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Monday, 19 November 2012
Page: 8962

Institutional Child Abuse


Senator CAROL BROWN (TasmaniaDeputy Government Whip in the Senate) (14:12): My question is to the Minister representing the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Government in the Senate, Senator Evans. Can the minister advise the Senate on the Prime Minister's announcement of the establishment of a royal commission into allegations of child sexual abuse in Australia?


Senator CHRIS EVANS (Western AustraliaMinister for Tertiary Education, Skills, Science and Research and Leader of the Government in the Senate) (14:13): I thank Senator Brown for the question. Last week the Prime Minister announced that she would be recommending to the Governor-General the establishment of a royal commission into institutional responses to instances and allegations of child sex abuse in Australia. The allegations of child sexual abuse in Australia are absolutely heartbreaking. No child should be subjected to abuse. We must do everything as a society we can to make sure that what has happened in the past is never allowed to happen again. That is why this government has announced the royal commission—to thoroughly investigate how institutions have responded to child sexual abuse and to identify ways to prevent institutional failings from being repeated. The commission will have a broad scope to consider a range of institutions involved with the care of children including religious, charitable and state institutions. The government will consult with representatives of survivors of child abuse, with religious and community organisations and with state and territory governments in the drafting of the terms of reference. I am pleased to say all state and territory governments have committed to cooperating with the royal commission and the government will consult closely with them in the development of the terms of reference.

The royal commission will be focused on identifying systems and institutions that have failed young people and how to prevent this happening in the future. Individual submissions and stories will be a necessary part of understanding what has gone wrong in the past. In addition, it may be that sharing these stories will be helpful for some survivors of child sexual abuse. The royal commission will be able to refer material about instances of abuse to prosecutors. It remains the responsibility of the law enforcement agencies in each state or territory to bring prosecutions and for the courts to determine justice, but people with reports of child abuse should still make those reports to the police.


Senator CAROL BROWN (TasmaniaDeputy Government Whip in the Senate) (14:15): Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Can the minister further advise the Senate on the establishment and time frames for the royal commission?


Senator CHRIS EVANS (Western AustraliaMinister for Tertiary Education, Skills, Science and Research and Leader of the Government in the Senate) (14:15): The government will firstly develop the terms of reference and the membership of the commission. Once the government have undertaken the appropriate consultation and settled the terms of reference, we will submit these to the Governor-General pursuant to the Royal Commissions Act 1902. As the Prime Minister has indicated, we anticipate that the commission will start its public work early next year. Given the scale of the inquiry, it is likely that more than one commissioner will be required. The royal commission will need to determine how long it will need to take to conduct the full inquiry on the terms of reference. It will balance the need to ensure a thorough investigation with delivering timely results. It is likely that the royal commission will be asked to report back to the government early and regularly in their investigations, but we do want to ensure that, by early next year, the work has begun.


Senator CAROL BROWN (TasmaniaDeputy Government Whip in the Senate) (14:16): Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. Can the minister advise the Senate on how Australians will be able to make submissions to the royal commission?


Senator CHRIS EVANS (Western AustraliaMinister for Tertiary Education, Skills, Science and Research and Leader of the Government in the Senate) (14:16): All individuals and organisations wishing to provide input into the royal commission will have ample opportunity to do so. We anticipate that the royal commission will begin its public work early next year. We have established a call centre and an email address and, as of Friday, 16 November, over 170 calls had already been received. The call centre is taking down people's names and contact details and including these in a register that will be provided to the secretariat of the royal commission. The secretariat will then send details to registered callers about how to make a formal submission to the commission. Regular updates on the establishment of the royal commission will be posted at the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet website. We want to make sure that as many Australians as want to make a submission are able to do so.

Can I just, on behalf of the government, thank those senators who have already indicated their support for the work of the commission.