Today I rise to acknowledge the release of the Final Report of the Royal Commission into Violence, Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation of People with Disability.
Three weeks ago, Minister Shorten and I were handed the Final Report of the Disability Royal Commission.
- Twelve volumes;
- 6,788 pages;
- Over 3 million words; and
- Close to 10,000 personal experiences
After four-and a half years and 32 substantive hearings, the six Commissioners handed their report to the Governor General on the 28th of September.
The release of the report is a significant milestone that millions of people all over the country had been waiting for.
One in six Australians are living with disability – that’s 4.4 million people.
For many of us, they are our friends, they are our colleagues, our family members and our children.
The Royal Commission highlighted the horrible experiences many of them have faced through violence, abuse, neglect and exploitation.
Many felt their experiences had been finally heard for the first time.
It wasn’t easy for their stories to be shared. And at first many felt too afraid to come forward.
And the Royal Commission undertook the massive task of using this evidence and undertaking extensive research to examinine the matters affecting the lives and experience of Australians with disability.
The Commission’s work was particularly focused on critical areas of violence, abuse, neglect and exploitation of people with disability in Australia.
This work was commissioned by all Australian governments – Commonwealth, states and territories.
And it is important that all levels of government heed its call.
The evidence presented to the Royal Commission has been deeply confronting.
Whether it was Quaden who spoke of his experience of extensive bulling because of his disability or Rebecca who experienced abuse in a group home.
To everyone who shared their stories with the Royal Commission – we thank you. Your contributions have already made a difference and led to change.
To the Commissioners and their staff: this work was not easy and we thank you for your commitment. You had to hear the harrowing experiences of people with disability who have been let down by services, systems, institutions, governments and the community.
The Disability Royal Commission has made 222 recommendations.
These recommendations can be divided into those that are directed to the Commonwealth, those solely directed to the states and territories and those that have joint responsibility.
The volumes released should be read. They should be reflected upon by all of us for years to come.
We welcome the Disability Royal Commission’s final report, and its vision of a more inclusive society – where people with disability are included in aspects of society and where violence, abuse, neglect and exploitation of people with disability is not acceptable.
Its message is clear, as a nation we must do better.
Over the past four and a half years, the outpouring of experiences of violence, abuse, neglect and exploitation have shocked and disturbed Australians.
Around 55 per cent of people with disability aged between 18 to 64 have been physically or sexually abused since the age of 15.
This is significantly higher than adults without a disability in that age group.
But of course these are not just statistics, they are the experiences of real people.
And that is why the first volume of this report rightly focuses on the nearly 10,000 stories shared with the Royal Commission by people with disability, their families, carers and advocates.
There is the experience of Rebecca – a woman with autism and an intellectual disability who had a large clump of her hair pulled out as she was dragged across the floor by another resident at a group disability home in Melbourne.
There is also Hashem who lives with chronic pain, chronic fatigue, anxiety and depression.
On a daily basis he was assaulted and abused in his neighbourhood - even in his own home. He had bottles and rocks thrown at his house, his possessions urinated on and even experienced death threats.
And there are the broader stories of exclusion like Zoya, in her early 50s who has physical disability and vision impairment.
She shared how she often experiences barriers to employment when she discloses the workplace adjustments she needs – despite being clearly qualified for roles or being the preferred candidate.
There are two overarching themes across the Royal Commission’s report.
The first is the importance ensuring the rights of people with disability are upheld and there are appropriate safeguards and protections in place so they can live their lives free from abuse and neglect.
The second overarching theme is the importance of the inclusion of people with disability across all aspects of society – including employment, education, health and housing.
To achieve this, it is important that we always ensure the views and preferences of the people with disability that we support are heard and respected, and that these preferences inform decision-making and service delivery.
It is also about ensuring supports enable full and active participation in the economy and the community; facilitate access to appropriate services; and support health, wellbeing and autonomy.
The Royal Commission proposes a vision for an inclusive Australia, in which people with disability live free from harm; where human rights are protected; and individuals live with dignity, equality and respect.
Achieving this vision will take a coordinated effort from all of us, including attitudinal change through greater community understanding about disability, greater visibility of people with disability and more contact between people with and without disability.
This is critical to building a more inclusive society, because it will take a whole of society approach to achieving change that goes beyond government to respond to the Royal Commission’s findings.
An approach that sees everyone in the community pulling in the same direction to achieve the level of inclusion that is required to drive change.
The Albanese Labor Government will take the Final Report of the Disability Royal Commission very seriously.
As an immediate action – and in recognition of the significance of the scale of the reforms recommended by the Disability Royal Commission – we have established a Commonwealth Disability Royal Commission Taskforce.
The taskforce will coordinate the Commonwealth’s response, particularly focused on the recommendations that are dedicated to the Commonwealth.
The taskforce will be critical in assessing how the individual recommendations link together, understanding the broader implications of these recommendations and sequencing of the Government’s response.
As many of the recommendations are directed toward the Commonwealth, the taskforce will play an important role in assessing how the response to the recommendations could be implemented.
And of course, we are committed to consulting with the disability community and key stakeholders to inform our response. We will have a comprehensive stakeholder engagement plan to inform our response.
Yet, while the Disability Royal Commission has been running, we haven’t waited to start work to improve the lives of people with disability in Australia.
I am really pleased that I have, as Minister, been working very closely with all state and territory governments, who have shared a commitment to improving outcomes for people with disability through Australia’s Disability Strategy.
And we will continue to work together to address recommendations with shared responsibility.
The Disability Royal Commission will also be given ongoing attention at future meetings of Commonwealth and state and territory Governments.
The Government is taking action through Australia’s Disability Strategy – our national framework to improve the lives of people with disability. I have been working hard to bring the Strategy to life, rather than just a piece of paper.
On Tuesday I announced that public consultation on the design of the Disability Employment Centre of Excellence to improve employment outcomes for people with disability and increase the capacity of employment service providers and employers.
This will complement the work I have been leading to drive a focus on quality in Disability Employment Services through the Quality Framework, and undertaking pilots focussing on career pathways and the NDIS and Disability Employment Services interface ahead of introducing a new specialist disability employment service.
For supported employees, we supporting the evolution of the supported employment sector are developing an information and advocacy service so that they are aware of their rights and employment options.
We have also introduced the Disability Services and Inclusion Bill to enable the delivery of inclusive, accessible and safe services for people with disability outside the NDIS, as well as strengthening regulation to protect their safety and rights.
Our approach in the National Plan to End Violence against Women and Children recognises that women and children with disability are at higher risk of violence and can find it harder to access help when they need it.
Through the Safe and Supported Action Plans we have made children and young people with a disability a priority as they do have a particularly higher risk of suffering from neglect and harm.
And we have doubled the Government’s investment in systemic advocacy – to name a few.
Given the breadth and scope of the final report the Government will take a considered and staged approach in responding to recommendations.
Responding to the Disability Royal Commission will take a whole of Government response.
This work will be done in close consultation with the disability community and other stakeholders.
As the final report has indicated – governments, services providers, employers, education and health bodies, schools, advocates and representatives, and all of the Australian public must work on this together. We all have a role to play.
This Royal Commission has highlighted the harms and exclusions experienced by people with disability.
It has enabled us as a nation to better understand what needs to change to prevent violence, abuse, neglect and exploitation of people with disability.
The Albanese Government is committed to driving change across the country to ensure the rights of people with disability to live free from harm is upheld.
We will continue to listen and to act: we recognise the hurt and trauma people with disability have experienced and we are committed to creating a safer, more inclusive Australia for all people with disability.