Disability royal commission must be extended, advocates say
21 April 2021 at 1:09 pm
An extension has already been backed by Labor and the Greens
Disability groups have renewed calls for a 17-month extension to the disability royal commission, warning there is not enough time left for the inquiry to conduct its investigations thoroughly given the delays caused by COVID-19.
People with Disability Australia (PWDA) has launched a new campaign urging people to contact Attorney-General Michaelia Cash and ask for an inquiry extension, which would move the commission’s end date from April next year to 29 September 2023.
This request was first made by commission chair Ronald Sackville AO QC amid the release of the interim report in November last year.
The report noted that the inquiry has been deeply affected by the lockdowns and other consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic, with public hearings forced to be held online.
It was revealed last month that the federal government was yet to respond to Sackville’s request, despite him writing two letters to the prime minister and attorney general emphasising the importance of an urgent response.
Labor MPs Bill Shorten and Mark Dreyfus have also written a letter to the prime minister and attorney general backing an extended inquiry, while Greens Senator Jordon Steele-John has repeatedly said an extension must be granted immediately.
PWDA CEO Sebastian Zagarella said there was too much at stake for the commission not to be extended.
“The commission has achieved a great deal in two years, but there have been significant delays due to COVID restrictions, and the sheer enormity of the task before them cannot be underestimated,” Zagarella said.
“The welfare and safety of the disability community depends on the commission having adequate time to conduct these investigations thoroughly.”
The inquiry has also been complicated by concerns around confidentiality of information provided to the commission.
Currently a person giving information can only be guaranteed confidentiality post-inquiry if this evidence was provided in a private session, but the federal government has vowed to amend this.
Zagarella notes that legislation to provide ongoing confidentiality is expected to be passed in May or June, when there is less than a year left on the commission’s current schedule.
He said he expected there to be an influx of submissions once the legislation is passed.
“People with disability want to tell their stories, but many are speaking out against abusers or organisations that still hold power over aspects of their lives,” he said.
“These protections are vital to peoples’ safety and security, and many have chosen to wait for the legislation to pass before making submissions.”
This campaign has been backed by Disability Advocacy Network Australia (DANA) CEO Mary Mallett.
She told Pro Bono News an extension must also come with ongoing funding for support services.
“To reap the benefits of the public investment already made in this historic royal commission, granting the requested extension of 17 months is absolutely essential,” Mallett said.
“It must also include funding for continued support services, including advocacy, counselling and legal support for people wishing to share their story.”
A spokesperson for the Attorney-General’s Department told Pro Bono News the federal government was “actively considering the request for an extension”.