Royal Commission into Disability Abuse – Terms of Reference Released

Hall & Wilcox Health and community law alert

The Royal Commission into Violence, Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation of People with Disability has formally commenced, with the Letters Patent and terms of reference released. This follows a period of consultation since Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Minister for Families and Social Services Paul Fletcher announced the Commission’s establishment on 5 April.

The Commission’s terms of reference are extremely broad and the scope, direction and likely areas of focus of the inquiry remain uncertain. Participants in the disability services sector should be carefully considering the scope of the terms of reference and identifying any potential areas of concern so they are prepared to respond to any requests on short notice.

Snapshot

  • Letters Patent, including the terms of reference, establishing the Disability Abuse Royal Commission were delivered on 4 April 2019;
  • Six Commissioners have been named, with the Honourable Ronald Sackville AO QC to chair the inquiry;
  • Nearly $530 million in funding has been allocated over five years, including to provide support for people with disability to participate in the Commission hearings;
  • The Commission is to be based in Brisbane but will take hearings around the country;
  • The terms of reference are wide-ranging, authorising inquiry into:
    • how to prevent and better protect people with disability from experiencing violence, abuse, neglect and exploitation;
    • how to encourage reporting of and effective investigations of an responses to abuse, and
    • 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, along with anything ‘reasonably incidental’ to such matters
  • The Commission’s final report is due by 29 April 2022, with an interim report due no later than 30 October 2020

Our comments

The Royal Commission into Disability Abuse comes hard on the heels of the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety and other recent inquiries and Royal Commissions affecting participants in the health sector.

Despite the extremely wide scope of the Royal Commission into Disability Abuse’s potential field of inquiry, any matters that are sufficiently and appropriately dealt with by the Royal Commission into Aged Care (or another inquiry) are carved out of the Commission’s terms of reference, limiting the risk of duplication.

The Royal Commission into Disability Abuse will have regard to specific experiences of violence, abuse, neglect and exploitation, although the Commission’s focus will be on issues that are systemic in nature. Individual experiences will inform the inquiry and referrals of specific instances of violence and other forms of abuse may need to be made to the appropriate authorities.

The Commissioners supporting Commissioner Sackville have a broad range of relevant experience. John Ryan AM and Barbara Bennett PSM are former senior public servants with significant experience in the disability sector, Andrea Mason OAM is a high-profile indigenous leader, Rhonda Galbally AC is a well-known disability rights advocate and NDIA board member, and Alastair McEwin is Australia’s immediate past Disability Discrimination Commissioner.

Participants in the disability services sector should be carefully considering the scope of the Commission’s terms of reference and identifying any potential areas of concern, locating and reviewing relevant documents and ensuring they are otherwise prepared to respond to the Commission’s information and document requests on short notice.

The disability sector has been in a state of flux with the transition to the NDIS Quality and Safeguarding Framework and now must prepare for this Royal Commission.  We recommend that NDIS providers (both registered and unregistered) commence gathering information on incidences of substandard care, complaints and claims in relation to violence, abuse, neglect and exploitation.  We have already been contacted by some of our existing disability clients to start briefing management and Boards, including on our experience in acting for various clients in NSW, Victoria, Queensland and WA in relation to the Royal Commission into Aged Care.


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