Operation Protea [Speech]

This speech was delivered on 22/10/2014. You can read the original contribution here.

 

Mr DAVID SHOEBRIDGE [7.02 p.m.]: Last week the Police Integrity Commission [PIC] held public hearings for Operation Protea, which is an inquiry considering the role of a police officer on the Catholic Church’s Professional Standards Resource Group [PSRG]. The PSRG, as it is known, is an internal church body that is responsible for advising the church’s Professional Standards Office on how to respond to complaints of child sexual abuse by clergy. Operation Protea is a long overdue opportunity to take an independent look at the arrangements that led to a New South Wales police officer, a sworn officer, being involved on an internal and highly controversial Catholic Church body and the circumstances in which that police officer was giving advice to that internal church body.

The existence of the arrangements between the police and the church that resulted in that police officer sitting on the internal church body was revealed by my office under a Government Information (Public Access) Act [GIPA] application which delivered a memorandum of understanding between the church and the police. It is now apparent that indeed that memorandum of understanding initially was drafted by the police. These documents show how Elizabeth Cullen, a senior police officer, was a full member of the Professional Standards Resource Group from 1998 to 2005 and that for much of that period the church believed that having her on that body satisfied its obligations under section 316 of the Crimes Act to report the serial and appalling indictable crimes that had been committed by members of the clergy against the church and of which they had full knowledge.

Those materials were of course provided by my office to both the Federal Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Abuse and to the Special Commission of Inquiry into Matters Relating to the Police Investigation of Certain Child Sexual Abuse Allegations in the Catholic Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle that is also known as the Cunneen inquiry. At the core of the concerns in the memorandum of understanding and in the materials I provided to the Cunneen inquiry was the practice of blind reporting whereby the church would provide a blind report of the existence of known instances of appalling criminal sexual acts against children, but not provide the police with the names of the victims and not provide the police with important details about the crimes. That was called blind reporting and was actually codified and allowed for under the memorandum of understanding between the police and the church.

It is absolutely remarkable that the Cunneen inquiry, which was considering Detective Chief Inspector Peter Fox’s concerns about improper relationships between the police and the church, refused to look at the matter. Indeed, counsel assisting the commission, when indicating why the Cunneen inquiry said it would not look into it, stated on 24 June:
It is the understanding of the staff who assist you that the Professional Standards Resource Group, which was the subject of that particular Lateline report — the report that included the materials my office had provided — was and is an advisory body and not involved in the exchange of information between the Catholic Church and the police. There’s presently no evidence that any Professional Standards Resource Group meeting or body dealt with any matter involving Fletcher or McAlinden.

Fletcher and McAlinden are the names of the two notorious paedophile priests who are being investigated as part of the Cunneen inquiry. McAlinden, in particular, spent decades and decades abusing his position to the knowledge of the church and abusing countless children. He was moved from diocese to diocese by the church, including to vulnerable remote Aboriginal communities and overseas communities — appalling behaviour. But what do we learn when we see the material that was considered by the PIC? The PIC’s own investigative unit found quite a different answer. Rather than saying that McAlinden was not the subject of the Professional Standards Resource Group, this is what counsel assisting the PIC stated:

One example of such a blind report— a report to the Professional Standards Resource Group— arose in relation to a Father Denis McAlinden. The blind report form contained a statement that the victims had accused Father McAlinden of sexual assault of children and that they believed there might be other victims apart from the identified victims. They have not indicated at this stage any wish to take the matter to police. It is not clear whether or not this was a case which was brought to Cullen’s attention at the time through her involvement with the [Professional Standards Resource Group] PSRG, but one matter for the Commission to consider is whether or not such a statement could properly form the basis for a proper failure by police to seek further information from Mr Davoren [of the church] of the [Professional Standards Office] PSO who was identified in the blind report form as the notifying person, and whether any steps further to investigate this report were in fact taken.

The Cunneen inquiry rejected the key evidence about the culpable arrangements between the police and the church. In rejecting that, it rejected Detective Chief Inspector Fox’s conclusions. The report is fundamentally flawed.

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