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A Broad and National Royal Commission the Only Way

Finally, it seems that a significant national inquiry into what appears to be widespread abuse within the clergy is near. Calls  New South Wales has just announced an inquiry and Victoria has already set aside twelve months for an inquiry of their own. But these state-based inquiries are too limited in scope and there is little doubt that the problem crosses state borders. There has been so much focus too on the Catholic Church, the main source of such horrendous allegations, but a broader approach in that sense too is necessary.

Both the New South Wales and Victorian inquiries are incredibly limited. In the case of NSW, announced last week after a Lateline interview with a state police officer, the investigation will be limited to the allegations made by Detective Chief Inspector Peter Fox during an interview on the ABC news program. The events in question are limited to a specific region in the state and surround an alleged police cover-up of very disturbing incidents.

In the case of Victoria, their inquiry is wider in scope, but far from a powerful royal commission. Victoria’s sex abuse is being investigated by a parliamentary inquiry but is not limited in scope like the New South Wales’ iteration will be.

The parliamentary inquiry in Victoria covers abuse in all religious and non-government organisations, not just the Catholic Church or a specific region within the state. However, like the newly announced investigation in NSW, the committee inquiring into these matters does not have the extensive power that a royal commission commands.

There really now, more than ever, is a need for a full royal commission into child abuse and it must be a national one. We have passed the point of no return. There is not one option left to deal with a large number of alleged indiscretions except for holding a royal commission.

For some time now those calls have been met with resistance despite a significant number of cases coming to light where there was abuse, mostly within the Catholic Church, but also a wider array of religious and other institutions.

Most of that resistance has come from the Catholic Church. The Catholic Church is the main denomination at the centre of the bulk of the allegations that have been raised in the public domain of abuse and inaction.

Worse still, it is also alleged that there has been a systemic cover-up, the active burying of cases involving incredibly devious acts of sexual depravity and violence against Australian children. All for the maintenance of power.

It is incredibly sad, indeed ridiculous and very concerning that the church believes itself above the law. Child abuse, any abuse is a crime and as such there should be absolutely no tolerance of reports that it is occurring. It absolutely beggars belief that anyone would not report alleged indecency, in favour of dealing with it in-house. Going to police is the one and only option.

Australia’s politicians have been way too slow to act. We have known about a number of cases of abuse and inaction on the part of the church for years and yet, until this year, little had been done anywhere in the country.

It would appear, on the face of it, that our politicians fear the influence of not just the Catholic Church, but also the wider religious movement. But that fear is incredibly ill-founded and terribly misplaced.

Religious movements are no longer anywhere near as powerful as they were. They would like to think they are and the impression of ongoing power remains. The simple fact, however, is that they are not.

In any case, politicians should not fear any real or perceived influence that religion does or does not possess in Australia. The lives of Australian children are far more important than any political benefit. Power should not corrupt to the extent that sexual abuse is ignored by MP’s across the country. Sadly, it just might, at least until the political pressure to act against these allegations becomes too strong.

People are experiencing more hurt suffering in comparative silence. The vast majority who have had acts of sexual violence perpetrated against them would want some form of closure, some acknowledgement that their pain and suffering is real and needs to be dealt with by a proper judicial process, not forgotten about or buried within an organisation.

It is understandable the visceral anger and hatred directed at institutions and the individuals that represent them, for having failed in the basic duties of a citizen, organisationally and individually when it comes to the law. People do deserve much better treatment at the hands of those caring for and providing guidance to impressionable and vulnerable young minds.

Unfortunately, some of those understandably outraged by the actions of the Catholic Church and other religious organisations have called for the tax exempt status of these organisations to be revoked as some form of punishment,

Any kind of remedy must be civil or criminal and should not extend to taking away the tax-free status of religious organisations that still, despite their massive and unjustifiable failings in relation to protection of children within the church, do extensive and helpful charity work.

What is abundantly clear is that a wide-ranging and national inquiry is needed into abuse within the church. The states have either failed to do anything at all or have not gone anywhere near far enough in prosecuting this matter.

