On Monday, November 12, 2012 Prime Minister Julia Gillard announced the recommendation to the Governor-General for the establishment of a Royal Commission into institutionalised responses to instances and allegations of child sexual abuse in Australia stating “the allegations that have come to light recently about child sexual abuse have been heartbreaking… insidious, evil acts to which no child should be subjected to”.

She highlighted the ethical and moral obligations to the victims with her following statements:

“The individuals concerned deserve the most thorough of investigations into the wrongs that have been committed against them,” she said.

“They deserve to have their voices heard and their claims investigated and I believe a Royal Commission is the best way to do this,” as she commended victims for having the courage to speak out.

The Commissioners: (left to right) Mr Bob Atkinson AO APM, Professor Helen Milroy, Justice Peter McClellan AM (Chair), Justice Jennifer Coate, Mr Robert Fitzgerald AM and Mr Andrew Murray. Image http://www.childabuseroyalcommission.gov.au/Pages/default.aspx

The Commissioners: (left to right) Mr Bob Atkinson AO APM, Professor Helen Milroy, Justice Peter McClellan AM (Chair), Justice Jennifer Coate, Mr Robert Fitzgerald AM and Mr Andrew Murray. Image http://www.childabuseroyalcommission.gov.au

Formal establishment of the Commission

On Friday, January 11 the Government formally established the Royal Commission

The Governor-General has appointed a sixmember panel of Royal Commissioners to carry out the inquiry into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.

The six members will be responsible for talking to anyone who has ever suffered child abuse, allowing them to have their voices heard and to initiate ways in which their claims can now be investigated.

The Royal Commission will be led by Justice Peter McClellan AM. Justice McClellan has an extensive legal career including chairing the Sydney Water Inquiry and working on the Royal Commission into British Nuclear Tests in Australia.

Justice Peter McClellan AM, has most recently been appointed as a Judge of Appeal in New South Wales. Prior to this he was the Chief Judge at Common Law of the Supreme Court of New South Wales, having been appointed to that position in 2005.

Before that appointment, he held judicial and other appointments including Judge of the Supreme Court of New South Wales, Chief Judge of the Land and Environment Court of New South Wales, Chairman of the Sydney Water Inquiry and Assistant Commissioner at the Independent Commission Against Corruption.  Justice McClellan was admitted to practice law in 1974 and appointed Queen’s Counsel in 1985.

Given the scope, scale and seriousness of this Royal Commission, the Governor-General was asked to appoint a further five Commissioners to support the inquiry. They are:

Bob Atkinson: Commissioner Bob Atkinson AO APM, served as the Commissioner of the Queensland Police Service for 12 years from 2000 until his retirement in October 2012. In a 44 year career with the Queensland Police Service, he served throughout Queensland from Goondiwindi to Cairns. He was a detective for approximately 20 years and acted as the police prosecutor in various Magistrates Courts during this period. Commissioner Atkinson has extensive experience in change management, overseeing reforms after the Fitzgerald inquiry from 1990 and following the Public Sector Management Commission Review and Report Recommendations of the Queensland Police Service in 1993.

Justice Jennifer Coate: Commissioner Jennifer Coate has most recently been appointed a Judge of the Family Court of Australia. Prior to this, she has held a number of appointments including as a Judge of the County Court of Victoria, State Coroner of Victoria, the inaugural President of the Children’s Court of Victoria and Senior Magistrate and Magistrate of the Magistrate’s Court of Victoria. During her time as President of the Children’s Court of Victoria, Commissioner Coate oversaw the establishment of the Children’s Koori Court. Commissioner Coate also has experience as a part-time Law Reform Commissioner, a solicitor in private practice, a solicitor for the Legal Aid Commission of Victoria and in policy and research for the Victorian Government.

Robert Fitzgerald: Commissioner Robert Fitzgerald AM, has served as a Commissioner in the Productivity Commission since 2004. In this capacity he convenes the Indigenous Disadvantage Working Group, which contributes to the biennial report on Overcoming Indigenous Disadvantage. Prior to his appointment to the Productivity Commission, Commissioner Fitzgerald was the Community and Disability Services Commissioner and Deputy Ombudsman in New South Wales. Commissioner Fitzgerald has a diverse background and extensive experience in commerce, law, public policy and community services, including extensive involvement in numerous not for profit agencies.

Professor Helen Milroy: Commissioner Helen Milroy is a descendant of the Palyku people of the Pilbara region of Western Australia. She is currently a Consultant Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist and Winthrop Professor and Director for the Centre for Aboriginal Medical and Dental Health at the University of Western Australia. Commissioner Milroy has been on state and national mental health advisory committees and boards with a particular focus on the wellbeing of children.

A descendant of the Palyku people of the Pilbara region of Western Australia but was born and educated in Perth. She studied medicine at the University of Western Australia, worked as a General Practitioner and Consultant in Childhood Sexual Abuse at Princess Margaret Hospital for children for several years before completing specialist training in Child and Adolescent psychiatry.

At present Helen works as a Consultant Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist at the Bentley Family Clinic and Families At Work residential program and as a Professor and Director for the Centre for Aboriginal Medical and Dental Health at the University of Western Australia. Helen has been on State and National as well as College policy committees, reference and advisory groups.

Helen is a Past President of the Australian Indigenous Doctors Association (AIDA), current member of the National Advisory Council on Mental Health, and is a board member of Headspace, the National Youth Mental Health initiative, as well as a member of the newly appointed Western Australian Indigenous Implementation Board.

Former Senator for Western Australia Andrew Murray: Commissioner Andrew Murray is a Rhodes Scholar and former businessman who was a Senator for Western Australia from 1996 to 2008. Commissioner Murray is an advocate on issues surrounding institutionalised children and is currently a Patron of the Care Leavers Association of Australia and the Alliance for Forgotten Australians. His senate career focused on a variety of finance, economics and business issues; on accountability, governance and electoral reform; and on institutionalised children. His earlier business background includes roles as an executive and director in public and private corporations as well as owning and managing his own businesses. He has also chaired and been a member of a variety of community, business and political boards, committees and associations. Commissioner Murray has also been Chair of the Western Australian Regional Development Trust since June 2010.

Brings tremendous experience as a legislator and member of landmark Senate inquiries into children’s experiences in institutional care.

He was an Australian Democrats member of the Australian Senate from 1996 to 2008, representing Western Australia. Murray was born in Hove, in the United Kingdom. In 1951 he was sent as a child migrant to the British colony of Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), where he was educated before going to university in South Africa. He continued his education at Oxford University (Rhodes Scholar 1971) where he gained a Master of Arts degree.

