Changes to scope of Royal Commission require further clarification

royal commission

A lack of clarity surrounding key terms of the Historical Abuse in State Care Royal Commission is raising serous concerns around the Commission’s scope.

The terms causing concern are “faith-based institutions” and “in care”.

The confusion emerged after the Government announced the Royal Commission will look into both state and faith-based institutions.

On Tuesday commission spokeswoman told the Otago Daily Times (ODT) she could not answer questions about the scope, except to say the new terms of reference would be reviewed by it and its lawyers.

The ODT says the terms of reference specifically excluded private settings for abuse involving faith-based institutions.

The bishop of Dunedin, Michael Dooley, said that if that was so, the inquiry needed to go further.

All parishioners were in the pastoral care of their priest, so any abused by clergy needed to be heard, he believed.

And while most commentators have focused on the inclusion of “care of faith-based institutions”, Dr Stephen Winter has pointed out there is a range of other changes.

The senior lecturer in Politics and International Relations at the University of Auckland suggests the expanded remit of the Royal Commission potentially includes any situation in which the state had responsibility for a young or vulnerable person.

He says that while the inclusion of faith-based care is a significant change, but “equally important is the inclusion of all state and private schools, early childhood centres and police custody.”

“To give a sense of what this means, there are around 2530 schools, 5585 early childhood centres and 330 police stations in New Zealand.”

“… and that is to say nothing of people in care in hospitals, prisons, health camps and so on.”

Winter points other changes made increase the scope and complexity of the inquiry:

  • The draft terms referred to children and young people, whereas now, anyone who is in care for reasons relating to disability is included
  • There is specific permission to consider experiences beyond previously announced 1900 to 1999 time period
  • A powerful role for the Treaty of Waitangi also adds to the Commission’s complexity.

Some Māori abused in state care say they will be silenced in the government inquiry now that it includes those abused in faith-based institutions.

However, Murray Heasley of Ngāti Raukawa, spokesperson for The Network of Survivors of Abuse in Faith-based Institutions, said extending the inquiry scope would strengthen voices not diminish them.

The press release from the prime minister’s press also states that as well as being able to look into physical, sexual, emotional and psychological abuse, and neglect, the Inquiry will also be able to look into inadequate care or improper treatment that resulted in serious physical or mental harm to the person.

The inquiry has been renamed and is now called Royal Commission into Historical Abuse in State Care and in the Care of Faith-Based Institutions

Read the press release

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