Chair defends legal powers amid calls for a royal commission

The chair of the Victorian parliamentary inquiry yesterday defended its terms of reference and legal powers amid growing calls for a national royal commission into child sexual abuse

Media reports about cover ups of sexual abuse by Catholic priests and brothers in communities across Victoria and New South Wales have this week prompted further calls for a royal commission.

NSW Premier Barry O’Farrell yesterday announced a special commission of inquiry into police investigations of alleged paedophile priests in the Hunter region.

Chair of the Victorian inquiry Georgie Crozier said it had received more than 350 submissions and more than 120 requests to appear in public and confidential hearings since April.

Her comments came after months of criticism of the inquiry’s hearing processes and legal powers from victims, advocates and the media.

“(The committee) will not engage in public commentary through the media,” Ms Crozier said.

“All of those affected — and our wider society — have a right to anticipate that there will be full accountability and justice for any past wrongdoing or failures, and that we can develop mechanisms to ensure that abuses of the past will not continue.

“We have begun the process, let us get on with it.”

Care Leavers Australia Network director Leonie Sheedy said state inquiries were not enough as religious organisations including the Catholic Church had repeatedly moved offending clergy interstate and overseas.

“This issue is not just about churches or government, or charities and religious groups,” Ms Sheedy said. 

“It is a public health issue, an Australia wide problem and a societal problem. We need a royal commission with all its powers and weight to consider child abuse, including physical and sexual abuse and neglect which has impacted on so many lives all over Australia.”

CLAN, which represents former residents of children’s homes, orphanages and foster care, has launched a postcard campaign calling on Premier Ted Baillieu to establish a Royal Commission.

Ms Sheedy said the force of public opinion would eventually lead to a commission being established.

Senior federal politicians including employment minister Bill Shorten and Opposition treasury spokesman Joe Hockey both warned against a royal commission on Friday, with Mr Hockey saying a lengthy process could further traumatise victims.

Victoria has had 10 royal commissions since 1980, including 6 jointly established by the Commonwealth and other states.