Australia: Call To End Violence And Abuse Against People With Disabilities

A recent Civil Society Statement to Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull calls violence and abuse against disabled people in Australia “epidemic” and “systemic,” and demands the establishment of a Royal Commission into Violence and Abuse of People with Disability, reported the Disabled People’s Organisation Australia (DPOA).

Organized by the DPOA and endorsed by hundreds of civil society organizations and individuals, the Statement urges the Australian Government to finally act on the recommendation of a 2015 Senate Inquiry and to create a Royal Commission to investigate the issue that has become known as “Australia’s hidden shame.”

The Senate Inquiry was established in 2015 by the Community Affairs References Committee after a countrywide petition. The petition pointed out the national significance of the matter of violence and abuse against Australia’s disabled citizens, including specific issues relating to gender, age, language, and culture, such as the disabled Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

According to ABC reports in 2014 and 2017, compelling and detailed evidence has been discovered about the appalling maltreatment that disabled people suffer in residential settings. But the problem exists also in institutions, private homes, hospitals, childcare, and prisons, and includes physical and sexual violence, management cover-ups, and attempts to silence witnesses. The entire system, legislation, and policies and service have been found to be inadequate and failing to protect disabled people from the abuse they have been, and still are, experiencing.

The Australian government’s response to the report of the Senate Inquiry, in March 2017, stated that a Royal Commission is considered unnecessary since the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) Quality and Safeguarding Framework exists to protect the rights of disabled people. However, according to the Department of Social Services, only those people who directly approach NDIS will receive support, which would be less than 10% of disabled Australians, estimated The Conversation.

Only a Royal Commission into Violence and Abuse of People with Disability can effectively address the issue and provide justice to victims. According to the Civil Society Statement, this is how it works:

  • Enable people with disability to tell their story and give evidence in a safe and supported way, without fear of retribution or reprisal;
  • Compel witnesses and representatives of service systems to appear and be cross-examined under oath;
  • Thoroughly examine forms of violence that are specific to people with disability, which have been ignored in most other inquiries;
  • Shed light on and respond to the incidence and prevalence of all forms of violence perpetrated against people with disability, including the range of settings in which such violence occurs;
  • Refer criminal allegations to the police and hold perpetrators and systems to account;
  • Interrogate legislative and service system responses to violence and abuse against people with disability;
  • Provide resourcing to enable the full and meaningful participation of people with disability, including those in institutional settings;
  • Travel to capital cities, regional centres and towns to hear evidence and pursue open processes;
  • Commission research and inform policy development;
  • Make recommendations on legal reform, policies, systems and practices to create a safer future for all people with disability;
  • Ensure justice for victims through the provision of redress.

The Civil Society Statement emphasizes that all other initiatives to deliver safe services and to respond effectively to incidents of abuse have failed. The NDIS does not have the scope nor the mandate to cover all occurrences of violence. With that said, a Royal Commission with legal powers to investigate ‘closed’ institutions and to hold both past and present perpetrators accountable may be the best approach to finally give disabled Australians justice and dignity.