Transcript by The Hon Brendan O’Connor MP

Royal Commission into Child Sexual Abuse

Program: 2GB, Ray Hadley


RAY HADLEY: As I mentioned earlier, there’s been widespread support, as there should be, for the Prime Minister’s announcement there’ll be a royal commission into child sexual abuse.

The inquiry will cover all religious institutions, state-based organisations, schools, not-for-profit groups such as scouts and sporting clubs. Opposition Leader Tony Abbott said early yesterday he supports such a move by the PM.

The commission will be established by the end of the year with the terms of reference to be developed in consultation with the States and Territories, victims’ groups, religious leaders and community organisations.

Now, I’ve said a number of times already today I think it’s imperative that any royal commission examines the woeful sentencing, in some cases, of paedophiles right across Australia so it’s hard enough to get them before courts and then, in many cases, they get a sentence not in keeping with community standards, in my opinion.

Responsibility for this will be held by the Federal Attorney-General Nicola Roxon whom we’ll talk to later in the week and the Acting Minister for Families, Brendan O’Connor, and that Minister, Brendan O’Connor, is on the line. Minister, good morning.

BRENDAN O’CONNOR: Good morning, Ray.

RAY HADLEY: The terms of reference. Obviously you’ll have all sorts of people lobbying for all sorts of terms of reference and, in the end, who finally makes that decision, Minister? Who says yeah or nay to the terms of reference?

BRENDAN O’CONNOR: The Government and in particular the Prime Minister will determine, ultimately, the terms of reference but we do believe we have to engage fully. And you’ve just outlined the governments and the bodies that we’ll engage with and consult with to determine the architecture of the commission. We want to do that quickly and we want to finish it by year’s end so the terms of reference and the composition of the commission are resolved before the New Year.

RAY HADLEY: I’m an ambassador for Bravehearts and that’s why I’m terribly excited about what your government has done. It’s long overdue and we shouldn’t dwell on why it wasn’t done previously but simply dwell on the fact that it has been done.

But one of the things that I want to appeal to you and also to your colleagues in government about, is what I say is the inadequate sentencing of paedophiles.

Now, I’ll just quickly go through some for you: a man given a minimum of three years and two months over 18 charges relating to 11 victims; a man given a suspended 12-month sentence for homosexual intercourse with a little boy; a man given a two-year suspended sentence convicted of having intercourse with a four-year-old girl; a former teacher given a two-year suspended sentence for four counts of unlawful intercourse with a 17-year-old boy; a doctor given a minimum 18 months for indecently assaulting 12 victims, another 14 months for additional four victims, concurrently; school principal given minimum nine months’ jail for having thousands of child porn images; a former teacher given a minimum 12 months for indecently assaulting a teenage boy and possessing 215,000 child porn images; a man given a minimum 18 months for sexually assaulting a five-year-old girl, and it goes on.

These are the sort of things I deal with on a daily basis, Minister. Is there any hope that, as part of this very, very big inquiry, this royal commission, that sentencing could be part of it?

BRENDAN O’CONNOR: Sentencing ultimately is the decision, of course, of governments, state and federal, and, indeed, when I was Minister for Justice we increased the penalties for child sex offences for Commonwealth offences and also we introduced legislation, much more stringent legislation in terms of working with children because, as you know, paedophiles look to work in areas where they’ll be in constant contact with children, to build the trust of the child or their families and then, of course, to commit these heinous crimes.

And so there certainly have been changes to legislation for the better in terms of increasing penalties for offences.

Judges, of course, then ultimately make decisions, whether it’s at the state or federal level insofar as penalties and we do have the separations of powers. Of course governments can look at mandatory minimum sentencing but the terms of reference of this royal commission will go to what is a systematic or systemic failure by institutions to respond to child sex offence allegations and child sex offences.

RAY HADLEY: Yeah, sure.

BRENDAN O’CONNOR: That’s its primary purpose and it’s also, as you’ve said already, and I understand your personal involvement in these matters, it’s also providing a vehicle for victims to be heard, for them to be listened to seriously, for their claims to be examined properly and that in itself is very important but ultimately it seems to me the test of this commission will be – will we protect children in the future?

RAY HADLEY: I guess, to a certain extent, if you have victims there and victims of people being convicted, they could echo the inadequate sentences handed out to these people and the problem is, and I see it as a problem not for you but for States, rather, where the laws are enacted in the Supreme Courts of New South Wales or the similar court in Queensland, is that they look to guideline judgements and you and I both know that 30 or 40 years ago paedophilia wasn’t viewed in the same way it is now.

It was sort of, oh, come on, he’s your uncle, he’s your, you know, he’s your granddad’s friend and, you know, we don’t need to deal with that in the public eye. You know, that’s got to be –

BRENDAN O’CONNOR: That’s right.

RAY HADLEY: And so we’re getting judgements from when that was happening being subjected to us in 2012 when there’s a far different view and a far more educated view on what we do with these people.

BRENDAN O’CONNOR: Yes, there’s been a long term societal failure to own up and recognise that this is a problem, a national societal problem, and you’re absolutely right when you say that we have not viewed this – and it’s really hard now in today’s context to fully understand why these matters were not considered so important many years ago.

And I think that’s why this royal commission is so timely to properly respond to what has been a neglected area and that’s why the terms of reference have to be broad enough and why it’s also beyond politics and that’s why I welcome the response by the state premiers and the federal Opposition to the announcement.

RAY HADLEY: Of course. I mean, I’ve made the point here earlier that when I first started doing this type of program 20 years ago and then did my own program 10 years ago, a radio station executive said to me 20 years ago, because I’ve always had a passion that the children need to be protected, and I started talking about paedophilia, he pulled me aside and said, listen, they don’t want to hear that in their lounge rooms, don’t start that rubbish here.

BRENDAN O’CONNOR: Yes, well, that’s –

RAY HADLEY: That was the sort of view that older people had back then.

BRENDAN O’CONNOR: Yes, and those people and we were turning, as a nation, a blind eye to these offences. That is no longer tolerated and it’s not acceptable. It should never have been acceptable and I’m glad we’ve got to this point. This is going to be quite a considerable journey for the royal commission but it is the best vehicle I think we have at our disposal as a nation to uncover the failures and to do something about it so that in the future our children will be protected and, of course, also examine what has happened in the past properly.

RAY HADLEY: You’d think it would be too much for one person. As a royal commissioner you’d need to have a party of commissioners, so to speak.

BRENDAN O’CONNOR: That’s why, Ray, insofar as the terms of reference are concerned and the composition of the commission, we’ll have to consider those things – resources, the breadth of the terms of reference and, indeed, the breadth of the composition. And we want to do that and this will be done before the end of the year. We want to get going on this –

RAY HADLEY: Oh, yeah.

BRENDAN O’CONNOR: Could I just give you one number? I know there’s already interest in people wanting to be involved in the commission. I’ve got a hotline number –


BRENDAN O’CONNOR: – that we’ve set up. It’s 1800 099 340. The Department of Families, Housing and Community Services have set up a hotline number: 1800 099 340 if people want to make calls, if they want to be involved.

RAY HADLEY: So more particularly we’re talking about victims or the family of victims, I’d imagine.

BRENDAN O’CONNOR: Yes, we’re talking about people who may ultimately want to make submissions to the commission. Until that’s established, this is the number to ring.

RAY HADLEY: Okay, 1800 099 340, correct?

BRENDAN O’CONNOR: That’s right.

RAY HADLEY: Thanks very much, Minister.


RAY HADLEY: The Acting Families Minister, Brendan O’Connor about perhaps one of the more important issues we’re confronting here in Australia.