AN INVESTIGATIVE unit designed to prosecute sex offenders will be established as part of the royal commission on the sexual abuse of children due to begin later this year.
Prime Minister Julia Gillard, Attorney-General Nicola Roxon and Families Minister Jenny Macklin will on Friday announce terms of reference for the commission, which will focus on ''systemic failures and issues'' in the response of organisations and institutions to the abuse of children.
While royal commissions do not have the power to prosecute individuals, the government will ensure allegations of abuse raised by the commission can be investigated and, if proven, prosecuted.
Fairfax understands the terms of reference will require commissioners to establish a process for the referral of cases to the police.
The terms will also give commissioners the power to set up a special ''investigative unit'', which will work closely with police to investigate and prosecute past abuses.
There have been about 200 formal written submissions on the commission's terms of reference, plus about 600 emails.
The government says the submissions highlighted the need to tailor hearings to support victims through the process of preparing and giving evidence, and to report crimes to police.
Submissions also stressed the need for the commission to take whatever time was needed to investigate individual and systemic abuses properly, but said recommendations should be implemented quickly.
Ms Gillard announced the royal commission in November after scores of reports of sexual abuse within the Catholic Church and allegations of institutionalised cover-ups. But the government was under pressure to broaden the inquiry beyond the Catholic Church.
Australia's most senior Catholic, Cardinal George Pell, welcomed the announcement of the royal commission but accused the media of waging a campaign against his church.
Ms Gillard said at the time the royal commission would examine past abuse in a range of institutions and organisations including the Scouts, churches, sporting clubs and state authorities.
The inquiry into institutional responses to abuse will not only look at perpetrators. It will also cover those who were ''complicit'' - for example by moving on alleged offenders - or those who, by ''averting their eyes'', committed acts of omission.
It will also examine police responses.