14 Nov 2019

New head of state care abuse inquiry acknowledges failures

From Checkpoint, 5:15 pm on 14 November 2019

The new head of the Royal Commission of Inquiry into Abuse in Care concedes there are fences to be mended in gaining the trust of survivors working with the investigation.

Former district court Judge Coral Shaw replaces Sir Anand Satyanand as chair following his resignation.

Judge Shaw handled the public fallout after it was revealed a convicted paedophile, who was the partner of a member of the survivors advisory group, had mixed with abuse survivors at Commission-related functions - without their knowledge.

The Commission has since introduced compulsory vetting for advisers and their support people.

"Absolutely there are some fences to be mended," Judge Shaw told Lisa Owen.

"One of the biggest issues the Commission has faced from the beginning and will face to the very end is gaining the trust of survivors.

"Survivors have been abused by the State. Survivors have been abused by the churches they were involved with. So anything that looks like the State or an institution, automatically I think they see us as part of that abusing organisation.

"The only way we can get over that is to demonstrate that we are worthy of trust. That I see as one of my major tasks, to be started quickly."

She said she is sorry if survivors of abuse have felt upset at how she has dealt with the saga in which a convicted paedophile had been at Commission-related events.

"Certainly that was not my intention, and I'm more than willing to apologise to them for doing that."

But she says she has not had time to apologise to survivors yet, as constant hearings have been taking place over the last two weeks.

"I don't expect them to trust me completely from the very beginning, some of them may never trust me, but the reality is I've got the job and I have to do the best I can to try and build some trust and confidence in the job that I'm doing.

"It's [abuse survivors'] decision if they want to work with me or not. I can't make them. We've invited them to be part of the Survivor Advisory Group.

"If they feel they can't trust me then they have a choice, and that sounds harsh, and I would respect that choice."

"We are looking in the future to be organising this in a way that probably, hopefully will be more congenial to them, meeting more of their individual needs."