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Commissioner Bob Atkinson heartened by church support for royal commission’s work

Bob Atkinson

Taking heart: Commissioner Bob Atkinson is heartened by church support for the work of the royal commission. Photo: Mark Bowling

ROYAL Commissioner Bob Atkinson has offered encouragement to Australian churches taking up the recommendations of the Royal Commission into child sexual abuse, including the payment of compensation to survivors.

“I can say it is very heartening to see the support of various faiths in recent times for the national redress scheme,” Mr Atkinson, a former Queensland police commissioner, said while addressing an annual Lord Mayor’s prayer breakfast in Brisbane.

Four out of five child sexual abuse survivors will be covered by the national redress scheme, after the Anglican Church, Salvation Army, YMCA and Scouts Australia joined the Catholic Church in endorsing it.

The Catholic Church has estimated it will be liable for about $1 billion in compensation.

The national scheme will cover about 60,000 institutional child sexual abuse survivors nationally, with compensation payments capped at $150,000.

“Most of the publicity of course related to the churches, but there were many, many institutions where child abuse occurred – in schools, foster care, sporting organisations, in Australian defence forces cadets …, it occurred in detention centres for children,” Mr Atkinson, who served as police commissioner for 12 years, said.

In a 44-year career with the Queensland Police Service, Mr Atkinson served throughout Queensland from Goondiwindi to Cairns.

He was a detective for about 20 years and acted as the police prosecutor in various magistrates courts, and later oversaw reforms after the Fitzgerald Inquiry into police corruption.

Two weeks after his retirement in 2012, former Prime Minister Julia Gillard announced a royal commission into institutional child abuse, and Mr Atkinson was appointed one of six commissioners.

“It was an extraordinary experience,” he said of the longest-running royal commission in Australia.

“One of the terms of reference was to listen to the victims of child abuse, to enable them to tell their story and make suggestions about what should be done to make sure such things didn’t happen again.”

Mr Atkinson said a key aspect of allowing this to happen was to have legislation passed to ensure there was complete privacy and confidentiality for more than 8000 people who came forward to tell their stories.

Reaching out to church leaders, Mr Atkinson spoke about the important role of churches and organisations in the post-commission era, in the safeguarding of children.

“I wish to thank you today for the wonderful work you do … in schools, hospitals, and the pastoral aspect as well,” he said.

Mr Atkinson drew on his policing experience to explain how churches should be ever vigilant about safeguarding children in their care.

“You never say in a police department ‘we are as good as we can ever be, we can’t get any better’ because the day you do that in the police it’s time to leave – and I think it might be the same in this space as well,” he said.

“It’s not an area where you can ever say ‘nothing to worry about here’; it needs continuous review and monitoring to make sure it’s working.”

At the prayer breakfast, Dave Benson, who is director of Malyon Traverse, a ministry of Queensland Baptists, was amongst church leaders to offer heartfelt prayers.

“We give you thanks for the tireless work of the Royal Commission exposing our abuse, revealing systemic injustice and calling us beyond remorse to true repentance,” Mr Benson said.

“For the healing of those we’ve hurt and hope for life after the death of faith, give us your peace.

“For the courage to listen to survivors, face our wrongdoing, and redress justice at whatever cost, give us your peace.

“For wisdom to implement recommendations and review culture and protection of children, give us your peace.”

Brisbane auxiliary Bishop Ken Howell said it was pleasing to hear Mr Atkinson’s encouragement to churches “in their mission to accept the recommendations of the royal commission and to move forward”.

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