In November 2012 The Prime Minister of Australia announced a Royal Commission to investigate decades of child abuse in churches, schools and foster homes and to address “institutional responses to child abuse” – the instances of abuse as well as the manner in which they have been dealt – by a range of institutions.
The announcement follows calls for a Royal Commission into abuse in the Catholic Church, after it was alleged by a senior policeman that investigations were hindered and in some cases compromised by church officials. A number of submissions to the Victorian Parliamentary Enquiry into the handling of criminal child abuse by religious and other institutions had suggested the need for a Royal Commission of enquiry.
”Any instance of child abuse is a vile and evil thing,” the Prime Minister said. “There have been too many adults who have averted their eyes to this evil. There has been a systematic failure to respond to it and to protect children.”
In January 2013 the six-member Royal Commission was formally appointed. The Commissioners have been appointed for three years and will begin their inquiry as soon as possible. The Commission will prepare an interim report by no later than 30 June 2014.
In the interim report, the Commissioners will also identify when their final report will be completed. The final reporting date has been set initially at the end of 2015, but this will be subject to advice from Commissioners in their interim report.
The Commissioners can look at any private, public or non-government organisation that is, or was in the past, involved with children, including government agencies, schools, sporting clubs, orphanages, foster care, and religious organisations.
This includes where they consider an organisation caring for a child is responsible for the abuse or for not responding appropriately, regardless of where or when the abuse took place.
The Commission will ensure the voices of child sexual abuse survivors are heard and will do everything it can to make sure that what happened to children in the past is never allowed to happen again. It will also make sure survivors receive the support and justice they deserve.
The process for making submissions and holding public hearings hasn’t been determined yet.
The definitions of ‘Institution’ and ‘institutional context’ in the Letters Patent establishing the Royal Commission make it clear that the fellowship of friends and workers is within the ambit of enquiry of the Royal Commission, even though some friends and workers might consider it to be a family rather than an established church institution. Specific practices of the fellowship that are relevant are
- Conventions, where children sleep in proximity to adults;
- Workers staying in the homes of friends and being given status as honoured and esteemed members of the family, with the honorifics of ‘Uncle’ and Aunty’.
Full details are available at www.childabuseroyalcommission.gov.au
ELIZABETH THE SECOND, by the Grace of God Queen of Australia and Her other Realms and Territories, Head of the Commonwealth:
The Honourable Justice Peter David McClellan AM,
Mr Robert Atkinson,
The Honourable Justice Jennifer Ann Coate,
Mr Robert William Fitzgerald AM,
Dr Helen Mary Milroy, and
Mr Andrew James Marshall Murray
WHEREAS all children deserve a safe and happy childhood.
AND Australia has undertaken international obligations to take all appropriate legislative, administrative, social and educational measures to protect children from sexual abuse and other forms of abuse, including measures for the prevention, identification, reporting, referral, investigation, treatment and follow up of incidents of child abuse.
AND all forms of child sexual abuse are a gross violation of a child’s right to this protection and a crime under Australian law and may be accompanied by other unlawful or improper treatment of children, including physical assault, exploitation, deprivation and neglect.
AND child sexual abuse and other related unlawful or improper treatment of children have a long-term cost to individuals, the economy and society.
AND public and private institutions, including child-care, cultural, educational, religious, sporting and other institutions, provide important services and support for children and their families that are beneficial to children’s development.
AND it is important that claims of systemic failures by institutions in relation to allegations and incidents of child sexual abuse and any related unlawful or improper treatment of children be fully explored, and that best practice is identified so that it may be followed in the future both to protect against the occurrence of child sexual abuse and to respond appropriately when any allegations and incidents of child sexual abuse occur, including holding perpetrators to account and providing justice to survivors.
AND it is important that those affected by child sexual abuse can share their experiences to assist with healing and to inform the development of strategies and reforms that your inquiry will seek to identify.
AND noting that, without diminishing its criminality or seriousness, your inquiry will not specifically examine the issue of child sexual abuse and related matters outside institutional contexts, but that any recommendations you make are likely to improve the response to all forms of child sexual abuse in all contexts.
AND all Australian Governments have expressed their support for, and undertaken to cooperate with, your inquiry.
NOW THEREFORE We do, by these Our Letters Patent issued in Our name by Our Governor-General of the Commonwealth of Australia on the advice of the Federal Executive Council and under the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Australia, the Royal Commissions Act 1902 and every other enabling power, appoint you to be a Commission of inquiry, and require and authorise you, to inquire into institutional responses to allegations and incidents of child sexual abuse and related matters, and in particular, without limiting the scope of your inquiry, the following matters:
a) what institutions and governments should do to better protect children against child sexual abuse and related matters in institutional contexts in the future;
b) what institutions and governments should do to achieve best practice in encouraging the reporting of, and responding to reports or information about, allegations, incidents or risks of child sexual abuse and related matters in institutional contexts;
c) what should be done to eliminate or reduce impediments that currently exist for responding appropriately to child sexual abuse and related matters in institutional contexts, including addressing failures in, and impediments to, reporting, investigating and responding to allegations and incidents of abuse;
d) what institutions and governments should do to address, or alleviate the impact of, past and future child sexual abuse and related matters in institutional contexts, including, in particular, in ensuring justice for survivors through the provision of redress by institutions, processes for referral for investigation and prosecution and support services.
AND We direct you to make any recommendations arising out of your inquiry that you consider appropriate, including recommendations about any policy, legislative, administrative or structural reforms.
