The latest Royal Commission into Violence, Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation of People with Disability public hearing has outlined how Australia is not protecting the rights of people with disability, in line with a “shocking” report on the use of restraints.
The National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) Quality and Safeguards Commission has released its activity account for the 2020-2021 year, including a tripling of reports of unauthorised restraints used against people with disability.
Unauthorised Restrictive Practices (URPs) were used on 7,862 participants during 2020-2021 across 788 providers, and 1,044,851 reports of incidents were received by the NDIS Commission.
URP reports in the 2019-2020 year numbered 302,690 – about three times less than the most recent financial year.
An NDIS Commission spokesperson says the increased volume of URPs is “completely unacceptable”.
“This volume of reports demonstrates the shocking prevalence of these practices in the disability sector in Australia and is one of our highest priorities,” the spokesperson says.
“To address this, targeted compliance action with providers who preside over significant numbers of these arrangements is underway now.”
A majority of the restraints used in 2020-2021, at 585,847 reports, were chemical – for example prescribed medication – followed by 376,575 reports of environmental restraints, such as taking away a participant’s mobile phone or restricting them to their bedroom.
Even though mechanical restraints – also known as physical restraints – were the third most commonly used, they still accounted for 63,795 reports.
Each of the reports is a separate incident – for example if a person was given sedatives three times in one day it would count as three reports. The total number of reports can also include multiple notifications of the incident, allegations of incidents, and situations where incidents occurred, but harm to the person was avoided.
The median number of times an URP was used on an individual participant was 15.
NDIS Minister, Senator Linda Reynolds, says the use of restricted practices is a complex issue and that she is working with the NDIS Commission to reduce the use of them across Australia.
“The independent NDIS Quality and Safeguards Commission has, and continues to undertake important work to compile and to shine a light on the increasing number of use of unauthorised restrictive practices,” Minister Reynolds says.
“The Commission has undertaken considerable compliance activity, and is undertaking further accelerated work, to address this trend – focussing on the providers reporting that majority, and repeated, number of these events.”
Lack of action to protect the rights of people with disability explained to Royal Commission
The shocking NDIS Commission report comes as the latest Royal Commission hearing highlights the lack of protection of the rights of people with disability in Australia.
During the hearing, a theme of the discussion was the right of people with disability to make decisions about their own situations and the NDIS Commission spokesperson says their work is tied into this.
“The NDIS Commission is focussed on promoting the rights, choice and control of people with disability in every aspect of their lives, by improving the practice around positive behaviour support,” the spokesperson says.
“The aim of positive behaviour support is to reduce and eliminate restrictive practices. There is a primary emphasis on upholding the rights of the person with disability by looking to support the person through evidence-informed, person-centred strategies reflected in a behaviour support plan.”
Witnesses who spoke at the Royal Commission hearing referenced the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which Australia is a signatory to, and criticised the lack of work the Government has done to enforce the Convention.
Chairperson of Our Voices SA, Ian Cummins, says, “I want to see more people with disability have more of a say. You know why? Everybody makes decisions for you. And half the time it’s not the right way.”
According to Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of First Peoples Disability Network, Damian Griffis, more needs to be done to educate people with disability, Government departments and services, and the Australian public about rights.
“It’s been more than a decade since Australia signed the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, yet for First People with disability, we are still not included in the community,” says Mr Griffis.
“With investment in advocacy and rights education, we could make a big difference in how Australia delivers on the promise of the CRPD. Australia is a very wealthy country, and should be measured by the highest possible standard in disability rights.
“We have such a long way to go in terms of raising the profile of disability rights in general in Australian society – from businesses like the fellow who runs a pub on George Street in Sydney to BHP it’s not part of the Australia vernacular.”
People With Disability Australia (PWDA) Senior Policy Officer Frances Quan Farrant says that while the Convention was a benchmark for what Australia should be doing, advocacy organisations were forced to work with legislation which doesn’t recognise that benchmark.
“If we don’t have it in the law we can’t operationalise it, we’re facing a brick wall,” says Ms Quan Farrant.
“Too often the responsibility is pushed aside or onto the States but we have to have the responsibility come from the Commonwealth.”
Kelly Cox, Vice President of PWDA agrees, saying “We need people to care about our rights as people with disability and when they don’t care, we need a way to enforce it.”
Mr Griffis suggests the Australian Prime Minister should be required to report to the Parliament on the progress of enforcing rights, possibly annually on the International Day of People with Disability (3 December).
The reporting and measuring of progress could follow a similar structure to the Closing the Gap campaign, Mr Griffis says, which aims to improve the health and life outcomes of First Nations people.
“We also need an urgent roll out of specific advocacy support for First People with disability, who can go out on country and talk with the whole community about how to fix barriers,” he adds.
First Peoples Disability Network is also calling for all NDIS services and disability support workers to receive training on the rights of people with disability to achieve social change.