That the Assembly
authorise the Standing Committee, on the advice of the Legal Reference Committee, to make changes to the Regulations to any extent necessary to implement policies and practices deemed necessary in response to any recommendations of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.
The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse (the Commission) began its work in early 2013, and is scheduled to continue until December 2017. Since the establishment of the Commission the Uniting Church – as a major provider of care for children in institutions (past and present) and through its congregational life – has sought to constructively respond to and engage with the Commission. This has included participation in Public Hearings, making written submissions to Issues Papers and responding to major reports from the Commission.
Part of the Commission’s mandate is to consider and recommend “what institutions and governments should do better to protect children against child sexual abuse and related matters in institutional contexts in the future”.
Another part of the mandate is to consider and recommend “what institutions and governments should do to address, or to alleviate the impact of, past and future child sexual abuse and related matters in institutional contexts, including, in particular, in ensuring justice for victims through the provision of redress by institutions, processes for referral for investigation and prosecution and support services.”
Two issues on which to date the Commission has shown considerable interest are:
• The governance structures of institutions which provide services to children, and
• Schemes of redress available to survivors of child sexual abuse.
Without wanting to pre-empt any recommendations of the Commission the Assembly should note that it is likely that these two issues will be among those addressed in reports and recommendations of the Commission. These issues are related in that if a survivor seeking redress initiates civil litigation the action needs to be against an institution that is capable of being sued.
A possible outcome of the Commission’s work is that some form of Incorporation will be required for institutions which provide child care. This may extend beyond institutions such as UCA Schools and UnitingCare agencies to include even congregations.
The Commission has also spoken positively about the establishment of a national complaints register by the Anglican Church. The Standing Committee has done work on developing a national complaints register for the Uniting Church in consultation with Synods and other bodies.
It is clear that the Commission is uneasy where there is limited or no capacity in an organisation to require that the whole organisation abide by what it considers to be best practice. The only mechanism available to the Uniting Church when it wants to create conformity across the church is through the creation of a Regulation. It may be that in response to the work of the Commission that the Standing Committee identifies that participation of all Councils of the church in a national complaints register should be mandatory. The authority from the Assembly to create a new Regulation will enable a constructive response to this part of the work of the Commission.
The Standing Committee is only able to amend Regulations when it has a remit from the triennial Assembly to do so. At this point in time it is not clear where new Regulations will be required if the Uniting Church is to respond positively to the work of the Commission. However the Uniting Church needs to stand ready to respond to steps which the Commission may recommend and / or which government/s may impose, and not need to wait until the next Assembly to be in a position to respond.