VICTORIA’S parliamentary inquiry into child sexual abuse by members of religious and other non-government organisations could become a “whitewash” due to inadequate evidence procedures, participants say.
Lawyer and Monash University researcher Judy Courtin yesterday called for the Victorian Parliament’s Family and Community Development Committee to restructure hearing schedules to allow for cross-examination of witnesses and forensic detail.
Hearings before the six-member committee have so far been scheduled for three full days and three half days in October and November, with witnesses allocated 30 minutes for brief overviews of their written submission and 30 minutes to answer questions from the committee.
Ms Courtin said time allocation meant witnesses such as Victoria Police and senior Catholic Church leaders “could give evidence untested.”
“The role of the committee is to inquire into this important issue, but how can they do that if they are just skimming the facts? A Royal Commission would allow for proper cross-examination for organisations like Victoria Police who have raised very powerful and damaging allegations,” she said. Ms Courtin this week wrote to the community for clarification on eight issues, including how many submissions were received from victims and their families, how many days the inquiry would sit in regional cities including Ballarat and if the committee had called for documents from Victorian churches and religious orders.
“There will be further hearings scheduled in December and into 2013 to ensure the Committee has time to hear from those who have requested to give evidence,” a spokesperson for the inquiry said.
The spokesperson said the hearing format could be changed in future, and the timing allocated for witnesses would vary depending on the nature of the evidence being given. The committee is due to present its report to the Victorian Parliament by April 30.