By Eric Martin
The story of Western Australia’s most vulnerable and their quality of life is the tale about to unfold with the launch of the Royal Commission to inquire into violence, abuse, neglect, and exploitation of people with disability.
On 5 April 2019, Australian Prime Minister, the Hon Scott Morrison MP, and Minister for Families and Social Services, the Hon Paul Fletcher MP, announced the establishment of the Royal Commission into Violence, Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation of People with Disability, committing $527.9 million in funding for the Commission over the next five years.
The $527.9m price tag includes funding to provide support for people to participate in the Royal Commission.
This funding includes the cost to establish and wrap-up the Royal Commission after the inquiry has finished (anticipating that the Royal Commission will run for three years) and to provide accessible and appropriate arrangements for people with a disability to engage with the inquiry.
“The prevalence and pervasiveness of violence, abuse and neglect against people with disability is a shocking and shameful social issue,” former Disability Discrimination Commissioner, Alastair McEwin said.
“The disability community has been waiting for a long time for the government and the broader community to act, to provide justice and protect them from violence and abuse.
“Numerous reviews and inquiries have recognised that violence, abuse and neglect of people with disability is serious, it is widespread, and much of it is driven by factors that disempower people with disability,” he explained.
“These inquiries have called for independent, external oversight of institutional settings, more robust reporting and complaints mechanisms, and greater protections for people with disability to report incidents of violence.”
What is learned from the Royal Commission will help to inform Australian governments, institutions and the wider community on how to prevent, and better protect people with disability from experiencing violence, abuse, neglect and exploitation in the future.
The Australian Government ran a public consultation process on the draft Terms of Reference for the Royal Commission, from 13 to 28 March 2019, consulting with disability peak bodies, advocates and with state and territory governments, and receiving more than 3700 responses to the online survey on the draft Terms of Reference.
Thirty per cent of respondents were people with disability.
In summary, the consultation process determined that The Royal Commission’s Terms of Reference aim to:
- prevent, and better protect, people with disability from experiencing violence, abuse, neglect and exploitation
- achieve best practice in reporting and investigating of, and responding to violence, abuse, neglect and exploitation
- promote a more inclusive society that supports the independence of people with disability and their right to live free from violence, abuse, neglect and exploitation.
The Government has strengthened the Terms of Reference based a number of themes expressed during the consultation process, including:
- ensuring people with disability are firmly at the centre of decision-making
- recognising the importance of people with disability sharing their stories
- acknowledging the multiple and diverse needs of people with disability including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and culturally and linguistically diverse people with disability
- focussing on themes from individual experiences to identify systemic and recurring issues.
A full report on the Terms of Reference consultation process will be released in the coming weeks.
Six Royal Commissioners have been appointed to preside over the Royal Commission’s inquiry with the Hon Ronald Sackville AO QC acting as the Chairperson.
Mr Sackville is an acting judge of the Court of Appeal of the Supreme Court of New South Wales and a former judge of the Federal Court of Australia with a wealth of experience either as Commissioner or as Chairman of multiple historical commissions.
The other Commissioners appointed to the Disability Abuse Royal Commission include:
- Ms Barbara Bennett PSM – received the Public Service Medal for outstanding public service in the area of social services, delivered the Third Action Plan of the National Plan to Reduce Violence against Women and their Children, has implemented key elements of the Prime Minister’s Women’s Safety Package and provided critical support to the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.
- Dr Rhonda Galbally AC – former Chief Executive of the Sidney Myer Fund and the Myer Foundation, the Australian Commission for the Future, the Victorian Health Promotion Fund and the Australian National Preventive Health Agency. She has also chaired numerous committees and advisory councils.
- Ms Andrea Mason OAM – Chief Executive of the Ngaanyatjarra Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara (NPY) Women’s Council, Relationships Manager in the Reconciliation Action Plan project and has worked for 15 years in the South Australian and Australian Public Services.
- Mr Alastair McEwin – Australia’s incumbent Disability Discrimination Commissioner, Executive Director of Community Legal Centres NSW, President of the Deaf Society of NSW and coordinator of the World Federation of the Deaf Expert Group on Human Rights.
- The Hon John Ryan AM – A Canadian born, Australian politician and former Deputy Leader of the Liberal Party in the Legislative Council, Shadow Minister for Community Services, Shadow Minister for Disability and Parliamentary Secretary for Disability Services and Aging.
The newly appointed Commissioners will decide on the next steps, including when to hold hearings, how people can participate and how to ensure the inquiry is accessible for people with disability.