Questions demand royal commission
20th October 2012
22nd October 2012
AS GEORGIE Crozier MLC stood yesterday to open public proceedings in the state inquiry into church sex abuse, eyes turned to a dignified man in a grey suit in the third row of the gallery - legal adviser Frank Vincent - who many think should have been the one doing the talking.
The retired Supreme Court judge has already chaired one royal commission, and this inquiry into how the churches handled clergy sex abuse should be his second.
Yesterday's opening day confirmed that, well-intentioned though the parliamentary committee surely is, it is simply not equipped to do what must be done.
As victims' advocate Judy Courtin told me, lives are hanging in the balance with this inquiry. For example, some of the Ballarat abuse victims she helped prepare submissions for found that even that process brought depression and suicidal thoughts. Fifty of their former co-pupils have already acted on such thoughts.
Ms Crozier, looking authoritative in a power navy suit and crisp white blouse, spoke well.
Sensitive to widespread criticism of the Family and Community Development Committee's capacities, she emphasised that the inquiry had all the powers of a court, judicial inquiry or a royal commission, plus extra powers of its own.
But by the time the second witness - Assistant Police Commissioner Graham Ashton - finished his testimony at noon, it was abundantly clear that this inquiry will barely scratch the surface.
Mr Ashton's damaging testimony - that the Catholic Church systematically hindered police, alerting offenders that they were being investigated, destroying evidence, hiding documents from police with search warrants, seeking injunctions against police, moving offenders, discouraging victims, and on and on and on - needs dozens of hours of forensic examination.
The committee needs to discover times, places, who did what and when, who knew what and when, if it is to understand the cover-ups and prevent them in the future. This is the core of the inquiry.
The committee has hundreds of witnesses who want to give evidence. So far it has allotted just 4½ days to hearing them until the end of November, and told few of them what is happening.
A royal commission would simply continue hearing witnesses, day by day, until they were done. It would cross-examine, demand documents, and follow the trail tirelessly. The committee simply cannot.
One committee member told me he hoped that the inquiry would at least shed light on some of the issues. All Victorians hope that, but they deserve more than a dim 20-watt bulb. Only a royal commission will do.