The federal government’s decision to rule out a royal commission into violence and abuse against people with disability has been condemned by an alliance of disability advocacy groups.
A Senate committee proposed the royal commission in November 2015, following months of investigations into claims of abuse and neglect of people with disability in institutional and residential settings.
“There were so many accounts of violence, abuse and neglect that it is clear that abuse is widespread and occurring all over Australia, it is clear a royal commission is needed,” committee chair and Greens Senator Rachel Siewert said at the time.
However, the government said it would not follow the committee’s key recommendation.
It said the NDIS Quality and Safety Framework, released last month by the COAG Disability Reform Council, would address many of the committee’s concerns.
At the time the framework was released, People with Disability Australia said the safeguarding mechanisms appeared to apply only to NDIS participants and providers “leaving a significant gap for those people with disability who are not NDIS participants but who experience violence, abuse, neglect and exploitation”.
On Friday the Disabled People’s Organisations Australia (DPO Australia), an alliance of national peak groups of people with disability, said it was “shocked and angry” that the government ruled out a royal commission into the “epidemic of violence and abuse” against people with disability.
“People with disability in Australia need a government that is prepared to really listen to those who have suffered from violence and abuse, and commit to take every step necessary to understand the extent and impacts of this national shame,” DPO Australia director Therese Sands said.
“The Senate inquiry showed that violence and abuse of people with disability is not limited to a few rogue individuals, is not confined to disability support settings, and is not circumscribed by state or territory borders.”
She reiterated that the NDIS Quality and Safeguarding Framework would leave out the majority of people with disability.
“And it replicates systems that the Senate inquiry demonstrated were inadequate,” she said.
“It doesn’t address the scale of violence and abuse against people with disability, its many different forms, and the range of service and other settings where it occurs.”
According to DPO Australia, people with disability experience far higher rates of violence than the rest of the community, and, in many cases, people with disability experience violence in places where they are meant to be receiving support.
The alliance also said people with disability can’t always rely on the police for protection against violence and are often treated as “unreliable witnesses” or are not permitted by law to provide testimony.
Women With Disabilities Australia CEO Carolyn Frohmader said only a royal commission could properly investigate and address the abuse of people with disability.
“The inquiry heard from people with disability from all over Australia, displaying extraordinary courage and often at great personal cost, who came forward to highlight the terrible toll that violence and abuse has had on them personally and on their families and friends. The inquiry found that the stories they heard were only the tip of the iceberg,” Frohmader said.
“Only a royal commission, which has the weight, the investigative powers, the time and resources to thoroughly examine, expose and respond to this issue, can open the doors to many ‘closed’ institutions and residential environments.
“Most critically, a royal commission would give space and recognition to people with disability – many of us have never had a chance to tell our stories, to be believed, to be supported and to seek some measure of accountability and justice for what we have experienced.
“By ruling out a royal commission, the federal government is denying people with disability a voice to tell their story and be believed. The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse has shown the kind of healing impact a commission can make on a previously neglected and hidden issue.”
Siewert, also the Greens spokesperson on disabilities, slammed the government’s decision last week.
“A range of recommendations compiled with extensive consultation to address systemic abuse, violence and neglect of people with disability across the country has been effectively dismissed by the government, or as they like to put it, ‘noted’,” Siewert said.
“This was outlined in an official response to the inquiry that has taken nearly a year and a half for the government to write.
“There was overwhelming support for a royal commission and other recommendations so I know a lot of people are going to be very disappointed.”
She said the NDIS Quality and Safeguarding Framework would be insufficient in addressing the issue.
“Other recommendations including a national system for reporting, investigation and eliminating violence, a national disability worker registration process and a consistent approach on training were ‘noted’ with government claiming the Quality and Safeguarding Framework will do the job – it won’t,” she said.
“I welcome the government agreeing to publish data relating to the National Disability Abuse Hotline on its website every six months, but frankly the government is not going near enough.
“My thoughts are with the witnesses and families who were hoping for a better response from the government”.