Transcript by The Hon Brendan O’Connor MP

Royal Commission into Child Sexual Abuse

Program: ABC Melbourne, Jon Faine


JON FAINE: Brendan O’Connor is speaking on behalf of the Attorney-General (sic) and the Prime Minister on the royal commission issue this morning. He’s the Acting Families Minister as well as Minister for Housing, Homelessness and Small Business. Mr O’Connor, good morning. Do you take –

BRENDAN O’CONNOR: Good morning Jon.

JON FAINE: – Jack Rush’s advice, and what do you do with it?

BRENDAN O’CONNOR: Well, we need to ensure that the royal commission and its terms of reference are sufficiently wide so that we can properly respond to what clearly are systemic failures by institutions in responding to allegations of child sex offences. I just heard your last part of that interview. I think also, beyond that, we need a vehicle that allows victims and their families to have their voices heard and have their stories told, and ultimately of course have their claims investigated.

JON FAINE: Are you – is it a witch-hunt? There are critics of this process who say it turns into a witch-hunt and you’re trying to claim scalps.

BRENDAN O’CONNOR: No, I think that’s unreasonable. It’s a very big step for a government to recommend to the Governor-General the establishment of a royal commission and you wouldn’t do it lightly.

And of course to that extent once you create that commission it’s in control, largely, in control of its own destiny. Therefore the terms of reference that will be determined before year’s end are very important indeed. And we will be discussing those matters with victims’ groups, religious leaders, community organisations so that there is proper consultation.

But, finally, it will be up to the commission itself to determine the response required for the country.

JON FAINE: And are you concerned about a backlash within the community of loyal Catholics who think that you’re out to disrupt the affairs of the Catholic Church? Is there some political mileage in this? Are you trying to exploit Tony Abbott’s Catholicism?

BRENDAN O’CONNOR: No, no, I think that’s a really – that’s a ludicrous assertion. Firstly, the parameters of the commission go to all religious organisations, also investigations –

JON FAINE: Yes, that’s true but we all know that most of the allegations concern the Catholic Church.

BRENDAN O’CONNOR: Well, I think there have been deficiencies, clearly, on the face of it amongst a number of religious institutions. And I do recall the former Governor-General getting in trouble because of the failure, or alleged failure of responding effectively to child sex abuses in the Anglican Church.

This is not a matter that goes to one church. It’s not a matter that goes to churches. This is a problem for the country and a problem for institutions that care for our children and –

JON FAINE: It’s about whether you want to claim scalps or change the way things work.

BRENDAN O’CONNOR: And I think therefore the terms of reference are very important. What we want to do is to the greatest extent possible prevent offences against children happening in the future in the manner in which they’ve happened in the past, and have established through this commission a much more effective and decent and dignified capacity to respond to the most heinous crimes against children.

JON FAINE: And at the same time we’re also looking at non-religious institutions. I notice sporting clubs and other groups, including the Boy Scouts have been mentioned, are to be included in the ambit of this as well. So if you cast too broad a net do you risk losing any chance of achieving change?

BRENDAN O’CONNOR: Well, ultimately this is about dealing firstly with the victims and preventing further victims, and to confine ourselves to the examination of one or several organisations to the exclusion of others would be to effectively say to those victims in other areas that they don’t matter. That is not, I don’t think, a reasonable response by any government so we’ve had to cast the net widely. We have to focus on the abuse and the failure of institutions, both of religious and non-religious, government, and not-for-profit organisations that have failed to remedy this matter.

I, as Minister for Justice some years ago, introduced very tough legislation in working for children, for example, to make it very difficult for people who have had convictions or charges against them to work for kids.

We’ve done as a government a number of things but I think the royal commission is the vehicle that is best applied in these circumstances.

JON FAINE: We shall watch with great interest to see how the pieces are put together. Thank you for your time this morning.

BRENDAN O’CONNOR: Jon, can I just provide a number, a hotline number for people. We can’t receive submissions now but we have established a call centre number: 1800 099 340 if people want to contact that number prior to the commission being established.

JON FAINE: And that’s working now?


JON FAINE: 1800 099 340.

BRENDAN O’CONNOR: That’s right.

JON FAINE: Thank you, and I’ll give out the Lifeline number again because this could well bring up painful memories for many people. Thank you for your time.


JON FAINE: Brendan O’Connor, the Acting Families Minister, and also Minister for Housing, Homelessness and Small Business, out and about on behalf of the Attorney-General (sic) this morning.