On 12 November 2012, the Prime Minister Julia Gillard announced the creation of a national Royal Commission into institutional responses to instances of child sexual abuse. The terms of reference will be wide-ranging, looking at 'religious organisations, state care providers, not-for-profit bodies as well as the responses of child service agencies and the police'. Calls for a Royal Commission into the abuse suffered by people who were in institutional 'care' date back to 2004, and Recommendation 11 of the Senate's 'Forgotten Australians' report. In 2009, the Senate noted that churches and charitable agencies had not given full cooperation to investigate the issue of child sexual and physical abuse in out-of-home 'care'. Throughout 2012, the Care Leavers of Australia Network (CLAN) campaigned for a Royal Commission, holding 'silent protests' and printing postcards aimed at state and federal politicians.
The Senate's 'Forgotten Australians' report of 2004 called on the Commonwealth Government to require that 'all charitable and church-run institutions and out-of-home care facilities to open their files and premises and provide full cooperation to authorities' to investigate the criminal physical and/or sexual assault of children in institutional 'care' and the concealment of these criminal practices. If 'the requisite full cooperation" was not received, and "failing full access and investigation as required', the Senate Committee recommended the establishment of a Royal Commission.
The subsequent inquiry in 2009 into the implementation of the recommendations of the 'Lost Innocents' and 'Forgotten Australians' reports contained submissions from stakeholders about the issue of a Royal Commission. The majority of stakeholders were in favour of a Royal Commission. The submission from Care Leavers of Australia Network (CLAN) noted that the conditions the Senate had set to prevent the holding of such an inquiry had not been met - institutions, agencies and facilities had not cooperated with authorities investigating historical crimes. The Alliance for Forgotten Australians (AFA) stated that a royal commission or formal inquiry into state government, charitable and church-run institutions may be the only way to obtain the truth and to bring accountability.
The 2009 Senate report outlined the nature and powers of royal commissions, notably their extensive powers and procedural flexibility. Some drawbacks were also noted, including the likely timeframe of a royal commission, the possible cost and the likelihood of significant outcomes in the identification and successful prosecution of crimes the subject of the inquiry. Dr Joanna Penglase described the 'catch-22' situation of a royal commission diverting resources from care leaver services - 'you do not get services unless you have the inquiry'.
Prepared by: Cate O'Neill
Created: 14 November 2012, Last modified: 12 May 2014