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Recent royal commissions have been a gross extravagance

By Brendan O'Reilly - posted Wednesday, 3 January 2018


The recommendations of the Royal Commission were entirely predictable and included the closure of the Don Dale Centre. An indirect outcome arguably also was the payment of compensation (rumoured to be about $70,000 each) to two detainees, who had behaved abominably while in custody and who had significant criminal histories. (There is no evidence that these newly enriched offenders will be asked to pay anything either to their victims or towards their detention costs.)

The $70 million odd spent on the Royal Commission arguably could have gone a long way towards building up-graded detention facilities. In my view the whole NT Royal Commission was a huge waste of money.

Now we come to the big one.

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The recently concluded Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse was set up by the Gillard Government in January 2013. The final reporting date had initially been set for the end of 2015 but a two year extension was subsequently granted. The Commission ended up taking evidence for more than five years, heard more than 8000 personal stories and received more than 1000 written accounts from survivors. The overall cost has been estimated at a whopping $477.986 million in direct costs, plus $70.5 million for victim support services.

It is obvious that an investigation of some sort into child sex abuse in Australia needed to occur. This is because the abuse had been subject to a systematic cover-up, and those responsible needed to account to victims and the public for their actions.

That said, the Royal Commission is still open to criticism on a range of fronts.

It was too late and had some overtones of a (deserved) "free kick" at the Christian Churches from the political left. The Royal Commission also largely ignored some well publicised abuses (e.g. issues of forced child marriage and of female genital mutilation) within Islamic institutions. Several leading national and international researchers also say that it adopted a misguided victim-advocacy role and published misleading, inaccurate research.

In terms of timing, the Royal Commission came far too late to be a game changer. Most of the offences dated back 30 to 50 and more years, and almost all the offenders are now either dead or very elderly.

In reality, changes in societal attitudes forced the problem into the open decades ago, so that victims and their families ceased being silent, and attempted cover-ups became untenable. Many victims have negotiated and have already received compensation, though its adequacy can be debated in some cases. By and large, in Australia and across the world, society, including the Churches, eventually cleaned up its act, and known perpetrators that are still alive have been prosecuted and jailed.

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The key issue, however, is that the Royal Commission was far too costly, and its recommendations, if adopted, would be massively expensive to the taxpayer for little obvious benefit.

While major reports into child sex abuse were published in the US in 2004, and in Ireland in May and December 2009, Australia has taken up the rear. Our Royal Commission only recently completed its Report. Britain has also been late, though it had more of an excuse for being dilatory. (For example, it had to deal with the aftermath of the Jimmy Savile and other scandals involving public figures, which only came to light comparatively recently.)

Have there been any real winners from our child sex abuse Royal Commission bar the lawyers?

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About the Author

Brendan O’Reilly is a retired commonwealth public servant with a background in economics and accounting. He is currently pursuing private business interests.

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