Returning to Africa, Murray worked as an executive in large corporations, then ran his own businesses. He also worked as a consultant, lecturer and industry journalist and served in the Rhodesian Air Force. He was deported from South Africa in 1968 for opposing the apartheid policies of the white minority régime in his role as Deputy Vice President of the National Union of South African Students. The deportation order was withdrawn in 1977. Murray migrated to Australia in 1989.

Collectively, these commissioners will be able to draw upon experience spanning law enforcement, legislation, mental health, children’s rights and disadvantage in the Commission seeking to “shine a light” on past abuses and acknowledge the suffering endured by victims and survivors alike with the ability to make recommendations on how to improve laws, policies and practices to prevent and better respond to child sexual abuse in institutions so that these atrocities are never repeated.

“The commission is investigating institutional responses to child sexual abuse, with ‘institution’ broadly defined including churches, schools, child-care centres, sports and recreational bodies, any state run institution or government department, and non-government organisations that dealt with foster care,” Justice McClellan said.

Letters Patent

Taken in its entirety from the Royal Commission website:

ELIZABETH THE SECOND, by the Grace of God Queen of Australia and Her other Realms and Territories, Head of the Commonwealth:

TO

The Honourable Justice Peter David McClellan AM,
Mr Robert Atkinson,
The Honourable Justice Jennifer Ann Coate,
Mr Robert William Fitzgerald AM,
Dr Helen Mary Milroy, and
Mr Andrew James Marshall Murray

GREETING

WHEREAS all children deserve a safe and happy childhood.

AND Australia has undertaken international obligations to take all appropriate legislative, administrative, social and educational measures to protect children from sexual abuse and other forms of abuse, including measures for the prevention, identification, reporting, referral, investigation, treatment and follow up of incidents of child abuse.

AND all forms of child sexual abuse are a gross violation of a child’s right to this protection and a crime under Australian law and may be accompanied by other unlawful or improper treatment of children, including physical assault, exploitation, deprivation and neglect.

AND child sexual abuse and other related unlawful or improper treatment of children have a long-term cost to individuals, the economy and society.

AND public and private institutions, including child-care, cultural, educational, religious, sporting and other institutions, provide important services and support for children and their families that are beneficial to children’s development.

AND it is important that claims of systemic failures by institutions in relation to allegations and incidents of child sexual abuse and any related unlawful or improper treatment of children be fully explored, and that best practice is identified so that it may be followed in the future both to protect against the occurrence of child sexual abuse and to respond appropriately when any allegations and incidents of child sexual abuse occur, including holding perpetrators to account and providing justice to victims.

AND it is important that those affected by child sexual abuse can share their experiences to assist with healing and to inform the development of strategies and reforms that your inquiry will seek to identify.

AND noting that, without diminishing its criminality or seriousness, your inquiry will not specifically examine the issue of child sexual abuse and related matters outside institutional contexts, but that any recommendations you make are likely to improve the response to all forms of child sexual abuse in all contexts.

AND all Australian Governments have expressed their support for, and undertaken to cooperate with, your inquiry.

NOW THEREFORE We do, by these Our Letters Patent issued in Our name by Our Governor-General of the Commonwealth of Australia on the advice of the Federal Executive Council and under the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Australia, the Royal Commissions Act 1902 and every other enabling power, appoint you to be a Commission of inquiry, and require and authorise you, to inquire into institutional responses to allegations and incidents of child sexual abuse and related matters, and in particular, without limiting the scope of your inquiry, the following matters:

a.       what institutions and governments should do to better protect children against child sexual abuse and related matters in institutional contexts in the future;

b.      what institutions and governments should do to achieve best practice in encouraging the reporting of, and responding to reports or information about, allegations, incidents or risks of child sexual abuse and related matters in institutional contexts;

c.       what should be done to eliminate or reduce impediments that currently exist for responding appropriately to child sexual abuse and related matters in institutional contexts, including addressing failures in, and impediments to, reporting, investigating and responding to allegations and incidents of abuse;

d.      what institutions and governments should do to address, or alleviate the impact of, past and future child sexual abuse and related matters in institutional contexts, including, in particular, in ensuring justice for victims through the provision of redress by institutions, processes for referral for investigation and prosecution and support services.

AND We direct you to make any recommendations arising out of your inquiry that you consider appropriate, including recommendations about any policy, legislative, administrative or structural reforms.

AND, without limiting the scope of your inquiry or the scope of any recommendations arising out of your inquiry that you may consider appropriate, We direct you, for the purposes of your inquiry and recommendations, to have regard to the following matters:

e.       the experience of people directly or indirectly affected by child sexual abuse and related matters in institutional contexts, and the provision of opportunities for them to share their experiences in appropriate ways while recognising that many of them will be severely traumatised or will have special support needs;

f.       the need to focus your inquiry and recommendations on systemic issues, recognising nevertheless that you will be informed by individual cases and may need to make referrals to appropriate authorities in individual cases;

g.       the adequacy and appropriateness of the responses by institutions, and their officials, to reports and information about allegations, incidents or risks of child sexual abuse and related matters in institutional contexts;

h.      changes to laws, policies, practices and systems that have improved over time the ability of institutions and governments to better protect against and respond to child sexual abuse and related matters in institutional contexts.

AND We further declare that you are not required by these Our Letters Patent to inquire, or to continue to inquire, into a particular matter to the extent that you are satisfied that the matter has been, is being, or will be, sufficiently and appropriately dealt with by another inquiry or investigation or a criminal or civil proceeding.

AND, without limiting the scope of your inquiry or the scope of any recommendations arising out of your inquiry that you may consider appropriate, We direct you, for the purposes of your inquiry and recommendations, to consider the following matters, and We authorise you to take (or refrain from taking) any action that you consider appropriate arising out of your consideration:

i.        the need to establish mechanisms to facilitate the timely communication of information, or the furnishing of evidence, documents or things, in accordance with section 6P of the Royal Commissions Act 1902 or any other relevant law, including, for example, for the purpose of enabling the timely investigation and prosecution of offences;

j.        the need to establish investigation units to support your inquiry;

k.      the need to ensure that evidence that may be received by you that identifies particular individuals as having been involved in child sexual abuse or related matters is dealt with in a way that does not prejudice current or future criminal or civil proceedings or other contemporaneous inquiries;

l.        the need to establish appropriate arrangements in relation to current and previous inquiries, in Australia and elsewhere, for evidence and information to be shared with you in ways consistent with relevant obligations so that the work of those inquiries, including, with any necessary consents, the testimony of witnesses, can be taken into account by you in a way that avoids unnecessary duplication, improves efficiency and avoids unnecessary trauma to witnesses;

m.    the need to ensure that institutions and other parties are given a sufficient opportunity to respond to requests and requirements for information, documents and things, including, for example, having regard to any need to obtain archived material.

