Disability royal commission begins amid fears around support services
4 November 2019 at 12:58 pm
The first hearing of the inquiry will focus on education
The chair of the disability royal commission has tried to assuage fears there will not be enough support for people giving evidence, as the first public hearing for the inquiry gets underway.
Ronald Sackville AO QC said he was conscious of the concerns about the timing of the first hearing, which took place in Townsville on Monday.
It emerged recently that legal support services were still weeks away from being fully operational and that the commission’s in-house counselling team was still recruiting.
The commission also confirmed it had lost its two most senior lawyers, leading Greens Senator Jordon Steele-John and disability groups to call for the first hearing to be delayed.
But Sackville said there were enough support avenues in place for the hearing to go ahead.
“We are disappointed that counselling and legal supports being funded and administered through agencies external to the royal commission have not been established as quickly as we had hoped,” Sackville said.
“Having appropriate advocacy, counselling and legal supports in place for people who have experienced violence, abuse, neglect or exploitation is essential, and those supports have been put in place for the Townsville hearing.”
Sackville said people involved in the hearing will be supported through the commission’s internal counselling and support team, while witnesses could access legal representation through the attorney-general’s legal financial assistance scheme.
The first hearing will focus on education, and consider the significance of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities – which recognises the right of people with disability to education without discrimination.
It follows the release of research from Children and Young People with Disability Australia (CYDA) that found more than 40 per cent of students with disability have been excluded from school events or activities.
The Australian Coalition for Inclusive Education – a new national coalition advocating for an evidence-based approach to education for children with disability – has called for an end to segregated education.
CYDA CEO Mary Sayers said: “The disability royal commission presents an opportunity for Australia to right its wrongs and start providing children with disability the inclusive education they are entitled to – it is their human right.”
Sue Tape from the Queensland Collective for Inclusive Education added that the commissioners must consider the impact of segregation as an act of exploitation and educational neglect.
“We want the impact of micro-exclusions and emotional aggression to be examined as a cultural failing of the education system to recognise the need for inclusion,” Tape said.
“This and the next generation of students need all of us to be the ‘adults in the room’ and lead real change for all students, now.”