into sexual abuse in Australia and it is, even before it begins, causing some controversy. I am not happy about it either. The announcement was an ill thought out piece of political one upmanship for which the Attorney-General is almost certainly quietly cursing the Prime Minister.
Now, please do not misunderstand me here. Sexual abuse is an appalling thing. I am all too well aware of the harm it can do. It is not an issue which should be politicised or compromised in any way.
The problem is that the Prime Minister made the announcement without even consulting her colleagues. No terms of reference have been decided on. No time limit has been given. At the moment it is a mess.
We have multiple jurisdictions in Australia - and multiple issues arise because of that. Where do the states and territories come in here? They cannot be ignored. Apart from anything else they are, through their own institutions and practices, involved.
Are there to be limits on the areas under investigation?
There are already those who are trying to turn it into a witch hunt against the Roman Catholic church. They claim it is a "Catholic" problem - simply because Catholic priests are supposed to be celibate. That is nonsense. It is not a Catholic problem. It is everyone's problem.
The Catholic church may have a particular problem - or it may be that it is more obvious (or appears to be more obvious) within the Catholic church. It is not alone however. The Anglican church also has monks and nuns who take vows of celibacy. I also understand that unmarried Anglican priests have to to seek permission from their Bishop if they wish to marry. (I may be wrong on that issue - someone correct me if I am.)
There are priests, pastors, ministers, rabbis, mullahs and clergymen of all sorts in other faiths who are also in positions of trust and who have abused that trust. There are also teachers, welfare workers, youth leaders and many others who work with children and other vulnerable individuals who have abused the trust placed in them.
The anti-religious lobby is seeing the issue as a religious one. It is not. Abuse goes far beyond the reaches of religion. It can occur almost anywhere. It is in fact more likely to occur in families and in situations where people, particularly children, are vulnerable. It is, reportedly, rife in some indigenous communities.
I worry when people try to make it a "religious thing" and use their anti-religious beliefs to push this idea. I am not a church-goer but I am conscious of the fact that without the support of church organisations our social welfare system would crumble. Church organisations, particularly Anglicare and a range of Catholic services, do a vast amount of work on a voluntary basis which would otherwise have to be paid for by the government - or perhaps would not be done at all. Hospitals, schools, housing for the homeless and the elderly, drug and alcohol addiction services, shelters for women, day care for dementia patients, services for the disabled and youth, food banks and opportunity shops are all run by church organisations.
And then there is the other thing that bothers me. It is the not so small issue of "evidence", evidence that will stand up in a court of law. It is easy to make allegations but they are not evidence. While I have no doubt that abuse has occurred allegations can also be made by emotionally disturbed, vulnerable individuals who come from dysfunctional families. It may well be easier for some of them to lay blame for what has happened outside their families than acknowledge it within them - especially if they see the opportunity for some financial "compensation".
And I think that may also be part of the problem. Victims of abuse almost always need counselling and psychological support. They need social support networks too. Financial compensation may be nice but it is not the answer. The potential of financial compensation feeds an unhealthy desire to make unwarranted allegations in order to "get back" at those who have been responsible for decisions which were, and still are, resented.
So perhaps the first thing which needs to be done is to make it plain that while financial compensation will not be given to victims of abuse they will be given counselling, pyschological and social support. I suspect that the last might be much harder than handing over "guilt" money to the detriment of the current generation of those in need of the services provided.