AND We appoint you, the Honourable Justice Peter David McClellan AM, to be the Chair of the Commission.

AND We declare that you are a relevant Commission for the purposes of sections 4 and 5 of the Royal Commissions Act 1902.

AND We declare that you are authorised to conduct your inquiry into any matter under these Our Letters Patent in combination with any inquiry into the same matter, or a matter related to that matter, that you are directed or authorised to conduct by any Commission, or under any order or appointment, made by any of Our Governors of the States or by the Government of any of Our Territories.

AND We declare that in these Our Letters Patent:

child means a child within the meaning of the Convention on the Rights of the Child of 20 November 1989.

government means the Government of the Commonwealth or of a State or Territory, and includes any non-government institution that undertakes, or has undertaken, activities on behalf of a government.

institution means any public or private body, agency, association, club, institution, organisation or other entity or group of entities of any kind (whether incorporated or unincorporated), and however described, and:

                                                        i.            includes, for example, an entity or group of entities (including an entity or group of entities that no longer exists) that provides, or has at any time provided, activities, facilities, programs or services of any kind that provide the means through which adults have contact with children, including through their families; and

                                                      ii.            does not include the family.

institutional context: child sexual abuse happens in an institutional context if, for example:

                                                    iii.            it happens on premises of an institution, where activities of an institution take place, or in connection with the activities of an institution; or

                                                    iv.            it is engaged in by an official of an institution in circumstances (including circumstances involving settings not directly controlled by the institution) where you consider that the institution has, or its activities have, created, facilitated, increased, or in any way contributed to, (whether by act or omission) the risk of child sexual abuse or the circumstances or conditions giving rise to that risk; or

                                                      v.            it happens in any other circumstances where you consider that an institution is, or should be treated as being, responsible for adults having contact with children.

law means a law of the Commonwealth or of a State or Territory.

official, of an institution, includes:

                                                    vi.            any representative (however described) of the institution or a related entity; and

                                                  vii.            any member, officer, employee, associate, contractor or volunteer (however described) of the institution or a related entity; and

                                                viii.            any person, or any member, officer, employee, associate, contractor or volunteer (however described) of a body or other entity, who provides services to, or for, the institution or a related entity; and

                                                    ix.            any other person who you consider is, or should be treated as if the person were, an official of the institution.

related matters means any unlawful or improper treatment of children that is, either generally or in any particular instance, connected or associated with child sexual abuse.

AND We:

n.      require you to begin your inquiry as soon as practicable, and

o.      require you to make your inquiry as expeditiously as possible; and

p.      require you to submit to Our Governor-General:

                                                        i.            first and as soon as possible, and in any event not later than 30 June 2014 (or such later date as Our Prime Minister may, by notice in the Gazette, fix on your recommendation), an initial report of the results of your inquiry, the recommendations for early consideration you may consider appropriate to make in this initial report, and your recommendation for the date, not later than 31 December 2015, to be fixed for the submission of your final report; and

                                                      ii.            then and as soon as possible, and in any event not later than the date Our Prime Minister may, by notice in the Gazette, fix on your recommendation, your final report of the results of your inquiry and your recommendations; and

                                                    iii.            authorise you to submit to Our Governor-General any additional interim reports that you consider appropriate.

IN WITNESS, We have caused these Our Letters to be made Patent.

WITNESS Quentin Bryce, Governor-General of the Commonwealth of Australia.

Dated 2013

Governor-General

By Her Excellency’s Command

Prime Minister

ENTERED ON RECORD by me in Register of Patents No. , page , on
Secretary to the Federal Executive Council

State Letters Patent

All States have now issued Letters Patent or their equivalent, Instruments of Appointment, to appoint the six Commissioners to conduct an inquiry into institutional responses to child sexual abuse under their laws.

The Commissioners were formally appointed under Western Australian law on 22 January 2013, Queensland law on 24 January 2013, New South Wales law on 25 January 2013, Victorian law on 12 February 2013, Tasmanian law on 4 March 2013 and South Australian law on 7 March 2013.

Private, public or non-government organisations that are, or have in the past, been involved with children, including government agencies, schools, sporting clubs, orphanages, foster care and religious organisations where they consider an organisation caring for a child is responsible for the abuse or for not responding appropriately, regardless of where or when the abuse took place will be investigated and the Commissioners have a responsibility for these children in regard to how any allegations and instances of child sexual abuse and related matters were managed and responded to.

They will all be within the scope of this enquiry particularly where claims exist as to the failed protection of children.

Whilst not tasked to specifically examine child sexual abuse outside of organisations, such as within families, any recommendations made by the Commissioners are likely to improve the response to child sexual abuse wherever it happens and all survivors and their families want and deserve concrete changes delivered in a reasonable timeframe.

Many survivors have already waited a long time to get to this point. Opposition Leader, Tony Abbott has said: “The Royal Commission into Institutional Child Abuse should be given the time and money it needs to do its job”.

The beginning of the three year appointment of the six Commissioners has commenced and an interim report is expected to be prepared by no later than June 30, 2014 so governments and organisations can start taking action on the Commission’s early findings and recommendations.

In this interim report, the Commissioners will identify when their final report will be completed. The final reporting date has been set initially at the end of 2015 but this will be subject to advice from Commissioners in their interim report.

At the Commission’s first hearing, Chairman Justice Peter McClellan said: “the inquiry will be unlikely to meet its deadlines because of the volume of evidence and the scope of the terms of reference …The commission is due to provide an interim report by the middle of next year and complete its work before the end of 2015.”

Justice McClellan also said: “the Commission, which has so far cost $22 million, would continue to require ‘very significant’ sums of public money. Child sexual abuse is a crime, and a terrible breach of the right of every child to grow up safe and happy.”

“Child sexual abuse is often associated with other forms of abuse including physical abuse, exploitation and neglect. All have long term effects on survivors and their families. There are also costs to the economy and society as a whole.”