A royal commission must now happen and should certainly not be limited to the Catholic Church. All denominations must be examined in a broad inquiry without fear or favour.

Support for the inquiry needs to be across partisan lines. As of this afternoon all political parties, except for the ALP and most Independent MP’s have pledged support for an inquiry. A large and growing number of Labor MP’s have however voiced support for a royal commission.

It would appear that the momentum towards a national inquiry into sex abuse within the church is now inexorable and that can only be a good thing,

Sadly though, a lot of pain has been endured during the unnecessarily slow process.

Games and More Games, But Where to Now for the NDIS?

The latest Council of Australian Governments meeting has gone off with a bit of a hitch. The National Disability Insurance Scheme launch sites were front and centre of the COAG agenda today with the states and territories coming together to try and win a launch site, well in most cases at least.

At the meeting today in Canberra a total of three launch sites were announced by the Prime Minister Julia Gillard. South Australia, the Australian Capital Territory and Tasmania managed to reach agreement with the Gillard Government to co-fund trials in their respective states and territories.

But alas, a fourth and final trial location could not be found. The states and territories who will be hosting launch sites are all Labor administrations. Those loudest in their criticism of the government over the project, from a positive interest in at least trying to find an outcome, to in Queensland’s case, not having an interest at all in contributing funds until at least 2014-15 are all Liberal state Premiers.

Western Australia a Liberal state, under Premier Colin Barnett will at least be trying out their own version of the scheme, ‘My Way’ which the federal government will have a look at to see how their experiment at a state-based scheme goes. But really, all states should just get with the same program, but points for trying.

New South Wales and Victoria, on the face of it, seem part of the way there. NSW Premier Barry O’Farrell announced that his state had $570 million for the trial, a not insignificant amount, over half of the commonwealth allocation in the May budget which put aside $1 billion for the four initial locations for the disability scheme.

Together with Victoria, the two states with conservative Premiers put together a joint bid. Their proposal was to cater for 15,000 people with a disability with the New South Wales part of the two-state agreement to be put in place in the Hunter region.

But again money was the killer here. The Prime Minister wanted NSW Premier O’Farrell to contribute a further $70 million for the trial and the Victorian Premier, Ted Baillieu an extra $40 million for their states to be able to have one of the four initial NDIS service areas.

The first point is that the money that NSW were willing to bring to the table was an extremely generous sum for a scheme which the Productivity Commission recommended should be fully funded by the feds.

Second, surely each of the three parties in the negotiations for the joint bid had the ability to make up the $100 million funding shortfall between them, whether that be either of the two states or the Gillard Government, or all three sharing the extra burden.

As far as Queensland goes, with relatively new state Premier Campbell Newman at the helm, the whole situation is far from encouraging. The Queensland Premier, Mr Newman came to the meeting of Australian governments proposing to spend not a single cent on a proposal for a launch site. Interestingly though, Mr Newman brought a proposal to COAG today for a launch site to be held in the town of Gympie, north of Brisbane.

But that of course was never ever going to translate into the northern state being granted the right  by the commonwealth to enjoy the benefits of being one of the first four places in the country to see how the eventually national scheme will operate.

The overall point is that all Liberal states were playing politics. It (the funding job) could have been done. Surely too, the federal government, in the knowledge that in twelve months time they will likely not be in power and not having to stump up further funds for the essential disability policy. were also playing political games.

What was interesting today and in the lead-up to the crucial Council of Australian Governments meeting was that the Northern Territory Government, under Chief Minister Paul Henderson, a Labor administration appeared relatively absent from the debate and discussion. The motive likely the upcoming election in the Northern Territory.

So where to now for the National Disability Insurance Scheme?

While the federal government should have followed the Productivity Commission recommendation to fully fund the scheme it is clear that it will never happen that way.

But it is clear that the NDIS just has to happen. People with a disability have waited far too long for a serious attempt at a framework meeting their basic but diverse needs in a converted national approach.

