Gillard warns of 'uncomfortable truths' as probe on child sex abuse opens

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 04 April, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 04 April, 2013, 3:19am

Australia opened a national probe into child sex abuse yesterday, with Prime Minister Julia Gillard warning of "uncomfortable truths" as institutions including schools and churches come under scrutiny.

Gillard ordered the inquiry in November after a decade of growing pressure to investigate widespread allegations of paedophilia, two months after the Catholic Church in Victoria revealed hundreds of children had been abused.

"This is an important moral moment for our nation," Gillard told ABC radio as the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse began at the Victorian County Court in Melbourne.

"When I established this royal commission I understood that it was going to require our whole country to stare some very uncomfortable truths in the face," Gillard said.

Chairman Justice Peter McClellan said at the opening that the inquiry would hear "serious and shocking allegations".

At least 5,000 people would want to tell their stories, although "the number could be much higher", he said.

Public hearings are unlikely to start for several months.

An interim report is due by June next year but McClellan admitted it was unlikely the commission could complete its work within the time frame for the delivery of a final report in June 2015.

The findings and recommendations will be made public.

Gillard outlined two goals for the inquiry - for child sexual abuse victims to know that "we hear you, you're valued and you're believed", and for the royal commission to provide recommendations about the future.

Counsel Gail Furness told the inquiry that orphanages, schools, churches, parishes, groups such as the scouts, organised sports, childcare centres, detention centres and the defence forces would all come under scrutiny.

But Furness added: "The royal commission is not a court and does not decide criminal cases."