24 October 2018

Delivered in the Federation Chamber

I add my voice to those of the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition to say how sorry I am for the abuse that occurred and was uncovered by the royal commission. I'd like to reflect on a couple of points.

The first is going back to reports on Monday, 12 November 2012 and the then Prime Minister Julia Gillard's words. It was reported on the ABC News website:

The Prime Minister said the commission would look at all religious organisations, state care providers, not-for-profit bodies as well as the responses of child service agencies and the police.

"The allegations that have come to light recently about child sexual abuse have been heartbreaking," Ms Gillard told reporters in Canberra.

"These are insidious, evil acts to which no child should be subject.

"Australians know … that too many children have suffered child abuse, but have also seen other adults let them down—they've not only had their trust betrayed by the abuser but other adults who could have acted to assist them have failed to do so.

"There have been too many revelations of adults who have averted their eyes from this evil.

"I believe in these circumstances that it's appropriate for there to be a national response through a royal commission.

"I commend the victims involved for having the courage to speak out.

"I believe we must do everything we can to make sure that what has happened in the past is never allowed to happen again."

I say those words to demonstrate how reflective those words from some six years ago are even today, because of how similar they are. What forthright judgement of Prime Minister Gillard at the time to have called that royal commission. Certainly what she said is very true about the need for an outcome and to ensure that this did not happen again. Again, how much does this show how the royal commission was set up for the right purposes. There was knowledge that there were these instances of abuse, and they needed to be explored.

I also pay tribute, as the member for Werriwa just did, to Nicola Roxon, who was the Attorney-General at the time and, in the parliament on 26 November, just a couple of weeks later, noted:

The submissions that have been received so far highlight a couple of important things: the importance of designing the hearing process appropriately so that victims feel supported through the process of preparing and giving evidence; and the need to appoint multiple commissioners with broad expertise. Legal expertise and child protection expertise are those that were most commonly mentioned in the submissions. Also the view of many who have put in comments to the government is that the commission should take whatever time is needed to get it right but also include timely reporting, with suggestions of every one or two years, with the recognition that the commission will need sufficient time to investigate thoroughly.

The fact that this royal commission was properly established with terms of reference that were so widely supported says so much about the people who believed in this process and who were finally in positions of authority where they could make that stamp and do it properly. Again this shows that we had such good people in positions of responsibility at the time, including Julia Gillard and Nicola Roxon.

In my remaining time I turn specifically to Joanne McCarthy from the Newcastle Herald, who won a Gold Walkley for her investigative reporting. It has been mentioned that Julia Gillard wrote to Joanne McCarthy to say:

Thanks in very large measure to your persistence and courage, the NSW Special Commission of Inquiry and the federal Royal Commission will bring truth and healing to the victims of horrendous abuse and betrayal.

Much has been debated about regional media and investigative reporting, and Joanne McCarthy herself noted:

I am a regional person, and I think only a regional paper could have done this. The truth is the truth. It doesn't matter where it appears. You just have to keep banging away.

I also think it is incumbent on us to recognise the importance of investigative journalism and where it fits these days in such an era of increased media consolidation and fake news. I draw to the attention of the House one of the attachments in a submission made by Dr Denis Muller, a senior research fellow at the Centre for Advancing Journalism in Melbourne. He wrote a case study in investigative journalism as part of a research project examining the civic impact of journalism. It's entitled How journalism got Australia the child abuse royal commission. It is an essential read. It starts out by noting:

In 1995, police in the Hunter region of New South Wales investigated Vincent Gerard Ryan, a Catholic priest, for sex crimes against boys spanning 20 years. Brought to trial in 1996 and 1997, he pleaded guilty to multiple offences … He ultimately served 14 years.

Apparently—I will go through some of the excerpts very briefly:

The Maitland-Newcastle diocesan office had become aware of his sexual predations in 1975 but continued to protect and promote him over those 20 years.

The article goes on. There was a sentencing of one Father James Patrick Fletcher:

The sentencing proceedings took place in the District Court at Gosford … The Newcastle Morning Herald assigned its Central Coast reporter, Joanne McCarthy, to cover the sentencing. She filed a brief routine report and returned to other duties.

However, towards the end of 2007, McCarthy was asked by the Herald'features editor to look into why enrolments at Catholic primary schools in the Hunter were dropping … she made a couple of phone calls, and in the second one the person on the other end said, "It might have something to do with the child sexual abuse stuff".

So the investigative journalism started—I acknowledge the member for Paterson in the chamber as well:

Still pursuing the falling-enrolments story and the possible link with sexual abuse, McCarthy visited the website of Broken Rites, an advocacy group established in Melbourne to support victims.

I think Dr Muller uses an incredible turn of phrase in this article:

… it was at this point that McCarthy cast off the school-enrolments story like an abandoned chrysalis: she was now in full pursuit of the allegation that Monsignor Cotter had covered up for Ryan. Cotter had gone to his grave seven or eight weeks earlier, hailed as a holy man.

It goes on:

This story was a watershed. "Suddenly I was just being inundated with calls that went beyond just Ryan. That was when I got a call from somebody I didn't know and this person said to me, 'You want to look at a priest by the name of McAlinden. You won't need a first name'.

It goes on, and I really recommend that members of the House have a look at this. It says:

The momentum for a royal commission was starting to build, and it was now that the Newcastle Morning Herald began to use the campaigning banner "Shine the Light", the introduction of which was accompanied by an editorial calling for a royal commission.

And a royal commission, of course, was called. The following Monday, they were in an office:

… when an ABC Lateline producer texted her to get to a television set immediately.

"We turned the TV on, ABC, and all of a sudden the TV crosses to Julia Gillard, and then with the first words she said, she was announcing a royal commission. Well I just fell apart. Just lost it. Absolutely lost it. I didn't hear one word that she said.

Madam Deputy Speaker Claydon, I acknowledge your great representation of Newcastle. What a tribute to the people of Newcastle is someone like Joanne McCarthy. The work that she did really formed the basis of a lot of these inquiries. I acknowledge that there were other inquiries that came about, including the work of Strike Force Georgiana, and that snowball effect really combined to get us to where we are today.

I will end by saying that a lot of this has now been put into popular culture, and some excellent screen work has been done on this. Many people will have seen the movie Spotlight from a couple of years ago, where The Boston Globe uncovered incredible, appalling cases of child abuse. I note, and here I'm quoting from an article by David Pilgrim in The Conversation, that:

At the end of this film, the director makes a point of printing a long list of all the places worldwide where the problem has been exposed, leaving the audience in no doubt as to the continuing pervasiveness of the scandal.

At least we had the apology this week.