Royal Commission into Violence, Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation of People with Disability

Paul Gleeson & Emma Turner

In recent years media reports and public inquiries highlight that violence, abuse, neglect and exploitation of people with disability is happening, is widespread, and occurring in multiple environments – not just in supported accommodation. To deny the existence of violence, abuse, neglect and exploitation of people with disability and its potential to occur within your organisation would be to deny the recognition of the rights of people with disability and could amount to a breach of your duty of care to take reasonable precautions to prevent such foreseeable risks from occurring. 

What recent public inquiries and reforms suggest is that our legal and regulatory systems are failing to protect people with disability from abuse and deliver justice for people who experience it. The failings of these systems will continue without broader cultural and attitudinal change throughout the community aimed at creating safe and respectful environments for people with disability. What we have learnt from Royal Commissions in recent years is that they are powerful vehicles for achieving such change. 

Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced the establishment of the Royal Commission into Violence, Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation of People with Disability on 5 April 2019. The Commission has been given 3 years to complete its review, with an interim report due by 30 October 2020. The final report, including recommendations, is due by 29 April 2022. The Honourable Ronald Sackville AO QC will chair the Commission, with 5 other Commissioners in support. 

The Commission comes after years of calls for a Royal Commission, and growing community acknowledgement that disability discrimination is widespread throughout Australia. 

What do we know?

The Terms of Reference cover what governments, institutions and the community should do to prevent, report, investigate and respond to disability violence, abuse, neglect and exploitation; as well as what should be done to promote a more inclusive society that supports the independence of people with disability and their right to live free from violence, abuse, neglect and exploitation. There is scope for the Commissioners to investigate any other matters they consider reasonably incidental to these matters. 

The broad mandate will permit investigation of financial, emotional, psychological abuse as well as sexual and physical acts of violence. Implicit within the framing of the inquiry through a human rights lens the investigation will also have to encompass discrimination against people with disability, including overt and systemic forms and their equality before the law particularly in regards to victims of violence and abuse experiences with the criminal justice system.

Which sectors will be impacted?

All sectors of the community should be prepared to genuinely reflect on their past treatment of, and attitudes towards, people with disability. The Terms of Reference indicate that the focus will be broader than just the disability service provider sector. Government sectors that should prepare for scrutiny include regulators of disability services, education, health, justice (including police and prisons), and community services (including advocacy services). Mainstream sectors such as the financial industry, independent schools and religious and community sector organisations that support people with disability may also be considered within scope. Providers of disability services, including those directly funded under state arrangements and persons and organisations delivering NDIS supports and services (both registered and unregistered) are likely to be thoroughly investigated. There is also scope for the Commission to look into the treatment of people with disability by their own families and informal support networks. 

What next?

Whilst the Royal Commission gears up we encourage our clients to consider the likelihood of their involvement and potential exposure. 

Russell Kennedy has advised clients in the disability sector on best practice for preventing and responding to abuse for a number of years. Based upon our experience we have developed a checklist for you to consider what action your organisation can be taking now to better prevent and respond to violence, abuse, neglect and exploitation of people with disability. You can access the checklist here

In the interim, for further resources we encourage you to visit our Royal Commission page here which is updated regularly with insights and materials.  If you would like more information or have any questions, please contact Paul Gleeson or Emma Turner from our Disability team.

If you’d like to stay up to date with insights for the disability sector, please sign up here.

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