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March 01st 2012 print

Philippa Martyr

Your ABC has done it again.

While every other headline in Australian newspapers on this troubled issue of child protection focused on the need to overhaul Victorian state government services  your ABC decided that, as usual, the real culprit was organised religion.

The Cummins Inquiry has just released its Report, following a year-long investigation into the protection of vulnerable children in Victoria. You can visit the website here…

Before we cross to the ABC, let’s have a look at the other news headlines around this Report and its recommendations: 

  • ‘Government defends rights of sex offenders’ – Herald Sun, 29 Feb

  • ‘Overhaul child protection in Vic: inquiry’ – Sydney Morning Herald, 28 Feb‎
     
  • ‘Overhaul to protect Victorian children at risk’ – The Australian, ‎28 Feb‎
     
  • ‘Victorian report recommends stronger child protection laws’ – The Australian, 27 ‎Feb
     
  • ‘Overhaul Vic child protection: report’ – Sydney Morning Herald, 28 Feb
     
  • ‘Our most vulnerable kids need help’ – Herald Sun, 29 Feb

But guess what very small subsection of the Report your ABC latched on to? 

Last night on PM, the ABC ran its version of events in a piece entitled ‘Report into vulnerable children in Victoria’. As well as speaking to Ted Ballieau, Lynette Buoy (Centre for Excellence in Child and Family Welfare) and Julian Pocock (Berry Street) – all of whom have reason to be talking about this issue in a serious way – journalist Anna Macdonald interviewed Professor Patrick Parkinson from the University of Sydney, a family law expert who has worked with churches on the abuse issue. Here’s what he had to say: 

I think the state’s inquiry already had a great deal on its plate and the terms of reference for that inquiry were focusing on other issues. So the particular problem of historic abuse by clergy, which raises unique issues; unique legal issues, unique pastoral issues, was one which I always felt would be better dealt with by a separate inquiry … The reason why I think Victoria needs to do it and why Victoria should go first is that there are particular issues in Victoria. Now I raised concern about the Salesian Order, which is based in Victoria. The Salesians are one of the largest male orders and they have these significant concerns about the way in which the Salesians have handled child sexual abuse.

In case any of us missed the real issue at stake here, today the ABC ran the following story on its website The World Today about the release of the Cummins Report, entitled – bizarrely – ‘Child welfare report calls for church abuse inquiry’. 

Journalists Eleanor Hall and Liz Hobday both admit that the Cummins Report is a hefty piece of work. Eleanor notes that ‘Cummins Inquiry into vulnerable children in Victoria has made wide-ranging recommendations to improve the State Government’s child protection systems’, while Liz comments that ‘After a year looking into child welfare in Victoria it’s made more than 90 recommendations’. 

Now, to be fair to the ABC, the Cummins Report is around 2500 pages long, and it’s grown-up reading. It has made some very pointed findings about the failure of Victoria’s various child protection agencies to do their job, and has also publicised some controversial predictors for child abuse, including parental alcohol abuse. 

But it’s not too hard to perform a simple exercise. I opened each section of the Report in PDF on its website, and did a search on the word ‘religion’. 

And guess what? The recommendations dealing with mandatory reporting form one small sub-section of Chapter 14. 

Most of the references to ‘religion’ in the enormous Report are positive: they describe the child’s right to their own cultural and religious framework, or note that the Commission took evidence from a wide range of religious groups who freely participated in the process. 

But that’s not very interesting, really, so the ABC dashed out and got hold of Helen Last from an organisation calling itself In Good Faith and Associates, which has been pushing the Catholic Church to introduce mandatory reporting. Helen Last agreed with Patrick Parkinson, and more importantly, with the ABC. 

It’s worth noting that every other headline in Australian newspapers on this troubled issue focused on the need to overhaul Victorian state government services. But your ABC decided that, as usual, the real culprit in all this was organised religion.