AUSTRALIAN PRIME MINISTER Julia Gillard has announced a national inquiry into institutional responses to child sex abuse after a series of scandals involving paedophile priests.
Gillard made the announcement in the wake of claims by a senior policeman that the Catholic Church in the Hunter Valley in New South Wales destroyed evidence and silenced inquiries.
“There have been revelations of child abusers being moved from place to place rather than the nature of their abuse and their crimes being dealt with,” Gillard told reporters.
“There have been too many revelations of adults who have averted their eyes from this evil. I believe in these circumstances that it is appropriate for there to be a national response through a royal commission.”
Gillard had been under growing pressure to establish a national inquiry after the recent allegations but she said the probe would be broader than just the Catholic Church.
“This is not a royal commission targeting any one Church,” Gillard said.
Allegations by a senior police investigator emerged last week that the Church had covered up sexual abuse of children in the Hunter Valley, north of Sydney, to protect paedophiles and its own reputation.
Detective Chief Inspector Peter Fox said it was his experience that the church not just covered up, but silenced victims, hindered police, alerted offenders, destroyed evidence and moved priests to protect the church.
He said limiting an inquiry to one region was ineffective, particularly as priests alleged to have committed offences were often moved interstate.
“I’ve got no doubt that it’s got tentacles everywhere,” he said today.
“State boundaries aren’t going to stop these sorts of predators from operating.”
The conservative opposition, led by Tony Abbott, said ahead of Gillard’s announcement it was prepared to support a wide-ranging royal commission as long as it was not be limited to one institution.
Gillard said further announcements, including the proposed Commissioner and detailed terms of reference, would be made in coming weeks.