The head of the royal commission into child sex abuse says he will not hesitate to investigate alleged assaults that are the subject of confidentiality agreements.
Speaking alongside his five co-commissioners in Sydney, Justice Peter McClellan said non-disclosure agreements would not stop the commission inquiring into institutional responses to child sex assault.
‘‘The commission is aware that there has been considerable public discussion about the powers the commission has to inquire into matters which are the subject of confidential agreements,’’ Justice McClellan said.
‘‘We wish to emphasise that under the Royal Commission Act, the commission has powers to compel the production of evidence, including documents.
‘‘We will not hesitate in an appropriate case to exercise those powers.’’
Justice McClellan said the task facing the commission was large and complex.
He could not put a timeframe on when public hearings would commence.
‘‘Our task is complex and it will take significant time.’’
He said the commission would be based in Sydney but that the six commissioners would sit in different parts of the country.
He reminded those present that the commission was not a prosecuting body.
Nor, he said, was it able to award compensation to victims.
‘‘Our investigative processes will be utilised to receive and consider what we expect to be accounts by individuals that tell of their experience.’’
He said that given the sensitivity of the issues involved, there could at times have to be ‘‘constraints’’ on the inquiry.
‘‘This may mean that proceedings will take place in private, and real names may not be used.’’
However, Justice McClellan said, where possible the commission would carry out proceedings in public.
The commission had set up a phone hotline for victims of sex abuse to call and leave their personal details.
Even so, Justice McClellan said, the process of gathering evidence would take months.
‘‘It may be some months before the progress of the commission is apparent to the public.’’