This week the Newcastle Magistrates Court convicted the Archbishop of Adelaide of concealing evidence of child sex abuse. Philip Wilson was the Bishop of Wollongong between 1997 and 2000. To my knowledge, he is the most senior Australian cleric to be convicted of such an offence. He should not be the last. Those who have covered up abuse and put the interests of their church and the reputation of their clerics above the suffering of abused children don't deserve the protection of either the congregation or the law.
Over five years the royal commission into child sex abuse established by former Prime Minister Julia Gillard has heard evidence from more than 1,300 witnesses and held over 8,000 private sessions to listen to the person accounts of survivors. It has handled 42,000 calls and received 25,000 letters and emails. After 57 public hearings lasting 444 days, the commission has made over 2½ thousand referrals to law enforcement agencies. The inquiry that many said was unnecessary has shone a bright light into some of the darkest recesses of once inscrutable public institutions.
The establishment of the royal commission, and this national response, is a matter of deep personal interest and of great concern to the community that I represent. Wollongong is a wonderful city but it has also harboured more than its fair share of abusers. My years at Edmund Rice College in Wollongong during the late 1970s and early 1980s were mostly happy. There was a darker side, however. For many years the school had been a dumping ground for sex offenders.
We now know that there were many instances where brothers were moved from other schools in Sydney after complaints and allegations of sexual abuse had been made against them. One example was Brother Chris Roberts. He attended St Patrick's College in Sutherland between 1975 and 1977. He sexually abused children. Complaints were made. Instead of reporting him to the police he was moved to Saint Edmund's College in Canberra, where he taught boys between the seventies and eighties. He abused more children and there were more complaints. He was not reported to the police. Instead he was moved to my school in Wollongong.
In 2007 he was charged with 21 sexual offences over many, many years. He has admitted guilt to 11 of the 21 charges. He was but one of many of a community of sex offenders which included my principal, my form master, my parish priest and too many of the brothers who taught at my school. Many, many more were complicit in a culture of silence and cover-up. The impact it had on boys at my school cannot be underestimated, nor can the impact of denial and cover-ups that accompanied the original crimes and allowed them to be repeated in place after place and with victim after victim.
Upon the release of the royal commission's interim report in 2005, Labor, before the government, announced our support for the national redress schemes. These recommendations should be faithfully implemented. The scheme provides for three elements of redress: monetary payment, access to counselling and psychological services and the opportunity to receive an apology from a representative of the institution responsible for the abuse. Applicants won't be limited to one form of redress. They'll be provided with access to support services and legal services if they accept an offer. They will also receive financial advice. Importantly, they will be required to sign a deed of release, waiving their civil rights against the responsible institution.
We compound the injustice visited upon the survivors if we think that this bill is the complete answer to decades of abuse. It is a good start, but the scheme does not go far enough. The bill establishes a scheme, but it only becomes operative if the states and territories, churches and other institutions agree to be bound and participate. It's encouraging that Victoria, New South Wales, the ACT, the Northern Territory and Queensland have publicly announced they will payment. Today we call upon the other states, churches and institutes to follow.
The scheme has to be improved. We need more support services, and the cap on compensation is insufficient. The royal commission recommended a maximum of $200,000, a figure that many advocates thought was itself insufficient. This bill provides for only $150,000, which seems to me mean-spirited. The scheme is limited to Australian citizens without good reason. We of all people should know that matters of citizenship are not straightforward as we thought they once were. There are many child migrants who attended schools or who were forcibly institutionalised and suffered abuse, and they should not be excluded. The government has sought to place restrictions on survivors who themselves have a criminal history from accessing the redress scheme. I simply point to the evidence that shows that many of the abused have found themselves up in a life of incarceration, and Labor believes this policy should be changed in that regard.
