The Royal Commission into Violence, Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation of People with Disability has announced the start of its first public hearing in early November, with Senator Jordon Steele-John highlighting the short time frame and lack of available support for witnesses.
Running from 4-7 November 2019, the first week of hearings will be held at the Townsville Entertainment and Convention Centre in Queensland.
The Disability Royal Commission will have Chair of the Royal Commission, Ronald Sackville AO QC, along with Commissioners Roslyn Atkinson AO, Andrea Mason OAM, and Dr Rhonda Galbally AC.
Commissioner Sackville says the first round of hearings will focus on education and examine existing policies and procedures, with a particular focus on the Queensland Government’s education system.
The hearing will also examine Queensland’s inclusive education policy and its impact on the experiences of students with disability.
In September, there was a Community Forum in Townsville with around 150 people attending to share their lived experiences as either a person with disability or as a parent or advocate for people with disability.
The Royal Commission is committed to being accessible to all. In doing so, the Commission has adopted the principles of trauma-informed engagement to assist in recognising and understanding the effects of all types of trauma and to avoid re-traumatisation.
‘It is important that we make a start on the complex and important task ahead of us, and, in doing so, we will be ensuring that any individuals involved in the first hearings are appropriately supported. This includes through the Commission’s internal counselling and support team, including social workers and counsellors,” says Commissioner Sackville.
“We are pleased to see the National Counselling and Referral Service has commenced operations to support those who may be affected by the material explored at the hearing. “The service, being delivered by the Blue Knot Foundation, offers free counselling support for people with disability, their families and carers, and anyone affected by the Disability Royal Commission.
“All witnesses appearing at this first hearing will be able to access separate legal representation through the legal financial assistance scheme administered by the Attorney-General’s Department.”
The Disability Royal Commission wants to hear from all Australians about their experiences of violence, abuse, neglect and exploitation of people with disability.
This means there are many different ways for people to engage with the Commission, and can make a submission via email, phone or mail.
Dr Kerri Mellifont QC will be conducting the Townsville hearing, assisted by Brisbane-based Junior Counsel.
The Commission will also be holding hearings around Australia, along with private sessions, community forums and workshops.
A few day before the announcement, Senator Jordon Steele-John expressed his shock on social media citing sources who confirmed to him that two Senior Counsel, that were appointed to the Commission, Chris Ronalds AO SC and Michael Fordham SC, have resigned.
Senator Steele-John says, “Extremely concerning to see such senior figures leaving before Commission has even begun.
“This comes amid rumours - again from multiple sources - that the chair, Ronald Sackville AO, intends to hold the first public hearing in the week of the 4th November. If true, this timeline is completely impractical and irresponsible.
“Legal and emotional supports to be provided by the Royal Commission are not yet fully developed. Similarly, peak [organisations] have raised multiple red flags about their preparedness to support survivors giving evidence as they're yet to receive funding promised.
“There is no way the Royal Commission hearings can go ahead until these senior legal roles have been replaced and our advocacy organisations are properly funded by [Government] to support survivors through the challenging and potentially triggering experience of giving evidence.”
The Commission’s interim report is due on 30 October 2020, with a final report to be finished 29 April 2022.
To make a submission to the Disability Royal Commission, head to their website for more information. They have a dedicated page explaining how to properly submit to the Commission.
The submission process has been translated into Auslan and is also available in Easy Read documents.
If it is difficult to use the form, you can provide your submission by phone on 1800 517 199, or +61 7 3734 1900 between 9am to 6pm (Australian Eastern Daylight Time) from Monday to Friday.
You can also email or post a submission to the Commission at [email protected] or send a letter to GPO Box 1422, Brisbane, Queensland 4001.
The Commission is currently in the processes of creating more accessible application formats.