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Salvation Army is on shaky ground by claiming that only 1 per cent of children in its homes were abused. -

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ELEANOR HALL: To the Child Abuse Royal Commission, and the Salvation Army is before the inquiry in Sydney today, to respond to the damning evidence revealed during two separate public hearings over the past six months.

The royal commission has already told Salvation Army leaders that they are on shaky ground with their claim that only 1 per cent of children in the organisation's homes were abused.

But the chair of the inquiry said this morning, that it's too early to establish a clear "causal link" between the sexual abuse of children and the harsh and punitive culture at the Salvation Army's homes in New South Wales and Queensland.

The Salvation Army has again apologised to victims and again vowed to assist them.

Our correspondent Emily Bourke has been monitoring proceedings and she joins us again now.

Emily, there was some very disturbing evidence against the Salvation Army in those last two hearings, what sort of recommendations is this organisation now likely to face?

EMILY BOURKE: Well counsel assisting Simeon Beckett has delivered almost 100 recommended findings for the Royal Commission to go back and now consider.

These included that in four of the Salvation Army's boys' homes in New South Wales and Queensland, "The culture of frequent physical punishment permitted certain officers and employees to sexually abuse boys in their care with little fear of discovery."

He also pointed to a number of structural, systemic and cultural problems within the organisation which allowed the abuse of children to flourish on a wide scale and over a considerable amount of time.

And he found there was no effective process of oversight to detect and discipline those responsible.

But the Salvation Army and the chair of the commission, Justice Peter McClellan, have challenged
Mr Beckett's recommended finding about the causes of the abuse at the homes.

SIMEON BECKETT: Whether the violence led directly to child sexual abuse, it's certainly the case that it created an atmosphere in which that child's sexual abuse could occur.

PETER MCCLELLAN: I think the problem is whether or not it's a cause or whether it provides a capacity, and I think you've gone for the cause as opposed to capacity. And I think that's where the Salvation Army say you're treading on ground that isn't supported at this stage anyway by the evidence. It may be that when the commission's done further work the causal link will be clear. That's what they're saying.

SIMEON BECKETT: Yes, well I'm ready to accept that Your Honour.

ELEANOR HALL: That's counsel assisting, Simeon Beckett, in discussion with Justice Peter McClellan, the chair there.

Emily, how did the Salvation Army representatives at the inquiry respond today?

EMILY BOURKE: Well the Salvation Army has accepted many of the recommended findings but has taken exception to this concept that there was widespread abuse.

The Salvation Army says that the royal commission spoke to only a limited number of residents and that it hasn't heard from boys who had a positive experience and that compared to the thousands of children that went through the homes over so many decades, only a small number, in fact only one per cent were abused.

But Simeon Beckett has questioned that statistical claim.

SIMEON BECKETT: What we do know is that 115 former residents have come forward and saying that they were sexually abused and that they have been accepted by the Salvation Army. That's what we do know.

It's also reasonable to assume that a large number of other children who went through those homes were not sexually abused, but to work out the exact numbers or to speculate as to what percentage of the boys who went through those four homes were sexually abused is a basis with very shaky foundations.

ELEANOR HALL: And that's counsel assisting, Simeon Beckett again there.

Emily, what is the Salvation Army saying it will do to improve the way it deals with complaints?

EMILY BOURKE: The lawyer representing the Salvation Army Kate Eastman has conceded that any apology is at the heart of a redress scheme, and that includes and acceptance of responsibility.

But she says there's no "one size fits all" when it comes to saying sorry to individuals.

She's also acknowledge some shortcomings in the claims scheme to date, transparency around that process, and the legal and other supports available to claimants.

But while outlining some areas for improvement, it seems the Salvation Army is sticking to one of its controversial policies.

Ms Eastman said that complainants who do reach a financial settlement with the Salvation Army should still have to sign a confidential deed of release, and that's prompted questions from Justice Peter McClellan.

Here's part of that exchange.

PETER MCCLELLAN: So it seeks to say to people, if you want money from us, you can't sue us?

KATE EASTMAN: Yes because the claims process and the payment of an ex-gratia payment is intended to alleviate the need for the parties to go through court proceedings.

PETER MCCLELLAN: Well, maybe but that means all the card are in the Salvation Army's hands.

KATE EASTMAN: Well one would hope not Your Honour in terms of…

PETER MCCLELLAN: Well, it's not a question of hoping that's the reality.


PETER MCCLELLAN: If you set yourself up saying you can only get money from us through an ex-gratia system if you discharge or forgive forever a common law capacity, that puts all the cards in your clients' hands.

ELEANOR HALL: That's Justice Peter McClellan in discussion with Kate Eastman representing the Salvation Army. Our reporter Emily Bourke covering the royal commission.