Child abuse on agenda of NSW shadow cabinet
NSW Shadow Cabinet will discuss backing a royal commission into the Catholic church’s handling of child sex abuse today in the wake of growing public support for one.
A spokeswoman for Opposition Leader John Robertson confirmed it was on the agenda but said a firm outcome or a formal response from the Labor Party was unlikely until after a meeting of the full Shadow Cabinet early next week before parliament resumes.
Supporting a royal commission was also ‘‘such a serious issue that we’re taking it through the proper processes rather than just jumping into it’’, the spokeswoman said.
Labor would consider the Greens proposal for a royal commission and the Victorian Government’s decision to hold a parliamentary inquiry into child sex abuse after community outrage over the Catholic church’s handling of cases and the suicide of at least 40 victims.
Premier Barry O’Farrell said his government would consider the Victorian inquiry’s findings and recommendations, but the inquiry has been criticised as being inadequate. It will report back some time next year.
Church abuse survivors network spokeswoman Nicky Davis said a royal commission would be ‘‘the very first time we’ve actually had people stand up for us and say this is not good enough’’.
‘‘A royal commission will have the power to compel the production of hidden documents, and the attendance of reluctant witnesses,’’ she said.
‘‘It will also have the skill to cross-examine witnesses about their knowledge of systemic issues.’’
Greens NSW MP and justice spokesman David Shoebridge said there was an urgent need to establish a royal commission to uncover the full extent of the church’s systemic failure to deal with decades of child sexual abuse by priests.
“Both Premier O’Farrell and Attorney-General Greg Smith are refusing to act and in doing so are failing victims and their families across NSW,’’ he said.
HOW ROYAL COMMISSIONS WORK
ROYAL commissions in NSW are initiated by executive government, not by parliament, and are formally established by the NSW Governor on the advice of the government.
A decision about holding a royal commission into the Catholic church’s handling of child sex abuse cases is consequently reserved for Premier Barry O’Farrell and his cabinet.
NSW royal commissions in the past, including the Wood Royal Commission into the police service in the 1990s, the Chelmsford Royal Commission from 1988-1990 into deaths at a Sydney psychiatric hospital, and the Woodward Royal Commission into drug trafficking, followed community outrage and intense media scrutiny.
One of Australia’s leading academics on royal commissions, Professor Scott Prasser of the Australian Catholic University, said royal commissions were not judicial inquiries, despite often being chaired by retired judges.
They were ‘‘circuit breakers’’ needed when there were serious allegations raised in public, and concerns that existing institutions were unable to adequately deal with the allegations.
‘‘They seek the truth,’’ Professor Prasser said.