The head of the royal commission into child sex abuse says he will not hesitate to investigate alleged assaults that are the subject of confidentiality agreements.

Fronting the media with his five co-commissioners for the first time since they were appointed last week, Justice Peter McClellan said non-disclosure agreements would not stop the commission inquiring into institutional responses to child sex assault.

He indicated the likelihood of a lengthy wait for victims and their families anticipating the start of public hearings, saying the evidence gathering process would take months.

"Our task is complex and it will take significant time," Justice McClellan said.

"It may be some months before the progress of the commission is apparent to the public."

But Justice McClellan immediately moved to allay the concerns over the commission's handling of confidentiality agreements.

"The commission is aware that there has been considerable public discussion about the powers the commission has to inquire into matters which are the subject of confidential agreements," he said.

"We wish to emphasise that under the Royal Commission Act, the commission has powers to compel the production of evidence, including documents.

"We will not hesitate in an appropriate case to exercise those powers."

He said the commission would be based in Sydney but that the six commissioners would sit in different parts of the country.

Assisting Justice McClellan are former Queensland police commissioner Bob Atkinson, former Victorian president of the Children's Court Justice Jennifer Coate, Productivity Commissioner Robert Fitzgerald, consultant psychiatrist Professor Helen Milroy and former West Australian senator Andrew Murray.

Justice McClellan said the public should be reminded the commission was not a prosecuting body, nor was it able to award compensation to victims.

Given the sensitivity of the issues involved, there could at times be "constraints" on the inquiry, he said.

"Our investigative processes will be utilised to receive and consider what we expect to be accounts by individuals that tell of their experience," he said.

"This may mean that proceedings will take place in private, and real names may not be used."

He said where possible, the commission would proceed in public.

The commission has set up a phone hotline for victims of sex abuse to call and leave their personal details.

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