AMANDA RISHWORTH, MINISTER FOR SOCIAL SERVICES: Today is a very important day and I'm very pleased to be joined by Minister Shorten, Minister for the NDIS and Government Services.
Today is a day that people all over the country have been anticipating with the public release of the Royal Commission's Final Report. One in six Australians live with disability – that's 4.4 million people. Now the Royal Commission has undertaken a massive task, examining the matters affecting the lives and experiences of Australians with disability.
The Commission's work is particularly focused on the critical areas of abuse, neglect and exploitation of people living with disability. This work was commissioned by all Australian Government's, Commonwealth, state and territory. Close to 10,000 people bravely shared their experiences in the Royal Commission. Whether it was Quaden who spoke about his experience of extensive bullying because of his disability, or Rebecca who experienced abuse within a group home.
To everyone who participated – thank you. Your contributions have already made a difference and led to change. To the Commissioners and their staff, this work was not always easy, and I'd like to thank you for your commitment. The Disability Royal Commission has made 222 recommendations with the final report being close to 5000 pages across 12 volumes.
They've heard harrowing experiences of people with disability who have been let down by services, systems, institutions, governments and community. Their recommendations can be divided into those that are directed to the Commonwealth, just directed to states and territories and those where it is a joint responsibility. For four-and-a-half years the Royal Commission has been methodically examining the experience of people with disability.
The volumes released here today tell of the abuse, neglect, exploitation and wider exclusion of people with disability and they should be read. We welcome the Disability Royal Commission’s final report and we support its vision of a more inclusive society where violence, abuse, neglect and exploitation of people with disability is just not acceptable. The message of this report is clear, we do need to do better. Over the past four years the outpouring of experiences of violence, abuse, neglect and exploitation have shocked Australians. Around 55 per cent of people with disability aged between 18 and 64 have been physically or sexually abused since the age of 15. This is significantly higher than adults without 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 family, their carers, their advocates.
There is the experience of Rebecca, a woman with autism and an intellectual disability, who had a large clump of hair pulled out as she was dragged across the floor by another resident in a group disability home in Melbourne. Or there is Hashem who lives with chronic pain, chronic fatigue, anxiety, depression and who, on a daily basis, was assaulted or abused in his neighbourhood and even in his own home. He had bottles and rocks thrown at his house, his possessions urinated on and even experienced death threats.
And then there's the broader stories of exclusion, like Zoya in her early 50s, who has a physical disability and vision impairment. She shared how often she experienced barriers to employment when she disclosed that she needed workplace adjustments and she would be turned down for the job, despite clearly being qualified for the roles or indeed the preferred candidate.
There are two overarching themes across the Royal Commission report. The first is ensuring that the rights of people with disability are upheld and that there are appropriate safeguards and protections in place so that they can live their life free from abuse and neglect. But the second overarching thing is also the importance of the inclusion of people with disability across all aspects of society, including employment, education, health, and housing.
We thank the Commission for its huge body of work which our Government is taking seriously. As a government we have already been taking action to address many of the emerging issues that came out of the Commission's evidence. And indeed, just in the last sitting week, our Government introduced the Disability Services and Inclusion Bill, which will provide greater safeguards for people receiving services outside of the NDIS.
But of course, today we need to commit to how we will work through the Disability Royal Commission's findings. In recognition of the significant scale of the reforms recommended by the Disability Royal Commission, today our Government will establish a Commonwealth Disability Royal Commission Taskforce. The Taskforce will coordinate the Australian Government's response, particularly focused on the recommendations that are directed towards the Commonwealth. The Taskforce will be critical in assessing how the individual recommendations are linked together, understanding the broader implications of these recommendations and sequencing the Government's response.
This work will be done in close consultation with the disability community and stakeholders. The Commonwealth Taskforce will be led by my Department, but it is a whole-of-government effort. It will include staff from key Commonwealth portfolios, including health, education, Attorney-General’s and the National Disability Insurance Agency, and we'll also have involvement from Prime Minister and Cabinet, the Treasury and the Department of Finance.
