The Royal Commission into the abuse of children in state care will be widened to include churches and other “faith-based institutions”.

The Royal Commission into Historical Abuse in State Care was announced by the Government in February with a scope limited to just those in state care. But churches, including the Anglican and Catholic Churches of New Zealand lobbied the Government to widen the Commission’s scope to include abuse that occurred in their care. 

It will be backed by a budget of $78.85 million, including $15m to assist victims with counselling and chaired by former Governor-General Sir Anand Satyanand. It will include travel and accommodation allowances to enable victims to travel to the inquiry.

The figure does not include any compensation packages for victims, which is a possible outcome of the Commission’s report. 

Minister for Children Tracey Martin said the budget was provisional and could be increased if there was demand. 

“The Royal Commission has the ability to come back in the future, once we see the number who come forward,” she said. 

Gloriavale could be made to appear

The decision to widen the inquiry’s scope was made after a long process of receiving submissions on the draft terms of reference.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern defended the original scope saying the initial request for an inquiry came “very clearly” from those in state care.

“The original plea came from them to look at ourselves and to learn from the mistakes, and we are the ones still undertaking and providing care, particularly for children,” Ardern said. 

She said many still preferred those terms of reference.

“I myself was a very strong advocate for it remaining narrow around state care because of that duty of care, but we had to listen and we have listened,” she said. 

But churches had argued that they too should be included in the inquiry. The Catholic and Anglican Churches wrote to Martin lobbying her to widen the inquiry’s terms of reference to include “faith-based institutions”.

Churches expressed concern that victims could be excluded from the inquiry simply because their care had occurred under the care of the church rather than the state. 

Satyanand said there was “an expectation” that institutions will be encouraged to participate with the inquiry. While large institutions like the Anglican and Catholic Churches had indicated their cooperation, it’s not yet known how smaller religious groups like the obscure Gloriavale sect will respond. 

Asked if institutions like Gloriavale would now be included, Satyanand said “the tentative answer is yes”.  

“If they wish to come forward and be considered they will, if they are an institution and they are faith-based,” he said. The church could be compelled to appear, if the Royal Commission decided it was necessary. 

No report on churches until 2023

The Royal Commission will begin hearing evidence from January 2019. It will not release a full report until January 2023, but will be required to release an interim report focusing exclusively on abuse in state care by the end of 2020. 

Ardern would not say whether the Government will take actions like paying compensation or making an official apology after the interim report, or whether victims would have to wait until 2023 for an official response. 

“I wouldn’t want to prefigure what the Royal Commission may wish to say in the interim report, I think we have to take those in good faith when they are received,” she said. 

The Government announced the other four members of the Royal Commission: Ali’imuamua Sandra Alofivae, Dr Andrew Erueti, Paul Gibson, and Judge Coral Shaw.

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