Disability royal commission given chance to reset with hearings halted
Wednesday, 18th March 2020 at 4:18 pm
The royal commission has postponed all public hearings indefinitely
A pause on all public hearings in the disability royal commission to stop the spread of COVID-19 to people with disability is a good chance to iron out current issues, disability advocates say.
Commission chair Ronald Sackville AO QC announced on Monday that hearings in Brisbane and Alice Springs would be postponed due to concerns about the spread of COVID-19 to people with disability.
It follows an earlier announcement that community forums due to be held in Tasmania this week had also been postponed until further notice.
Romola Hollywood, People with Disability Australia director of policy and advocacy, said the cancellation of all public events, including face-to-face sessions with abuse and neglect survivors, was unfortunate but necessary. She said it would give the royal commission the opportunity to properly set up a way for people with disability to give evidence in private and address confidentiality issues.
She told Pro Bono News it would take legislative change to see that existing submissions remained confidential beyond the life of the royal commission, something PWDA would continue to push for.
“We understand that this requires legislative change to the Royal Commission Act, but the pause to the royal commission gives us a chance to ensure that that legislative change occurs,” she said.
Public hearings paused indefinitely
Sackville said that the decision to cancel the events was based on the commission’s responsibility to protect the health and safety of people with disability, staff members and the community at large.
“The commission has decided that these measures are necessary in view of the risks to health, especially to people with disability who are often particularly vulnerable to infections,” Sackville said.
Commission has postponed the following hearings;
- Education scheduled for next week in Brisbane, Queensland.
- Justice scheduled for April in Brisbane, Queensland.
- First Nations people with disability scheduled for May in Alice Springs, Northern Territory.
Witnesses and people who have registered for community forums are being contacted by the commission to inform them of the decision.
The $528 million inquiry, launched nearly 12 months ago, has already exposed shocking cases of abuse, including evidence that people with disability were physically restrained, “chemically castrated”, and sexually assaulted in group homes.
The show must go on
Sackville said work would still continue despite the postponement, including publishing the Issues Papers and preparing for future hearings.
He also said that people with disability would still be able to tell the commission about their experiences of violence, abuse, neglect and exploitation.
“They can do this in any way they choose, by phone, in writing or by making an audio or video recording,” he said.