Disability advocacy groups are demanding that the Federal Government responds to requests from the Disability Royal Commissioner Ronald Sackville AO QC to extend the Royal Commission into Violence, Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation of People with Disability (DRC), with the initial request being largely ignored since October last year.
Advocates believe the extension is essential and have joined forces in their call for the additional 17 months to be granted so that the stories of people with disability can be heard.
After the delivery of the Disability Royal Commission (DRC) Interim Report to the Governor-General David Hurley AC DSC on 30 October 2020, Commissioner Sackville also requested an extension of time for the Commission to 29 September 2023. Currently, the DRC Final Report needs to be delivered to Parliament on 29 April 2022.
DRC Policy Officer at Disability Advocacy Network Australia (DANA), Siobhan Clair, says the only response from the Government to the extension request has been that a decision will be made in "due course", however, it has been nearly six months without any approved extension.
"As time has worn on, it gets more difficult for the many small organisations supporting engagement with the DRC to make plans for the future without the certainty of an extended timeline and assurances of funding for the continuation of surrounding support services," explains Ms Clair.
"...To truly reap the benefits of the substantial public investment in this historic Royal Commission, granting the requested 17 month extension is essential.
"This extension must include extended funding of DRC support services including individual and systemic advocacy and counselling (through the Department of Social Services) and legal support (through the Attorney-General’s Department) for people who have experienced disability violence, abuse, neglect and/or exploitation."
Over the period of the DRC, DANA has been engaging with disability advocates on the ground and have heard the different issues that have been impacting people with disability and their engagement with the Commission.
Advocates say people with disability need time and support to tell their stories safely and the COVID-19 pandemic has caused disruptions and delays in legislative amendments to confidentiality, which has had an impact on the already complex and demanding challenges of engaging and supporting people with disability to share their stories to the DRC.
Ms Clair says, "We urge the Commonwealth Government to ensure that Australians with disability have the opportunity to have their voices heard."
A number of peak bodies have written to the Acting Attorney-General, Michaelia Cash, outlining why there needs to be an extension of the DRC.
Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of People With Disability Australia, Sebastian Zagarella, says that an extension is needed for the Commission to properly fulfil its role investigating violence, abuse, neglect and exploitation of people with disability.
"This royal commission is a once in a generation opportunity to properly investigate the harms being done to people with disability in Australia," says Mr Zagarella.
"It is vitally important to the safety and wellbeing of our community that the time is taken to do it right."
First Peoples Disability Network (FPDN) Australia has also raised concerns that the full extension to the DRC has not yet been granted and has urged the Prime Minister to intervene.
CEO of FPDN, Damian Griffis, says, "COVID-19 had a major impact on the work of the Disability Royal Commission, and has caused many delays in reaching Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people with disability. Our stories are crucial for the Commission’s work, and essential if we are going to start to reduce the toll of violence against us.
"The terms of reference for the Disability Royal Commission specifically ask them to look at the particular situation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people with disability. We have asked the Commission to hold more public hearings specifically looking at First Nations issues, such as the over-representation and indefinite detention of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people with disability in the criminal justice system, and they need time to get that work done.
"At a time when the whole Australian community is reckoning with violence against women, it is outrageous that the needs of First Peoples women and girls with disability are being ignored.
"The Disability Royal Commission was set up specifically to look at how to prevent violence and abuse of people with disability, and it needs time to do that work."
To learn more about the DRC campaign or to write to the Acting Attorney-General about the issue, visit the Our Royal Commission website.