Media Release by The Hon Jenny Macklin MP

Government formally establishes Royal Commission

Joint Media Release with:

  • The Hon Julia Gillard MP, Prime Minister

    The Hon Nicola Roxon MP, Attorney-General

On my advice, today the Governor-General has appointed a six-member Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.

Child sexual abuse is an evil crime.

Anyone who has ever suffered child abuse deserves to have their voices heard and their claims investigated.

The Royal Commission will inquire into how institutions with a responsibility for children have managed and responded to allegations and instances of child sexual abuse and related matters.

It will investigate where systems have failed to protect children, and make recommendations on how to improve laws, policies and practices to prevent and better respond to child sexual abuse in institutions.

The Commissioners can look at any private, public or non-government organisation that is, or was in the past, involved with children, including government agencies, schools, sporting clubs, orphanages, foster care, and religious organisations.

This includes where they consider an organisation caring for a child is responsible for the abuse or for not responding appropriately, regardless of where or when the abuse took place.

The Commission will not specifically examine child sexual abuse outside organisations, such as in the family. However, any recommendations made by the Commissioners are likely to improve the response to child sexual abuse wherever it happens.

The Royal Commission will be led by Justice Peter McClellan AM. Justice McClellan currently holds one of the most senior judicial positions in New South Wales judiciary as the Chief Judge at Common Law of the Supreme Court of New South Wales.

Justice McClellan has an extensive legal career – including chairing the Sydney Water Inquiry and working on the Royal Commission into British Nuclear Tests in Australia.

Given the scope, scale and seriousness of this Royal Commission, we asked the Governor-General to appoint a further five Commissioners to support the inquiry.

We have carefully selected a panel of individuals that draws together the right experience and understanding for this incredibly important task.

Bob Atkinson, the former Queensland Police Commissioner, brings over 40 years of policing experience to the Royal Commission, including 12 years as Police Commissioner.

Justice Jennifer Coate served for 20 years as a magistrate and county court judge in Victoria, including for five years as the President of the Children’s Court and most recently as the Victorian Coroner. Justice Coate has also now been appointed to the Family Court of Australia.

Robert Fitzgerald has served as a Commissioner in the Productivity Commission since 2004. He also has experience in commerce, law, public policy and community services, including as Community and Disability Services Commissioner and Deputy Ombudsman in New South Wales.

Professor Helen Milroy is a consultant psychiatrist with extensive experience in child and adolescent health, including the mental health impacts of child sexual assault, and is currently Winthrop Professor and Director of the Centre for Aboriginal Medical and Dental Health at the University of Western Australia.

Former Senator for Western Australia Andrew Murray brings tremendous experience as a legislator and member of landmark Senate inquiries into children’s experiences in institutional care.

We have heard from survivors and their families that they want concrete changes in a reasonable timeframe. Many survivors have already waited a long time.

All Commissioners have been appointed for a period of three years and will begin their inquiry as soon as possible. The Commission will prepare an interim report by no later than 30 June 2014, so that governments and organisations can start taking action on the Commission’s early findings and recommendations.

In this interim report, the Commissioners will also identify when their final report will be completed. The final reporting date has been set initially at the end of 2015, but this will be subject to advice from Commissioners in their interim report.

Child sexual abuse is a crime, and a terrible breach of the right of every child to grow up safe and happy.

Child sexual abuse is often associated with other forms of abuse including physical abuse, exploitation, and neglect.

All have long-term effects on survivors and their families. There are also costs to the economy and society as a whole.

The Government has worked closely with stakeholders, receiving input from organisations representing survivors of child abuse, community and legal leaders, law enforcement, governments and religious organisations, to develop terms of reference that balance the real and legitimate perspectives of a range of stakeholders.

The Government will also introduce legislation into the Parliament to amend the Royal Commissions Act 1902 to allow evidence to be taken by a single or multiple Commissioners rather than requiring all Commissioners to be present. This will improve the efficiency of the evidence gathering process and avoid delaying the Commission’s work.

We thank every individual and organisation who has provided input into the establishment of the Royal Commission and the terms of reference. We also acknowledge those who have campaigned for many years for a full and proper investigation into child sexual abuse in Australia.

This Government will do everything it can to make sure that what happened to children in the past is never allowed to happen again, and that survivors receive the support and justice they deserve.