Heading the Royal Commission ... Justice Peter McClellan. Photo: Nic Gibson
The head of the Royal Commission into child sexual abuse has described the task facing the body as "huge" after the six commissioners met for the first time in Sydney on Wednesday.
Justice Peter McClellan said that in order to run it as efficiently as possible, the Government would amend the Royal Commission Act to allow hearings to take place without all commissioners being present, and some hearings may need to be held in private to protect victims.
Speaking publicly for the first time since his appointment on Friday, Justice McClellan also sought to allay concerns that some matters may be excluded from examination by the commission because of confidentiality agreements.
"We wish to emphasize that under the Royal Commission Act the commission has powers to compel the production of evidence including documentation and we will not hesitate in appropriate circumstances to exercise those powers," Justice McClellan said.
Justice McClellan said there may be some instances where constraints would have to be placed on the reporting of matters before the commission.
"However, the commission expects that those institutions which have entered into confidentiality agreements with individuals will cooperate with the commission in relation to the discovery of those materials."
Justice McClellan addressed the media after meeting with his fellow commissioners, former Queensland police comissioner Bob Atkinson, family court judge Justice Jennifer Coate, Productivity Commissioner Robert Fitzgerald, Aboriginal health academic Professor Helen Milroy and former Western Australian senator Andrew Murray at Sydney's Intercontinental Hotel.
Most of them had not met one another in person. Justice McClellan said it would take some time to hire staff and organise resources and it was impossible to know how long it would be before hearings would commence.
But the commission has already set up a 1800 number for people to call and leave messages, which staff would follow up when they are employed.
Gail Furness, SC, has been appointed counsel assisting the commission, and the Australian Government solicitor would make further appointments.
"Having regard to what's already publicly known, the task before the commission is large," Justice McClellan said.
"However, until the commission has commenced it's work and people come forward to give us an account if their personal circumstances, we can't gauge the full extent of that task."
The commission would make arrangements for people currently living overseas to attend hearings where required, he said.
It was important to realise that the commission was not a prosecuting body, but it would cooperate with local authorities in each state and territory.
"It is also important to understand that the commission is not charged whether any person is entitled to compensation."
The commission will be based in Sydney.