Letter From PROV to Local Government Sector on Royal Commission into Child Abuse

Ruth ECM, Newsletter

Royal Commission into Child Abuse


Response from PROV to Local Government Sector


11th February 2013



Hi Ruth,


I appreciate the concern and anxiety currently being caused by the unknown and potentially open ended demands of this Royal Commission. I also appreciate the desire for certainty and clarity. Unfortunately, we do not know the answer to any of the questions concerning the scope or operations of the Commission.


The terms of reference are broad and it will be up to the Commissioners to determine what areas they will focus on and how it will operate. I suspect that the Commissioners themselves do not know where the Commission will lead before it winds up.


This is why we recommend that agencies conduct a risk assessment based on their reading of the terms of reference and their knowledge of their functions. A sectorial approach might be useful to reduce the resources required to conduct this assessment – particularly as this is not specific to Victoria but will be affecting local government throughout Australia.


As to the specific questions.


      1.       Which records directly should we target?

Does this include Youth Records, Aged and Disability

Services where the person was a child in custody?


ANSWER:  We are not sure.


I would certainly be treating as high priority any record series that contains (or references) existing allegations of child sexual abuse, particularly your response to the allegation. Then I would be considering any series that detail the operation or management of an institution as defined by the terms of reference. Essentially an institution is defined as any organisation that allows adults to have access to children, so 1a would be a probable yes. Note that the definition includes the provision of facilities to other institutions (e.g. the hire of halls by community organisations), and I would certainly be contacting any organisations that provide contracted services involving children. I would also include records that detail policies or procedures that govern how the agency responded to allegations, and the process by which these policies or procedures were developed.


     2.       How far back do we need to take our Risk Management Review?


Unknown at this stage. I would certainly be considering any records where the child may still be alive.


      3.       How likely are Councils to be requested for records?


Unknown at this stage. A good yardstick might be to consider how many allegations of child sexual abuse have you on your files.


      4.       How much time will be required for discovery?  Will it be

      through FOI process, subpoena?


The Commission is a legal entity. Requests will be by subpoena and will not be subject to the FOI process. In particular, questions of privacy, cost or effort will not be relevant. As we noted in Justine’s letter, the Commission has been directed to consider the effort required to retrieve archival material, but what this means in practice is anyone’s guess.


5.       Is there any help for Councils to get started?


PROV has already provided help – we have alerted agencies to the issue and provided a link to the only resources available at the moment (the terms of reference). We will continue to track developments – we’re already planning additional updates detailing what other states are doing. We’ve deliberately scheduled one of the speakers at the next RMN to discuss how to respond to Royal Commissions.


Given the uncertain nature of the scope of the Commission, and the number of agencies that are affected, PROV’s ability to provide detailed help to any individual agency (or group of agencies) is limitted at the moment.


I would strongly encourage agencies to adopt a self help, sectorial approach – particularly as this will be affecting agencies across Australia.


 6.       Do we use the Guideline PRO 10/10 to conduct the review?


Yes, I would consider PROS 10/10G6 (Records and Risk Management) to be a good place to start.


7.       How much time do we have to prepare?


Unknown at this stage, however I doubt councils will be an immediate priority. I would suggest that your priority is to prevent the destruction of records likely to be required by the Royal Commission, particularly the routine destruction under an RDA. Also to ensure that you have contacted any contracted service organisations (now or in the past) to ensure that they are managing their records appropriately.


8.       Many councils have inherited records through the

      amalgamation in 1994/1995.  They inherited records poorly indexed or

      without indexes.  What is the expectation from councils to know what

      is contained in those records?  In other words to what detail?


I would suggest that there is a contradiction in a position that records are important enough to be retained, but not important enough for an agency to know what is in them. A program of inspection would be a logical response to the Royal Commission. It may also allow some of these records to be disposed of, leading to potential cost savings to the agency.


      9.       Many children services and youth services workers are

      confused as to what is expected from them in relation to the letter

      sent from PROV.  What information is there available to help them

      understand what action they need to take to be prepared?


Little information is available at the moment. For general staff, the broad message we are trying to get across can be distilled to the following.


   allegations about child sexual abuse)

Do not destroy any records about your processes on dealing with child

   sexual abuse allegations, including the records of the creation or

   review of these processes

 Ensure that these records are reasonably accessible


      10.   Will there be information sessions for non records people?


Good idea, but really should be driven by senior management in agencies (informed by records managers). This is because the detailed messages will be very agency specific.


While I appreciate this is not as helpful as you might want, it’s almost impossible to given specific answers at the moment.


Andrew Waugh

Senior Manager, Standards and Policy

T  03 9348 5724 | M 0407 262 417 | F 03 9348 5656 andrew.waugh@prov.vic.gov.au