The six commissioners will examine past and current child sexual abuse in organisations. They will look at:

1. How organisations have managed and responded to claims of sexual abuse and other associated forms of abuse and neglect

2. Whether the response was enough

3. What can be done better protect children under their care

4. What should be done to identify child sexual abuse and encourage people to report it

5. How organisations should respond when they find out information that suggests that sexual abuse of children under their responsibility

6. Barriers and failures to reporting, investigating and dealing with cases of child sexual abuse in organisations

7. How these barriers can be removed

8. How to support survivors

9. How to ensure victims receive justice

Commissioners can look at any public or private organisation that is or has been involved with children. The Commission will hear from people affected by child sexual abuse.

They will also look at archives, records and documents, submissions from public, non-government and private organisations and laws, policies and practices of institutions, organisations and governments. (To read more on the Royal Commission go to www.news.com.au/national-news/what-you-need-to-know-about-the-royal-commission-into-child-sex-abuse)

The Government has worked closely with stakeholders, receiving input from organisations representing survivors of child abuse, community and legal leaders, law enforcement, governments and religious organisations, to develop terms of reference that balance the real and legitimate perspectives of a range of stakeholders.

The Government will also introduce legislation into the Parliament to amend the Royal Commissions Act 1902 to allow evidence to be taken by a single or multiple Commissioners rather than requiring all Commissioners to be present. This will improve the efficiency of the evidence gathering process and avoid delaying the Commission’s work.

Thanking every individual and organisation who has provided input into the establishment of the Royal Commission and the terms of reference, those who have campaigned for many years for a full and proper investigation into child sexual abuse in Australia were also acknowledged.

“This Government will do everything it can to make sure that what happened to children in the past is never allowed to happen again and that survivors receive the support and justice they deserve,” the Prime Minister, Julia Gillard said.

The Commission is not the prosecuting body and it is important we understand the investigative processes that will be used to receive and consider the accounts of individuals who tell of their experience when living within or when they were associated with an institution.

Justice McClellan reminded people that: “the Commission would not decide compensation for victims or convict anyone, although it had established links with police in each state and territory. The police taskforce attached to the Victorian inquiry into child sex abuse has already led to three arrests, with more expected.”

The Commission will be concerned to examine these individual accounts to determine how the circumstances arose, the relevant management practices of the institution in which they occurred and the response which the institution has made to any complaint of sexual abuse by an individual.

Because the Commission is not a prosecuting body it will establish links with the appropriate authorities in each State and Territory to whom a matter may be referred with the expectation that where appropriate prosecutorial proceedings may commence.

It is also important to understand the Commission is not charged with determining whether any person may be entitled to compensation for any injury which they may have suffered.

Defining child sexual abuse for the Royal Commission in regard to the Terms of Reference, “I have developed at this stage a working definition of child sexual abuse. That definition includes any act which exposes a child to or involves a child in sexual processes beyond his or her understanding or contrary to accepted community standards. Sexually abusive behaviours can include voyeurism, exhibitionism and exposing the child to or involving the child in pornography. It includes child grooming, which refers to actions deliberately undertaken with the aim of befriending and establishing an emotional connection with a child to lower the child’s inhibitions in preparation for sexual activity with the child.” Said Gail Furness SC appointed counsel assisting the Commission.

What are some of the impacts on victims of trauma?

According to a report produced in 2013 by the Institute of Family Studies into the long term effects of child abuse, studies found:

·         A significantly higher rate of a range of psychiatric disorders in sexually abused women, particularly in relation to drug and alcohol dependence and bulimia nervosa.

·         Higher rates of major depression, attempted suicide, conduct disorder, alcohol dependence, nicotine dependence, social anxiety, rape as an adult, divorce and panic disorder in victims of child sexual abuse.

·         Child sexual abuse has been identified as a risk factor for developing psychotic and schizophrenic syndromes.

·         Higher rates of suicide amongst victims of child abuse.

·         Higher rates of risky sexual behavior with more sexual partners resulting in higher rates of unwanted pregnancies in women and STI’s in men who were victims of child sexual abuse.

·         Greater difficulties in interpersonal and particularly intimate relationships among adults who were sexually abused in their childhood. These include increased instability in relationships, more sexual partners, an increased risk of sexual problems and greater negativity towards partners.

In particular, it has been observed “clergy perpetrated sexual abuse” can catastrophically alter the trajectory of psychosocial, sexual and spiritual development”.

And so the Royal Commission into child sex abuse begins…

“It is revolutionary in having six commissioners and enabling one or more to sit in private to hear victims’ stories, which will be how we will spend the next five months,” Justice McClellan said “one of our main tasks is to ‘bear witness’ to the abuse and suffering of victims, by making known what happened, including archiving for posterity.

“It seems likely that at least 5000 people will want to talk to the Commission. The leaders of some groups representing survivors suggest the number could be much higher.

“Psychiatrists have warned the Commission that the accounts they will hear would contain serious and shocking allegations and there were limits to how many personal accounts they could safely hear in a day,” Justice McClellan said.

“Commissioners would therefore focus hearings to allow a detailed examination of institutions where problems are identified.”

All of the Commissioners are aware of the sensitivity of the issues which the Commission must examine and the concern for individuals who may have been affected by their experiences. Many will be apprehensive about the public exposure of those experiences.

For that reason the Commission will put in place procedures, including various means by which a person may give their account which will ensure that the interests of individuals are protected and at the same time ensure that the process is fair to other individuals and institutions.

This may mean proceedings will take place in private, real names may not be used and it may be necessary to place other constraints on the reporting of individual matters. However, where possible the Commission will proceed in public.

Public knowledge of what may have occurred and an understanding of the institutional responses both in the past and those proposed in the future is a fundamental objective of the Commission.

The Commission‘s work has commenced on bringing together the necessary administrative, research, legal and associated skills. A website has also been created.

“The Royal Commission into Child Sex Abuse is now open for business. It expects more than 5000 submissions, has already spent more than $22 million and is unlikely to complete its task by the end of 2015 as requested. From today, victims can contact the Royal Commission to register to tell their stories because trained staff are now ready,” Justice McClellan said at the Commission’s first public hearing in Melbourne.

The Commission’s 1800 number is 1800 099 340.  Originally callers to that number would have their details taken but now the Commission has in place trained staff, which is a matter of the highest priority. People can now begin the story telling, finally having the opportunity to give their accounts to the Commission. Evidence will be gathered at many locations throughout Australia.

The Commission is aware there has been considerable public discussion about the powers which the Commission has to enquire into matters which are the subject of confidential agreements.

