Transcript by The Hon Brendan O’Connor MP

Royal Commission into Child Abuse, ABC Newsradio

Program: Marius Benson, Breakfast

MARIUS BENSON: Well, the Federal Government’s announcement that it is establishing a royal commission to investigate claims of child abuse in church, state and private institutions has been welcomed by child protection advocates and Catholic Church representatives.

It’s also won bipartisan political support with the Opposition backing the Government’s moves. But there are concerns being expressed that the inquiry may take many years and that the cost will run out of control.

The minister responsible is Brendan O’Connor, the Acting Families Minister, and he joins me now.

Brendan O’Connor, good morning.

BRENDAN O’CONNOR: Good morning, Marius.

MARIUS BENSON: Now, can you say how long this commission will run as a maximum?

BRENDAN O’CONNOR: No, we can’t determine the duration of the commission. Indeed, it’s up to the commission itself to make those determinations. What we can say is that this is a response, I think, to the heartfelt concern of people across the country that something must be done to look at the institutional responses to allegations of child sex abuse. And even since the announcement by the Prime Minister, there’s been, of course, overwhelming support for that decision.

But we must allow the royal commission to determine these matters itself. They have the powers, and that needs to proceed in that manner.

MARIUS BENSON: Would five years be okay?

BRENDAN O’CONNOR: Well, I think – I’m not going to go to years. I mean, the fact is we know that there is a significant problem here, a significant challenge. You don’t create a royal commission every day. These are very significant decisions by Government. But if you do call for a royal commission, and if you create such a body, you must allow for that body to consider these matters fully and be in control of its own destiny.

MARIUS BENSON: Now, there are state inquiries that are under way and various people are anticipating problems there. How are you going to sort out the jurisdictional limits of those two simultaneous lines of inquiry?

BRENDAN O’CONNOR: Well, the first thing I’d say is, first, that it is welcoming to hear that the Federal Opposition is in support of the approach. It’s also noteworthy that both the Premiers of New South Wales and Victoria, in discussions with the Prime Minister, support the approach.

So, I think this is well beyond politics. And it would appear that not only the political divide is not relevant to these matters, nor are there jurisdictional issues. I mean, the fact is, if we have the collaboration of State and Territory governments working with the Commonwealth, and we have a bipartisan approach, there’ll be, I think, a very effective examination of systemic failures to deal with child sex abuse in this country.

MARIUS BENSON: No problem with overlap there?

BRENDAN O’CONNOR: Well, where there would be a problem, I think, is if there were differences in approach or there were governments at odds with the creation of a royal commission.

It would appear, in the conversations already that the Prime Minister’s had with two Premiers, and she’s made it clear she’ll be speaking to other Premiers and Chief Ministers, that there is consensus around needing to respond to this national challenge.

MARIUS BENSON: What powers will a royal commission have? It can recommend prosecution can’t it? Can it recommend compensation?

BRENDAN O’CONNOR: Look, the terms of reference will be established prior to the new year, and we will, of course, consider these. But if you look at royal commissions of the past, they have had very extensive powers, and, of course, they will determine what measures are required and, indeed, what reparations need to be undertaken, given the subject matter of their inquiry.

So, you only have to turn your mind to other royal commissions and how they have reshaped this country to know that once you create such a commission, then things happen.