A Necessity Disguised As A Virtue

Events in Australia have overtaken my plans for two upcoming LibertyGibbert articles, one on Liberty and children, and the other on the Catholic Church. Yet the Gillard government’s announcement on Monday of a Royal Commission into institutional child sexual abuse warrants at least a few brief comments today.

On the face of it, the Royal Commission is not only welcome, but years overdue. We’ve now been aware of the scale of the problem for at least twenty years, during which time authorities have variously obfuscated, turned a blind eye, or even blamed the victims. During that period, many of the accused have died of old age and have escaped justice, of the temporal variety at least.

The Commission’s terms of reference, crucial to the inquiry’s success, are yet to be worked out; they are expected to be finalised by the end of the year. If too narrow, the Commission will be perceived by many as a witch-hunt; too broad, and it could be a decade before any findings are handed down. It is already known that the scope will cover all religions, sporting and community groups, the scouting movement, schools and government institutions. Whether or not it will include the almost unbelievable level of abuse that still occurs in so many outback aboriginal communities, is yet to be seen.

All well and good and, as I have said, long overdue. But several aspects of this announcement do not pass the smell test. Firstly, the timing. It has long been known that Tony Abbott’s first act when he is sworn in next year as Prime Minister will be to ask the Governor-General to establish a Royal Commission into corruption within registered organisations—primarily, unions. The timing of Gillard’s announcement, just when the mountain of evidence regarding her own conduct as a union lawyer in the 1990s has compelled the Victorian Police Force to commence their own formal investigation, smacks of tit-for-tat and a distraction. It certainly appears as though Gillard intends for Abbott, a practising Catholic and former seminarian, to be smeared by association.

Then there is the focus. Although all religions are included in the scope of the inquiry, the mainstream media have been indulging all week in a gleeful frenzy of Catholic-bashing. In particular, there has been slew of articles demanding that priests be forced to break the seal of the confessional to report admissions by penitent priests. It is impossible not to notice that almost all of these articles have used the word defiant in describing Cardinal Pell, Archbishop of Sydney and Australia’s senior Catholic prelate. This is strange, for Pell has publicly welcomed the announcement of a Royal Commission, and committed to working with it to supply whatever information it needs.

I don’t want to pre-empt my article on the Catholic Church too much; yet it is undeniably the case that over the last twenty years, the church has cleaned up its act, regarding both the way in which it recruits new members to the priesthood and to religious orders, and the handling of allegations of sexual abuse. The overwhelming majority of crimes likely to be investigated by the Royal Commission were committed in the 1960s, 70s and 80s. Some even go back to post-war orphans shipped to Australia in the late 1940s. Almost all the perpetrators of these earlier crimes are long dead. That is cold comfort to many middle-aged victims whose lives have been ruined by crimes that were covered up for so long, or to the families of the hundreds (or possibly thousands) of suicides that have resulted over the past half-century.

But if it is another five, or even ten years, before the Commission’s findings are handed down, how many of the perpetrators will still be alive to face justice? And will this really bring the closure these victims so desperately seek? And there’s this: a Royal Commission is conducted subject to the Royal Commissions Act of 1902; while judicial in nature, and having plenipotentiary powers to subpoena witnesses and compel them to testify under oath, they are not bound by the same rules of evidence as a criminal trial, and can accept circumstantial, hearsay or almost any other form of evidence the Commissioners may wish for. Much of this evidence is inadmissible at a criminal trial, so simply being named by a Royal Commission does not ensure that criminal proceedings will ensue. Try as the Commission might, a lot of guilty parties will end up going to their graves scot-free. Not only that, but the reputations of many innocent men and women, who have devoted their lives to the welfare of children, will be unjustly tarnished. Such is the imperfect nature of justice in our system.

It is a free kick for Gillard, however. By the time the Commission’s findings are released, she and her government will be long gone. Who knows? History may judge this as one of the best things her administration has done. I wonder, though, how calculated this announcement really is, and just who else might be caught up by the inquiry. I’m thinking here of the Heiner affair; last year, a motion in Federal parliament for an independent inquiry into this appalling episode failed by one vote, although now a separate inquiry is being conducted by the Queensland state government. That inquiry threatens to engulf former PM Kevin Rudd, and even the Governor-General herself.

We must wish the Royal Commission every success. But there is clearly more to this week’s announcement than meets the eye.