Under the Royal Commissions Act the Commission has power to compel the production of evidence, including documents and it will not hesitate in an appropriate case to exercise those powers although mindful of the potential sensitivity of some of those matters which may require the Commission to place constraints upon the further publication of any details which it obtains by this means.

The Commission also declared it expected all institutions that may have entered into confidential agreements with individuals to still cooperate with the Commission in relation to the disclosure of those matters.

The issues which the Commission must enquire into have been the subject of public discussion both in this country and in other countries for a number of years.

The Commission is mindful of the work which has been done in various parts of Australia and will seek to draw upon the material which has already been gathered by those inquiries. The Commission is also mindful that the Letters Patent provide the broadest geographical reach for its inquiries and will require the Commission to look at institutions in the cities, regional, rural and remote areas of Australia.

This includes institutions which may have provided facilities for or assistance to persons from Indigenous communities. The Commission also conscious of the possibility there may be persons now living overseas who the Commission may wish to speak with. Arrangements will be made which so far as it is possible will enable this to occur.

The Commission is also conscious its Terms of Reference will require it to make particular provision to ensure children, young persons, persons living with disabilities and mental health problems, those who may be currently incarcerated, refugees and persons from culturally and linguistically diverse communities are all able to give an account of their experience to the Commission.

The Commission is in the process of establishing a research capacity and expects the research which has already been undertaken by other bodies will be of significant assistance to the Commission.

The Commission will be assisted by a legal team drawn from the Australian Government Solicitor.

Ms Gail Furness SC has been. Because of the size of the Commission’s task it is likely counsels will be appointed to assist.

It is unusual for a Royal Commission to address the public other than in a formal sitting and it elected to do this to explain to members of the public the effective setting up of the Commission was complex and fundamental if it was to properly discharge its duties function.

There are many matters yet to be resolved and resources to be put in place before the Commission will be in a position to conduct any public hearings. However, the Commission will ensure its work will be conducted as efficiently as the issues which emerge will allow. The website will be frequently updated to ensure the public are kept informed of the work of the Commission.

Truth, Justice and Healing Council

The Catholic Church has set up a Truth, Justice and Healing Commission to advise its bishops and run its dealings with the royal commission on child sex abuse.

It will be headed by a retired Supreme Court judge, Barry O’Keefe, QC, as chairman and a prominent layman, Francis Sullivan, as chief executive.

The Australian Catholic Bishops Conference chairman, Denis Hart, said the church recognised it needed a sophisticated and coordinated response, with a new era of co-operation, transparency and honesty.

“I am confident that the Royal Commission will enable an examination of the issues associated with child abuse nationally and the identification of measures for better preventing and responding to child abuse in all those institutions that work with children,” Archbishop Hart said.

The Council comprises men and women with professional and other expertise and importantly will seek to have an effective ongoing relationship with people who have been damaged by the sexual abuse scandal.

“This is a crucial time for the Catholic Church. We need to be open and transparent with the interests of victims and their families always our number one concern,” Mr Sullivan said.

“It is our sincere hope that with honesty and compassion we may be able to provide justice and healing to victims and their families as well as restore the confidence of those who have become disaffected with the church, its people and processes.”

Magistrate Dr Sue Gordon has been appointed to the Truth, Justice and Healing Council that will be preparing responses to the ongoing Royal Commission.

Dr. Gordon, a retired Aboriginal Australian magistrate from Western Australia, was born at Belele Station, near Meekatharra in Western Australia in 1944. She was separated from her mother and family at the age of four and raised at Sister Kate’s home in Queens Park, Western Australia.

After leaving school, she joined the army as a full time soldier and between 1961 and 1964 was a full time member of the Women’s Royal Australian Army Corps (WRAAC) based mostly in the eastern States.

Following her army career she worked in various administrative positions around Australia and in the early 1970s, started a long association with the Pilbara region, working mostly in Aboriginal Affairs with both urban and traditional people.

She was awarded the National Aboriginal Overseas Study Award to study employment programs with a number of American Indian communities in the United States in 1977.

As a result of her work with Aboriginal people and community affairs, she received the Order of Australia award in 1993. She was appointed as Commissioner for Aboriginal Planning in 1986, becoming the first Aboriginal person to head a government department in Western Australia and in 1988 was appointed as a magistrate in the Perth Children’s Court, at which time she was the first full time and first Aboriginal magistrate in the State’s history.

In 1990, she was appointed as one of the first five commissioners of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission (ATSIC) for one year. In 2002, she was appointed to head an inquiry into family violence and child abuse in Western Australian Aboriginal communities by the Premier of Western Australia, Geoff Gallop.

The inquiry was known as the Gordon Inquiry and resulted in the closure of the controversial Swan Valley Noongar Camp. The inquiry came about as a result of a November, 2001 report by the State Coroner on the death of a teenage girl at the Swan Valley Camp.

The coroner found the girl had encountered “sexual violation, violence, and the ravages of alcohol and substance abuse. In desperation, and despite contact with several Government agencies, she died in tragic circumstances at the age of 15.”  The report by the inquiry ran to over 640 pages and made 197 findings and recommendations.

On April 15, 2004, Senator Amanda Vanstone, then Minister for Indigenous Affairs appointed Dr Gordon as head of the new National Indigenous Council, an advisory body to the Federal Government, following the winding down of ATSIC.

Following her appointment, she was interviewed and asked for her views on the Stolen Generation and whether she would seek an apology from Prime Minister, John Howard to which she replied:

“No. I personally didn’t want an apology because it should have gone to my mother. But my mother’s passed away now, so it’s too late. And what’s an apology going to achieve now.”

“Some people still have their priority to get an apology (for the stolen generation). But to me that is a second or third or a fourth issue. The highest priority for me is child abuse and family violence because, while we continue to have Aboriginal kids raped as young as six months old, and women beaten up on a daily basis, what’s saying sorry? How’s that going to fix that?”

Other awards include the Aboriginal Development Commission Australia Day Council Award in 1986, the Paul Harris Fellow from the Rotary Club of Perth in1994 and in 2003 the Centenary Medal for service to the community, particularly the Aboriginal community.

Dr Gordon received an Honorary Degree of Doctor of Letters (Hon.DLitt) from the University of Western Australia in 2003 and has a Bachelor of Laws (LLB) from the University of Western Australia.

In 2010 Dr Sue Gordon accepted the position of President of the Federation of Western Australian Police and Community Youth Centres (WAPCYC) and still performs in the role. Dr Gordon is seeing PCYC undergo many changes in its structure and direction, while it continues to offer targeted and relevant youth activities. Dr Gordon is widowed with two sons, one a lawyer and the other a civil engineer.

