November 15, 2012 | Graham

Another sorry day

The proposed royal commission into child abuse is likely to disappoint many of the victims pushing for its establishment and achieve very little, particularly if it is like the Irish Ryan Commission.

The scope of the proposed commission is huge. By proposing to investigate child abuse across the country it will involve 7 states, two territories, myriads of government departments as well as institutions  run by religious and charitable organisations. It won’t be able to hear more than a fraction of complaints and there are unlikely to be many, if any, successful prosecutions as a result.

If it is like the Ryan Commission it is also likely to find that the caravan has moved on and that most of the bodies involved have changed their practices and that the epidemic of child abuse is in the past. At the same time, what recommendations it makes will do little to prevent child abuse in the future.

Again, if it is like the Ryan Commission it will not be complete for over a decade (the Ryan Commission was established in 1999 and reported in 2009).

In a practical sense much more is likely to be achieved by limited inquiries, such as that set up by the O’Farrell government to inquire into allegations of abuse by Catholic clergy in the Hunter region.

The commission needed to be extensive as the alternative was an inquiry into a specific area, such institutions run by the Catholic Church, which would have turned into a witch hunt, ignoring the institutional failings of other denominations and organisations.

Over the years I have been horrified to read of instances of abuse in state supervised foster homes where in some cases very young children have contracted sexually transmitted diseases and been returned to the foster families where they have contracted them.

There is something that inheres in the Catholic Church that has made it institutionally incapable of dealing with the victims of abuse, demonstrated by the international reach of such issues from Australia, to the USA, to Ireland, but they are not the only institution.

And while public attention is focused on them, often through a lens of schadenfreude, the scope of the problem is distorted.

So, if it gives perspective to the extent of the problem, that will be one benefit. But apart from that it is hard to see many.

The Bringing Them Home inquiry, reporting in 1997, was a wide ranging inquiry with more limited terms of reference. While it has provided another, much disputed, strand of guilt to the national story, it achieved very little. None of the stolen generation has received compensation, and the situation for many aborigines living in settlements is still dire poverty and deprivation.

These reports have a habit of being fertile for writers and publishers, but in the end, judged by the practical benefits they bring, being little more than acts of public prurience.


Posted by Graham at 6:57 am | Comments (4) |
Filed under: Uncategorized


  1. I am not so pessimistic. This start is late and perhaps flawed, but at least it is a start.

    Argument for piecemeal approaches ignores the need for a wide, deep investigation. Even if it turns out to be nothing more than a glorified scoping study, then at least the opportunities for subsequent actions will have been identified.

    As an athiest, of course I am open to a charge that my mind is already made up… and of course it is to a certain extent, because of the facts which are available publicly. My tentative opinion is formed, but it is open to review and change for the better, if in fact the organisations which will soon be under scrutiny are not damned by the royal commissioner(s).

    Bring it on.

    Comment by JohnB — November 15, 2012 @ 9:48 am

  2. I don’t trust this current Government to run an honest Royal Commission, the terms of reference would need to be set by an independent panel. This Royal Commission is more a political witch hunt than a true R.C. Emily’s List members believe in full term abortions, please don’t tell me they have children’s best interest at heart. The Royal Commission needs to go way beyond the church, child abuse is rife everywhere and we need to stop it.

    Comment by Ashotas — November 15, 2012 @ 10:47 am

  3. I’m not sure why being an atheist should have anything to do with it John, unless it is not about the abuse but about the institution. I think you will find that plenty of secular institutions have similar problems.

    Comment by Graham — November 15, 2012 @ 4:43 pm

  4. Fair enough, Graham.

    Comment by JohnB — November 15, 2012 @ 10:13 pm

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