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Interim report details widespread abuse against people with disability in Australia

2 November 2020 at 6:05 pm
Luke Michael
The disability royal commission’s interim report has been released    

Luke Michael | 2 November 2020 at 6:05 pm


Interim report details widespread abuse against people with disability in Australia
2 November 2020 at 6:05 pm

The disability royal commission’s interim report has been released    

The chair of the disability royal commission is asking for a 17-month extension to the inquiry, after an interim report acknowledged there had been “substantial interruptions” to the inquiry because of COVID-19. 

The disability royal commission’s interim report was handed down on Friday, detailing how people with disability were experiencing violence, abuse, neglect and exploitation across all aspects of their lives.

The 561-page report outlines the attitudinal, environmental, institutional and communication barriers people with disability face when seeking inclusion within Australian society.  

Chair Ronald Sackville AO QC said the report sets out what the royal commission has done over the first 15 months – while noting it was too soon for the inquiry to make firm recommendations on the issues identified in the report.

“In the past 50 years, significant progress has been made in addressing the harsh – at times cruel and inhuman – treatment of people with disability,” Sackville said.

“Many horrific institutions have been closed and people with disability now have a voice through their representative organisations. The [National Disability Insurance Scheme] has been established.

“But welcome as those changes are, a great deal remains to be done.”

Advocates back call for inquiry extension

The report noted that the royal commission has been deeply affected by the lockdowns and other consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic this year, with public hearings forced to be held online. 

“We have experienced substantial interruptions to our scheduled program of public hearings and to our engagement with people with disability, their families, advocates and supporters,” the report said.

Amid these delays, Sackville is requesting a 17-month extension of time to present the commission’s final report, which would push it back to 29 September 2023.

This request has been supported by People with Disability Australia, which welcomed the interim report’s release in a statement on Twitter.

“[We] welcome the call from the chair of the commission to extend the [royal commission] by over a year. Many people with disability still face immense barriers to come forward and tell their story to the royal commission,” PWDA said.

“An extension will allow more people with [disability] to tell their stories of the violence, abuse, neglect and exploitation that is perpetrated against us.”

The Greens have also backed the push for an extension.

Senator Jordon Steele-John said advocates have known for some time that the royal commission would need more time to examine the violence, abuse, exploitation and neglect of people with disability.

He noted recent concerns around the confidentiality of people telling their stories to the inquiry, which the government has pledged to rectify next year.

“Not only has COVID-19 caused significant delays to the important work of the commission, it has also created new areas of investigation and these must be examined in full,” Steele-John said.

“Furthermore, failure by the Morrison government to address privacy concerns has… impeded the work of the commission so far.

“This extension will give more people the opportunity to come forward and testify once that privacy issue is resolved.

Indigenous people with disability facing severe discrimination

A key focus of the report is the double discrimination faced by First Nations people with disability. 

The report noted they were more likely to experience harm than the general population and lacked culturally appropriate services and supports.

“First Nations people with disability have told the royal commission about being bullied or abused by people in positions of power,” Sackville said.

“It has also heard that the fear of child removal and subsequent institutionalisation is a particular barrier for First Nations people with disability accessing services.”

The experiences of First Nations people with disability and their families in contact with child protection systems is an area set to be examined by the commission as it continues its work. 

The full interim report can be seen here.

Luke Michael  |  Journalist  |  @luke_michael96

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

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