Australian Politics & Current Affairs
By Nick Kenny
The irony is amazing. A religious order burns thousands of alleged witches. Centuries later, it is the target of a witch-hunt. By a prime minister who looks like a witch.
The Gillard government has announced it will be conducting a royal commission into institutional child sex abuse, exposing the darkest side of every potentially offending religious public institution throughout the land.
To be fair, this is long overdue. Since settlement, the religious orders in Australia have enjoyed an obscenely privileged status, enjoying massive government grants, evading taxes, keeping their accounts hidden, and reaping enormous profits from the sale of real estate originally given to them by the colonial governments. They have held the ultimate position of power: entitlement without accountability.
As this power has gone unchecked, they have reached the point where the most depraved sexual acts against children have been ignored, hidden, denied, and ultimately entrenched as an ongoing “see no evil, speak no evil” activity. It appears as though almost every level of every church hierarchy, has, to some extent, conspired to keep these heinous crimes hidden, crimes which have been committed by some of society’s most trusted leaders and spiritual guides. Victims have been silenced, whistleblowers have been threatened, and the perpetrators have been granted immunity, anonymity, and relocation by the self-proclaimed “moral leaders” of our society.
The inquiry thus comes as very welcome news – but especially for the struggling federal government. It is tough trying to determine whether this royal commission is a stroke of political genius, or just bloody good timing.
One year out from a federal election, Detective Inspector Peter Fox has revealed the conspiratorial extent of child sex abuse in Australia, with even fellow police officers involved in the scandalous cover-ups. Gillard’s ensuing announcement of a thorough and lengthy inquiry can only serve to boost her and the ALP’s tentative ratings in the polls, and for a political cynic like myself, it echoes the tactical efforts of the desperate Howard government in 2007.
With an election looming, Howard ordered an intervention into the aboriginal communities in the Northern Territory with a focus on preventing child abuse. Unfortunately for Howard, his track record of indigenous affairs meant voters responded with skepticism, while the aboriginal communities themselves had grown wary of his paternalistic policies. The move did him little justice come election time.
Gillard’s decision, by contrast, suffers no such drawbacks. By casting the net of interrogation over every alleged offender, including scout groups, sporting groups, and other non-affiliated social organisations, she has shown a level of impartiality and thoroughness that can only serve to unite parliament and boost her ratings in the polls.
Also, the abhorrent nature of these crimes, and the focus specifically on the crimes and the alleged cover-ups themselves, means the inquiry will likely go ahead with the support of every member of both houses. To oppose it for any reason would mean political suicide – Barry O’Farrell’s initial hesitation in supporting the measure, followed by a swift backflip two hours later, shows just how dangerous it would be for any politician to even question this move.
More importantly, Gillard has found a policy which Tony Abbott and the Coalition dare not oppose, but also one which Abbott would not have spearheaded himself had he been prime minister. His lifelong, personal dedication to the Catholic Church makes it difficult to believe a Coalition government under his leadership would propose such a wide sweeping measure that will surely condemn the Catholic Church as a prime, serial offender.
As it stands, however, he cannot afford to oppose this measure. He and his party must therefore sit in the background and suffer the “me-too” status that wrought havoc on the ALP back in 2001 with the boat arrivals.
All political point-scoring aside, this inquiry is groundbreaking. What’s more, it breathes fresh life into a government plagued by inaction and devoid of substance. After two years of tit-for-tat politics, petty disputes, personal taunts and insults, weak compromises, and exhausting efforts to retain their meager lower house majority, the Gillard government has finally produced a positive, commendable policy.
It may or may not be enough to get the ALP over the line 2013, regardless, it will remain the defining moment of this federal term. As the Carbon Tax fades into obscurity, as plain packaging tobacco fails to make inroads into smoking habits, and as the “issue” of asylum seekers continues to be the raging storm in a teacup it always has been, the Royal Commission into child abuse, by contrast, will be chiseled into the pages of history as the one outstanding decision that this government can be proud of.