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Disability royal commission faces boycott threat

16 September 2019 at 4:37 pm
Luke Michael
The disability royal commission is officially underway, but advocates are threatening to boycott the inquiry unless two of the commissioners stand down over alleged conflicts of interests.  

Luke Michael | 16 September 2019 at 4:37 pm


Disability royal commission faces boycott threat
16 September 2019 at 4:37 pm

The disability royal commission is officially underway, but advocates are threatening to boycott the inquiry unless two of the commissioners stand down over alleged conflicts of interests.  

The first public sitting for the Royal Commission into Violence, Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation of People with Disability started in Brisbane on Monday.

Disability groups say they hope the inquiry will be the beginning of a long process to achieve justice for people with disability who have experienced violence.

But some advocates remain concerned by two of the appointees to the commission ­– John Ryan and Barbara Bennett – because of their previous roles in departments likely to come under significant scrutiny during the inquiry.

Craig Wallace, convener of the Disability Royal Commission Action Group, told AM he would boycott the commission unless Ryan and Bennett stand down.

“While the royal commission has released a statement on the management of conflicts of interest and allowed for private sessions the reality is these conflicts are so profound they simply cannot be managed by established mechanisms,” Wallace said on Twitter.

“[Ryan’s] past roles, views and actions are in conflict with the goals [of the commission]. Bennett has wide ranging conflicts. Both will have to recuse from swathes of evidence gathering, analysis and reporting. Why are they there? What will they do?”

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.

Advocates say while no one suggests Bennett or Ryan were involved in perpetrating abuse against people with disability, the fact they were senior figures within organisations under the spotlight is a barrier for people to speak out.

More than 1,500 people from over 100 organisations have signed a petition calling on Ryan and Bennett to step down to protect the integrity of the commission.

The Greens also passed a non-binding motion in July – with support from Labor, Centre Alliance, One Nation and Jacqui Lambie – calling for the government to remove the duo.

Labor’s shadow NDIS minister Bill Shorten tweeted on Monday that he shared “the grave concerns of disability communities about the two commissioners with potential conflicts”.

But the Morrison government has refused to budge on the appointments, arguing that conflict of interest allegations were “without truth or foundation”.

People with Disability Australia CEO Jeff Smith said advocates would be keeping a close eye on any conflicts of interest during the inquiry.

“We will be listening with interest [during the] opening session to hear how the disability royal commission will be managing the conflicts of interest of two of the commissioners, that many disability organisations and individuals have raised concerns about,” Smith said.

“This is something we will continue to keep an eye on, as the commission unfolds.”

On the eve of the first public sitting, commissioner Alastair McEwin AM paid tribute to the hard work of the disability community in establishing the commission.

“The royal commission came about through many years of advocacy by people with disability and their allies. We pay tribute to their efforts to shine a spotlight on this issue,” McEwin said.

“We say to them: the establishment of this royal commission is your achievement.  Your human rights are and will be at the heart of everything we do at this royal commission.”

Luke Michael  |  Journalist  |  @luke_michael96

Luke Michael is a journalist at Pro Bono News covering the social sector.

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One comment

  • Bridgette Pace says:

    If these two Commissioners had any self-respect, they would have offered to stand down, particularly in view of the huge outcry against their appointment. Unfortunately, the lure of a big pay packet may be too hard to resist. No public servant or bureaucrat who held the positions they did in the past, should have ever been considered for those roles in the Royal Commission. It is just “jobs for the boys club” once again or, perhaps, the words bias, ethics or fairness do not form part of the appointor’s understanding. Why not appoint two advocates who, themselves, may have a disability, and have first hand experience of what a disabled person has to confront on a daily basis? Why are those, at the grass roots level, not considered as more appropriate and providing more value than two die hard public servants who cannot, from any fair point of view, bring an unbiased or jaundiced eye on the proceedings. The fact that they are still there despite the outcry, tells me that they have no moral compass because they put themselves first rather than the disability community who do not want them there.

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