Govt quiet over abuse inquiry

Jacinda Ardern
Jacinda Ardern
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and her coalition Government are refusing to say if they will listen to the Catholic Church's renewed call for an expanded Royal Commission into historic abuse.

The call from Dunedin Bishop the Most Rev Michael Dooley came as he apologised this week for historic sexual offences against children within the diocese and the church's handling of it.

However, most politicians contacted by ODT Insight yesterday would not comment on Bishop Dooley's call ahead of a final decision on the scope of the inquiry.

That included Ms Ardern, whose spokeswoman referred questions to Internal Affairs Minister Tracey Martin, saying she was the minister responsible for the inquiry.

Mrs Martin would only say it was ''not appropriate'' to comment while draft terms of reference were still being considered.

Her spokesman could not say when a final decision was expected.

Dunedin South MP Clare Curran declined to comment, while Dunedin North MP David Clark did not respond to a request for comment.

Neither did National leader Simon Bridges or the party's Internal Affairs spokesman, Kanwaljit Singh Bakshi.

The only politician contacted who was prepared to comment was Alfred Ngaro, National's spokesman for children, who backed Bishop Dooley's call.

''The Government has said the issue of abuse in state care will be re-looked at in its entirety, therefore the Royal Commission should look at the issue as broadly as possible.

''This should include the role of churches as the commission does in Australia,'' he said.

However, even that might not go far enough, Liz Tonks, a spokeswoman for the Network of Survivors of Faith-based Institutional Abuse and their Supporters, said.

She told ODT Insight the churches only wanted to be included in the Royal Commission as defined by the draft terms of reference.

Those terms of reference still focused only on abuse in state care - covering institutions run by the state and where state care was contracted out - and only between 1950 and 1999.

Ms Tonks said the Royal Commission needed to cover all forms of institutional abuse, without time limits, and with the power to compel testimony from institutions such as churches.

The draft terms would otherwise exclude ''the majority of those abused in the church'', and would not investigate institutions to ''uncover those complicit, and who protected the perpetrators'', she said.

''We need to be very concerned . . . we will end up in the position where they [churches] are included in an inquiry that protects them further.''

A joint submission in April by Auckland Bishop the Most Rev Patrick Dunn, for the NZ Catholic Bishops Conference, and Sr Katrina Fabish, of the Sisters of Mercy, had also stressed the need to expand the inquiry.

The submission asked for the inquiry to ''at least'' include all people in residential care, but criticised the draft terms as ''arbitrary and insufficient''.

Without change, the draft terms ''unjustly silences voices that have a right to be heard'' and would ''limit the commission's understanding of the extent, nature and causes of historical abuse in institutional settings'', it said.

''The current draft terms risk a further gross injustice to those who are presently excluded,'' it said.

chris.morris@odt.co.nz

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