People with disability, peak bodies and advocates are calling for two Commissioners to step down from their recently announced roles in the Royal Commission into violence, abuse, neglect and exploitation of people with disability due to conflicts of interest.
A statement signed by 56 peak bodies and advocates calls on the Hon. John Ryan AM and Ms Barbara Bennett PSM to surrender as Commissioners of the inquiry having previously held positions in State and Federal public services.
Mr Ryan worked as a senior public servant for the NSW Department of Family and Community Services (Ageing, Disability and Home Care) and has been involved in housing initiatives for people with disability in NSW.
Ms Bennett was recently the Deputy Secretary of the Families and Communities Branch of the Department of Social Services, overseeing the Commonwealth Workplace Health and Compensation Scheme, the National Redress Scheme, welfare, family safety, housing and homelessness and disability sector grants.
Co-Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of People with Disability Australia, Matthew Bowden says the Royal Commission needs to be trusted by people with disability across the country.
“Our concern is that two of the proposed Commissioners have very recent, extensive and significant backgrounds working for the very institutions that will be examined by the Royal Commission – State and Federal public services, which is a direct and strong conflict of interest.
“Our joint statement, signed by a wide range of organisations and individuals, shows the breadth and depth of concern about these two Commissioners across the disability community.”
CEO of Disability Advocacy Network of Australia Mary Mallett says people with disability must have confidence in the Royal Commission that has taken many years to come to fruition.
“We are worried that with Mr Ryan and Ms Bennett as Commissioners, many will not feel they can come forward and participate in this Royal Commission.
“This would be a tragedy.”
CEO of Australian Federation of Disability Organisations, Ross Joyce says the federation put forward a list of potential Commissioners to the Federal Government who did not have any conflict of interests and who could act in the best interests of people with disability.
“We know that Mr Ryan and Ms Bennett are respected public servants who sought to make a positive contribution to ending abuse and violence through this Royal Commission.
“But we believe that their real, potential and perceived conflict of interest is a barrier for people with disability to engage with the Royal Commission.
“We are also calling on strong provisions to be included for all Commissioners to manage any other conflicts of interests,” Mr Joyce says.
Policy Manager at ACT Council of Social Service and activist Craig Wallace, says he doesn’t feel comfortable telling his story at the Royal Commission.
“Because some of the personal issues I need to raise occurred in NSW disability institutions and in the former Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs I will not be giving evidence at a Royal Commission of which either Commissioners John Ryan or Barbara Bennett are a part.
“I bear no personal ill will to either person but they should immediately stand aside,” he says.
Senator Jordon Steele-John took to Twitter to share the need for independent Commissioners.
“Great to see Australia’s peak disability organisations joining the #Greens call for independent commissioners.
“There can now be no other option but for the government to reconsider the appointment of John Ryan & Barbara Bennett to disability #RoyalCommission #Auspol.”