Royal Commission into Violence, Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation of People with Disability: Opening hearing recap

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By Luke Geary, Partner, Louise Cantrill, Partner and Vera Visevic, Partner

Yesterday in Brisbane the Royal Commission into Violence, Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation of People with Disability held its opening public hearing.  The previously announced 6 Commissioners were joined for the first time by newly appointed additional Commissioner, the Hon. Roslyn Atkinson AO, a retired Queensland Supreme Court Justice, who was appointed by the Commonwealth government on Friday, 13 September 2019.

The opening remarks from the Commissioners indicated their clear desire for this Royal Commission to be as significant a vehicle for transformational change within Australian society, as was the previous child abuse Royal Commission.  The Commissioners indicated this would be a human rights focussed Royal Commission and would receive significant evidence from individuals in private sessions (like with the child abuse Commission – which heard over 8,000 private session hearings), as well as through public hearings.

Senior Counsel for the Commission, Rebecca Treston QC indicated the consultation the Commission had undertaken to date and planned for the future, with a view to developing a strategic engagement plan to ensure extensive consultation with people with disability, as well as indigenous, LGBTQI, financially marginalised and other subsets within the disability community.  A draft of that plan can be found here.

Ms Treston QC indicated that last week a ‘substantial number’ of the largest NDIS providers were sent correspondence telling them that they would soon be receiving notices to produce regarding past complaints and investigations into matters of violence, abuse, neglect and exploitation, as well as policies and procedures to investigate and manage such complaints.

Ms Treston QC also said that hearings would focus on ‘themes’ as issues emerged through their ongoing engagement.  Themes identified to date include:

  • Homes and living
  • Relationships
  • Education and learning
  • Economic participation
  • Health
  • Justice
  • Individual autonomy
  • Self-determination and the right to the dignity of risk
  • Community participation
  • Geographical challenges

One or two public hearings are expected to occur before the end of 2019, on the issues of Education and learning, and Homes and living (both of these topics including the use of restrictive practices, the exclusion of students with disbaility from education and issues arising from the types of housing available to people with disability in a community setting or otherwise).

Practice Guidelines have also now been published on the Royal Commission’s website which cover:

  1. General Guidance;
  2. Legal Professional Privilege;
  3. Witnesses; and
  4. Conduct of Hearings.

Submissions are open to be made to the Royal Commission and can be submitted here. The majority of submissions to date have been made on the issues of Housing, Justice and Health.  This suggests that much of the focus of the public hearings and research work will be on these issues.

Further, the Attorney-General’s Department has now developed a legal assistance service for persons wishing to engage with the Royal Commission, as well as organisations whose participation may cause significant financial hardship, details of which can be found here.

Counselling and advocacy supports will also be funded by the Commission and provided by external agencies, with details soon to be published on the Royal Commission’s website.  This will include provision of supports for callers, anyone making a submission or anyone giving evidence in a private / public hearing, so people feel safe and supported (in a trauma-informed way) whenever engaging with the Royal Commission.

The webcast of the opening hearing can be viewed here.  A transcript will shortly be available on the Royal Commission’s website.

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