Politics

Church schools face Royal Commission scrutiny

The government has set up a surprisingly wide-ranging Royal Commission into abuse of children in state care that will look at fairness of the compensation system and at abuse in religious boarding schools.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Children's Minister Tracey Martin have announced a full Royal Commission into abuse in state care that will address the overall issue of compensation and will look at religious institutions where the state placed children into their care.

Ardern said she had initially thought a ministerial inquiry was required, but agreed with Martin's proposal in Cabinet for a full Royal Commission to be chaired by former Governor General Sir Anand Satyanand.

The Royal Commission will consider submissions on its terms of reference over the next three months and report back with final terms of reference in April.

It would then begin hearing from victims in the middle of the year, and was expected to deliver its final report back to the Government before the end of its three-year term in late 2020.

However, Ardern acknowledged the Commission, which will receive $12 million in funding in its first year, could take longer to complete.

Ardern and Martin said the draft terms of reference would see the Commission look into religious institutions where the state had placed children into their care, but would not be a general inquiry into the institutions overall — unlike a similar Inquiry into sexual abuse in Australia, which looked generally at religious institutions.

"This is about the people, not the institutions," Martin told a joint news conference in the Beehive theatrette.

Martin gave the example of a child in state care who was put into a Catholic boarding school as one example that would be in scope.

Challenged on the issue of compensation, Ardern and Martin said the Commission would not look at compensation for individual cases, but would look at the overall compensation system which has been handling complaints from victims in recent years.

Complaints from 1400 people in state care have been resolved, while 1000 were still being resolved, Ardern said.

They acknowledged the Government's legal actions in dealing with the issue of compensation in recent years would be covered, but said the Commission was not mainly about compensation, with the focus on those who were abused in state care having the chance to tell their story and for the state to apologise.

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