Civil Society Backs Calls for Royal Commission into Disability Violence
12 June 2017 at 11:41 am
A coalition of 163 civil society organisations and 383 individuals have written to the prime minister demanding a royal commission into violence and abuse against people with disability.
The Civil Society Statement, issued to Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull on Thursday, said all other initiatives including the NDIS Quality and Safeguarding Framework, would fall short of addressing the “prolific and systemic” abuse against people with a disability.
Written by Disabled People’s Organisations Australia (DPO Australia) and backed by the social sector’s heavy weights, including St Vincent de Paul Society, Anglicare and the National Congress of Australia’s First People, the statement said a royal commission was the only mechanism that could provide long-overdue justice.
Women With Disabilities Australia executive director Carolyn Frohmader said people with disability were “routinely denied access to civil and criminal justice because of law, policy, and practice barriers”.
“Only a royal commission can provide a comprehensive, independent, and just response to all forms of violence and abuse against people with disability,” Frohmader said.
“A royal commission would give space and recognition to people with disability to tell their story, and enable accountability and justice.”
The statement called on the government to establish a royal commission after a senate inquiry recommended it two years ago.
The 2015 Violence, Abuse and Neglect Against People with Disability in Institutional and Residential Settings Senate inquiry found that that violence and abuse against people with disability in Australia was “epidemic” and an issue of national significance.
According to DPO Australia’s submission to the senate inquiry 90 per cent of women with intellectual disability have been sexually assaulted in their lives, and 60 per cent before the age of 18.
The submission also found that in many cases, people with a disability experienced violence in places where they were meant to be receiving support.
“Violence against people with disability in institutional and residential settings is Australia’s hidden shame,” the submission said.
“Violence against people with disability in institutional and residential settings is an urgent, unaddressed national crisis, of epidemic proportions.”
The DPO Australia submission was one of the 161 submissions the inquiry received leading the final report to conclude: “The failure of current systems to deliver safe services to people with disability in the first instance, and a failure to appropriately respond to occurrences of violence, abuse or neglect of people with disability as a secondary measure.
“Evidence to the inquiry clearly demonstrates that this is happening around Australia and that the cases reported to the committee are not isolated instances. However, given the lack of reliable data, the committee considers this issue is likely to be far greater in prevalence that this inquiry has been able to determine.
“Many submitters to the inquiry have called for a royal commission to address these issues. The committee is aware that calls for a royal commission are often made when people feel strongly and seek greater recognition for a particular issue. The committee recognises the full import of such a step and believes in this instance such calls are justified.”
The report concluded that “given the closed nature of institutions” only a royal commission with investigative powers, funded and empowered to visit institutions, could properly conduct an inquiry, and “give full weight to the seriousness of this issue”.
The inquiry was concluded in November 2015 and the Australian government issued a formal response in March 2017.
In its response, the government rejected calls for a royal commission and said it did “not consider that a further inquiry is needed”.
The Turnbull government argued that the NDIS Quality and Safeguarding Framework would “protect the rights of people with disability and ensure where there is an incidence of abuse and neglect of people with disability, it is addressed as a priority.”
The civil society statement said the NDIS Quality and Safeguarding Commission was “not the answer.”
“While the NDIS Quality and Safeguarding Commission announced in the federal budget 2017-18 is welcomed, it will only provide protection to people with disability who directly access NDIS supports. This equates to less than 10 per cent of the total number of people with disability in Australia,” the statement said.
“Neither the Commission, nor the NDIS Quality and Safeguarding Framework, will have the scope to identify and address systemic issues outside its mandate. It will not cover the range of settings in which people with disability experience violence, nor the multiple forms of violence that people with disability experience. It will not hold individuals, organisations and systems accountable for past injustices.
“Only a Royal Commission can provide a just response to people with disability who have been denied justice for so long.
“People with disability in Australia deserve nothing less.”
Australian Greens Senator Rachel Siewert, who initiated and chaired the senate committee inquiry into the issue, said: “More and more momentum is building for a royal commission into widespread abuses in institutional and residential settings of people with disability. This is not an issue the Government can ignore.”
“The senate inquiry revealed a disturbing level of violence, abuse and neglect occurring in places where people with disability should feel safe and at home,” Siewert said.
“The Government must heed the calls of the community and reverse its decision not to hold a royal commission”.