Tuesday, 25th November 2014 at 3:18 pm
The Abbott Government has rejected calls for a national inquiry into allegations of abuse of people with disability in institutions.
Responding to questions from Greens Senator Rachel Siewert in Federal Parliament today, Assistant Minister for Social Services, Senator Mitch Fifield, said it was the responsibility of the State Governments to undertake any inquiries.
Fifield said that until the National Disability Insurance Scheme had been rolled out all complaints were to be reported and handled at the state level.
Senator Fifield noted that both the Victorian Liberal Government and the Opposition had promised to undertake an inquiry after this week’s election.
The calls for an inquiry were made after ongoing allegations of abuse and the mismanagement of complaints by a major disability service provider.
At the centre of the controversy is disability service provider Yooralla, which has been accused of failing to act properly on complaints of sexual, emotional and financial abuse of its clients at the hands of several employed carers.
The ABC Four Corners program aired an extensive report on incidents of abuse at Yooralla dating back to 2010.
The report claimed one of the most serious cases of abuse was committed by carer Vinod Johnny Kumar, who was sentenced to 18 years in prison for sexually assaulting Jules Anderson.
Anderson, who has cerebral palsy and uses a wheelchair, identified herself as a victim of Kumar.
The report also aired allegations of mismanagement by Yooralla, who it claimed paid hush money to keep complainants quiet.
Senator Siewert said the Government’s refusal to act on the issue of abuse in the disability sector could one day be compared with past policies of forced adoptions.
"It is urgent that a national inquiry is carried out. It is unacceptable that a blind eye is turned to this for any longer, as has happened in past examples of abuse, including those that have necessitated the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to child sexual abuse,” Siewert said.
"We know that people with disability are at serious risk of abuse, especially women. This is a long standing, unresolved issue for our community, and is clearly one which crosses Federal, State and Territory jurisdictions.”
Former Disability Discrimination Commissioner Graeme Innes said an inquiry into the “huge problem” of abuse in the sector was needed.
“What’s needed is a national independent inquiry because it will have more capacity to obtain evidence than a Parliamentary inquiry,” Innes told Pro Bono Australia News.
“It will require people visiting facilities and taking evidence in a different way that is normally taken.
“The inquiry should be lead by someone, or perhaps a number of key people, with significant knowledge of the disability sector as well as legal expertise who will be viewed positively by the sector.
“I believe the media reports are just the tip of the iceberg. There is no doubt in my mind that these reports are the start of a range of similar incidents across Australia.
“I am aware of a dozen to hundreds of allegations and that’s why we need a national inquiry.
“Currently the reporting regulations in Victoria and NSW are the best in country and that is why we are getting these allegations being raised there first and it’s sad that they have to be raised.”
Innes’ calls for an inquiry were backed by both the Victorian Government and Opposition who both pledged to undertake one after this weekend’s State election.
Federal Opposition Leader Bill Shorten also said questions needed to be answered.
“Australians are rightly shocked by the allegations of abuse in the disability sector”, Shorten said.
“It is important to acknowledge the courage of those who speak out. It is this courage that will ensure that abuse is exposed and those responsible held to account.
“These allegations of violence, abuse and neglect of some of the most vulnerable members of our community are deeply disturbing.
“Labor believes that any allegation of this nature should be investigated fully, and the perpetrators of any crimes brought to justice.
“Labor supports the call by former Disability Discrimination Commissioner Graeme Innes AM and others for an independent investigation into these serious allegations.”
People With Disability Australia and Women With Disability Australia said they were “outraged” by the revelations contained in the Four Corners report.
“The events exposed in the Four Corners program last night are not a random occurrence confined to Yooralla or the State of Victoria. Violence against people with disability in institutional and residential settings, including the significantly higher levels of violence experienced by women with disability is Australia’s hidden shame,” WWDA Executive Director Carolyn Frohmader said.
“We welcome the commitment by the Victorian Government and Opposition to conduct an enquiry into the events at Yooralla. However, time and again, we have seen State and Territory inquiries focus on violence in specific institutions and residential settings, but the systemic and prevalent nature of this violence across Australia is not addressed.
“We argue that it is time for a national inquiry to address the endemic nature of violence, exploitation and abuse in institutions and residential settings.”
CEO of the Australian Federation of Disability Organisations Matthew Wright the Yooralla case meant it was time to close institutionalised care.
“We extend our deepest sympathy to the victims and their families. It is unconscionable what people have had to endure in this situation,” Wright said.
“Sexual Abuse is abhorrent and we call for an immediate wide ranging inquiry into the institutionalised models that support people with disability and their links to sexual abuse.
“The current model of group homes, day services and Australian Disability Enterprises are segregated models where people with disability may only interact with staff and therefore are subject to all the risks.
On Monday the Board of Yooralla announced that it had accepted the resignation of CEO Sanjib Roy.
Chairman of Directors at Yooralla, Dr Wayne Ramsay, thanked Roy for his service.
“Mr Roy leaves the organisation in good shape and the board wishes him every success for the future”, Ramsey said.
“The board respects his decision to leave now that the organisational changes in response to the events of 2011 have been completed. Mr Roy has seen the organisation through its darkest days and we thank him for the leadership he has provided for the last six years.”
In a statement released just days before his resignation, Roy said Yooralla was “in the strongest position ever with regards to client wellbeing and safety”.
“Yooralla is deeply sorry for the distress of clients affected by the inappropriate, and in some cases criminal behaviour, of a small number of staff… We continue to provide support and assistance to these clients and their families,” Roy said.
“Yooralla has more than 2,000 employees providing support to more than 7,000 clients. Procedures, systems and processes are now in place to minimise the risk of similar situations in the future. Yooralla has implemented a broad range of measures designed to minimise risk and strengthen protective measures.
“Yooralla actively encourages staff to report abuse. Yooralla has invested in increased staff training and awareness about safeguarding client wellbeing, strengthening procedures for recruitment, staff supervision and appraisal, mandatory reporting, the escalation protocols and by investing in new technology to facilitate accurate incident reporting and to allow for early identification of any potential concerns.”
Dr Sherene Devanesen has been appointed Acting CEO of Yooralla pending an executive search process which will commence shortly.