This week the Newcastle Magistrates Court convicted the Archbishop of Adelaide of concealing evidence of child sex abuse. Philip Wilson was the Bishop of Wollongongbetween 1997 and 2000. To my knowledge, he is the most senior Australian cleric to be convicted of such anoffence. He should not be the last. Those who have covered up abuse and put the interests of their church and thereputation 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 Gillardhas heard evidence from more than 1,300 witnesses and held over 8,000 private sessions to listen to the personaccounts of survivors. It has handled 42,000 calls and received 25,000 letters and emails. After 57 public hearingslasting 444 days, the commission has made over 2 thousand referrals to law enforcement agencies. The inquirythat many said was unnecessary has shone a bright light into some of the darkest recesses of once inscrutablepublic institutions.
The establishment of the royal commission, and this national response, is a matter of deep personal interest andof great concern to the community that I represent. Wollongong is a wonderful city but it has also harboured morethan its fair share of abusers. My years at Edmund Rice College in Wollongong during the late 1970s and early1980s were mostly happy. There was a darker side, however. For many years the school had been a dumpingground for sex offenders.
We now know that there were many instances where brothers were moved from other schools in Sydney aftercomplaints 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. Complaintswere made. Instead of reporting him to the police he was moved to Saint Edmund's College in Canberra, where hetaught boys between the seventies and eighties. He abused more children and there were more complaints. He wasnot 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 aculture of silence and cover-up. The impact it had on boys at my school cannot be underestimated, nor can theimpact of denial and cover-ups that accompanied the original crimes and allowed them to be repeated in placeafter 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. Thescheme provides for three elements of redress: monetary payment, access to counselling and psychologicalservices and the opportunity to receive an apology from a representative of the institution responsible for theabuse. Applicants won't be limited to one form of redress. They'll be provided with access to support services andlegal services if they accept an offer. They will also receive financial advice. Importantly, they will be required tosign 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 itonly becomes operative if the states and territories, churches and other institutions agree to be bound andparticipate. It's encouraging that Victoria, New South Wales, the ACT, the Northern Territory and Queenslandhave 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 itselfinsufficient. This bill provides for only $150,000, which seems to me mean-spirited. The scheme is limited toAustralian citizens without good reason. We of all people should know that matters of citizenship are notstraightforward as we thought they once were. There are many child migrants who attended schools or who wereforcibly institutionalised and suffered abuse, and they should not be excluded. The government has sought toplace restrictions on survivors who themselves have a criminal history from accessing the redress scheme. Isimply 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 CatholicChurch. At the request of the commission, the Catholic Church provided data on complaints, and the data isextraordinary. Between 1980 and 2015 alone, over 4,400 people alleged incidents relating to more than 1,000separate institutions. Of the complainants, 78 per cent were male. Of the alleged perpetrators, 90 per cent weremale. Sixty-two per cent of the perpetrators were priests or brothers. Seven per cent of all priests wereperpetrators. 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 thediocese of Wollongong, 13.9 per cent of priests from the diocese of Lismore, 14 per cent of priests from thediocese of Port Pirie and 15 per cent of priests from the diocese of Sale were perpetrators. Five male religiousordersthe Christian Brothers, the De La Salle Brothers, the Marist Brothers, the Patrician Brothers and the StJohn of God Brothersrepresent 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 selfthe moment when their faith, theirtrust and their body were abused by a person they were taught to revere. The second thing that is overwhelmingabout this is the sheer number of cases. These were instances where complaints were made and were documentedby the church, but in the overwhelming number of cases no report was made to the police. The third thing thatbecomes 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 otherinstitutions: 'You must reform yourself. If you're imposing obligations upon your clerics that add to the risk ofoffence and impose a culture of secrecy, this must simply stop.' The rite of confession and the seal of theconfessional is at the centre of this culture. It's where the faithful seek divine absolution from their sins through agenuine act of contrition. A confession is made, sins are counted and penance is applied. The practice is bound inconfidentiality, known as the seal of the confessional. The priest must not disclose the details of the confession hehas heard, even if they concern a serious crime like child sexual abuse. There can be no place in modern Australiawhere such an obligation is imposed. It is symbolic of the culture of secrecy and cover-up that has perpetuatedgenerations of abuse. There are now many professions from healthcare workers, police officers and educators whohave a mandatory obligation to report certain crimes, or even suspicions of certain crimes, because this is in thepublic interest and in the best interests of the child. Priests should be no different. If the church is to recover fromthe immense reputational damage it has suffered from the exposure of acts of hypocrisy and complicity in crimesagainst 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 practiceas well. If 62 per cent of all perpetrators came from an order which imposed a vow of celibacy, it is right for us toask in this place whether the practice is a part of the problem. In the hearings of the royal commission, thecommissioners considered what role the vow of celibacy played in the occurrence of child sexual abuse within theCatholic Church. While there was some division of opinion among Australian bishops, evidence given showedthem generally reluctant to concede that celibacy had a significant role to play in the sexual abuse of children. Onebishop 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 twoMelbourne 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 psychosexuallyimmature, poorly prepared priest, unable to deal adequately with his sexual desires, his exercise of power and hisobligations 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 churchwould do well to reflect on this if they are to regain an element of the respect and the prestige that they onceenjoyed. I commend the bill to the House.