Victoria Releases Response to the Royal Commission into Institutional Child Sexual Abuse

Thursday 12 July 2018 @ 1.42 p.m. | Crime | Legal Research

The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse was first announced by then Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, on 12 November 2012. Six Commissioners were then appointed by the Commonwealth Governor General on 11 January 2013 to oversee the investigations and reporting. The final report was produced and submitted on 15 December 2017.

The Royal Commission concluded its five year inquiry with a total of 409 recommendations detailed in a report spanning 17 volumes. The inquiry included a number of investigative processes, including a total of 57 public hearings and 8,013 private sessions.

Key Responses of the Victorian Government

The key findings and recommendations of the Royal Commission have previously been explored in an article published by TimeBase. This article will focus on the recommendations specific to the Victorian Government and the response by the Government.

The Victorian Government has released documents detailing their response and acceptance to each of the 409 recommendations of the Royal Commissions.

The Department of Justice and Regulation summarised the Victorian Government’s response:

“the Victorian Government:

  • accepts 128 recommendations where all elements of the recommendation are supported
  • accepts in principle 165 recommendations where the Victorian Government supports the intent or merit of the recommendation, but does not necessarily support the method for achieving the policy 
  • states that Victoria will give further consideration to 24 recommendations where further analysis is required for the Victorian Government to determine its position
  • notes 92 recommendations where responsibility for the recommendation does not sit with the Victorian Government.”

The Victorian Government does note however, that there is overlap in the Royal Commission’s recommendations and the reforms that have already been implemented in response to the Victorian Parliamentary Inquiry into the Handling of Child Abuse by Religious and Other Non-Government Organisations (“the Betrayal of Trust report”) handed down on 13 November 2013. The Betrayal of Trust report investigated child abuse in the context of religious and non-governmental organisations in Victoria. In response, the Victorian Government created additional criminal offences, child safe organisations and made additional civil law reforms.

These reforms included the Wrongs Amendment (Organisational Child Abuse) Act 2017 and the Legal Identity of Defendants (Organisational Child Abuse) Act 2018, which amended the onus of proof and the legal status of institutional defendants in child abuse cases respectively.

Attorney-General Martin Pakula stated in a media release:

“We have delivered a number of recommendations from the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse to make sure that survivors of institutional child sexual abuse receive the recognition, respect and support they deserve.”

The Wrongs Amendment (Organisational Child Abuse) Act 2017 commenced on 1 July 2017 and amended the Wrongs Act 1958 by shifting the onus of proof to defendant organisations. The amendment puts a positive duty of care on institutions to protect children in their care, and requires reasonable precautions to be put in place to prevent child abuse.

The Legal Identity of Defendants (Organisational Child Abuse) Act 2018 commenced on 26 June 2018. This Act allows eligible plaintiffs to pursue claims for damages against unincorporated non-government organisations, institutions that were previously not capable of appearing as defendants in law. Under this Act, these institutions must nominate an entity able to act as a defendant in court, or if failing to do so, then the trustees of the relevant trust(s) of the organisation are identified as the appropriate defendants.

Additionally, in response to the Royal Commission specifically, the Victorian Government has also committed to:

  • A review of the Victorian Child Safe Standards in 2018-19 – to ensure that these standards are still in alignment to the ten Child Safe Standards as identified by the Royal Commission
  • Periodic review of the reportable conduct scheme
  • Records being maintained by public record authorities of occurred or alleged child sexual abuse for at least 45 years
  • Annual reports to monitor the implementation of Royal Commission recommendations over the next 5 years

Debate Over Religious Confession Recommendations

Some victims’ organisations have criticised the Victorian Government for their delay in deciding on whether or not to criminalise the failure by the clergy to report confessions of child abuse.  Currently, the so-called “seal of confession” means that any confessions made to the clergy are not able to be disclosed, even if they involve child abuse. Martin Pakula, Victoria’s Attorney General, has commented that this recommendation is still under consideration as it requires national agreement. However, critics have pointed out that South Australia, Western Australia, Tasmania and the ACT have all begun implementing this recommendation.

TimeBase is an independent, privately owned Australian legal publisher specialising in the online delivery of accurate, comprehensive and innovative legislation research tools including LawOne and unique Point-in-Time Products. Nothing on this website should be construed as legal advice and does not substitute for the advice of competent legal counsel.


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