The Chief Commissioner Addresses a Fund-Raising Luncheon (Or: Get Out of Jail Free Cards Now on Offer)

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The Chief Commissioner, Peter McClellan (see previous posting), has chosen a $180 a head fund-raising, invitation-only, luncheon for the Bravehearts organisation, to make a few announcements concerning the progress of the Australian Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.

The most disturbing revelation concerns the rate at which it is taking complaints from victims. McClellan says the calls are coming in at the rate of 23 per day. However, in six months, the Commissioners have only heard the accounts of 326 child sex abuse victims, a figure which amounts to about two weeks worth of complaints.

Another 423 are waiting in the queue to give evidence, while over 1,000 have yet to be assessed about whether or not they will have a hearing at all. An unknown number have had their requests to give evidence refused.

Given that public hearings begin in less than 2 weeks, the queue is likely to become even longer. Indeed, it is disturbing that there have been reports that some people who have contacted the Commission to either give evidence, or provide a submission, have not received a reply after an extended period of time.

These problems seem a bit unusual given that the Commission, for the first time in the history of Royal Commissions, has six commissioners, rather than just one. It also has a $442 million budget, enabling it to have a very large staff.

Disillusionment with Mr. McClellan may set in early. At the Bravehearts fund-raiser, he stated that the Commission will not make findings on some of the organisations which have been brought to its attention, due to time and staffing constraints. So, he may not mention, for example, the YMCA or Boy Scouts, at all.

A pattern is emerging for announcements from the Royal Commission, which should change, or at least be challenged. In previous appearances, there have been no opportunities for questions from the media. There have also been no public meetings where people could question the decisions. All announcements, to date, have been in the form of web-site postings, press releases, staged media announcements (see previous posting) and, now, via the guest speaker format at a friendly charity’s fund-raiser.

This is not transparency in decision-making from an historical enquiry. The cynical would point to the timing of the recent announcements in the final phase of an intense national election campaign.

There can be no excuse for giving any organisation a get-out–of-jail-free card, otherwise there is no point in the enquiry at all. Further, it leaves the Commissioners open to lobbying as to which organisations are mentioned and which are not. This was not the intent of the government when the enquiry was established last year.

It is just not good enough for the chief commissioner to blandly state that he would “have to be selective when investigating and holding public hearings into allegations of abuse.” He has at least a 3 year, now extended to 4 years provisionally, time-frame in which to conduct his enquiries.

The enquiry has already been selective in restricting itself to abuse in the organizational setting, and considering exclusively sexual abuse over other forms of abuse. It is not up to the chief commissioner to redefine his Terms of Reference. Only the Government can do that.

Today, we have a new Australian federal government, led by a former Catholic Church seminarian and close friend of Cardinal George Pell (who will be returning shortly from his 3 month holiday in Rome at his palatial, $30 million “Domus Australia” and tours of Greece, Turkey and South America.).

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Image: Catholic Cardinal George Pell with new Australian Prime Minister, Tony Abbott

It may be time for the new government to reaffirm its commitment to the Royal Commission, and to make it clear to Mr. McClellan that he cannot just change the Terms of Reference on his whim, for convenience or any other reason. If he is not up to the job, he should give it away and let someone else do what is required to expose ALL organisations with a history of child sexual abuse, not just those he has selected, opaquely.

Realistically, this call for sticking to the intent of the enquiry is likely to elicit a response from Mr. McClellan along the lines of the classic quote from the movie, “The Castle”, of “Tell him he’s dreaming!”

Public hearings will begin in Sydney on 16th September.

Read more here:

TOMORROW: Federal government grants to organisations for their Royal Commission responses

That’s all I can say

Lewis Blayse (né Lewin Blazevich)

 

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