Like it or lump it, the states have to alter their stance on the project to a standpoint where they are willing to contribute more whilst still pushing for the commonwealth to fund the vast majority of the costly policy.

With a likely Liberal Government at the federal level next year, it is important that their in principle support, which appears to be wavering quite strongly, is converted into real support for following the already embarked upon implementation process.

Lobby groups, the state and current federal government will need to continue to put the pressure on the current federal Opposition to make their uncertain bipartisan support a reality. Nobody wants to see an incoming Abbott Government in power suddenly baulk when faced with needing to implement a policy that the Liberal Premiers have all had varying degrees of difficulty acknowledging is important.

But again, at the same time, the current administration at the federal level must take their share of the blame for what is a very worrying juncture in the NDIS debate.

All states and the federal government need to work together more and be more willing to compromise. They all have the means to contribute something. People with a disability cannot afford to miss out with another failed policy.

Origin 3 Awaits a Different Champion or an Ongoing Legacy

Queensland sits just two days and 80 minutes, possibly slightly more from either winning its 7th straight State of Origin series or that same amount of time from at least briefly ending an era of dominance for the team. For a side that have been inconsistent whilst showing the occasional glimpse of brilliance that has allowed them to dominate over 6 years they are somewhat lucky to be challenging again for another series win at what is generally considered the toughest level of the game.

There’s been some juggling of the team after the injury Billy Slater suffered ruled him out of the series decider to be held on Wednesday. The best fullback in the world will be replaced in the number 1 jersey by a player best known for playing in the centres or on the wing at club and representative level, former Melbourne Storm teammate Greg Inglis.

But the now South Sydney Rabbitohs star Inglis is not unfamiliar with the position he will inherit from Billy Slater. Early this year Inglis was started in the fullback position while playing for his club which saw the team enjoy a strong win. Inglis has made the position at the club his own since then and will play in that position on Wednesday for the first time at a representative level.

Greg Inglis taking the number 1 jersey means that Matt Bowen from the North Queensland Cowboys, a former Queensland Origin player and again in form alternative to Billy Slater and his counterpart from the Canterbury Bulldogs, Ben Barba both miss out on an Origin call-up at the hands of the tall, broad and fast Inglis.

Bot can feel at least a little hard done by in a way as they’ve both certainly done enough to crack into the Queensland side this season for Origin at least as utilities, particularly in the case of Canterbury’s Barba who has been a revelation for the team, but also Bowen, especially in recent weeks showing point-scoring prowess.

But Mal (Meninga) has gone for team experience and relative youth in the form of Greg Inglis as opposed to the older and experienced club and representative player Matt Bowen and the relatively inexperienced Ben Barba who is early on in his rugby league career and will surely be a feature of both the Queensland and Australian teams in the future.

In game 1 the New South Wales team had all the pace and running and looked to have bamboozled the Maroons with their youthful exuberance and breakaway runs, but Queensland capitalised on mistakes and field position when it counted and referee decisions went their way.

The first game also saw Billy Slater struggle under the high ball and make mistakes in play which meant he had a quiet game and could easily have cost the team the game had other players been a bit more rusty.

Game two in Sydney saw a Queensland team with better legs but an inability to overpower a resurgent Blues team who were strong in defense where it counted and were able to capitalise on field position like the Queensland team did in the first match down in Melbourne.

On Wednesday night pace and consistency will be the key for the Queensland team as will be responding better to the high ball than has been the case other than when Brent Tate received the ball on behalf of the Queensland team, doing so in a brilliant fashion.

The key big men of the Queensland team will also need to put in a big defensive effort needing to tackle to prevent younger legs running away with the ball at immense pace.

As usual too it will be up to the expert Johnathon Thurston to direct the game from the halves along with playing partner Cooper Cronk who has slotted into the team well after the departure of Darren Lockyer last year.

This year it’s a lot harder to pick the side that will triumph, NSW have been inspired, but Queensland will still want to prove dearly that they can win without the legend that is Darren Lockyer. Both sides have the ability to win but it will be a close encounter of the third State of Origin kind.

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