Aquatics and Commercial

Royal Commission scrutinises swimming

July 12, 2014
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The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse

A number of people from swimming administrators to crown prosecutors have had their reputations publically questioned as The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse shifts its focus to swimming.

The Royal Commission is holding a public hearing to examine, amongst other things, the response of Swimming Australia Ltd to allegations of child sexual abuse made against elite swimming coach Scott Volkers.

In 2002 Volkers was charged with abusing Julie Gilbert and two others girls. He was committed to stand trial but the charges were dropped – just as he was about to be appointed national women’s swim coach.

Volkers never faced a criminal trial and denied the accusations. The commission is not looking into his guilt or innocence, but at the decision not to re-charge him and to continue to hire him after he was denied a “blue card” for working with children.

In a nutshell, swimming administrators are accused of holding the interests of their organisations and the performance of their squads in higher regard than their duty of care for the swimmers themselves.

One telling exchange came between commission chairman Justice Peter McClellan and Bennett King, who was executive director of the Queensland Academy of Sport in 2007. When asked why he didn’t enquire about the details of the allegations against Volkers, King said it wasn’t portrayed to him as something that could put his organisation at risk. He made no mention of the risk to the swimmers.

One of the former swimmers alleging Volkers abused her is Julie Gilbert, who recently appeared on the 7:30 Report, where she said: “They looked at him as a high profile swimming coach, and we were nobodies…who wanted to ruin his reputation.”

At the hearing, Justice McClellan appeared frustrated that swimming officials didn’t understood the difference between the “beyond reasonable doubt” test for criminal convictions, and the lesser test of potential risk to children they should have applied as employers.

Council assisting the commission, Caroline Spruce, was also queried whether King understood the fact that Volkers was a good coach was irrelevant to considering his suitability to working with children.

Justice McClellan then explained to him: “They may be the best coach in the world, but if they are a problem with children they shouldn’t be allowed to work with them, should they?”

King agreed.

Swimming Australia has now told the commission that Volkers will not be offered accreditation to attend the upcoming Pan Pacs on the Gold Coast in August.

The Hearing continues.

Scope of the Royal Commission hearing
The scope and purpose of the public hearing is to inquire into the response of Swimming Australia to allegations of child sexual abuse against Terrance William Buck; the response of Swimming Australia, Swimming Queensland and the Queensland Academy of Sport to allegations of child sexual abuse against Scott Volkers; the response of the Offices of the Directors of Public Prosecutions in Queensland and New South Wales to allegations of child sexual abuse against Scott Volkers; and the criteria by which Offices of the Directors of Public Prosecutions determine whether to prosecute allegations of child sexual assault.

It is also looking at the response of Scone Swimming Club to the convictions of Stephen John Roser for indecent assault and for committing acts of indecency against a child; the systems, policies and procedures of Swimming Australia and its member organisations for preventing, detecting and responding to sexual abuse and their implementation; the response of the Queensland Commissioner for Children and Young People and Child Guardian to an application by Scott Volkers for a ‘blue card’; and the training of legal staff including prosecutors and liaison officers of the Offices of Directors of Public Prosecution in child sexual offending.

YMCA Apologises
Meanwhile, the YMCA issued an apology regarding the response to the allegations of abuse by Jonathon Lord in 2011, following the commission issuing its report regarding Case Study Two that examined the response of YMCA NSW.

Lord is a convicted paedophile, sentenced to 10 years in prison for 13 offences involving 12 children. He met many of the boys he abused through his work at YMCA NSW and committed numerous offences on YMCA premises and during YMCA excursions.

The commission was particularly concerned as:

  • YMCA NSW is the largest provider of OSHC services in NSW, and YMCA Australia is the second largest provider across Australia
  • the organisation states that it is ‘leading the industry’ and that ‘YMCA NSW is recognised in industry, and by external audits and peak bodies, as a leader in child safety’.
  • The investigation and prosecution of Lord also warranted scrutiny as part of the project to consider aspects of the criminal justice system more broadly.

The YMCA statement is reproduced below:
“Today marks a significant day as the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse releases its report regarding Case Study Two into the responses of YMCA NSW and the police to allegations made in 2011 that Jonathon Lord sexually abused children in the care of YMCA NSW.

“YMCA NSW welcomes the findings in the Royal Commission’s report and acknowledges that, through the Royal Commission process, failings have been identified in its procedures and in the implementation of its policies, including child protection.

“YMCA NSW sincerely apologises to the children who were abused, as well as the families and colleagues who have been affected by the actions of Lord. YMCA NSW has begun, and intends to take further, proactive measures to improve child protection policies and processes.

“We will continue to work closely with the Department of Education and Communities and industry bodies to ensure we are operating at best practice.

“YMCA has a zero tolerance for any form of child abuse and is committed to keeping children safe and fostering an environment where children and young people can learn and grow and are respected and valued.”

 

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