Child abuse: Victorian government ponders church confessional laws

The Victorian government is considering the Royal Commission recommendations.

The Victorian government is considering the Royal Commission recommendations. Photo: AAP

Victorian priests could face charges if they fail to report child abuse claims made during confessionals, but only if the state government can convince the rest of the country to get on board.

The state Labor government on Wednesday released its response to the national Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, accepting in full or in principle 293 of the 409 recommendations.

The government has accepted in principle a recommendation that seeks to add religious ministers to the mandatory reporting regime.

But another recommendation about reporting what is said in confession is one of 24 being considered further.

“We think it is best approached at a national level, it doesn’t make sense to have states doing different things,” acting Premier James Merlino told reporters.

Our concern first and foremost and always is the safety of children … in regards to this matter we think the best approach is a nationally consistent approach.”

Attorney-General Martin Pakula said the different governments needed to work together when it came to abolishing the seal of confessional.

“In terms of the current protection of the confessional, that is contained in the Uniform Evidence Act, which … covers a number of Australian jurisdictions – Victoria, NSW, Tasmania, the Commonwealth and the two territories,” he told ABC radio.

Since 2017, organisations with a high level of responsibility for children must report suspicions of child abuse to the Commissioner for Children and Young People.

Victoria has also quashed a legal loophole preventing survivors from suing some organisations for their abuse, abolished civil claim time limits and introduced child information sharing legislation.

Victoria and NSW were the first states in Australia to opt into the National Redress Scheme earlier this year, which started on July 1, allowing survivors to seek compensation.

Mr Pakula said the state’s recent record demonstrated a willingness to hold the Catholic church and other religious groups to account.

“The Victorian government has been the first adopter on a vast majority of these recommendations, many of which will cost the Catholic Church a great deal of money and other institutions as well,” he said.

“It’s absolutely appropriate, given the experience of victim survivors, that our contribution of redress scheme and the contribution of religious organisations ought to be significant.”

The state says it will continue working with the federal and other state and territory governments on more than 50 recommendations that require national action.


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