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    « Cloudy conditions at the NSW Law Society | Main | Locking-up people who look dangerous »
    Friday
    Jan182013

    There'll be no questions 

    Big $100 million Royal Commission chooses the Intercontinental Hotel for its first public outing ... Six commissioners lined-up for inspection by the media ... Only one talked ... Bureaucrats hover ... The mystery of "F"  

    Commissioners with wide powers to dig for the truthIT was a strangely awkward little media event staged by the McClelland Royal Commission on Wednesday (Jan. 16). 

    No booze, no pets, no cigarettes. 

    Scribes and snappers were called to the Heritage Room at the Intercontinental in Bridge Street for the first airing of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. 

    There were anxious flunkies hovering about as the reptiles grew restless. Five minutes late, 10 minutes, 15 minutes. 

    Someone who looked like an official in a claret jacket came in and announced: "Ladies and gentlemen, Mr Justice McClellan ..." 

    Nothing happened, no Justice McClellan, or anyone else strode to the official table. An angry snapper waved the attendant aside as he was blocking the (non) entry shot. 

    The pack was informed in no uncertain terms - "no questions". 

    Eventually, the commissioners were ready. 

    "Ladies and gentlemen, Mr Justice McClellan." No one stood up or bowed. 

    The six took their seats and Chief Comish McClellan spoke from a carefully prepared screed: 

    "Our purpose in meeting with you this afternoon is to briefly explain how the commission will approach its work in accordance with the letters patent and the steps which must be taken before the commission can commence the process of gathering evidence." 

    He went on: 

    The task is large ... We cannot gauge the full extent of the task until people come forward ... The Royal Commissions Act is to be amended so that not all six commissioners need to sit when conducting a formal hearing ... Even with this amendment the task is complex and will take significant time. 

    Some proceedings will be conducted in private to protect individuals and some names will be suppressed. 

    "Where possible" the commission will proceed in public. 

    Finding trained staff is "a matter of the highest priority". So too researchers. 

    "Although preparatory work has commenced many further tasks must be undertaken and skilled personnel engaged before the commission can commence the evidence gathering process." 

    No one will notice anything happening for months. 

    The other commissioners sat quietly - not uttering a peep. 

    McClellan: commission will be based in SydneyMcClellan said that RCIRCSA will "not hesitate in appropriate cases" to use its powers to compel the production of evidence. 

    "The commission expects that all institutions that may have entered into confidential agreements with individuals will cooperate in relation to the disclosure of those matters." 

    A Royal Commission with enormous powers is an attractive implement for someone like Justice McClellan, whose distain for juries is not a secret. 

    A 1800 number has been created so that the slow process of collecting evidence can begin - 1800 099 340. 

    The legal team assisting the commission will be drawn from the AGS and Gail Furness SC from the Sydney bar 'n' grill has been appointed counsel assisting, with more appointments to come. 

    One estimate of the cost of the child sexual abuse inquiry has been put at $100 million. There should be plenty of money for a sizeable bureaucracy and lots of lawyers. 

    Recently Furness conducted the inquiry for the Liquor and Gaming Authority into Sydney's Star Casino. 

    The Sydney Morning Herald reported that she was paid over $200,000 - almost twice the amount of the fine imposed on the casino for a breach of its statutory obligations.  

    The first commission appointment is the media manager, Chris Taylor. He's an old hand from the bureaucracy, previously beavering away inside the ATO and PM&C.

    One of his notable achievements was putting together the campaign for Little Johnnie Howard to sell the GST to a stupefied electorate. 

    *   *  *

    IT'S worth nothing that the Catholic Church's latest exercise in re-imagining itself, the Truth, Justice and Healing Council, has taken the line that the church's abuse of children happened in the past. It's all over. Things have changed. Let's move on. 

    The council is an invention of the Catholic Bishops' Conference and is chaired by former NSW Supremo and ICAC chairman, Barry (the Mild One) O'Keefe. 

    The CEO, Francis Sullivan, is the smooth talker wheeled out for public announcements. 

    "We welcome the Royal Commission and will do everything in our power to cooperate ... our prayers are with the Royal Commissioners." 

    The council seems to be clinging to the sanctity of the confessional and insisting that the past is over. 

    It's expected that the Royal Commission will ensure that it is not over. 

    In the meantime, Tony Whitlam QC has just delivered his report into the "process related to the management of 'F'." 

    This investigation was commissioned by the Roman Catholic bishops of Armidala and Parramatta. 

    "F's" name has been suppressed by the courts. He is one of those sexually disturbed people who holed-up inside the Catholic Church, which obligingly moved him about whenever evidence of his abuse of children emerged. 

    In Whitlam's findings only dead clerics are found responsible. 

    The living priests, by various logistic manoeuvres, are excused. 

    Last year the ABC's Four Corners did a ground-breading report on "F", Unholy silence.  

    It was one of the media exposés that led directly to the creation of McClellan's Royal Commission. 

    See commission website  

    See McClellan's statement in full  

    See letters patent  

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