THE royal commission on child abuse will expose hundreds more victims who have been attacked in state care to the present day, victims' advocates say.
Prime Minister Julia Gillard announced a federal royal commission on child abuse on Monday, bowing to pressure over the Victorian inquiry and the New South Wales government's announcement of a special commission in the Hunter region.
While the government has yet to release its terms of reference, Ms Gillard said it would not be limited to the Catholic Church, and would cover a range of institutions including state authorities, Scouts and sports groups.
The Victorian inquiry faced criticism that it was only charged with investigating religious and non-government organisations, not public orphanages or children's homes.
Ray Prosser, 85, was made a ward of the state when he was six months old, after his parents divorced.
He only told his children he had been abused - at the state-run Royal Park Depot and by an officer at the Salvation Army's Boys' Home - when he wrote his life story five years ago.
''They looked at it and said 'Well, you're still our dad' and that made me very, very happy,'' he said.
''Telling my story, I feel that it's not gnawing me inside. It's released my mind to better things in my life although I've been through a lot. I'm not hiding a secret any more.''
He was glad the commission would not be limited to a particular time period and said he hoped ''that those who haven't [passed away] can be caught and penalised, fined or jailed. They should be named in the papers as paedophiles and no matter what homes people were in, they should get the same treatment.''
Lawyer Angela Sdrinis, who has handled hundreds of compensation claims for child abuse victims over the past 20 years, said half of the cases involved abuse at public institutions, and half at religious organisations. Most of the non-religious organisations involved were run directly by the state, she said.
Ms Sdrinis added that child abuse was still a problem in children's homes, with older children's abuse of younger children a ''huge issue … because the older children, one suspects, were only doing what was happening to them''.
''I was [recently] contacted by a welfare worker who told me known child sex offenders were being placed with younger children, that she was going mad trying to supervise them because older children would offer the kids some kind of inducement and sexually assault them and that her complaints had fallen on deaf ears.''
She said that systemic failure to document abuses over time were inherent in both religious and state institutions, with a Victorian Ombudsman report critical in March of the Department of Human Services' storage and management of ward records.
Care Leavers Australia Network's executive officer Leonie Sheedy said the group's research showed more than 1000 children had absconded from children's homes over a nine-year period since the 1920s, most of which were state-run organisations.
Up to 14 children ran away from orphanages in the space of a week, with many returned by police.
She said: ''[It is important] that taxpayers can see the damage that's been done to children who were owed a duty of care by the government and the churches and charities of this state.''
In 2009, Kevin Rudd and Malcolm Turnbull, then prime minister and opposition leader respectively, apologised to children abused in state care, including child migrants and children who grew up in foster care and orphanages.
Morning & Afternoon Newsletter