Our Government takes the safety of children extremely seriously and there is nothing more important than ensuring the vulnerable in our community are protected. We also recognise the extraordinary courage it takes for someone to come forward and report sexual abuse.
Setting up a Commission of Inquiry (CoI) is no simple task, and I am pleased to provide an update on the work our Government has been doing to ensure it is appropriately equipped and resourced to leave no stone unturned.
The CoI is expected to commence later this month and to ensure it is fully empowered to undertake its inquiry, I will introduce a number of amendments to the Commissions of Inquiry Act 1995 and other related legislation to the Parliament soon. Our changes will ensure our Act is amongst the most powerful in the country and that our CoI is the strongest it can possibly be.
The proposed amendments have been identified in consultation with the proposed President of the CoI, the Hon. Marcia Neave AO, and will ensure private hearings will be able to be held, as well as refer matters to authorities when required.
A Commission of Inquiry is essentially the same as a Royal Commission, in that they both are established by Royal Assent and contain similar powers. The terms are interchangeable, but what matters is the powers with which they are provided by legislation. Therefore, although our Act refers to such an inquiry as a Commission of Inquiry, there is no practical difference in terms of its scope, power and function from a Royal Commission.
Work has also started to consider the functional requirements of the Commission of Inquiry, including leadership, staffing, appropriate premises and any additional services, including support services, required to assist the operations of the CoI.
The CoI will support, but not duplicate, the work of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, which handed down its Final Report on 15 December 2017, including 409 recommendations to better prevent and respond to institutional child sexual abuse.
The Tasmanian Government, through the Child Abuse Royal Commission Response Unity (CARCRU) Unit within the Department of Justice, has responsibility for implementing more than 200 recommendations from the Royal Commission that are applicable to the states.
This includes putting together a Child Safe Organisations and Reportable Conduct Framework, for which the consultation period has just closed; implementing a Witness Intermediary Pilot Scheme which commenced yesterday and has already had a referral; and administering the State’s role in the National Redress Scheme.
This is important and necessary work, and no small task. But it shows how serious we are at addressing these disturbing matters, and I am proud of what we have achieved so far and the work continuing in this high priority area.