YESTERDAY began with Tony Windsor telling Prime Minister Julia Gillard the government needed to do something about allegations of child sex abuse inside the Catholic Church and attempts to cover them up.
By early evening the Prime Minister had announced a royal commission into institutional responses to allegations of child abuse in Australia, after a mounting chorus of calls from across politics, victims’ groups and a growing list of other organisations and professions.
The royal commission will be recommended by Ms Gillard to the Governor-General.
The terms of reference will be worked on in coming weeks, before the people who will lead the inquiry are appointed.
“I want to get this right,” Ms Gillard said late yesterday.
“So, over the next few weeks, we will be consulting with the organisations that represent the survivors of child abuse, with religious organisations, with state and territory governments, to ensure the terms of reference are right.”
Mr Gillard said she had already spoken to the premiers of NSW and Victoria, states which are already pursuing their own inquiries.
“Both of them are prepared to take a co-operative approach,” she said.
Mr Gillard said any instance of child abuse was a vile and evil thing.
“Australians know, from the revelations that they’ve read in recent weeks, that too many children have suffered child abuse but have also seen other adults let them down,” she said.
“They’ve not only had their trust betrayed by the abuser, but other adults who could have acted to assist them have failed to do so.”
Australians wanted to see action taken, she said.
They don’t want to see institutions fail again to deal with allegations of abuse.
“I hope that this royal commission can guide us to that place,” Ms Gillard said. The terms of reference will include children who were in the care of religious organisations, state care and schools – private and state.
We needed to learn lessons about how institutions could best respond when there were allegations of sex abuse, she said.
“We all want to do all we can to ensure that we do not see in the future institutions fail to respond if there are allegations of child abuse in their midst,” she said.
She acknowledged it was an “incredibly complex and sensitive area”.
She said a royal commission offered “the broadest sweep of potentials for the working of the commission”.
“That’s why I’ve chosen it,” Ms Gillard said.
She said she had spoken to the Catholic Church’s senior cleric in Australia, Sydney Archbishop Cardinal George Pell.
“This is a royal commission that would be looking across religious organisations, as well as state-based care and into the not-for-profit sector,” she said.
“So this is not a royal commission targeted at any one church.”
But Ms Gillard said her discussion with Cardinal Pell “indicated that he’s taking a very co-operative attitude”.
On ABC radio’s AM program yesterday morning, member for New England Tony Windsor said he would write to Ms Gillard immediately to express his concerns about the “enormous number” of people affected by the allegations of abuse and the need for action.
“They feel as though the system is letting them down,” Mr Windsor said.
“My advice to the prime minister and others ... is it is probably better to deal with this sooner rather than later.”
Mr Windsor said the allegations had created an odour over the Catholic Church.
He dismissed as “pathetic” a decision by NSW Premier Barry O’Farrell to limit a special commission of inquiry to examine the police investigations of paedophile priests in the Hunter Valley.