As the Disability Royal Commission is a shared responsibility between the Commonwealth and states and territories, this will also require close collaboration and coordination. This will be particularly the case where the Royal Commission has identified areas of shared responsibility between the Commonwealth and the states and territories. The Commonwealth will be taking the first steps to coordinate this joint work by ensuring that this report is a key focus of the next Disability Reform Ministers Council meeting in mid-October with a standing agenda item for future meetings. We will also ensure that the Disability Royal Commission is given ongoing attention into the future at meetings of the Commonwealth and state and territory governments.
Given the breadth and scope of the final report, the Government will take a considered and staged approach in responding to the recommendations. Therefore, we will not be providing a Government response to any specific recommendations today. But as I've outlined we have a process that will start today where our Government will carefully consider the Final Report and give it the attention it deserves.
The Royal Commission report proposes a vision for an inclusive Australia in which people with disability live free from harm and where human rights are protected and individual live with dignity, equality and respect. This will take a coordinated effort from all of us. We all have a role to play.
And as the final report has indicated, governments, service providers, employers, education and health bodies, schools, advocates, and representatives and indeed all of the Australian public must work together. This Royal Commission has highlighted the harms and exclusions experienced by people with disability. It has ensured that we have a better understanding of where we must do better.
The Government is listening. We recognise the hurt and trauma people with disability have experienced and commit to a safer, more inclusive Australia for all people with disability. I'd now like to hand over to my colleague Bill Shorten, Minister for the NDIS and Government Services.
BILL SHORTEN, MINISTER FOR THE NATIONAL DISABILITY INSURANCE SCHEME: Thanks very much Amanda and good afternoon everybody. Violence, abuse, exploitation neglect and exclusion. Those five words summarise a lot of experiences of a lot of our fellow Australians who live with disability. So this Royal Commission, it is literally a genuinely historic moment for Australians of disability, and in fact, all Australians.
The numbers in the stories in this very important Royal Commission are harrowing as my colleague Minister Rishworth went through. The fact that the people between 18 and 64 who have a disability, the fact that 55 in every 100 of these people reports physical or sexual abuse, is shocking. The fact that the Royal Commission estimates that for people over 20 with a disability there are 400 avoidable deaths each year. The fact that really for the last quarter of a century – and beyond – that 47 in every 100 adults with a disability are excluded from the labour market, was shocking. And so like the Minister for Social Services, I commend the courage of the people who gave evidence. Over 9000, but of these amongst the many stories there was Felicity with Down Syndrome, nonverbal, assaulted in a state run accommodation facility. In Queensland, some will recall, the two little boys or two brothers living in squalid accommodation, who also had a diagnosis of severe autism. We hear about babies, Indigenous babies, taken from their mothers, because their mothers have disabilities. And of course, we hear of the terrible trauma of forced sterilisation for people with disability.
So violence abuse exploitation, neglect exclusion. That is still the too common story of people disability in this country. The Royal Commission has done a giant piece of work. As the Minister said, 15 books 12 volumes, 4900 pages, two and a half million words – a staggering amount of evidence. This Royal Commission was four-and-a-half years in the making. To give you a little bit of historical context, it was Labor – in fact myself – as leader of Labor at the time in May 2017, who said that we needed to have a Disability Royal Commission. I remember at the time then Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Attorney-General Christian Porter dismissed our suggestion, said they were going to set up a Quality and Safeguards Commission. Anyway, the Royal Commission did occur. It's taken four and a half years and it is a genuinely historic moment.
My colleague has outlined the process of the Commonwealth from here. I just make these following points about the National Disability Insurance Scheme. Labor since Prime Minister Albanese was elected, hasn't been waiting for the Royal Commission to start doing some of the overdue improvements that people in the disability sector have been calling for. We did a review of the NDIS, which will be handed down to myself and Minister Rishworth and the state ministers as soon as the end of next month.
