As you read this, there are secret pedophiles all over Australia – men of all ages in all sorts of jobs – who are squirming with the news that the Government has finally announced a Royal Commission into child sex abuse. The rocks under which these vile men have hidden for so long are about to be lifted.
Prime Minister Julia Gillard has last night announced the Royal Commission, saying the focus of their inquiry will be on institutional responses to claims of sex abuse.
“It’s a vile thing, it’s an evil thing. And it’s done by evil people,” the Prime Minister said. Ms Gillard said there had been a systemic failure in the past to respond to allegations of child sex abuse in Australia and to protect children from it.
Ms Gillard said that the Commission will look into allegations of sexual abuse of children in care of various groups – not just the Catholic Church – but also state care and not for profit organisations. It will also look at the responses of child services agencies to allegations of abuse.
As for how long the Commission’s inquiry will take, Ms Gillard wouldn’t specify whether it would be days, months or years. She said: “It’s not knowable. I anticipate some time and it should take the time necessary.”
The Prime Minister said the terms of reference and commissioners were yet to be decided but would be worked through by relevant Government Ministers. Other types of inquiries are already under way in Victoria and NSW. This commission will not affect those.
So what is a Royal Commission?
By announcing that the Government will hold a royal commission, the Prime Minister is essentially establishing a quasi-court that can look into a specific matter, in this case, child sexual abuse. Unlike a regular court though, a Royal Commission is inquisitorial (i.e. they investigate a matter, like a detective) rather than adversarial (two parties each putting their case) in nature.
The Commission will have considerable powers that are restricted by their terms of reference (these are yet to be determined) but otherwise their powers are more thorough than a normal court of law. In practice, the Royal Commission will have the power to compel witnesses to answer claims and the usual rules of evidence won’t apply (making it easier to make an argument based on ‘hearsay’ for example).