The Royal Commission finished on 15 December when Justice Peter McClellan handed the Commission’s final report to the Governor-General in Canberra. It was five years of very hard work at a cost of half a billion dollars.
People have tried to summarise the Commission’s achievements.
The Commission tried to make a difference in the future of child protection in Australia.
Many thought the Commissioners would send perpetrators to jail, compensate victims and punish the Catholic Church.
In fact, the Commission had no such powers. It had the power to investigate, refer allegations to state and federal police, and make recommendations for politicians to think about.
It achieved all of this.
Thousands of suspected paedophiles were referred to police and many have since been charged as a result.
Thousands of victims got to tell their stories face-to-face to a Commissioner, creating an enormous database of information that was used to set up public hearings and point the Commission in the right direction.
But some subjects were placed in the Commission’s “too hard basket”.
The Commission did not examine every problematic institution.
Some are apparently untouchable.
They are the sacred cows. Read on.
The Royal Commission failed to investigate reports from Islamic institutions – but why?
You will find no reference whatsoever in the Commission’s reports to Islamic institutions.
This was a huge disappointment considering the Commission’s methodical analysis of other religious organisations. You can read more about this in my opinion piece, is Muslim child sexual abuse taken seriously by the Royal Commission?
There was no investigation into the extent of female genital mutilation in Muslim communities in Australia and no investigation into forced child marriages.
Chair Peter McClellan and his CEO refused to respond to questions about this.
How is it that the McClellan Royal Commission examined and embarrassed Christian and Jewish institutions including Catholic, Anglican, The Salvation Army, Pentecostal and Jewish schools but went nowhere near Islam, Australia’s third-biggest religious group?
The Catholic Church, its religious orders, schools and charitable missions were easy “low-hanging fruit”. Catholic leaders were very willing to apologise and start compensating victims. We saw bishops deservedly taking heavy shots in the witness box and shouldering responsibility for the wrongs of the past.
They were quick to start examining their inward-looking and failed processes.
They were prepared to look like fools and bear the anger of the nation.
But the Muslim community escaped all of that.
It seems the Commission did not have the courage to put the same spotlight on Islam, the “Mafia” of world religions.
The Commission knew that if you criticise Islam or the practices of its prophet, some Muslims will threaten to kill you. Choosing to steer a safer path, the Commission focused on softer targets and offered nothing for hundreds of Muslim girls affected by forced marriages and mutilation.
The Commission also failed to look into government-appointed foster parents and abusive parents
In terms of state wards abused in care, the Royal Commission examined state-run institutions like Parramatta Girls’ Training School, The Hay Institute (both in NSW) and Winlaton Youth Training Centre (in Victoria) but that was all.
The states escaped rather lightly.
There were no state-run boys’ homes examined.
The plight of thousands of children abused in foster care was overlooked altogether. Not even the National Redress Scheme will compensate those abused in foster homes.
There is a third group who will be disappointed by the Royal Commission’s refusal to investigate the Family Court of Australia and its processes of placing children in contact with abusive parents and sex offenders.
That just didn’t go ahead despite receiving treatment on television and a petition presented to the Prime Minister. Justice McClellan wasn’t going to be told or pressured into doing anything he didn’t want to do.
So what’s left?
A truckload of reports and recommendations which few people will read.
The National Redress Scheme has been a national failure.
A few child protection laws have been tightened up, but it is unlikely there will ever be uniform laws in Australia as long as there are state and territory governments.
There have been scores of prosecutions over the last few years – fallen clergy and others accused of child sex offenses and those who protected and concealed the crimes of the guilty.
At the very least, the Royal Commission was the catalyst for better legal outcomes for victims and for the abolition of limitation laws in some States. Those changes have been outstanding and life-changing for many.
For that, we owe Peter McClellan and his Commissioners a lot. The history books will judge the Royal Commission kindly. Its processes have continued to form the framework for child sexual abuse inquiries overseas; its combination of private sessions and public hearings was a masterstroke.
A nation was heard by the Royal Commission and we are grateful for its finished work.
However, there is still much to be done.
There are still scores of child sexual abuse victims who have never had their story told, never received an apology or recognition from the institution responsible for their abuse.
If this is you, Kelso Lawyers can help.
Get the justice you deserve with Kelso Lawyers. We want to hear your story. Call (02) 4907 4200 or complete the online form before you accept payment from the National Redress Scheme.
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