Disability advocates say ‘time is up’ for royal commission appointees
26 July 2019 at 2:32 pm
A campaign to remove two disability royal commissioners over alleged conflicts of interest has won Senate support, placing further pressure on the government to take action.
The Greens’ non-binding motion calling for the government to remove Barbara Bennett and John Ryan from the disability royal commission passed on Thursday with support from Labor, Centre Alliance, One Nation and Jacqui Lambie.
Ryan and Bennett have faced criticism since their appointment as commissioners over their previous roles in departments likely to come under significant scrutiny during the inquiry into abuse of people with disability in all settings.
Ryan held a senior role at the NSW Department of Family and Community Services, while Bennett was formerly deputy secretary of the families and communities branch of the Department of Social Services.
Greens Senator Jordon Steele-John said their positions have now become untenable and they must be replaced.
“These commissioners have lost the confidence of the disability community and they have now lost the confidence of one of the chambers of the Australian Parliament,” Steele-John said.
He said the government should appoint new commissioners who are people with disability and have minimal and manageable conflicts of interest.
Labor’s shadow NDIS minister Bill Shorten said the royal commission could not be successful with two commissioners who could be “in charge of investigating themselves, their former colleagues or their former workplaces”.
“It is time for the Morrison government to remove the two royal commissioners, with such entrenched conflicts of interest their continued involvement will taint the work of this important inquiry,” Shorten said.
Almost 1,500 people from more than 60 organisations have signed a petition calling on Ryan and Bennett to step down to protect the integrity of the commission.
Disability groups have renewed their calls for the pair to step aside in the wake of the successful motion.
Disability Advocacy Network of Australia CEO Mary Mallet said it was vital that people with disability had confidence in the integrity of the inquiry.
“We have been calling for this royal commission for many years and are concerned that this ‘once in a lifetime’ opportunity for justice may be wasted if action is not taken by the federal government,” Mallet said.
Matthew Bowden from People with Disability Australia said he hoped the House of Representatives would show solidarity with the Senate by supporting the resolution.
The Morrison government meanwhile has refused to back down on its appointments, arguing there no was conflict of interest jeopardising the commission’s integrity.
Liberal frontbencher Jonathon Duniam told the Senate on Thursday: “The government does not accept the allegation that they have an unmanageable conflict of interest. Media reports implying fault, and therefore conflict of interest… are without truth or foundation.”