11 Jan 2013

Judge to lead Australian child sex abuse inquiry

7:17 pm on 11 January 2013

Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard has announced that New South Wales Supreme Court judge Peter McClellan will lead a Royal Commission into child sexual abuse.

Judge Peter McClellan will be supported by five other commissioners.

They are: former Queensland police commissioner Bob Atkinson, former senator Andrew Murray, Family Court of Australia appointee Jennifer Coate, psychiatrist Helen Milroy who focuses on children's issues, and Robert Fitzgerald, a Commissioner on the Productivity Commission.

The commissioners have been asked to provide an interim report to the federal government on progress by mid-2014, the ABC reports.

Ms Gillard said on Friday it is clear from what is already in the public domain that too many children have been the subject of child sexual abuse in Australian institutions.

The commission's main focus will be to investigate systemic failures within church and state-run institutions in preventing and dealing with child abuse, she said

"Child sexual abuse is a hideous, shocking and vile crime. It is clear from what is already in the public domain that too many children were the subject of child sexual abuse in institutions."

The Government said the inquiry will have "as long as it needs" to finish its investigation, although each of the commissioners will be appointed for an initial period of three years.

Julia Gillard said the selection of commissioners and the terms of reference were finalised after extensive discussions with state leaders, law enforcement agencies, support groups and community leaders.

The commissioners will hold a telephone conference on Monday, with their first face-to-face meeting scheduled for Wednesday.

The Royal Commission will include an investigative unit to examine specific cases of sexual assault and institutional secrecy, AAP reports.

Attorney-General Nicola Roxon acknowledged that six commissioners was a large number.

"But we think it's necessary to ensure that the range of people that need to be heard will be heard," she said, adding that the government did not want the commission to take any longer than was necessary.

The investigative unit would make sure the inquiry did not stall as a result of having to investigate thousands of individual abuse cases.

Ms Roxon said the commission would not have the power to prosecute, but would work closely with police.