Because it's the faith in which I was raised, because it was where the majority of abuse came from and because I've known and spoken to so many survivors, I'd like to make some particular comments about the Catholic Church. At the request of the commission, the Catholic Church provided data on complaints, and the data is extraordinary. Between 1980 and 2015 alone, over 4,400 people alleged incidents relating to more than 1,000 separate institutions. Of the complainants, 78 per cent were male. Of the alleged perpetrators, 90 per cent were male. Sixty-two per cent of the perpetrators were priests or brothers. Seven per cent of all priests were perpetrators. Twenty per cent of all Marist Brothers and 22 per cent of all Christian Brothers were perpetrators. Can you imagine another institution in this country where close to one-quarter of its members were perpetrators? If that was any other institution in this country, there'd be calls to close it down. 11.7 per cent of priests from the diocese of Wollongong, 13.9 per cent of priests from the diocese of Lismore, 14 per cent of priests from the diocese of Port Pirie and 15 per cent of priests from the diocese of Sale were perpetrators. Five male religious orders—the Christian Brothers, the De La Salle Brothers, the Marist Brothers, the Patrician Brothers and the St John of God Brothers—represent more than 40 per cent of all claims made to Catholic Church authorities.
The first thing that strikes you about this data is the sheer immensity of the crimes. These are statistics, but behind the number stands an adult with vivid memories of their younger self—the moment when their faith, their trust and their body were abused by a person they were taught to revere. The second thing that is overwhelming about this is the sheer number of cases. These were instances where complaints were made and were documented by the church, but in the overwhelming number of cases no report was made to the police. The third thing that becomes obvious is that over 62 per cent of all perpetrators came from an order which imposed a vow of celibacy.
A scheme of redress must by necessity look backwards. That's what redress is all about. But this parliament must also look forward. We must say in clear and unadulterated words to the Catholic Church and other institutions: 'You must reform yourself. If you're imposing obligations upon your clerics that add to the risk of offence and impose a culture of secrecy, this must simply stop.' The rite of confession and the seal of the confessional is at the centre of this culture. It's where the faithful seek divine absolution from their sins through a genuine act of contrition. A confession is made, sins are counted and penance is applied. The practice is bound in confidentiality, known as the seal of the confessional. The priest must not disclose the details of the confession he has heard, even if they concern a serious crime like child sexual abuse. There can be no place in modern Australia where such an obligation is imposed. It is symbolic of the culture of secrecy and cover-up that has perpetuated generations of abuse. There are now many professions from healthcare workers, police officers and educators who have a mandatory obligation to report certain crimes, or even suspicions of certain crimes, because this is in the public interest and in the best interests of the child. Priests should be no different. If the church is to recover from the immense reputational damage it has suffered from the exposure of acts of hypocrisy and complicity in crimes against children then it must dispose of this anachronism.
That priests and brothers be celibate was not always the case in the church. In fact, it wasn't until the 12th century that it was seriously mandated, and it has not necessarily been honoured. It's time to rethink this practice as well. If 62 per cent of all perpetrators came from an order which imposed a vow of celibacy, it is right for us to ask in this place whether the practice is a part of the problem. In the hearings of the royal commission, the commissioners considered what role the vow of celibacy played in the occurrence of child sexual abuse within the Catholic Church. While there was some division of opinion among Australian bishops, evidence given showed them generally reluctant to concede that celibacy had a significant role to play in the sexual abuse of children. One bishop described it as simplistic. Most other authorities disagree. For example, when non-Catholic religious institutions accused of sexual abuse of children in their care were examined, it was rare that the abusers came from within their ministries. There is academic evidence which adds to the weight of this opinion. A report by two Melbourne academics, Desmond Cahill and Peter Wilkinson, published by RMIT last year, tackles what they call 'the scandal and tragedy of child sexual abuse within the Catholic Church'. They emphasise the urgency of reform. They point out that the risk to children greatly increased 'if the child was in the pastoral care of a psychosexually immature, poorly prepared priest, unable to deal adequately with his sexual desires, his exercise of power and his obligations to chastity and celibacy'.
My church and many others have been robust contributors to social policy debates that we've had in this place, and I welcome that, even on the matters on which we deeply disagree. But this cannot be a one-way dialogue. This parliament is one forum where the public opinion can be raised, and the decision-makers within the church would do well to reflect on this if they are to regain an element of the respect and the prestige that they once enjoyed. I commend the bill to the House.