Attorney-General Nicola Roxon.

Attorney-General Nicola Roxon. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen

The federal government is poised to reveal the terms of reference for the royal commission into child sexual abuse.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard announced the inquiry in November and wanted it established by the end of the year to begin work early this year.

It follows claims that abuse by clergy was covered up by the Catholic Church hierarchy in Victoria and NSW.

But in December, Attorney-General Nicola Roxon announced the royal commission would be delayed after more than 800 individuals and organisations had provided input into the terms of reference.

Ms Roxon expects the terms of reference to be released soon. ''We'll be able to update you fairly shortly. We've made a commitment to prioritise this work,'' she said.

''It's obviously very important that the terms of reference are right and that the commissioners who are appointed are people who can do this important work.''

The Attorney-General said the search for commissioners was under way.

There will be three to five commissioners and the government has said the inquiry's initial report would be delivered within 18 months.

A taskforce was set up to evaluate the operational needs of the commission, which will examine how sex abuse allegations have been handled by religious, community and state institutions.

The commission is expected to run for years.

Child welfare advocates want the scope of the royal commission to include physical assault and neglect. But this has split child advocates, with some arguing it would mean the commission could drag on for too long, making it harder to get concrete recommendations. AAP