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19 Responses to A Necessity Disguised As A Virtue

  1. Kitler says:

    It’s to distract the plebs from the whole carbon tax thingy, the media will be all over this for the next 6 months. It may stop annihilation at the polls at your next election.

    I wonder. Gillard, though of Labor’s Victorian Left faction, was installed over Rudd by the machinations of the NSW Right. This faction was, and remains, overwhelmingly Catholic. When I was a kid I used to hear stories of NSW Right branch meetings always beginning with a decade of the Rosary. They’re unlikely to approve a wholesale witch-hunt of the Church.

    So I’m guessing there’s method in Labor’s madness. Remember I said above that the Royal Commission’s terms of reference are yet to be determined. Nor has a commissioner been appointed. These are crucial. Yes, it may well prove to be a distraction only; but an expensive one – particularly if it achieves no good outcomes – Oz

  2. Kitler says:

    I’m definitely putting money on distraction. As you say what real good will it do and anyone important is either dead or will escape justice. I expect Gillard noticed the furor the Jimmy Savile scandal and the BBC has caused and is exploiting the need for witch hunts. Whether your media can keep the story burning 6 months who knows. Or there is some really bad news they are going to need to bury soon like a tanking Oz economy.

  3. farmerbraun says:

    There is something weird about the body language in that clip : her mind is elsewhere , and there are palpable signs of emotion. Which emotion?

    Farmerbraun suggests hatred.

    Those bags under the eyes are not getting better: they have defied the best efforts of the TV makeup team.

    Something on your mind Julie?

  4. Ozboy says:

    A couple of commentators down here have raised a point I was reluctant to at the top, but will now. It’s cheap and easy for Gillard to give the media – particularly, Fairfax and the ABC – a free kick against an organisation they all loathe, namely, the Catholic church. Their bile continues unabated in Saturday’s editions.

    But what if the terms of reference are expanded to include their own institutions: The Australian Labor Party, Fairfax and the ABC? Their “honour” roll is – to put it mildly – rather long: Keith Wright, former ALP state MP and Opposition Leader who in 1983 came within 3000 votes of becoming Premier of Queensland, jailed in 1993 for rape of underage girls; Milton Orkopoulos, former NSW Labor MP who is currently serving a minimum of nine years’ imprisonment for grooming, interfering with and supplying drugs to boys as young as ten; Terry Martin, former Tasmanian Labor MP convicted of paying a pimp for sexual access to a twelve-year old girl; Bernard Finnigan, South Australian Labor MP who is pleading a technicality to get him off numerous child pornography charges; Bob Collins, former federal Labor senator and Hawke Government minister, who committed suicide three days before he was due to appear in court to face child sex charges stretching back over thirty years; Peter Roebuck, ABC and Fairfax cricketing journalist, who also committed suicide, minutes after being interviewed by South African police regarding sexual predation of young black sportsmen in that country over a long time period; or Andy Muirhead, ABC television presenter, who last month was jailed over the possession of thousands of child porn images.

    And these are just the cases from the last couple of years which have received particular prominence due to the offenders’ high public profiles. Who knows how many other cases might emerge from a Royal Commission with unfettered powers of inquiry?

    The Gillard Labor government and their MSM cheer squad have certainly begun something here. Welcome and necessary, as I have said. But having unleashed the beast, they may well find that, like Nick Greiner and ICAC a quarter of a century ago, it turns round and devours its own creators.

  5. Amanda says:

    Farmerbraun: I don’t know what you mean about ‘body language’ more specifically, though she does have a certain bodily tension — not unusual for one so thin (calm easy-going people are often softer and rounder: she strikes me as being quite thin). What I see is stress in her face: plain unhappiness. It could be anything. It could be she’s not sleeping well — because a neighbour’s dog barks in the night or is let out at 5:30 and barks incessantly for four hours afterwards (like my neighbours’ dog, across the canal). It could be an affair of the heart gone wrong (god, I know all about those!). It could be that she is in physical pain or is worried about a medical test result. It might have nothing to do with politics at all.

    Or then again, it might.

  6. Amanda says:

    By the way, that is a very flattering hairstyle for her. With a smile and some rosiness in her cheeks, she could be come-hither attractive. (Not to me, of course. But I can see a woman’s appeal to men, just as I understand a man’s appeal to women. I always wondered whether men were being disingenuous or just plain thick when they claimed not to detect that any given man might have sex appeal for women. No one would suspect them of feeling the attraction — or is that their secret little fear?

