EDITORIAL: Child sex abuse inquiry

THE Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse was set up by the Gillard Labor government, but it will be the Abbott Coalition government that sees it through - for its early years at least.

It is good to know, then, that the new prime minister remains unwavering in his support for the commission and the goals it has been empowered to pursue. Indeed, Mr Abbott declared his support for a royal commission before the present inquiry was announced, a fact that should quieten the fears of any who might have feared a change in mood from Canberra.

Some believe the commission could run for a decade, a suggestion that may seem far-fetched until one considers the frightening backlog of complaints that has accumulated over several decades.

As the commission kicked off its public hearings in Sydney yesterday, the scale and extent of the abuse to be examined was already surprising and shocking some.

Even the inquiry's chairman, Justice Peter McClellan, revealed that - despite having presided over child sex abuse cases - even he had not fully comprehended the devastating consequences such abuse could have on its victims.

Before yesterday's first public hearing, the commission had already heard private evidence from 400 witnesses, with more than 1100 still hoping to appear and with the commission receiving more than 20 new contacts a day.

It is not surprising that a Hunter case featured in the first public hearings, with the activities of convicted former Scout leader and general manager of the Hunter Aboriginal Children's Services, Steven Larkins, under the spotlight.

The Hunter, of course, has been the epicentre of this issue in more ways than one. A number of high-profile child abusers have been active in the region, and the Hunter community has been at the forefront of the long fight for an open and honest investigation.

This newspaper, through its Shine a Light campaign spearheaded by the work of crusading journalist Joanne McCarthy, contributed its weight to that fight and will follow the work of the commission with close interest.

The specific point of the commission is to understand how and why institutions - which might have been assumed to have had systems capable of properly dealing with offenders and victims - failed in so many instances.

The community will be hoping and praying that, once these failures are better understood, they may be prevented when future offenders inevitably appear.

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