The announcement today by Prime Minister Julia Gillard of a Royal Commission into child sex abuse is a long-overdue blast of good common sense; The Red And The Blue wholeheartedly endorses its establishment, and trusts no stone will be left unturned by its eventual Commissioner.
At the time of writing, the exact specifics of the pending Royal Commission remain uncertain; as is so often the case in politics — or in issues and/or events connected to it — the situation seems very fluid and developing.
Nonetheless, this column is happy to throw the weight of its support behind the initiative — which is essentially bipartisan, as Tony Abbott has committed the Coalition to support it without qualification — as Australia makes one seriously big attempt to deal with an issue that is a social and moral pox upon the national house.
Indeed, that pox — and the culture of silence it festers and fosters — is a disgrace, and today’s announcement is a triumph and just reward for childhood advocates such as veteran Melbourne broadcaster Derryn Hinch, and Bravehearts founder Hetty Johnston.
It pleases me greatly that the terms of reference for the inquiry appear to be very broad: focusing not just on the Catholic Church (although God knows that house is far from clean) but on a wide range of organisations and sectors, from “state services” to the Scouts to school sporting groups and so forth.
I hope it includes past and present parliamentarians; the judiciary; and also that it takes seriously the issue of child abuse in the home, whether by a parent, sibling, family member or friend.
In other words, absolutely no holds barred.
And it is also highly satisfactory that those who have covered up instances of child abuse or otherwise obscured the rendering of justice upon the perpetrators of sick crimes against kids will also be hauled before the Commission.
The Commission will integrate and align with various state-based inquiries, and will not impede police investigations or compensation claims. It is to be hoped, also, that a Special Prosecutor (or similar) is assigned to the Commission, giving it the power to prosecute individuals or groups found to have cases to answer arising from its business.
The only real qualifications I have on my support are that a) it isn’t simply a merry free-for-all witch hunt, in which people are baselessly accused out of malice; and that b) in cases where ambit and baseless accusations are made, Commonwealth support is available to wrongly accused persons to pay the costs associated with defamation actions against their accusers.
I think these are two eminently sensible considerations, and hardly those of a naysayer.
Ominously, though, the first words of dissent have come from surprising — and unsurprising — quarters.
Former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd was quoted from a statement to Fairfax Media as saying that there would be a case for a Royal Commission if present inquiries found ”institutional resistance” by the Catholic Church or if more resources were needed to deal with these matters.
Sorry Kevin — “institutional resistance” is the game the church has been playing on this issue for decades. Simply stated, for the Catholic Church, time is up.
The Age also quoted Professor of Law at the Australian Catholic University and prominent Jesuit priest Father Frank Brennan, who cast doubts on the Commission, saying ”It’s so broad that it risks being counterproductive,” and claiming it could take three years for the Commission to report.
I say, as doubtlessly do many, many others, that if it takes three years to do the job properly and thoroughly (and to get it right the first time), then it takes three years.
The Murdoch press in Melbourne featured a survivor of child abuse in a Catholic school, Peter Blenkiron, who hit out at claims by Catholic Cardinal George Pell that victims received justice when the church apologised to them, saying simply that no victim he knew ever felt like they got justice from the Church.
Pell, for his part, has made the welcome declaration that “We shall co-operate fully with the Royal Commission.”
Overwhelmingly, however, the response around the community has been supportive, almost ecstatic — as it rightly should be.
I was never subjected to sexual abuse as a child, although I do know people who were; quite aside from the fact I find the entire concept morally abhorrent (to the point I can almost justify kiddie molesters being subjected to a more informal smack around if the Courts won’t oblige), it is these people, along with the stories one hears of so very many others, that make it just as personal an issue for me as it is for them.
And not least because I’m a dad too — I have one little girl and another child coming soon, and if anyone touched them, it wouldn’t make it as far as Court.
I do not intend to talk through the actual political implications of today’s events, other than to reiterate my support for Gillard’s announcement and to reiterate recognition of Tony Abbott’s immediate and unqualified support for it.
Today’s announcement belongs to the victims — past and present — of the sexual abuse of children, to the families and friends who have supported them, and to the ceaseless fighters like Hinch and Johnston who have fought valiantly and for many years to see precisely this outcome.
But I will say this: to the paedophiles out there — and, unfortunately, there are a few of them around — I hope you’re all absolutely frightened shitless now.
There isn’t anywhere left to run and hide.
And that’s how it should be.