  7. farmerbraun says:

    Yes you’re right about the smile : she looks grim but does not project determination.
    The contrast between this current look and her previous self- assured demeanour is quite remarkable.

    If your future looked like hers you wouldn’t be smiling either – Oz

    A Labor Party poster hung from an iron fence the other week caught the light just so. Eerie…

  8. farmerbraun says:

    I’m sure that men are readily able to see when women are responding to sexual appeal in a male ; but they may not so readily predict its likelihood or potential when encountering said male.

  9. Amanda says:

    FB: I’m not so good at predicting it, either. I’m not dogmatic on that question!

  10. Stop Global Dumbing Now says:

    I see she’s using the FORWARD slogan just like Bummer. It’s a good slogan. It was a good slogan when Lenin used it. It was a good slogan when Stalin used it. It was a good slogan when Hitler used it. It was a good slogan when Mao used it…

    G’day SGDN,

    Yes, I suppose it was.

    I’ve posted it before, but the imagery you’ve alluded to recalled this:

    The “wrong march” indeed – Oz 😆

  11. Kitler says:

    Ozboy is that a racist comment about Far East Asian people?

    Only if the narration and the subtitles don’t match – Oz

  12. Stop Global Dumbing Now says:

    I liked the slogan so much I almost bought myself one of these (the dyslexic version).

    Maybe there can be an Australian version for Gilly.

  13. Ozboy says:

    Andrew Bolt reports this morning that the Royal Commission risks becoming unwieldy as law firms begin advertising for victims wanting compensation. Victims’ advocacy groups are reporting up to a 400% spike in calls.

    If this grows as large as I think it will, even before the terms of reference have been set or a commissioner appointed, then I have serious doubts that even ten years will be enough to sift through all the evidence. How much good it achieves in the end is, right now, anyone’s guess.

  14. Mark says:

    The value and ramifications of this inquiry all come down to the terms of reference. Its hardly surprising that the govt has stated that the terms of reference will not be fully resolved and/or issued before year’s end.

    We can be sure that A-G Roxon and her staff are pondering how they can keep the investigation focused on the target groups. They will not want the royal Commissioners looking into child abuse in favoured communities such as the traditional aboriginals. Equally they will be desperate to avoid having them look at anything that could bring into question those in the ALP who were closest to the various pedophiles already found in their midst. (as an aside, there has been a long-standing rumour that a certain yes I’ve heard it too Mark, but as your reference is unambiguous, prudence compels me to censor it for my own self-preservation – Oz).

    The govt will be anxious to ensure that these issues are never canvassed, while at the same time hoping that enough will come out to tarnish the Catholic Abbott.

    It will be a tough one for Abbott. If he so much as suggests that the commissioner’s tie is the wrong colour, the love media will be at his throat. But it’s probably inevitable that at some point someone who used to know someone who used to know Abbott will be accused of whatever, and Abbott will be lambasted as though he had done the deed.

    While I think that the timing of this, and the govt’s motives, are entirely base, it has to be said that a full and frank airing of these issues is way overdue. Unfortunately it will quickly and easily become a jihad against the Catholic and other Christian churches and, even as an agnostic, I think we need to acknowledge that the churches have been a net positive for society over the past two centuries. I fear that they and their welfare arms are set to wither just when they are most needed as the institution of the family disintegrates,.

    There are also dangers for the govt and their anti-church cheer-squad here. Royal commissions, no matter how narrowly constructed, can have a tendency to go their own way. Remember the Costigan RC which started out looking into union criminality and ended up unearthing illegal tax evasion. A commissioner has always got the option of going back to a govt and asking that the terms of reference be widened to encompass some newly discovered issue. It is hard for any govt to resist such a request, but by then the govt may well be Liberal and they’d be more than happy to accede to such a request. If this is over by the end of the decade, I’ll be surprised.

    Spot on Mark, and I’ve said as much above. Like so much else from this dysfunctional and incompetent government, this was policy-on-the-run and never properly thought through. The number of ways this can come back to bite Labor – the secret lives of former politicians being only the most obvious – are manifold. History may well judge this to be a great decision by Gillard, as I’ve said. But perhaps for more reasons than she intended – Oz

  15. Mark says:

    No problem as concerns the censoring. I thought I was sailing close to the wind and made it as ambiguous as possible without making it totally unintelligible.

