Podcast: The Detail

Exposing a sex abuser at the sexual abuse inquiry

The Detail today talks to Newsroom's Laura Walters about how she revealed a convicted child sex offender sat in on meetings with survivors of sexual abuse. 

News that the inquiry into state abuse allowed a convicted child sex offender into meetings with survivors of sexual abuse was a blow to the country’s biggest-ever Royal Commission.

But it wasn’t the first blow.

The Government launched the preliminary stages of the $80 million inquiry in February last year. The terms of the inquiry were announced last November, when the scope was enlarged from covering abuse in state care to include abuse in faith-based institutions.

But in less than a year, chair Sir Anand Satyanand has resigned, the Commission has been criticised for appointing a gang member into a key role, and for using survivors for “trial” interviews.

Newsroom’s Laura Walters was told about the latest development by some of the survivors on the Commission’s advisory group.

They had “heard, or knew, or understood that one of the partners of one of the people on the group was a child sex offender,” she says. “And that’s all the information I had at the time.”

It took her three weeks to verify their story – to get the man’s name, the most recent decision on him from the Parole Board, the conditions of his release, the severity of his crime.

“These stories aren’t nice to do,” she says. “It’s massive for people’s lives. I was thinking about that man the whole way through – who has done his time … and has been seen fit to be out in the community and not a risk to the community. So he has every right to go about his life … and I really thought about his partner so I wanted to make sure we had every bit of information along the way.”

The day she finally got court documents to back up the story she realised other people including the National Party were now aware of what was happening.

She tried to get as much as she could out of the Commission but while it provided a written response – full of semantics – it wouldn’t put anyone up for an interview.

The man himself called her after she sent an email to his partner.

“He was really upset. I could not understate how upset he was. He was angry. He was sad. He was scared that his name and his partner’s name were going to be put out in the media, in the public sphere.

“I completely understood that,” she says.

“I said to him on multiple occasions that we were not doing that. That was never the point of the story. This man’s done his time. If we are going to believe that our society is built on rehabilitation then we have to back that up with our actions.

“So he has every right to get on with his life but, the Royal Commission failed in its duty of care to survivors. That is the point of the story the whole way through. I explained that to him and I was saying to him I felt like that was an important enough story to do ...  even though it wasn’t going to be a nice experience for him.

“By the end of our conversation he completely understood that.”

Walters tells Sharon Brettkelly in The Detail today more about this man who sparked such angst amongst survivors, why she didn’t name him and his partner, and what he did to be jailed that was so relevant to the Royal Commission. 

Ultimately the story was important for the survivors caught up in this.

“They’ve been waiting for this for so long. Their safety and their trust has been abused,” she says.

“They’re a tight-knit group. They were devastated. They felt like their safety had been put at risk and they explicitly say they felt re-traumatised.”

Walters says the reaction to the story from the Commission has also been disappointing in its attempts to discredit or downplay the report, and turn the blame onto the media for re-traumatising victims.

One of the survivors told her afterwards it was a butt-covering exercise.

“You’d hope that the focus from them would be less around PR and reputational damage and more about stepping back, taking a look at what’s going on within the Commission, why this happened, what processes happened or were not in place … and fixing that.”

Want more from The Detail? Find past episodes here.

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