The wrongful imprisonment of George Pell was not an accident or flaw in the system. It was a product of a system tainted by soft political corruption, i.e. Victoria Police and the Victorian criminal justice system, being institutions captured by the Left, did what their Labor-Green political comrades demanded of them.
In other words, to understand the injustice meted out to Pell you need to understand the political forces at play. To date much of the reporting on Pell has focussed on the “culture” of Victoria Police and the bias or agenda of the ABC as though these factors operate in a vacuum. They don’t and they reflect a dangerous corruption of politics and our democracy.
To understand the political forces at play you need to go back to 12 November 2012 and the announcement by Prime Minister Julia Gillard of the establishment of Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse (the Royal Commission).
In November 2012 the minority Gillard Government was facing political annihilation at the hands of Tony Abbott. Soon to be heading into an election year and trailing the LNP in every published poll the Gillard Government’s strategy was to play the man in the belief (mistakenly as it turned out) that the public wouldn’t vote for Abbott. What transpired was one of the most disgraceful smear campaigns in Australian political history.
The smear campaign had commenced a month earlier (9 October 2012) with Gillard’s despicable, contrived misogyny speech painting the socially and religious conservative Abbott as sexist. To sustain the anti-Abbott sentiment her speech was reported to have stirred up she needed more grist for the mill however.
The Gillard Government’s Royal Commission into child abuse was that grist. Aimed at capitalising on the media attention that state child abuse enquiries in Victoria and New South Wales were generating at the time its purpose was two-fold: i. shift the political narrative away from her Government’s daily ineptitude and scandal onto a virtue signalling cause; and ii. shift the narrative to a topic that would wedge/ smear Tony Abbott (being a devout Catholic) using guilt by association tactics, including his longstanding friendship with Cardinal Pell.
There was nothing particularly necessary or urgent or new in the Royal Commission set up by the Gillard Government. In fact, there had already been a Federal Government “Inquiry into Children in Institutional Care” held between 2003 and 2004 and subsequent to that just about every state went on to conduct similar enquiries.
What was new was the scale of the Royal Commission including the highest number of commissioners (six) of any Royal Commission, a budget of over $500m (largest on record) and changes to the Royal Commission Act 1902 that enabled victims to give testimony in private sessions directly to a commissioner unconstrained by the public hearing room.
The emphasis on private sessions was critical for achieving the political ends required of the Royal Commission and and in doing so it set the precedent for the Pell trial. Private sessions guaranteed lots of victim statements by removing the constraint of having testimony tested in open hearings. In one foul swoop over 8,000 people were axiomatically considered victims and speaking the truth. The emphasis was on hearing their stories as a form of catharsis.
Having solicited for victim statements in private the Royal Commission excoriated the institutions in public. The 57 public hearings mostly began with survivor testimony and from there took the form of case studies that examined abuse within an institution or related set of institutions. Having dispensed with the burden of substantiating victim statements the Royal Commission pretty much functioned as a show trial.
This approach ensured an unprecedented level of media coverage (the main goal) as heart strings were tugged and evil wrong doers named and shamed in the town square. While many institutions were deserving of the contempt they were shown and many victims worthy of our sympathy and compassion, the Royal Commission’s pursuit of headlines lead to a mob mentality and helped create the conditions for the perversion of justice in Victoria.
The media coverage quickly zeroed in on the Catholic Church because this is how the Royal Commission’s terms of reference were crafted. By targeting sexual abuse only (and not other forms of abuse or neglect) and confined to institutional responses only the Gillard Government ensured it would result in a Catholic witch-hunt which is precisely what was intended in order to damage Abbott.
How else can you explain the terms of reference of a Royal Commission into child sexual abuse that incredibly managed to exclude from examination the worst and most prevalent instances of child sexual abuse (not to mention neglect and other forms of abuse) in the nation at that time, namely the epidemic of child sexual abuse occurring in remote indigenous communities? Even the Royal Commission was sensitive to this issue (i.e. political agenda) stating in the Final Report:
“notwithstanding the problems we have identified in institutions, the number of children who are sexually abused in familial or other circumstances far exceeds those who are abused in an institution.”
