Disability Royal Commission Progress

Our Co-CEO Matthew Bowden spoke to Fran Kelly on RN Breakfast this morning about the Disability Royal Commission, the terms of reference of which are expected to be publicly revealed on Monday.

Source: ABC Radio National

Interview Transcript

Fran Kelly: The Disability Royal Commission is about to be formally announced and the ABC has obtained details of the draft terms of reference. They appear to confirm that it will be a wide-ranging investigation into the violence, abuse, exploitation and neglect suffered by people with disabilities across all sectors of our community. Those draft terms of reference were presented to several advocacy groups earlier this week at a meeting with Social Services Minister Paul Fletcher. It’s expected they will be publicly revealed on Monday. Matthew Bowden, Co-CEO of PWDA, was at that meeting in Canberra, he’s seen the terms of reference, the draft terms. Welcome.

Matthew Bowden: Good morning.

Fran Kelly: Matthew, are you happy with these draft terms of reference? What do they tell us?

Matthew Bowden: So far, things are really positive. It’s clear the government has been listening to people with disability and what we’re asking for in terms of the terms of reference being all-encompassing so that they cover all settings – community settings, the family home, and then service provider settings as well. All people with disability are going to be covered by this royal commission and all terms of forms of violence.

Fran Kelly: Not just institutional abuse or neglect of people with disability, it’s broader than that. For example, what would that cover, Matthew?

Matthew Bowden: It would cover violence that happens in people’s own homes, from members of their family or partners. Also violence that happens in the workplace, that happens in the community. Hate crimes, things that happen from neighbours, etc. Any form of violence that happens against a person with disability, wherever they are.

Fran Kelly: What about the model of this royal commission? It will be difficult and traumatic for a lot of people, do you expect it will follow the model of the Child Abuse Royal Commission, which provided support for people who engaged with it? There were private sessions if people wanted them, a lot of counselling support.

Matthew Bowden: We’ve really been pushing for a similar model to the Child Abuse Royal Commission, where the survivor, the person was absolutely at the centre of what the Royal Commission was doing. So from those private session and stories that the commissioners heard from survivors, then that information went into what became the public hearings where they were able to interrogate the themes of that particular violence, or interrogate what was happening in particular institutions or settings. And from those public hearings and really interrogating that evidence they were then able to make their findings in the final report. We’ve been advocating for a similar approach to take place where people with disability are well and truly and absolutely at the centre of the royal commission and its work and what it learns. There is also a need for a lot of research to happen as well. There are gaps in our knowledge about why this occurs and royal commissions are really the place to ask those big questions. What are the enablers in this situation? Why is it that we have such an endemic problem with violence against people with disability? What creates that? What causes it? That’s really important to know about before we look at what the solutions are and what is going to make people with disability safer in the future.

Fran Kelly: That notion of looking at abuse in people’s homes, that’s a whole different order of investigation too. More difficult and perhaps even more confronting, do you think?

Matthew Bowden: It is going to raise some very confronting things. People with disability experience very outrageous crimes including crimes from the hand of their own family members. You have people with disability being killed by their parents, tortured and abused by family members. It is absolutely going to be harrowing, what we hear and what is uncovered. But it has been going on for such a long time that it’s really important these things are brought to light. It is absolutely essential that people with disability are given all the support required to take part safely in this royal commission, be that through having counselling support, debriefing, support from advocates so that people are able to tell their stories, to be heard, and all the adjustments are made so that they can fully participate in the royal commission and it’s done in a very safe way.

Fran Kelly: Are those supports built into the terms of reference as far as you’ve seen them?

Matthew Bowden: We’ve spoken to the government about the whole raft of supports required. We hope that knowmore and disability specialist community legal centres are resourced so they are able to provide advice that is completely independent from the royal commission before people go into private sessions and engage with the commission.

Fran Kelly: Did you think you got a sense of agreement from the Minister on that?

Matthew Bowden: I think the government is fully aware, they seem to be cognizant that supports are well and truly required for this to be a safe process for people and a supported process.

Fran Kelly: You’re listening to RN Breakfast, it’s 08:12 and our guest is Matthew Bowden. What about the commissioners themselves, Matthew? Do you know how many commissions are planned? A single commissioner, or a number of commissioners? And will the commissioners be people with a disability?

Matthew Bowden: We don’t know how many commissioners the government’s thinking of at the moment. We’ve been arguing there should be a number of them. They will have a large amount of work to do. If people with disability are going to be given private sessions like we had in the Child Abuse Royal Commission where there is a one-on-one meeting between the commissioner and a person with disability in the space, there are going to be so many stories, so many people are going to want to come forward to speak, just in terms of the workload for the royal commission, there is going to need to be quite a decent sized team of commissioners to do that.

Fran Kelly: Do you think it’s important if the commissioners are people with disability?

Matthew Bowden: It is essential that people with disabilities are commissioners. There are a number of people who are very well placed to do that and have enormous respect from people with disability and enormous respect from the general community as well. It’s essential that there is faith and trust in the commissioners and that we see ourselves reflected in who is sitting on the royal commission.

Fran Kelly: I understand that state and territory ministers responsible for disability services are meeting today, do you think they will have a say in a terms of reference as well?

Matthew Bowden: Yes, the council is meeting today and I understand they will also be asked for their views on who they would like to see make up the team of commissioners. We look forward to hearing what the outcome is and who is appointed.

Fran Kelly: Just finally, Matthew, this push and calls for a royal commission has been coming for a long time. In 2015 a Senate enquiry heard shocking stories of violence and abuse; it recommended a royal commission. After all these years of lobbying, what do you hope the royal commission will achieve in practical terms, but also in terms of national attitudes?

Matthew Bowden: I really hope that there is a shift in attitude towards people with disability and that people aren’t sort of viewed as objects to be exploited and abused. That there’s a sort of human rights approach to people’s lives, that people have a right to safety, people have a right to determine where they live, where they work, who they spend time with. And that people are supported so that if bad things happen to them, our justice responses are adequate, people are believed when crimes occurred to them. At the moment we have very often poor justice responses and people aren’t believed. These are things we hope will come from it. We are also hoping there is a place where – the royal commission provides a place where people are able to be heard and be believed and that that in itself provides a sort of healing context for people.

Fran Kelly: Someone has written in to ask whether this royal commission will include people with disability due to mental illness? Helen points out these people are included in the NDIS.

Matthew Bowden: Absolutely. The terms of reference we have seen have a very broad look at disability. People with psychosocial disability will definitely be included in the royal commission.

Fran Kelly: Thank you very much for joining us.

Matthew Bowden: You’re welcome.

Fran Kelly: Matthew Bowden is the Co-Chief Executive of People With Disability Australia. You’re listening to RN breakfast. It’s 8:15.