The next stage of the Royal Commission’s process will involve private meetings with victims, probably carried out in function rooms at hotels and motels around the country to encourage informality and privacy and Justice McClellan predicted there would be no public hearings before October.

The private sessions do not count as hearings and the information, which is given without an oath, is not evidence but witnesses can appear again in a formal hearing.

On the length of the inquiry, Justice McClellan said a South Australian inquiry into abuse in State institutions heard 800 witnesses and took three years, while Ireland’s Ryan Inquiry took nine years.

He said it was unlikely the Commission could finish by 2015 but it would work hard to get as much done as possible by the interim report so the government could judge the Commission’s future course.

He said the Commissioners wanted to be as open as possible, though it would be careful when allegations could damage a person or institution’s reputation.

Because an important duty was to recommend changes to laws, policies and practices, the Commission has set up a research arm to look at previous reports and possibly do its own research. Senior counsel, Gail Furness said the Commission had sought details of all current and concluded government inquiries over the past 20 years involving allegations of child sexual abuse in an institutional context. There are more than 40 of them.

Francis Sullivan, Chief Executive of the Truth, Healing and Justice Council set up by the Catholic Church to liaise with the Commission, said after the hearing the church had agreed to waive every confidentiality agreement to allow victims to tell their stories freely.

He said the Commission had already serviced notice to produce documents on the Catholic Church, its insurer, the Salvation Army and the NSW Director of Public Prosecutions.

 

What are Aboriginal community members, leaders and experts saying about the Royal Commission?

Professor Muriel Bamblett – head of the Victorian Aboriginal Child Care Agency VACCA welcomes Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse

Professor Muriel Bamblett has welcomed the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sex Abuse’s call for information from previous reports on child abuse.

VACCA advocates for the rights of Aboriginal and Islander (including the Torres Strait) children and hopes the calls prompt Aboriginal and Islander people to speak up to the Royal Commission.

“I think we need to expose how bad it has impacted on Aboriginal people, we know there’s an over representation of women in the criminal justice system who have a history of being abused,” Ms Bamblett said.

“So institutionalisation has impacted on our people’s ability to heal. The Royal Commission into the response to Institutions to Child Sex Abuse is critical particularly for Aboriginal people.”

Children who have been sexually abused are victims of a criminal offence. They have the right to have their stories heard and believed. They are entitled to justice.

Professor Bamblett said as an Aboriginal community controlled organisation, VACCA will play both an advocacy role and contribute to supporting Aboriginal community members throughout the Royal Commission.

“For many people, telling their story to the Commission will be the first step towards healing and empowerment. Culturally safe supports must be in place so people are not left feeling further traumatized or re-abused,” Professor Bamblett said. 

“We want to ensure Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who experienced sexual abuse while in the care of institutions across Australia, are able to make informed decisions about ‘telling their story’ and that they are appropriately supported and feel culturally safe to do so.”

“VACCA has and will continue to strongly advocate to the Royal Commission to provide and facilitate a choice of culturally relevant supports for Aboriginal victims before, during and after the Commission. This includes trained staff and services who understand the historical context of the experiences of Aboriginal peoples,” said Professor Bamblett.

VACCA will recommend the Royal Commission appoints a National Indigenous Advisory Committee. VACCA will also be engaging other Aboriginal organisations to determine how to collectively respond to the needs of the community and address the range of issues and areas of work required to ensure they are supported throughout and after the Royal Commission.

Cheri Yavu-Kama-Harathunian – Lateral Love Australia’s Elders Wisdoms Patron

How long ago was it? For Aboriginal People and the rest of Australia, we had the Little Children are Sacred Report commissioned by the Northern Territory Government and released on June 15, 2007. “So many of the perpetrators were physically, emotionally, mentally and sexually abused by authority figures, in institutions set up by government and churches to protect, care and nurture them when they were children.

These Missions and Reserves had a sole purpose for existing. It was to care for Aboriginal children who were housed in these institutions ‘for their own good’.

As adults these children have now become part of the Stolen Generation issue. Did the workers at these institutions care for these children? Some from the Stolen Generation will say they were grateful for being raised in a Mission or on a Reserve. Others will say that was where their nightmare began. Bill Simon’s story succinctly tells of the loss and the trauma that was his every day experience:

Simon was ten years old when he was taken to Kinchela where he remained until he was 17 years old.

“The abuse he suffered left him unable to have healthy relationships and trying to numb his rage and violence with drugs and alcohol.”

Unlike Bill’s story, perpetrators also came out of institutions as adults who never told their stories. These perpetrators were workers, men and women in positions of authority and power.

No Aboriginal child who had just been taken from their own family would have the tenacity to question the actions of the men and women who were charged to care for them. It would have been too audacious because fear had already taken hold.

Victims who came out of institutions have stories to tell about loss of childhood, loss of innocence, loss of their cultural identity, culture, their Law and their Spirituality. In those institutions they were taught to not speak their language, not practice their culture, their Law or their spirituality ‘just be a good little piccaninny and be glad that you are here now’.

And the first steps toward victimisation were birthed in them. They were victims who were taught that being abused by those who worked there was okay because nobody seemed to care, nobody seemed to want to hear their crying, nobody wanted to hear about the fear they experienced when the children heard Mr So and So’s footsteps outside their window, watched this authority figure walk over to the children’s sleeping quarters, hear the child’s desperate and muffled cry, ‘No! No!’

Nobody in authority came to their aid. Nobody who was supposed to be protecting them accepted a young Aboriginal girl’s story that the baby she was carrying was fathered by the husband, the priest, the welfare worker, or the superintendent of the mission.

The girl was made to feel that it was her fault. No one would dare blame the father of her child.

Nobody wanted to see the children’s pain, nobody seemed to care the child was aggressive, seemed to hate everything and everyone. It was all covered up.

And when the proverbial ‘official visit’ came, young Aboriginal pregnant girls were somehow kept out of sight and young abused boys were threatened to remain silent.

Very few reports of the time wrote about the abuses from the staff and many of these children suffered in silence. To tell was forbidden. If you wanted to get on with life, to get out of the Mission, you were told “Don’t tell anyone”.  

Some were even told the lie that their parents did not want them or that their mothers had died or given them away. And the lie was believed by vulnerable children cowered into compliance because the worst thing that could happen was they would be removed from one institution and sent to live in another.

What hope for any future wellbeing or wellness if you have been reduced to nothing?  Or if a child did have an identity, it was one that was given to the child by the Authority figures.

