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  • Writer's pictureKate Bradshaw

Royal Commission One Step Closer

It is looking increasingly likely that the Prime Minister, Scott Morrison is moving toward calling a royal commission into the abuse of disabled Australians, with major states ready to sign up to support an inquiry which could cover decades of horrific allegations.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has written to the states and territories asking for their support in establishing a royal commission into abuse in the disabled sector.

New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia have confirmed they are behind the inquiry, but a formal announcement is not expected until Mr Morrison hears back from the other leaders. Federal Cabinet discussed establishing a royal commission on Tuesday night. In his letter, Mr Morrison says he believes a joint royal commission is the way forward and is calling on all governments work together. "I am now seeking your in-principle agreement for the establishment of a joint royal commission and the most appropriate consultation pathways to progress this important matter," he wrote.

The Prime Minister does not need the approval of the states and territories to call the probe, but has warned the scope would be limited without it given the oversight they have of the disability sector. "I think we can all agree that violence, abuse and neglect of people with disability is abhorrent and that we should be doing all we can to ensure a safe and secure Australia," Mr Morrison wrote. The step comes after the Prime Minister backed a motion supporting the inquiry in Federal Parliament in early February, under pressure from Labor and the Greens.

The Prime Minister has written to the state premiers and territory chief ministers for their support, as disability care has largely been a state responsibility until the genesis of the National Disability Insurance Scheme. The Australian understands the governments of NSW, Victoria and South Australia have given their support to Mr Morrison, and “positive discussions” are ongoing with Tasmania.

“I think we can all agree that violence, abuse and neglect of people with disability is abhorrent and that we should be doing all we can to ensure a safe and secure Australia,” Mr Morrison wrote.

Only a Royal Commission has the weight, the investigative powers, the time and resources to open the doors to the many ‘closed’ institutions and residential environments. The main recommendation of the 2015 Senate Inquiry into violence, abuse and neglect against people with disability was for a Royal Commission. Key facts supporting the need for a Royal Commission include:

  • people with disability experience far higher rates of violence than the rest of the community;

  • women with disability experience higher rates of sexual assault than other women;

  • children with disability are three times more likely to experience abuse than other children

  • in many cases, people with disability experience violence in places where they are meant to be receiving support;

  • people with disability can’t always rely on the police for protection against violence;

  • people with disability are often treated as ‘unreliable witnesses’, or are not even permitted by law to provide testimony at all.

The Prime Minister has said multiple times he was open to a royal commission into the abuse of disabled Australians, but also said he wanted to focus on the current commission into the aged care sector and continuing to build the not-yet-finished NDIS.

Government sources say it is too early to say how much the royal commission would cost. The Sydney Morning Herald reports it would cost $100m over two years and Mr Shorten said last month a Labor Government would commit $26m to the inquiry. Mr Shorten also wrote to the premiers and chief ministers last week to gain their support for a royal commission.

“It is well established that people with disability are victims of higher rates of violence and abuse - often in places, and at the hands of people, who have been trusted to deliver services and supports. People with disability are frequently denied the rights, dignity and opportunity afforded to other Australians,” he wrote.

Quality Health Care supports a Royal Commission into the abuse of people with a disability because we have heard too many stories of abuse and neglect within the sector. Those people who have suffered deserve meaningful action on this and they deserve it now.

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