Disability groups call for conflicting commissioners to step down
8 April 2019 at 4:47 pm
Disability groups are demanding two commissioners for the newly announced disability royal commission step down for the “good of people with disability”.
In a joint statement, the Australian Federation of Disabilities Australia (AFDO), Disabled People’s Organisations Australia, and Disability Advocacy Network Australia called for John Ryan and Barbara Bennett to step down over conflicts of interest, that the groups say will severely hinder the effectiveness of the inquiry.
Concerns were raised over Ryan’s senior role at the NSW Department of Family and Community Services, and Bennett’s role as deputy secretary of the families and communities branch of the Department of Social Services – two departments likely to come under significant scrutiny during the royal commission.
“We understand that Mr Ryan and Ms Bennett are respected public servants who sought to make a positive contribution to ending abuse and violence through this royal commission,” the statement said.
“However, we believe this work would be best served if they acknowledged their real, potential or perceived conflicts of interest and step aside. We call upon them to do this today in the best interests of people with disability, and the integrity of our royal commission.”
The joint statement has been signed by over 50 organisations that represent people with disability, across the entire disability spectrum.
It comes days after the three-year disability royal commission was officially launched on Friday by Prime Minister Scott Morrison.
“The royal commission will inquire into all forms of violence, abuse, neglect and exploitation. It will cover all settings in which these abuses occur,” Morrison said.
Matthew Bowden, Co-CEO People with Disability Australia (PWDA), said many of the organisation’s members were now not comfortable participating in the royal commission because of Bennett’s and Ryan’s roles as commissioners.
He told Pro Bono News it would have a serious impact on the effectiveness of the entire process.
“They won’t approach the royal commission because of the abuse and the violence that they experienced within the institutions that [Bennett and Ryan] have had up until last week, very senior roles in,” Bowden said.
He said he was not suggesting that Bennett or Ryan were involved in perpetrating abuse against people with disability, but the fact they were involved in the organisations at senior levels was a barrier for people to speak out at the royal commission.
Ross Joyce, AFDO CEO said there were many other, well-qualified people who would be better suited for the position of commissioner.
“Our organisations put forward dozens of names, including many eminently qualified and skilled people with disability… who did not have a conflict of interest, and who could act in the best interests of people with disability,” Joyce said.
He also said strong provisions should be taken to manage any other conflicts of interest before the royal commission began.
Bowden said he hoped the commissioners listened to their request and stood down as soon as possible.
“We really hope that they understand what the perception is, and where those concerns come from, and that they do step aside,” he said.
“If they don’t we’ll be in a very difficult situation, and I don’t know what we’ll be able to say to our members.”