company, independent of the diocese, with its own board of directors and executive director.

It builds on the current system where abuse complaints are handled by a professional standards office.

Serious matters are referred to an independent professional standards board if there is a question over the fitness for ministry or service of a church worker, be they clergy or lay people, and can be reviewed by a separate panel presided over by a retired judge.

Under the current system, the bishop has discretion as to whether and how to give effect to the board's recommendation.

Mr Shand said the bishop will now be obliged to implement the recommendation but has a limited discretion to modify it as long as it is consistent with the findings and determination.

The legislation also extends screening requirements to cover all clergy, lay people in leadership roles, and those who deal with children.

The child sex abuse royal commission will hold a final public hearing on the Anglican Church in March.


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