The Royal Commission does make recommendations about the NDIA - 16 - and we will certainly be looking at them very closely in the context of the review. So what I say to people with disability in Australia is we're getting on with business and we will certainly use the Royal Commission and the valuable stories to be part of that. I also note that the Royal Commission has made 44 recommendations about the National Quality and Safeguards Commission. Some of this is consistent with our own views that we've been forming over the last 15 months. But this will be used to powerfully inform pretty urgent action that we want to take to make sure that the Quality of Safeguards Commission is actually keeping people safe.
I do note for the record, that Labor has almost tripled the number of people working in the safeguards sector with an extra $140 million. I do also note for the record that we've been determined since day one of the Albanese Government to stamp out unethical behaviour by service providers. And that now we have nearly half-a-billion dollars of funds paid to NDIS participants, which we are concerned maybe being abused by some service providers, under investigation and nearly 60 matters being investigated by the Fraud Fusion Taskforce that we established.
I just want to conclude my contribution by acknowledging the stories of people with disabilities. We understand that this nation can and should do better. But as much as some of this report makes harrowing reading and as much as there may be some in the disability sector who say we need to do more, quickly. I do see this as a moment of national unity. I do see this as a moment where we can paint the horizon for people with disability in Australia. I can promise that with Labor in Government, nothing less than the fair go for all Australians, which would extend to people with disability. Nothing less than that is acceptable. And that's what we will work on every day with my colleague Amanda. Happy to take questions.
JOURNALIST: Minister did you say that the Government won't be providing any response to specific recommendations today? So how long will it be before we start seeing change?
AMANDA RISHWORTH: Obviously, receiving the report only yesterday, the Government of course, will work through all those recommendations, those 5000 pages. We hope that we will be able to provide a progress report early next year as we work through those recommendations, but as Minister Shorten has alluded, it doesn't mean we haven't been taking action in many of the areas that have been identified as problematic in the Royal Commission. The evidence for example, around services outside of the NDIS. The Commonwealth did not have the power to put appropriate safeguards in place for those services. We've introduced legislation just last week. We've also been working to provide more support for advocacy. We've doubled the systemic advocacy funding along with the individual advocacy, we've invested more funds. So we have been watching the evidence provided in this Royal Commission. We have been taking action, but we need to work through these recommendations and methodically, look at how they interact with action we've already taken. But we certainly expect to be able to provide a progress report early next year.
JOURNALIST: I'm just wondering if people in the sector though will say ‘okay, we waited for a long time to get the recommendations. And now we're going to wait longer for the Government to initiate a Taskforce to work through them’?.
AMANDA RISHWORTH: With a Royal Commission Report as extensive as this one, it would be disingenuous to suggest that the Government could respond quickly. We need to make sure that we consider all recommendations thoroughly. We need to ensure that any implementation of our response is done in consultation with people with disability. So I think it should be recognised that we do take this issue seriously. We do take this report seriously. We've already taken action on some of the themes, but in terms of the specific recommendations, we do need to work through these. It's a large body of work as you can see here, and we need to take it seriously, we need to work through these. As I've outlined, this is not just an issue for Disability Ministers. It is a whole-of-government response. It involves recommendations around health, education, housing, employment. It involves not just governments but non-government organisations as well. We need to make sure that whatever the Government's response, we can also implement it. That’s why it will take some time.
JOURNALIST: Doesn’t it follow then, if you're not going to take any immediate action that this rampant abuse and exploitation of disabled people will continue, at least in the short term?
