Chair of the Royal Commission into Violence, Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation of People with Disability Ronald Sackville has written to Prime Minister Scott Morrison to request a 17-month extension of the inquiry until September 2023.
The request comes as the Commission released its interim report on Friday, which summarises what the Commission has done in its first 15 months up until 31 July 2020.
While the report does not contain any recommendations for policy change, the 561-page document, which begins with the quote ‘What is happening to people (with disability) is not okay and the stories need to be told’, details the experiences of many people with disability, as well as the reasons they are exposed to violence, abuse, neglect and exploitation.
The commission was originally scheduled to hand down its final report in April 2022, but if Mr Sackville’s request for an extension is granted, the $528 million commission will run for a total of four years and five months.
Mr Sackville says the terms of reference covered by the inquiry were larger than any other royal commission in the past 20 years.
"The commission is not a sprint, it's a marathon," he says.
“The Interim Report is an important milestone in the work of the Royal Commission…(and) explains the approach the Royal Commission is taking.”
“The task confronting us is formidable, but we are committed to completing the work in a way that will help bring about transformational changes in the laws, policies and practices affecting people with disability.”
Mr Sackville says the Commissioners hope the report amplifies the issues that have to be addressed and contributes to ensuring that the voices of people with disability are not only heard but heeded.
“In the past 50 years, significant progress has been made in addressing the harsh - at times cruel and inhuman - treatment of people with disability,” Mr Sackville says.
“Many horrific institutions have been closed and people with disability now have a voice through their representative organisations. The NDIS has been established. But welcome as those changes are, a great deal remains to be done.”
Mr Sackville says more changes need to be made in relation to
greater choice and control
attitudes towards disability
segregation and exclusion
access to services and supports
advocacy and representation
oversight and complaints
data and funding
A specific chapter in the interim report is dedicated to the unique experiences of First Nations people with disability, highlighting the lack of culturally appropriate services and supports.
“First Nations people with disability have told the Royal Commission about being bullied or abused by people in positions of power. It has also heard that the fear of child removal and subsequent institutionalisation is a particular barrier for First Nations people with disability accessing services,” Mr Sackville says.
Minister for Families and Social Services Anne Ruston says the interim report is indicative of the complexity and scale of the Commission’s inquiry.
“Violence, abuse, neglect and exploitation of people with disability is unacceptable and abhorrent,” Minister Ruston says.
“We understand there is much work to do, requiring a sustained effort at every level of government in Australia and must be guided by the voices of people with disability.”
Minister for the National Disability Insurance Scheme Stuart Robert says the Government is providing $5.9 million over the next two years to the National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation (NACCHO) to strengthen NDIS services within Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.
“This funding will improve access to culturally appropriate support for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people with disability under the NDIS living in urban, regional and remote communities,” Minister Robert says.
Last week, Attorney-General Christian Porter announced plans to amend the royal commission legislation to ensure the confidentiality of witnesses during and beyond the inquiry.
So far, the Royal Commission has held seven public hearings and published nine issues papers and six research reports since it was established in April 2019, although the COVID-19 pandemic forced public hearings to be held online.
The inquiry’s next public hearing is set for the week from 23 November in Brisbane, and will examine the experience of Indigenous people with disability and the impact of child protection systems.
A copy of the interim report has been tabled in Federal Parliament and is available to view in accessible Word and PDF formats, an Easy Read guide and Easy Read Summary, and an Auslan video summary here.