Welcome to Eureka Street

back to site


No lowly scapegoats in 'necessary' Royal Commission

  • 13 November 2012

A Royal Commission is or should be a rare sight. A Royal Commission is a short-term, immensely powerful 'star chamber' set up by the executive. They should be few, because governments shouldn't be allowed to force people to give evidence, possibly incriminate themselves and be exposed to public obloquy, without compelling reason.

There is such reason, and the blood has been crying out for justice for far too long. Adult survivors of sex crimes against them as children, by men who presented as the personification of God, have seen their assailants protected by the institutions they worked in. They and their advocates were finally backed up, surprisingly by police. It takes the force to confront the misuse of force.

It started with the Victorian Police Commissioner's submission to the feeble Parliamentary inquiry established by Premier Baillieu this year. He was scathing about the local Catholic Church's obstruction of police investigations and its staggeringly complete failure to report known paedophile priests.

Then Peter Fox, a senior Newcastle police officer, went public and, in his own words, 'threw away' his career by demanding a Royal Commission into these cover-ups. When he was, instead, handed an inquiry into the response to reported sex crimes in his own district, the ensuing public disgust became politically necessary to assuage.

It was the quickest and most effective campaign I have ever seen, and bore fruit yesterday when the Prime Minister announced a Commission into institutional responses to sex crimes against children in their care.

Peter Fox has already been vilified as 'unstable', as it is ever the case for a whistleblower. He was a brave and decent man on last night's ABC 7.30 Report. So was Frank Brennan, the 'meddlesome priest', who told the ABC later that evening that responsibility for the repulsed investigations and the wretched decision-making that put the interests of the institution ahead of the love of God, goes high. Very high. There can be no lowly scapegoats here.

This inquiry will be different. It must, because it would be another crime to indulge in titillating tales of torture, rape and beatings, and community outrage against 'beasts' who do these things. The beasts include ourselves.

This investigation will be into the machinations of the institutions which represent the obligation of the state to protect children from exploitation and torture, and to facilitate their recovery. This duty is best set out in the Convention on the Rights of the Child, but that