AMANDA RISHWORTH: I'll make a few comments and then hand to Minister Shorten. We have already taken action. As a Government, we have had, I think, eight or nine joint ministerial meetings with our state and territory colleagues, where we've been addressing some of the issues that have been raised in the Royal Commission. We are already taking action on a more inclusive Disability Employment Service where quality of the disability service will now be evaluated for those services, we’ve committed funding in the Budget to involve supported employment to make sure that there is open employment opportunities. We've increased funding for advocacy and representation. It is incorrect to suggest in my side of the portfolio, we haven't already taken action. I'll ask Minister Shorten to also respond to the extra action around safety and safeguarding that he has also taken.
BILL SHORTEN: Let's just put some context. This Royal Commission is genuinely a historical moment and it does remind Australians that for too many people with disability, they're subjected to violence, abuse, exploitation, neglect and exclusion. But the proposition that somehow the Government isn't moving on some of these issues about keeping people safe, is not correct. So just to remind you of some important but fun facts since Labor got in. Before Labor got in, the Charter of Rights of People with Disability – that's the UN Charter which Australia signed up to – basically, was shrunk by the Morison Government. They had a regulator for safety, which was underfunded, and under-resourced. I have about 345 people trying to keep 600,000 people on the NDIS safe and receiving quality services. We've just about tripled the workforce, so hundreds more people. The NDIS for example, previously, there was no back door. Not only was there not a lock on the back door of the scheme, there was no back door, there was no back wall, that was a ‘come and help yourself buffet’ for crooks and rorters. And now we're getting that right. We put in, effectively, a police force to police the NDIS from shonky service providers. Most aren't bad, but some are. So there's $140 million extra gone in. We have more than doubled the number of criminal investigations. The amount of money which used to be investigated – payments which had a question mark – were they legitimate? Was about 100 million when we came to office. Now it's north of $400 million. So we're acting on the crooks. We're also acting on unethical service providers. We're also making sure that our Safeguards and Quality Commission is fit for purpose. We've put investments in and we'll continue that. But the big thing I want to remind through you and people in Australia and especially people on the NDIS and people with disability their advocates and families and people who work in the sector, we've done a root and branch specific review of the NDIS. So if you imagine the Royal Commission is at 30,000 feet looking at all the issues, this NDIS review is right on 10,000 feet, much close to the ground. How do we improve that scheme? That report has been the subject of co-design consultation. We'll get that towards the end of next month. I think this Royal Commission sets a horizon picture and of course the Government is intelligently, and with people with disability, working through the best way to respond. But a simple look at all those volumes. The pre -millennials would have recognised that to be thicker than telephone books. It takes time and I think it would do a disservice to the 9000 stories, to the use of taxpayer money, to the hard work of the Royal Commission, if we just simply, glibly did a tick and flick exercise in a very short time and that's absolutely Minister Rishworth said that Labor’s not going to do.
JOURNALIST: 222 recommendations. Acting on these reforms and delivering on them won’t come cheap will it?
BILL SHORTEN, MINISTER FOR THE NATIONAL DISABILITY INSURANCE SCHEME: Well, you're probably one stage ahead of me in terms of what some of them might cost. This is a proposition, which essentially says, using the Charter of Rights of People with Disabilities, it essentially says, why don't we include all Australians in the Australian dream? Why should your impairment be the issue which defines being treated as a second class Australian citizen? The truth of the matter is that if we include all Australians regardless of impairment, that's a better economic and social outcome for the community. How on earth does it help Australians when people with disability can't work? Because they can contribute. How on earth does it help people with disability if we don't invest in the best quality education? How on earth is it good for the bottom line to the nation if we don't have proper early intervention and support for kids in their first 1000 days? Investing in people with disability is good economics. It's good social policy and the other thing I would remind everyone when we say ‘oh, what's this going to cost?’ Please don't get out this Royal Commission Report and when you open it, use a microscope. Use a telescope, because this is a vision for the future. This is the direction where we want to go. And right now we have a system which is very uneven and when someone's the victim of abuse, what's the cost of that? When someone doesn't get the chance to get a job what's the cost of that? There is an opportunity cost in this nation, which we pay every day when we exclude people with disability.
