A motion passed the House of Representatives, considering a Royal Commission into violence, abuse and neglect of people with disability in all settings on February 18, 2019. We are glad that all political parties supported that motion because we believe a Royal Commission is vital to shine a light on the hidden abuse of people with disability across the nation, and must include all people with disability, not just those covered by the NDIS.
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.
In 2015, a Senate inquiry found widespread rates of violence and abuse against people with disability, and strongly recommended holding a Royal Commission.
Only a Royal Commission has the power to break down doors, and shine a light on the violence against people with disability that has been hidden away. Critically, a Royal Commission will also give people with disability a chance to receive justice for violence and abuse that happened in the past.
Disabled People’s Organisations Australia has released a “Roadmap for Our Royal Commission”, which calls on the Government to establish and resource our Royal Commission immediately, and undertake a comprehensive, meaningful consultation with people with disability about the Terms of Reference, particularly with Disabled People’s Organisations (DPOs).
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.
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.
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]
Who should the Royal Commission apply to? Where should it apply?
The Royal Commission must apply to all people with disability, of all ages.
It must apply to both 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.
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.
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.
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.
Do the States and Territories need to get on board?
Settings over which the State and Territory Governments have jurisdiction should absolutely be investigated as part of the Royal Commission, for example state-run institutions, group homes and prisons. States and Territories should fully support a Royal Commission.
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 ensure all people with disability are recognised as people before the law. They 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 legal capacity, and recognising and giving primacy to supported decision making.
- 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) https://pwd.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2018/11/ACDASubSenInquiryViolenceInstitutions.doc