EDITORIAL – Institutions

By Right Now | 28 Oct 13

In January this year, Governor–General Quentin Bryce appointed a six-member Royal Commission to investigate Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.

The Royal Commission will “inquire into how institutions with a responsibility for children have managed and responded to allegations with instances of child sexual abuse.” The Commission will seek to “shine a light” on past abuses and acknowledge the suffering of victims. This last point is not to be undervalued. Many victims will have had experiences of childhood sexual abuse that for years or decades was ignored, denied, or silenced. The opportunity to speak about their experiences publicly, and to be treated with compassion and dignity throughout the process, can provide healing and validation for many.

So far, 400 people have given evidence in private hearings and public hearings began in Sydney last month.

Inspired by Royal Commission’s mandate, this month Right Now will consider the responsibility of Australian institutions to uphold and respect human rights principles.

We will explore issues ranging from the Australian Defence Force’s responsibility towards women soldiers and other minorities, to the Australian prison system’s responsibility towards its inmates, to the responsibilities institutions have towards the broader public to adhere to the cardinal principles of transparency, openness and accountability. On the latter, Right Now is particularly concerned about the frequent refusal to allow media access to Australian detention facilities, particularly the detention centres in Nauru and on Manus Island in PNG. This is despite the operation of detention centres being of considerable public interest.

Institutions, whether they are educational or state institutions, religious or youth groups, or sporting organisations, are highly influential and make up a substantial part of society. We hope to stir discussion about how different institutions perform on various human rights issues, and what responsibilities they have towards contributing to a positive, rights-respecting culture.


In the third instalment of the Right Now Essay Series, Anne Manne examines the culture within the Catholic Church that allowed the ongoing sexual abuse of children, and which is now part of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Abuses.


Ben Wadham explores the need to govern military fraternity.

Kate Galloway asks, how are women represented in institutions of the law? 

Banning smoking in prison seems to make sense – prison is punishment and smoking is unhealthy, right? Bronwyn Naylor tells us why the situation isn’t quite that simple. 

Stephanie Murphy unravels the tangled threads of punishment and torture in her article on harm and indefinite detention.

Could there be a right to violence? Isabella Royce asks this and other questions in this article on violent protest.

Sam Ryan reviews Anna Krien’s Night Games, an unsettling but essential expose of the macho culture in some sporting codes that fosters attitudes towards women that can lead to abuse and even rape.


‘Celissa’ – New short fiction by James Milsom