Explosive claims by a NSW detective that the Catholic Church covered up evidence of pedophile priests led to the creation of one of the biggest royal commissions ever in Australia.
The pressure on government to call a national inquiry grew as public outrage gained momentum over Peter Fox’s allegations of cover up by the church and police.
When then Prime Minister Julia Gillard announced on November 12, 2012 a Royal Commission into institutional responses to instances and allegations of child sexual abuse in Australia there had already been 300 various child abuse inquiries across three decades – but nothing like this.
On January 11, 2013 Justice Peter McClellan was named head of a six-member panel and by February terms of reference were announced.
The number of commissioners and scope of the inquiry signalled the wide-ranging forensic power this commission would have – it could compel powerful institutions to open their archives and ledgers and powerful people to give evidence.
Most importantly it would allow thousands of people who had lived with the buried pain of childhood abuse to tell their stories.
Justice McClellan said from the start that fulfilling the prime minister’s promise of listening to abuse survivors was a core function.
Even before the first public hearing in September 2013 private sessions had begun and phone calls where flooding in.
Their stories form the basis for public hearings into an institution. Fourteen public hearings have been held in 10 months.
They revealed deeply disturbing incidents of child abuse in the institutional pillars of Australian society.
Children were beaten, raped, starved in places run by Catholic and Anglican Church bodies. Homes run by the Salvation Army and the NSW government were hellholes.
The historical abuse was one thing but the commission so far has uncovered systemic failures in child safety practices in contemporary institutions like the YMCA, Scouts Australia, private and public schools.
The accumulated evidence is underpinned by research and wide consultation. The commission has reached into every corner of Australia from the Kimberleys to Hobart.
Yet it has just begun – finding and recommending solutions will pre-occupy the commission for its lifespan, probably until 2017.