AND, without limiting the scope of your inquiry or the scope of any recommendations arising out of your inquiry that you may consider appropriate, We direct you, for the purposes of your inquiry and recommendations, to have regard to the following matters:
e) the experience of people directly or indirectly affected by child sexual abuse and related matters in institutional contexts, and the provision of opportunities for them to share their experiences in appropriate ways while recognising that many of them will be severely traumatised or will have special support needs;
f) the need to focus your inquiry and recommendations on systemic issues, recognising nevertheless that you will be informed by individual cases and may need to make referrals to appropriate authorities in individual cases;
g) the adequacy and appropriateness of the responses by institutions, and their officials, to reports and information about allegations, incidents or risks of child sexual abuse and related matters in institutional contexts;
h) changes to laws, policies, practices and systems that have improved over time the ability of institutions and governments to better protect against and respond to child sexual abuse and related matters in institutional contexts.
AND We further declare that you are not required by these Our Letters Patent to inquire, or to continue to inquire, into a particular matter to the extent that you are satisfied that the matter has been, is being, or will be, sufficiently and appropriately dealt with by another inquiry or investigation or a criminal or civil proceeding.
AND, without limiting the scope of your inquiry or the scope of any recommendations arising out of your inquiry that you may consider appropriate, We direct you, for the purposes of your inquiry and recommendations, to consider the following matters, and We authorise you to take (or refrain from taking) any action that you consider appropriate arising out of your consideration:
i) the need to establish mechanisms to facilitate the timely communication of information, or the furnishing of evidence, documents or things, in accordance with section 6P of the Royal Commissions Act 1902 or any other relevant law, including, for example, for the purpose of enabling the timely investigation and prosecution of offences;
j) the need to establish investigation units to support your inquiry;
k) the need to ensure that evidence that may be received by you that identifies particular individuals as having been involved in child sexual abuse or related matters is dealt with in a way that does not prejudice current or future criminal or civil proceedings or other contemporaneous inquiries;
l) the need to establish appropriate arrangements in relation to current and previous inquiries, in Australia and elsewhere, for evidence and information to be shared with you in ways consistent with relevant obligations so that the work of those inquiries, including, with any necessary consents, the testimony of witnesses, can be taken into account by you in a way that avoids unnecessary duplication, improves efficiency and avoids unnecessary trauma to witnesses;
m) the need to ensure that institutions and other parties are given a sufficient opportunity to respond to requests and requirements for information, documents and things, including, for example, having regard to any need to obtain archived material.
AND We appoint you, the Honourable Justice Peter David McClellan AM, to be the Chair of the Commission.
AND We declare that you are a relevant Commission for the purposes of sections 4 and 5 of the Royal Commissions Act 1902.
AND We declare that you are authorised to conduct your inquiry into any matter under these Our Letters Patent in combination with any inquiry into the same matter, or a matter related to that matter, that you are directed or authorised to conduct by any Commission, or under any order or appointment, made by any of Our Governors of the States or by the Government of any of Our Territories.
AND We declare that in these Our Letters Patent:
child means a child within the meaning of the Convention on the Rights of the Child of 20 November 1989.
government means the Government of the Commonwealth or of a State or Territory, and includes any non-government institution that undertakes, or has undertaken, activities on behalf of a government.
institution means any public or private body, agency, association, club, institution, organisation or other entity or group of entities of any kind (whether incorporated or unincorporated), and however described, and:
i. includes, for example, an entity or group of entities (including an entity or group of entities that no longer exists) that provides, or has at any time provided, activities, facilities, programs or services of any kind that provide the means through which adults have contact with children, including through their families; and
ii. does not include the family.
institutional context: child sexual abuse happens in an institutional context if, for example:
i. it happens on premises of an institution, where activities of an institution take place, or in connection with the activities of an institution; or
ii. it is engaged in by an official of an institution in circumstances (including circumstances involving settings not directly controlled by the institution) where you consider that the institution has, or its activities have, created, facilitated, increased, or in any way contributed to, (whether by act or omission) the risk of child sexual abuse or the circumstances or conditions giving rise to that risk; or
iii. it happens in any other circumstances where you consider that an institution is, or should be treated as being, responsible for adults having contact with children.
law means a law of the Commonwealth or of a State or Territory.
official, of an institution, includes:
i. any representative (however described) of the institution or a related entity; and
ii. any member, officer, employee, associate, contractor or volunteer (however described) of the institution or a related entity; and
iii. any person, or any member, officer, employee, associate, contractor or volunteer (however described) of a body or other entity, who provides services to, or for, the institution or a related entity; and
iv. any other person who you consider is, or should be treated as if the person were, an official of the institution.
related matters means any unlawful or improper treatment of children that is, either generally or in any particular instance, connected or associated with child sexual abuse.
n) require you to begin your inquiry as soon as practicable, and
- o) require you to make your inquiry as expeditiously as possible; and
p) require you to submit to Our Governor-General:
i. first and as soon as possible, and in any event not later than 30 June 2014 (or such later date as Our Prime Minister may, by notice in the Gazette, fix on your recommendation), an initial report of the results of your inquiry, the recommendations for early consideration you may consider appropriate to make in this initial report, and your recommendation for the date, not later than 31 December 2015, to be fixed for the submission of your final report; and
ii. then and as soon as possible, and in any event not later than the date Our Prime Minister may, by notice in the Gazette, fix on your recommendation, your final report of the results of your inquiry and your recommendations; and
iii. authorise you to submit to Our Governor-General any additional interim reports that you consider appropriate.
IN WITNESS, We have caused these Our Letters to be made Patent.
WITNESS Quentin Bryce, Governor-General of the Commonwealth of Australia.
By Her Excellency’s Command
ENTERED ON RECORD by me in Register of Patents No. , page , on
Secretary to the Federal Executive Council