Your name is Ignatius now. Your name is Magdalene now. And the child would roll the unfamiliar word around in their mouths desperately learning to say their new name so that they would not be beaten again.

If a person is abused sexually, physically, emotionally, spiritually and mentally by the Authority figures who supposedly caring for them and that is all they have experienced in life what hope has a child of a worthwhile life?

Or when they are strong enough to say to their abuser, ‘No more’. Do they have the courage to say that out loud enough and where it will be heard by people who care? If a person is abused by the authority figures who supposedly were compassionate, merciful, loving and caring toward them what hope have these victims of a life that is to be different from the life where they learned to be victims of inhuman atrocities perpetrated by sexual, physical, emotional, and mental violence against them?

So many who were abused became abusers and they learned to cover their inhumanity and hatred against their abusers and themselves by becoming the fringe dwellers, the limbo peoples, the shifters, the outcasts and the victims and the perpetrators of what they had been taught by their abusers.

The abusers in these institutions, walked away with society’s plaudits heaped upon them, with a pension, with compensation, with pride they were or had been part of a solution to the Aboriginal problem when the Missions and Reserves were closed down. Did they go on to continue their abusing? What nightmares, emotional and mental trauma did the victims walk away with?

Sexual abuse perpetrated against children steals the very core of their childhood, their innocence, their wide eyed wonder of the world inside them and outside of them and into which they have been gifted into our adult hands.

So many Aboriginal people in their childhood experience expressions of systemic sexual victimisation because by and large, they are/were vulnerable in some way. Being hoodwinked or verbally whipped into a perpetrator’s world of deviance, victimises a whole person.

Men and women who held some form of power over a child or had some form of authority over them subjected children to threat, coercion, badgering, tricking, hostage holding until the child gives in, rape, grooming, intimidation, incestuously pressures a child, stalking, pornography, indecently exposing themselves, commercially sexually exploiting, or imposing control through systemic sexual abuse to initiate victims so as to gain perpetrator sexual gratification.

It was suggested by the Minnesota Coalition Against Sexual Assault that ‘This type of ritualized abuse may be repeated frequently and be perpetrated under the guise of a spiritual expression or initiation into a gang or other secret or selective group’.”

I wonder how many Aboriginal children and how many times were they made and victims to being sexually abused through the employment, use, persuasion, inducement, enticement, or coercion to participate or assist an older person to engage in sexually explicit conduct or stimulation and simulation, for the purpose of producing sexual satiation?

I wonder how many times an Aboriginal child sometimes somewhere was a victim of sexual abuse because they were raped, molested, or exploited by someone they loved or looked up too?  I wonder how many Aboriginal child victims hold on to a dark, deep – and in their eyes – a shameful secret because they have been told by their abuser they will get into trouble, they will be shamed or judged, they will lose the love of their family members or they will be the cause of the family breaking up?  

What kind of healing service will be made available to the victims of this form of abuse? How will a service provide the cultural philosophical ethos and understanding of this form of abuse? How will a service provide a sense of cultural, emotional, spiritual, mental and physical safety to children who are being abused and to adults who were abused when they come to their doors and ask for help?  Will the stories the victims tell be understood? Will the stories victims share be honoured and respected in an atmosphere of compassionate caring and Cultural Lateral Love?

Debra Hocking – Lecturer/Coordinator of Postgraduate Indigenous Health, University of Wollongong

To begin I would like to thank the National Indigenous Times for the opportunity to contribute to this sad, life changing and ongoing issue of child sexual abuse.

Having experienced sexual abuse from the age of five until the age of 15 on a daily basis back in the years when this issue was not discussed but rather it was the silent behaviour that allowed this abuse to continue I hope the Royal Commission can achieve some level of peace for the victims.

As a survivor of the Stolen Generations being taken away from family and community was hard enough, let alone be placed with a Christian family who would take my childhood, innocence and identity.

For many years I lived with the guilt and shame as many victims would understand. I could not speak out for these reasons and also the fear that was instilled upon me if I disclosed this behaviour. So I lived with it which brought low self-esteem, anger and hopelessness. This in turn produced physical symptoms ranging from anorexia nervosa to alcohol abuse.

At the age of 15 I finally escaped this situation as I knew my survival was under threat and therefore I fled from this home and lived on the streets for a short time.

As I grew older somehow I managed to rise above this and adopt assertiveness. This was not easy but once again it was survival. For 20 years or more I witnessed so much anger from my community and I realised what that can do to people. It was making them sick. That was not for me.

I now have four beautiful children who unfortunately have been part of this journey and they have also suffered in some shape or form.

Trans-generational trauma is sometimes the legacy of such histories, and it wasn’t until I was in the presence of a prominent Elder from Western Australia did I realise I could gain empowerment back. In a conversation I commended her for her great strength and wisdom.

I ask her how she could be like that when her journey was also one of great sadness and hardship. She replied looking me straight in the eye and said “you have to learn to forgive”.

I thought about that instruction for much time after that and eventually I did forgive the perpetrators silently without them even knowing. I am not a Christian and believe that the power of forgiveness is in all of us. Hard as it may seem, for me, I now enjoy a great life and have taken the strength back that those involved stripped me of.

For those considering contributing the Royal Commission on Child Sexual Abuse I urge you to think about speaking out whether it be confidentially or publicly as we did with the Bringing Them Home Report to bring these atrocities out in the open.

If we don’t speak out, if the stories aren’t told we may allow our children/grandchildren to be at risk.

Auntie Shirley Peisley – Respected Elder

Thank you for your request for a comment about the Royal Commission into the Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. I have been watching this all on television and reading with keen interest in the local news about how it will all pan out.

My time and involvement in State Government Departments goes back a long way, about 43 years now but I clearly remember the huge role and responsibility I took on as a mainstream worker.

More so, I remember the effects of working with children who were vulnerable, often separated from their siblings, mothers (and fathers) and aunties and grandmothers and not knowing who they really were anymore.

I recall that in 1970 I was the first Aboriginal woman to be given training and receive appointment as a Probation Officer and Truancy Officer in the then Department of Social Welfare in South Australia.

By 1972 the merger of that Department with the State Department of Aboriginal Affairs had fully taken place to become known as the Department of Community Welfare.   

Even in those early years, training did take into account some aspects of the psychiatric and psychological effect on children who were placed under the Care of the Minister.

However, what I clearly remember most of all were categories of children if they did not obey their parents were classified as uncontrollable and other categories like “failure to care/ neglect”, “diminished responsibility” andremoval of children” relating more to the lack of parental control or responsibility.   

