Senate Calls for Disability Abuse Royal Commission
26 November 2015 at 11:52 am
Disability advocates have praised a Senate report calling for a Royal Commission into disability abuse to be established.
After months of a Senate inquiry investigating claims of abuse and neglect of people with disability in institutional and residential settings, the community Affairs References Committee has tabled its report, saying a Royal Commission into the issue should be set up “urgently”.
Chair of the Committee, Greens Senator Rachel Siewert, who described evidence presented to the inquiry as “harrowing”, said internal reporting of abuse and neglect was failing and a Royal Commission was the only way forward.
“There were so many accounts of violence, abuse and neglect that it is clear that abuse is widespread and occurring all over Australia, it is clear a Royal Commission is needed,” Senator Siewert said.
“You don’t call for a Royal Commission lightly, but it is absolutely necessary in this instance.
“The Royal Commission would use its investigative powers and visit institutions, so that we as a nation can dig deeper and pry open the cases of abuse that have occurred for so long at such a large scale.”
More than 150 victims of abuse made submissions to the inquiry.
The committee also recommended that the Australian Bureau of Statistics include people with disability in its surveys when it came to violence, abuse and neglect being reported to an authority.
Senator Siewert said access to Australia’s justice system needed to be improved by removing systemic barriers including access to supported decision making and legal capacity.
“People with disability and their families trying to report abuse often aren’t believed,” she said.
“Many are too terrified to report abuse because managers put the victims back into the very intimate care of their abusers. We learnt that institutions may be reluctant to speak out through fear of bad publicity.
“Advocates have long spoken out on this issue that is systemic and wide-spread but for years their words have fallen on the deaf ears of our Governments.”
Shadow Minister for Disability Reform, Jenny Macklin, stopped short of backing a Royal Commission.
“Today, we repeat our support for such an investigation. We are prepared to work with the government and other stakeholders to make this happen,” Macklin said.
“Labor will carefully consider all of the findings and recommendations in this report and continue to consult with people with disability, their families and advocates.
“We cannot erase the pain and suffering that so many have already experienced. The very least we can do is make sure these injustices cannot keep occurring in modern Australia.”
CEO of People With Disability Australia, Therese Sands, welcomed the Commission’s recommendations and said victims of abuse needed a full Royal Commission.
“Enough is enough. This is our nation’s opportunity to show those that have been failed by the system that they deserve justice,” Sands said.
“The significant level of violence perpetrated against people with disability in institutional and residential settings warrants the establishment of a Royal Commission and we wholeheartedly support the recommendation made in the report.”
She was joined by Carolyn Frohmader, CEO of Women With Disabilities Australia, who said the stories of abuse uncovered by the Senate inquiry were the “tip of the iceberg” and indicative of a widespread and far-reaching problem.
“It is not limited to a few rogue individuals, it is not confined to disability support settings, and it is not confined by state or territory borders,” Frohmader said.
“It is a national epidemic, and it warrants urgent national leadership from the Australian Government to address it.”
The Turnbull Government has previously said state governments should “take the lead” on investigating incidences of abuse against people with disability.
The only two Liberal Senators to take part in the inquiry did not support the recommendation for a Royal Commission.
“Coalition Senators recommend that a judicial inquiry be considered into violence, abuse and neglect of people with a disability,” Senators Zed Seselja and Joanna Lindgren said.
“Coalition Senators acknowledge the complexities of living with a disability, and note the good work of the committee in pursuing this inquiry.