That is an indictment on the Gillard Government. It was so concerned about child sexual abuse it confined the terms of reference to ensure that the far greater number of abused children at the hands of a family member, relative or family friend were completely ignored.
To critique the Royal Commission is not to impugn the commissioners or victims, whitewash the terrible crimes and coverups that occurred, or diminish the seriousness of child sexual abuse. The point being made is that Royal Commissions serve a political function that is defined by government. The timing, scale, and resourcing (680 people in this case) of Royal Commissions establish both political and public expectations that the commissioners in charge must satisfy. At the end of the day commissioners operate according to a political brief.
That brief, in the case of The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses of Child Sexual Abuse was to put on an elaborate show trial largely targeting the Catholic Church, that involved soliciting for large numbers of victims, reversing the burden of proof, shielding accusers from proper scrutiny, determining guilt in advance, seconding police within the commission to build cases for the cause, and most importantly of generating rolling media coverage in ways to damage “that man” (i.e. Tony Abbott).
So central was the importance of generating media headlines befitting a lavish political show trial the Royal Commission actually gave thanks to the media and ABC in particular in its Final Report, stating:
“We also thank the media organisations for their interest in and comprehensive reporting of the Royal Commission’s work. Many media outlets provided extensive coverage. The ABC reported every case study on television, radio and online almost every sitting day.”
In light of the High Court’s unanimous acquittal of George Pell and the ABC’s relentless campaign against him throughout the Royal Commission the Commissioners should be ashamed of themselves for heaping praise on the ABC and their role in fuelling it.
The secondment of police into the Royal Commission organisation was also deeply political. The New South Wales child sexual abuse inquiry in the Hunter region that preceded Gillard’s announcement by mere days was aimed squarely at New South Wales police officers who systematically failed to investigate child sexual abuse complaints and were complicit with moving on known perpetrators.
Of course the problem with show trials is that no trial is complete without a heavy dose of retribution and the bigger the show trial the bigger the scalp is required to satisfy the mob baying for blood. The prized scalp was hence always going to be Cardinal Pell. Not only was Pell the highest ranking Catholic in Australia but as previously stated he was also a longtime friend of Tony Abbott. All roads led to Pell.
To the extent that there was a “Get Pell” agenda going on within and around the Royal Commission you need to remember that the political objective of the Royal Commission was to “Get Abbott” first. Pell was therefore collateral damage of a wider political agenda and to the extent that the Royal Commission was largely a show trial it begs the question if Pell was effectively a political prisoner jailed for his conservative sins and the political company he kept more than simply a victim of a miscarriage of justice.
As for the integrity and independence of Victoria Police and the Victorian Office of Public Prosecutions it is worth remembering that at the exact same time it was persecuting Pell, on the most flimsy of evidence and despite exculpatory evidence going to his innocence, it decided not to prosecute Bill Shorten for an alleged rape, in very similar circumstances to Pell – i.e. a twenty year (plus) case, relying solely on uncorroborated victim testimony – despite Shorten not having any exculpatory evidence in play at all. In the Shorten matter it issued a statement in August 2014 saying, “Investigating police sought advice from the Office of Public Prosecutions, which advised there was no reasonable prospect of conviction”. So on what reasonable basis did it believe there was a reasonable prospect of “Getting Pell”?
As stated in the opening, the wrongful imprisonment of George Pell was not an accident or flaw in the system. It was a product of a system tainted by political corruption. Julia Gillard put in train the political forces that led to the persecution of George Pell the day she announced an over-the-top show trial into child sexual abuse targeting Catholics with the hope of smearing Tony Abbott. The commissioners, Victoria Police, the Victorian Office of Public Prosecutions, the Victorian criminal justice system and the ABC were only too willing to help.