Expand Royal Commission's brief

It will cost more. It will take a lot longer. But New Zealand should follow the Australian example and its Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.

Australia's Prime Minister Scott Morrison led this week an emotional ceremony in which Australia acknowledged the massive pain and suffering caused to many Australians. It gives the victims more chance, at least, to feel they have been listened to and believed.

It shows the abuse, the lack of acknowledgement and the cover-ups were not isolated. The Australian inquiry took five years, and included testimonies from thousands of victims. It revealed a cancer far more common that most thought. Yet, it happened under their noses, and it has happened under ours.

Mr Morrison's powerful speech included these questions: Why weren't the children of our nation loved, nurtured and protected? Why was their trust betrayed? Why did those who know cover it up? Why were the cries of children and parents ignored? Why was our system of justice blind to injustice? Why has it taken so long to act? Why were other things more important than this, the care of innocent children? Why didn't we believe?

Each is so pertinent here. Even before this country's Royal Commission gets under way, we know we will be little different.

This newspaper's inquiries into the Catholic Church and its schools in Dunedin, Marked by the Cross, have already turned up more than was initially expected - both the extent of abuse, as well as more on how perpetrators were moved on to abuse again.

Brave sufferers have come forward and told their stories, along with their plea for the faith institutions to be included in the Royal Commission terms of reference. The Catholic Church itself is also asking to be included.

And so it should be. Despite the extra costs and, more significantly, the extra time a broader inquiry will take, New Zealand needs to follow that Australia path. It was harrowing and bumpy, and there is still much to be worked through there. But it must be realised a partial job will be inadequate and leave out far too many victims.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced New Zealand's Royal Commission on February 1 this year, limiting that to historical abuse in state care and from 1950 to the end of 1999. It was good the inquiry was given Royal Commission status and the respected Sir Anand Satyanand, a former Governor-General, is the chairman. State care also includes where the Government contracted out services to other institutions.

But that is not wide enough. When the reports come in, there will inevitably be the feeling that too much child abuse by other institutions, including youth organisations and sports clubs, has been left out.

And what of the 1999 limit? What about the ongoing abuse no doubt taking place since then?

Consultation has been taking place on the draft terms of reference for the New Zealand inquiry, and questions are being asked about how long this is taking. It is nearly nine months since Ms Ardern's announcement. The chance of the inquiry finding being presented to Parliament in this term, as outlined in those draft terms, already looks remote. At least, the delay gives the Government a chance to rethink the scope of the inquiry.

As well as recognition of their pain and neglect, victims will want to know how change has been implemented so others do not suffer their fate. That is going to be a major part of the findings, and must apply to more than just state institutions.

The Royal Commission in Australia has, and is, making a significant difference to many lives. The same process is required in New Zealand.

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