    Yeah, I have to err on the side of caution, as you will appreciate. When the MSM can’t bring themselves to discuss the perfectly legal, um, quirks, of ex-prime ministers whom they venerate, then allegations of illegal activity of that nature involving serving politicians would be met with predictably sanctimonious howls of outrage.

    Provided they’re on the right side of politics, of course. Recall the derision with which the civil sexual harassment suit against turncoat Speaker Peter Slipper was denounced: “More rehearsed than a kabuki actor”, sneered the former Premier of New South Wales and now federal Foreign Minister, Bob Carr.

    Funny then, how the fourth estate unquestioningly accept the exact same allegations against priests, with no compunction whatsoever. How times change – Oz

  16. Mark says:

    Yep, you could go grey (or in my case greyer) fretting over the hypocrisy of the left. In a similar vein we are constantly told that the whole AWU thing is ancient history and how we shouldn’t be looking into matters that occurred 15 years ago. But conjure up a story about what Abbott did to a wall 30 years ago and the ABC/Fairfax go into a feeding frenzy.
    Over the next few years we are going to hear lots of tales about what Father so-and-so did in the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s, and anyone daring to suggest that it is ancient history and how we shouldn’t be looking into matters that occurred that long ago, will be shouted into silence.

    FYI, my upcoming thread on children (ETA-TBA) will shine a hard light on the issue you raised earlier – the breakdown of the institution of the family. From thence, much of the other problems in our society stem – Oz

  17. izen says:

    Making a virtue of a necessity is the standard modus operandi of much of politics. The provision of pensions, Welfare, education and healthcare are presented as virtues when they are in reality logistical necessities in a complex society.
    No doubt the ruling party will attempt to shape the inquiry to cast the most dirt on their political opponents and the least dirt on themselves. The distraction and political froth elements of the farce.

    But to get the quote right this time – ‘The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there.’
    I suspect this inquiry is evidence for an ongoing radical shift in public or societal attitudes. The casual sexism and misogyny of the past decades is rapidly becoming as unacceptable as the racism of the past was. Big public inquiries are part of the way that society adapts to these very fast changes where attitudinal shifts are taking place in less than generational replacement times.

    The catholic church has indeed done much more than most to adapt to these changes, but then it had more to do than most. As a source of trusted family friends, the local priest has been a prime candidate for abuser. Most abuse is committed by relatives, close family friends or persons that are given access because of their trusted status. That was true before the supposed breakdown of the family as an institution, it may take a village to raise a child, but most villages will have a doubtful ‘uncle’ or community elder who exploits their status and position. When abuse is a taboo subject the chances of discovery are minimal. It is only as the subject is discussed that the common traits and types can be identified and prevented as is seen in the catholic church response.
    After they gave up trying to bury the problem.

    The shift that you refer to actually happened quite some time ago. I’d say that the church and other institutions are merely catching up with the times.

    Like everything else in life, much of this will come down to money. As I mentioned above, the ambulance chasers right now have huge dollar signs in their eyes and are advertising for as many individual and class-action victims as they can marshal. But if this morning’s reports are to be believed, it’s now dawning on the government that the magnitude of expectations they unleashed with last week’s announcement threatens to become completely unrealistic, and are preparing to go into major backdown mode, much to the chargin, one assumes, of firms such as Gillard’s old one, which specialise in compensation and class-action suits.

    Professor Sinclair Davidson over at Catallaxy has a very cogent take on all this today – Oz

  18. Ozboy says:

    One of the more depressing aspects of this whole episode is the fact that the Royal Commission would never have been called had Tony Abbott not been Opposition Leader. Gillard’s press conference at the top was delivered from a particularly lofty moral high ground. But if so, why didn’t she call for a Royal Commission in 2010, or even earlier, while in Opposition? It’s not as if there has been much discovery of new and crucial evidence in the past couple of years. No, there’s certainly an element of distraction, as Kitler said above. And the prospect of smearing Abbott – a personal friend of Cardinal Pell – by association.

    In all of this, the welfare of those most hurt by the institutional abuse this is supposed to be about, is reduced to an afterthought.

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