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Disability Abuse Royal Commission Calls Get Louder

17 September 2015 at 12:55 pm
Ellie Cooper
The Turnbull Government has said that the state governments should “take the lead” on investigating incidences of abuse against people with disability rather than a Royal Commission into the issue be set up.

Ellie Cooper | 17 September 2015 at 12:55 pm


Disability Abuse Royal Commission Calls Get Louder
17 September 2015 at 12:55 pm

The Turnbull Government has said that the state governments should “take the lead” on investigating incidences of abuse against people with disability rather than a Royal Commission into the issue be set up.

Disability advocates have been calling for a Royal Commission into the violence, abuse and neglect of people with disability in institutional and residential settings following evidence that has been presented at Senate Inquiry into the issue.

They argue that the Senate’s investigations are only revealing a fraction of the systemic levels of abuse that are happening in Australia.

But this week Assistant Minister for Social Services, Senator Mitch Fifield, told Pro Bono Australia News that the current investigation was doing its job.

“Abuse of people with disability is completely unacceptable, and the Senate Inquiry and other processes are shining a light on this important issue,” Senator Fifield said.

“The Senate Committee is due to report on 11 November, and the Commonwealth will carefully consider the inquiry’s findings.”

Senator Fifield said that the recommendations of the Senate Inquiry would be an important input into the development of a nationally consistent quality and safeguarding framework for the National Disability Insurance Scheme.  

“As is the case with the Victorian Parliamentary Inquiry into Abuse in Disability Services, it is appropriate for state governments to take the lead on investigating incidences of abuse within state service providers,” he said.

“The findings and recommendations of these related investigations will also be important inputs to the NDIS quality and safeguarding framework.”

Earlier this month Chair of the Senate Inquiry, Senator Rachel Siewert, wrote that it was not doing enough to uncover “horrifying” accounts of abuse.

Co-CEO of People With Disability Australia, Therese Sands, told Pro Bono Australia News that victims of abuse deserved a Royal Commission so they could properly access justice and redress.

“What we’ve seen through the current Senate Inquiry is numerous stories and testimonies being put forward, sometimes by people themselves with the support of organisations such as the Australian Cross Disability Alliance or other advocacy organisations, but often people with disability in institutions and residential settings rarely have their stories told and have not had a voice at all in this topic,” Sands said.

“A Royal Commission is about justice for people with disability. It’s a way to acknowledge that this is such a significant issue and I just think we can’t ignore the incidents and prevalence of this issue anymore.

“It’s not just an issue within disability service settings, it’s in schools, it’s in prisons, it’s in mental health facilities, it’s in supported accommodation, juvenile justice facilities, aged care, out of home care, a whole range of areas, and many of these stories are now gradually coming out in various reports.

“Just looking at what safeguards in the systems we might require, while that is important, it actually doesn’t address the justice element for people with disability to feel acknowledged, to feel they’ve had their story told.”

Sands said a Royal Commission was needed as it would have the power to compel witnesses, including governments, to appear.

She said without the wider community was failing disabled Australians by not giving them adequate access to justice.

“I think we are failing them. I think we’re not recognising the broad, sustained, prevalent nature of this situation for people with disability,” she said.

“The powers of a Royal Commission means that they have the authority and they have the powers to interrogate a whole range of service systems and they can also bring together experts to examine the systems that underpin these service systems, these institutional and residential settings.

“What we’re doing (with a Senate Inquiry) is we’re shining a light in a tiny area to uncover specific incidences and we are ignoring that this problem is significant, it is huge, and we don’t need a small light shone on one specific area, this issue has to be addressed holistically, systematically and across a broad range of areas. That's why a Royal Commission is absolutely warranted and it will be one way to provide justice for people with disability.”

Ellie Cooper  |  Journalist  |  @ProBonoNews

Ellie Cooper is a journalist covering the social sector.

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