Royal Commission into Violence, Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation of People with Disability

The Royal Commission into Violence, Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation of People with Disability was established on 4 April 2019 by the Governor-General of the Commonwealth of Australia, His Excellency General the Honourable Sir Peter Cosgrove AK MC (Retd). The Governor-General issued Letters Patent which formally appoint the Royal Commissioners and outline the Terms of Reference for this inquiry. The Commissioners are required to provide an interim report no later than 30 October 2020, and a final report by no later than 29 April 2022.

People with Disability Australia, and Disabled People’s Organisations Australia have been campaigning for a Royal Commission for many years. People with disability have the right to a stand-alone and targeted Royal Commission that will interrogate and address the full scope of violence, abuse and neglect of people with disability and enable people with disability to tell their stories and experiences of violence, abuse and neglect in all settings and contexts such as the home, schools, out-of-home care, the justice system, as well as in the disability support system.

People with disability can now tell their stories to the Royal Commission. Submissions opened on 30 July 2019.

Journalists should see our media guidelines for reporting about the Royal Commission.

Frequently asked questions

What is a Royal Commission?

A Royal Commission is a type of public inquiry. It’s started by the Government, but it’s conducted by people who are independent of Government, often former judges. Unlike many inquiries by Government, a Royal Commission is established by law that gives them special powers. They have the power to summon witnesses and authorise search warrant applications, and if witnesses don’t appear or give false evidence, there are penalties. For all of these reasons, they are known as the highest form of public inquiry.

Who will the Royal Commission apply to? Where will it apply?

The Royal Commission will apply to all people with disability, of all ages. It specifically recognises that “the specific experiences of violence against, and abuse, neglect and exploitation of, people with disability are multilayered and influenced by experiences associated with their age, sex, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, intersex status, ethnic origin or race, including the particular situation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and culturally and linguistically diverse people with disability”.

It will apply to “all settings and contexts”. This means community, institutional and residential settings, including, but not limited to: institutions, group homes, workplaces, respite care, day programs, mental health facilities, prisons, schools, out-of-home care, transport, hospitals, aged care facilities, family homes, mainstream services and community settings.

Where will the Royal Commission be located?

The Royal Commission will be based in Brisbane, however, the Prime Minister also said that hearings would take place around the country. More details will be released in the coming months and we will continue to update you.

How can I tell my story to the Royal Commission? When will it be time to talk to the Royal Commission?

You will be able to contribute to the Royal Commission in a couple of ways.

  • Submissions are now open. The Government has said the Royal Commission will be accessible, so we expect that people will be able to make submissions in the way that is most appropriate for them, including in community languages and by video. Legal, therapeutic and disability supports are not yet available, but the Commission has said they will be soon. If you have any concerns about making a submission or how your information will be used, we suggest you wait until the supports are available. PWDA can update you as soon as we know more.
  • Hearings are where the Commissioners listen to witnesses about their knowledge and experiences. Hearing dates and locations will begin to be announced in the next few months. Private sessions will be available for people with disability who have experienced violence, abuse, neglect and exploitation.

We will continue to update as more details come from the Royal Commission.

What are private sessions?

Private sessions are a way for you to tell your story to the Royal Commission without having to give formal evidence. You can decide whether you take part, and if you do, you do not have to swear an oath or affirmation. The private sessions will not be public in the way that other hearings of the Royal Commission will be, and any information you give can only be used by the Royal Commission if it removes your identifying details. They are only attended by you, your support person/s if you choose, and Royal Commission staff.

Are the States and Territories included in the Royal Commission?

The State and Territory Governments have agreed to this Royal Commission, and it covers services provided by all Australian Governments, including State and Territory Governments, for example state-run institutions, group homes and prisons.

What are the rates of violence against people with disability?

  • people with disability experience far higher rates of violence than the rest of the community;
  • women with disability experience higher rates of sexual assault than other women;
  • children with disability are three times more likely to experience abuse than other children;
  • people with disability experience violence in places where they are meant to be receiving support;
  • people with disability can’t always rely on the police for protection against violence;
  • people with disability are often treated as ‘unreliable witnesses’, or are not even permitted by law to provide testimony at all.[i]

How does this relate to the Royal Commission into institutional responses to child sexual abuse?

The Royal Commission into institutional responses to child sexual abuse was very important because it brought the voices of many survivors to light, often for the first time. Many of these survivors are people with disability, who are more likely to be subject to abuse. We were involved in providing support to people with disability who chose to engage with that Royal Commission.

The Royal Commission into institutional responses to child sexual abuse only applied to people abused as children in institutional settings. People with disability, of all ages, experience very high rates of violence across all settings. We all deserve to have our voices heard and have this opportunity to seek justice.

What are some of the recommendations we would like to see come out of a Royal Commission?

Here are a few practical recommendations PWDA would like to see come from a Royal Commission:

  • The Australian Government establishes an enforceable Human Rights Act that fully protects human rights under Australian law.
  • The Australian Government and State and Territory Governments must ensure all people with disability are fully recognised before the law, as people with full legal capacity. This means we have rights, on an equal basis with others, and have the right to make decisions for ourselves. Governments in Australia can do this by:
    • removing any policy or practice that denies or lessens legal capacity
    • enacting laws that ensure recognition of people with disability before the law and assume our legal capacity
    • putting supported decision making into practice, to replace outdated models of substitute decision making like guardianship.
  • Australia should establish a nationally consistent supported decision-making framework that strongly and positively promotes and supports people to effectively assert and exercise their legal capacity and enshrines the primacy of supported decision-making mechanisms.
  • The Australian Government and State and Territory Governments move to eliminate all forms of forced treatment and restrictive practices on and against all people with disability. To commence this work, and in consultation with people with disability, the Australian Government conduct a comprehensive audit of laws, policies and administrative arrangements underpinning forced treatment and restrictive practices with a view to: introducing reforms to eliminate laws and practices that relate to forced treatment and restrictive practices that inherently breach human rights.

For a full list of recommendations we made to the 2015 senate inquiry into violence, abuse and neglect, please see our submission (with Disabled People’s Organisations Australia)

How has violence and abuse of people with disability been recognised in the past?

Violence against people with disability is poorly recognised and dealt with in the wider community.

In 2015, a Senate inquiry was held into violence abuse and neglect against people with disability, and it found widespread rates of abuse and recommended a Royal Commission.

The Senate inquiry, while important, did not have the powers, resources and public recognition that a Royal Commission would have. A Royal Commission has a variety of powers, for example, to summon witnesses and authorise search warrant applications, and if witnesses don’t appear or give false evidence, there are penalties. A Royal Commission will also have the resources to support people with disability to give evidence.

A Royal Commission is for all people with disability in all settings. It is not only about the NDIS or disability services. We experience higher rates of violence everywhere, for example, in our family homes.

Why do we need a standalone, separate Royal Commission?

People with disability experience higher rates of violence at all ages in all settings. While the majority of older people are people with disability (ABS 2016), the reverse is not true. It’s important not to conflate the two groups. People with disability deserve a standalone Royal Commission.

Won’t the NDIS sort this out?

The NDIS will provide funding for supports for around 10 per cent of people with disability in Australia. The NDIS Quality and Safeguards Commission, which was established in 2018, will only be applicable to those receiving NDIS funded services. While PWDA welcomes these measures, they are no substitute for a Royal Commission.


[i] DPO Australia submission to the 2015 Senate Inquiry into violence, abuse and neglect against people with disability