At that time Child Protection and Child Sexual Abuse matters viz: fondling, grooming, masturbation, sex with a minor, rape, penetration, pornography, seemed to be of less importance than the Supervision of young offenders, the writing of reports for the Children’s Court and seeing that children were attending school.

They were not considered to be a major priority in our workload then and later emphasis seemed to focus more on “stranger danger” and what might happen to children, rather than looking at what was happening in the home environment.

And sometime in the mid to late ‘70’s after the Department had become fully decentralised by setting up offices in major suburbs of  Adelaide and regional centres of the State, that child protection matters then were seen as seriously widespread. This matter is now considered very much out of control. 

I’m not sure how long it took for government departments to begin to record serious cases of internal abuse or report such happenings to children placed in foster care until much later.

I visited Aboriginal girls and boys in many State run institutions – Vaughan House, the Pines, Brookway Park, Lochiel Park, Glandore as well other Church run institutions such as Kent Town Boys Home, Goodwood Orphanage and the Largs Bay Orphanage. 

There were many girls that I visited in the women’s wards of Hillcrest Hospital, a State Mental Health facility. They were all minors but were still subjected to the same treatment as adults received.

One young traditional girl from Central Australia was only nine years of age when placed in Hillcrest; she has never recovered from the trauma of what she witnessed when her mother died and some of the things that happened to her. She still calls me “mum” today. 

A cousin of mine reported many years after her sister’s death that her niece (and nephew) were then placed under C and C of Minister.

The niece went into foster care, fell pregnant after sexual abuse from the foster father, she carried the child full term, then her baby was removed from her, all without this coming under the attention of the Minister or any of her relatives. By this time, the niece was mentally unstable and constantly harming herself.

Most of the boys found it difficult to speak publicly of the atrocities that happened to them inside the institution but as one boy got older he told me he began a sexual relationship with his female worker and continued this affair after his discharge from institutional care.

I was also told that it was easy to acquire drugs in any of the institutions. Some mothers and other family members told me their daughters had been sexually abuse in care but they were too frightened to contact authorities or file reports with the police, crisis care, senior workers or have their daughters examined and/or go to Court for the shame, embarrassment and damage this would bring on themselves or their families.

Giving evidence and being publicly named in the community was a shame job.  

During my time working in the Child Protection area, I also learned of cases of the most horrific abuse against very young children who developed multiple personalities. They remain emotional wrecks today and will never be able to live normal lives.

When I reflect on and understand what I now know today, the very act of removal of all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children under the name of the Aborigines Protection Act, were racist policies that only applied to Aboriginal people and a form of apartheid, they were a national disgrace and a breach of human rights perpetrated on our peoples.

More so, the continued forced removal of Aboriginal Children in Australia from their families right up to the 1970s although now well documented during recent years of the 1990s, really has not revealed the truth and all the truth as to what happened to them while in institutional care.

I strongly believe now the reconciliation process in Australia from 1990-2000 should have been conducted like the Truth and Reconciliation Commission held in South Africa, where evidence presented to the Commission compelled police, public servants and others to tell the truth about history, the taking of the land and white, colonial rule over the people.

Any persons appearing before this Royal Commission will be asked to swear to tell the truth but the Commission is not really a Court of Law and therefore has no judicial powers to prosecute anyone who committed crimes against them.

I hear that more than a 1,500 people have already made enquiries and the Commission expects to hear a total of about 5,000 submissions. I have always been an optimist so I would say to our people:

 “Take heart, have courage and attend this Royal Commission. You need to tell your story.”

But I do fear that without trained Aboriginal Aides and Advocates within the Commission to assist them prepare their stories, they are doomed. After all the many generations of Aboriginal families have been through, they may well be facing just another enquiry that brings little satisfaction, justice, reparation or healing to their damaged souls.     

Christine Egan – Ngarrindjeri/Gurindji, Adelaide SA

As an Aboriginal woman and member of the Stolen Generation with siblings who were placed in state care church run organisations and one in particularly subjected to horrific physical and sexual abuse I welcome the federal government’s decision to conduct a Royal Commission.

However, it is important to have trust and confidence that the Royal Commission will give victims redress on a personal level and ensure practical outcomes to prevent reoccurrences.

Other questions that must be considered is the specific details of the Royal Commission’s -Terms of Reference and how is that going to be communicated clearly to the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities in a manner that is understood not in legal jargon.

Will the Royal Commission be able?

* To address and give recourse to individual cases of sexual abuse. 

* Will it be able to identify the underlying causes within the systems that contribute to the culture of institutions to silence the victims or protect/move the perpetrator? 

* Will it ensure that there is no obstacles for making individual claims and provides the required support for victims to be able to pursue such claims in a timely manner.

Historically, Aboriginal people have spoken up in other inquiries with the hope of getting redress, of making those with the duty of care to protect them be made accountable and only felt more pain and suffering for their efforts. We all know from our immediate families or someone in the community about the impact of sexual abuse and individuals using alcohol and drugs as a coping mechanism for the harm caused. How can our victims be protected from the risks of reliving the trauma.

It is well known that many Aboriginal people left state care so physically and emotionally shattered to end their personal suffering by committing suicide. Will those lost souls have a voice in this process?

I believe that unless the Royal Commission has:

* Acknowledgment, compensation and practical supports for victims, families.

* Specific terms of reference for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander victims that takes into account the role institutions played in state governments past ‘protection policies’ in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander lives.

* Royal Commission staff of Aboriginal and Torres Straits heritage or persons experienced in working with the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.

It may be just another Royal Commission that the government may choose to ignore or put up barriers to implementing the recommendations which will be soul destroying given the Royal Commission’s mandate is ‘to help improve the way things are done in the future or help existing survivors’. 

Let us hope that history is not repeated and the victims and their families are given the forum to achieve justice by speaking up and not subjected to more grief, trauma and ongoing suffering leaving their loved ones or communities to manage the fallout. 

Dorinda Cox – National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Women’s Alliance Corporation

The Royal Commission will provide an opportunity for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in rural and remote locations access to a choice in the process of a public or private hearing to tell their story, this may be the first opportunity they have to disclose the abuse they have endured and may in fact be still living with under the institutions control in some situations.

One of the significant barriers will be confidentiality around people’s use of the Commission and ongoing safety for the victim/survivors, in particular women and children. It must be a co-ordinated effort to ensure people not only feel safe to tell their stories but also for the ongoing recovery and healing work that needs to be followed up.