Mandatory Reporting Laws (Or: Less Best?)


Image: Child abuse reporting rates – New South Wales

One of the great battlegrounds of the Royal Commission will revolve around the issue of mandatory reporting. At present there is great variability across the states on both who must report, and what must be reported. A national standard would, of course, make sense to many people.

Some of the offending organisations, including the Catholic Church in particular, vigorously oppose mandatory reporting, especially in the context of the confessional. Many commentators have suggested that church law is being elevated to a position above that of the state.

In Ireland, government officials have made it clear, in no uncertain terms, that the law of the state reigns supreme. Here, few politicians have dared to comment because of the political power of the churches. As the public becomes more aware of the role of mandatory reporting in protecting children, in the course of the Royal Commission hearings, then there will be more pressure on government to take a clear stand one way or the other.

This is why the Catholic Church, in particular, is pushing its line so fiercely on the issue. Indeed, one member of its PR Unit, set up to deal with the fall-out of the Royal Commission, is an “expert” advocate for winding back existing mandatory reporting laws (see previous posting).

The argument usually runs along the line that present laws encourage what is referred to as “over-reporting”. This is a bit odd coming from organisations which have employed many tactics to cover-up abuses. This may be equally referred to as “under-reporting”.

Consequently, there will be a battle over which of these two interpretations prevail. Many might be tempted to assume that the evidence of cover-ups will somehow, automatically, win the argument. Unfortunately, this might mean that few bother putting in submissions for better mandatory reporting systems, so that the bulk of submissions will reflect the Catholic Church’s line that they should be wound back, or at best, not strengthened.

In this sense, it would be wise for anybody who thinks present procedures need reinforcement, to put in some sort of submission on the issue.

[Postscript: Cardinal George Pell was not available for comment as he is still on holidays in Rome.]

TOMORROW: A first look at the economic impact of abuse

That’s all I can say

Lewis Blayse (né Lewin Blazevich)


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