The Australian Government was responsible for “serious failures” to people with disability during the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic in Australia, a report by the Disability Royal Commission says.
The report was released on 30th November in response to the Disability Royal Commission’s fifth public hearing held in August.
The report says no Australian Government agency with responsibility for disability policy, including the Department of Health, made “any significant effort” to consult with people with disability or their representative organisations from late January 2020 until the establishment of the Advisory Committee for the COVID-19 Response for People with Disability on 2 April 2020.
“The failure to consult during the critical early period contributed to the Australian Government neglecting to develop policies specifically addressing the needs of people with disability and the challenges confronting them in an emergency unprecedented in modern times”, the Royal Commission’s report into the effects of the pandemic on people with disability says.
The report also notes it was “striking” that the NDIS Commission was not consulted prior to the release of the COVID-19 Plan.
Disability Royal Commission Chair Ronald Sackville AO QC says the report makes 22 wide-ranging recommendations in light of evidence from people with disability, advocates, experts and government representatives during the hearing.
Mr Sackville says it was clear that official lines of communication had failed between decision-makers and people with disability, leaving them feeling “forgotten and ignored”.
“The evidence at Public hearing 5 echoed what people with disability were telling the Royal Commission from the very outset of the pandemic: people with disability were extremely anxious, stressed and frightened as they found themselves severely affected by an unprecedented health crisis”, the report says.
“Their already high levels of anxiety, stress and fear were immeasurably heightened by the feeling that they had been forgotten by Governments and general community and that the responses to the pandemic had ignored the severe challenges they faced.”
The report says the Australian Government was responsible for two “significant failings”.
First, neither the Australian Government nor its agencies made any “significant attempts” before 2 April 2020 to consult with people with disability or their representative organisations when planning how to respond to the emerging crisis, resulting in no additional funding being provided to disability representative organisations.
Secondly, neither the Australian Government nor its agencies considered in any systematic or sustained fashion what measures were required to support and protect the safety, health and well-being of people with disability during the early stages of the pandemic.
It recommends the Australian Government Department of Health should “ensure that an appropriately resourced unit or team has specific responsibility for developing plans and programs to protect the health and wellbeing of people with disability, including during emergencies such as the COVID-19 pandemic”.
The report was tabled in the Australian Parliament on 30th November.
You can read the report here.