JOURNALIST: Can the government act on these recommendations and still halve the growth rate of the NDIS by 2026? Or is that looking more and more unrealistic?
BILL SHORTEN: I think this is very useful for Labor to achieve its target growth rate of 8 per cent. See, the challenge has been, under the previous government, the NDIS was in danger by becoming the only lifeboat in the ocean. If it's the only way the parents of a little child with developmental delay can get support. Well, they'll do anything to get their child on the NDIS. I don't blame them. But if we actually start including kids with special needs in our education system better and I acknowledge that states are moving on this. In Victoria, they put an extra $1.8 billion in a recent budget. But when we include kids in our mainstream education, when we have early intervention available more easily, that actually helps moderate the growth rate of the NDIS. When we have better quality service providers, we have a clear line of sight on the people delivering services in the sector, when that actually means that every dollar is getting through to the people for whom the scheme was designed, it decreases waste. It eliminates unethical behaviour. It means that the crooks are attracted to what they perceive as easy government money by ripping off vulnerable people they realise their business model is over. So I think that when you include Australians you actually help dampen the growth rate of the NDIS. Because if you don't do that, then the NDIS is the only lifeboat in the ocean.
JOURNALIST: Two questions about the release of the Report. One is that the sector leaders are downstairs listening and they wanted to know why they weren't invited to be part of the presser? And then a second one about the timing, if I may, why it was released on a public holiday in Victoria and on a long weekend.
AMANDA RISHWORTH: Firstly, I would say to your first question, the Royal Commission handed down its report yesterday to the Governor-General. It has now been tabled in the Parliament. There's been a process to that. We were very aware that people with disability – and this report is for them – wanted to see that as quickly as possible. So the timing of the Royal Commission was not a choice of the Government. It was obviously a choice of the Royal Commission of when they would hand it to the Governor-General. We have released it quickly so that people with disability, their friends, their advocates, and the Australian public can have a good look at it. In terms of people with disability, we've been working with people with disabilities since we've come to government. The former government excluded people with disability. They did not want to hear their voice. There is a reason that our government has doubled the money to systemic disability advocacy. They are the groups that have a voice and of course, we see the engagement going forward through the Taskforce as a critical element to working with people with disability. I acknowledge that people with disability are going to have a say about this report. They're going to want to be involved in this report. And I know Minister Shorten is, as I am, looking forward to engaging. We have never, as a government or as Ministers ever tried to silence, like the previous government did, people with disabilities.
JOURNALIST: Does it concern you that the Commissioners were split on a number of the recommendations. For example phasing out segregated schools. How do you plan to work through those?
AMANDA RISHWORTH: Look the Commissioners, on a number of recommendations, have a different perspective. That's not unusual in a Royal Commission. That is where the Government will have to work through those different perspectives and that is something that becomes a role of government through consultation with people with disability.
JOURNALIST: After four years, is it disappointing that there was no consensus on the timeframe for phasing out segregated education and group homes and what's your view on whether if that's a necessary step?
BILL SHORTEN: I don't intend to start second guessing a whole-of-government response two hours into receiving the report. I just want to go to this point. This room is not great for people with disability. We've made arrangements so that people can get all their views across and they get a chance to speak. So I wouldn't want anyone doing anything other, that's how we roll. We make sure that people with disability are engaged in everything we do. And as for the timing of it, you know, no one else other than me cares about it. I'm from Melbourne, but we deliberately wanted to stand up in Adelaide where it's not a public holiday. The Royal Commission pick the timing of when it releases the Report. And if you're saying, well, you shouldn't do it when there's a public holiday in one city in the nation, then we couldn't do it on Monday, but then we'd be into the middle of next week. Then we'd be accused of a cover up. So I guess it's a question of no good deed goes unpunished. And not that any of you will mind, it's very personal thing but I've missed the Collingwood grand final parade and go the Pies tomorrow.