A Fit and Proper Organisation? (Or: Who’s Really Responsible?)


The Royal Commission into child sexual abuse will focus on institutional responses. This means, effectively, that there will be much consideration given to background checks, and monitoring, of people associated with organisations working with children. This is an obviously important area of concern.

However, there is an equally important consideration which the Royal Commission may well miss. It will consider what makes for a “fit and proper” person to work with children, but is likely to give minimal, if any, consideration to what makes for a “fit and proper” organisation.

The term “fit and proper” comes from the Anglo-Saxon “fit” and the Norman-French word “proper”. Both words mean the same thing, that is, acceptable to the authorities. Most countries around the world have a highly-developed set of laws concerning fit and proper persons. Some people are not permitted to be company directors, for example.

There have been far fewer laws concerning fit and proper organisations. As one academic has noted, “A further difficulty is to know how much bad behaviour can be tolerated inside an organisation before the whole enterprise is deemed unfit.”  This factor has been receiving much attention in the U.K., particularly in relation to whether Rupert Murdoch’s BSkyB group is a fit and proper organisation to hold a broadcasting license.

Here, in Australia, Brian Martin has questioned the fit and proper status of Mayne Nickless to hold a license to operate hospitals. Similar concerns have been raised with regard to the former Australian Wheat Board over alleged bribes to Saddam Hussain in Iraq.

In general, though, authorities have tended to focus on individual persons within an organisation, rather than really holding the actual organisation to account for the actions of its employees. This runs counter to some more established forms of responsibility. For example, a military commander can be held to account for war crimes committed by that commander’s troops.

Even where organisations appear to be held to account for the actions of their employees, the position is not adequate. Usually, the offending company may be fined for its employees actions, but there is never any consideration of shutting the company down, on the basis of not being a fit and proper organisation.

Apparently, the main argument for declaring an organisation as not being fit and proper is where it takes no actions to limit offending behaviour by employees, or covers up for their actions. Sound familiar?

Yesterday’s posting on the Marist Brothers and the schools they run, is not aimed at them alone. Many other religious organisations, and indeed some community organisations, also fall into the category of not being fit and proper organisations. This is because of how they have dealt with offending employees, volunteers and office-bearers.

There is little point in having requirements for individuals working with children, if there are no associated requirements, and penalties, for the organisations in control of them. The Royal Commission must come up with a check list for organisations, such that failure to comply comes with the possibility of removal of fit and proper status.

A preliminary analysis of the response of the Marist Brothers, towards abusers in their ranks, would deem them as not being a fit and proper organisation to operate schools. Other organisations may also be not fit and proper to be given the tax-free status of charities. It will be interesting to see how much, if any, attention the Royal Commission gives to this contentious issue.

[Postscript: The weather in Rome, where Cardinal George Pell is holidaying at his $30 million “Domus Australia” mansion, continues to be fine with a temperature range of 20-29 degrees Celsius.]

Read more here:

TOMORROW: Report of NSW enquiry delayed

That’s all I can say

Lewis Blayse (né Lewin Blazevich)


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