Child sex abuse: fears after funding cuts to royal commission

Rhonda returns to the old Sisters of Mercy St John’s orphanage building. Picture: JOHN RUSSELL
Rhonda returns to the old Sisters of Mercy St John’s orphanage building. Picture: JOHN RUSSELL

A WOMAN who recently gave testimony of sexual and physical abuse at a long-closed Albury-Wodonga girls’ home yesterday slammed a $6.7 million funding cut to a related royal commission. 

Five weeks ago Rhonda recounted the horrors of her time at St John’s Orphanage to a commissioner in Melbourne.

Rhonda (who did not wish to use her full name) now fears the funding transfer will prevent many others from telling the stories they have had to carry throughout their lives.

The Attorney-General’s Department has defended the redeployment last year of $4 million from the Royal Commission into Child Sexual Abuse capital works budget — plus $2.7 million from a pool for witness legal costs — to the home insulation inquiry.

It said this would not affect the commission’s operations.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott told Parliament on Wednesday that the government had budgeted $377 million for the sexual abuse commission.

Mr Abbott said it was fully funded and likely to get an extension beyond its wind-up date of December next year until mid-2016.

Care Leavers of Australia Network (CLAN), which has provided extensive support to Rhonda, criticised the redirection of funds.

CLAN is a national support and advocacy network that helps people who as children spent time in orphanages, children’s homes, foster care and missions around Australia.

Another critic of the funding reallocation was the group Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, which described the move as “absolutely appalling”.

Rhonda said she, too, was shocked when she heard the news.

She said if even just one person missed out on giving evidence to the commission as a result, “there is a possibility that one paedophile or child abuser is allowed to remain in our community unknown”.

Rhonda said that allowed that person to continue to have direct contact with and, ultimately, abuse other children.

“The royal commission is finding clusters, they’re finding similar abuses in the trails of where these perpetrators have been,” she said.

“They will get away with it — they will not be held accountable.”

Rhonda travelled to Melbourne last month to give her testimony to commissioner Andrew Murray in a private one-on-one session.

She admits it took her a long time to summon the courage to give her testimony about the abuse she suffered almost half a century ago.

CLAN’s support was crucial to taking that step.

“They spoke to me about the procedure and what happened,” she said.

“They offered me support; when I gave my testimony there was a support worker.”

Rhonda said CLAN accompanied her when she had her session.

“I had never seen or experienced something like the royal commission for the respect, the way it is conducted, the support that is there before, during and after you give testimony,” she said.

Rhonda said the commission was clearly concerned about her situation.

“The way the whole process was conducted, I cannot fault it at all,” she said.

Rhonda said a lot of victims suffered physical and emotional long-term effects as a result of their past.

“If that money is cut back then that’s going to stop people from having the right to have their say.”