West Australian Premier Colin Barnett has been called on to apologise to victims of child abuse after claiming the royal commission into child sex abuse could destroy institutions around the country.
Prime Minister Julia Gillard last week announced a far-reaching national inquiry would be held into abuse and allegations of abuse across many years and institutions.
On ABC radio on Monday, Mr Barnett said he held grave concerns about the legacy the massive inquiry may leave on the organisations investigated and the victims involved.
But the state opposition said the premier's reservations made light of the abuse suffered by many people over many years.
"The suggestion that we should avoid exposing individuals or institutions that have been involved in the sexual abuse of children because it may tarnish their reputation shows an appalling lack of sensitivity," opposition child protection spokeswoman Sue Ellery said.
"Most Western Australians would be appalled that the premier appears more concerned about protecting the perpetrators than providing a platform to investigate abuse claims."
Mr Barnett urged the government to "think very carefully" about the terms of reference and breadth of the inquiry, which he hoped would achieve positive outcomes.
"But I also fear for the negativity that could come out of it," he said.
"I think you will see many people's lives destroyed. I think you will see many of Australia's institutions - which may have been at fault - also destroyed, and great divisions in the community."
WA held its own inquiry into child sex abuse this year, focused on events in the 1970s and 1980s at the St Andrews Hostel in Katanning, run by notorious pedophile brothers Dennis and Neil McKenna.
The inquiry was later expanded to St Christopher's hostel in Northam, Hardie House in South Hedland and St Michael's House in Merredin.
Mr Barnett also said on Monday he was unsure about the prudence of including historical cases in the national inquiry and what effect it might have on the victims.
"This could be very divisive, and people dealing with issues that may have happened 20, 30, 40, 50 years ago... replayed that time later. I don't know exactly where that will lead us," Mr Barnett said.
"I would urge ... a restriction on the time of this commission."
But Ms Ellery said the royal commission would be an important part of the healing process.
"Investigations must be handled sensitively, but for too long the issue of child abuse by people in positions of authority has been placed in the 'too hard' basket or surrounded by secrecy," Ms Ellery said.