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Disability service providers have been put on notice by the Royal Commission.

Disability service providers put on notice by Royal Commission

Many of Australia’s biggest NDIS providers have been put on notice by the Royal Commission into Violence, Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation of People with Disability after being informed they will shortly have to respond to a formal request for information.

Senior Counsel Assisting Rebecca Treston QC made the comments at the Royal Commission’s official opening in Brisbane this week. The first public sitting was a ceremonial hearing and no testimony was heard nor evidence given.

Ms Treston said the Royal Commission had powers to compel the provision of information and evidence, including the ability to issue notices requiring people to produce documents, provide written statements or attend and give evidence in person.

While these powers would not be used to compel people with disability to provide information, they may be exercised if needed to obtain documents from government bodies, agencies, commercial organisations and support providers.

“First steps have already been taken,” Ms Treston said.

“Last week the (Royal) Commission wrote to a substantial number of the largest NDIS providers putting them on notice that the (Royal) Commission will shortly issue them with formal notices to produce documents or to give information about the services they provide, complaints, investigations and reporting of incidents of violence, abuse, neglect and exploitation of people with disability in connection with those services, and policies and procedures to identify and manage such incidents.”

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National Disability Services, the peak industry body for non-government organisations, reported that the notices were likely to focus on documents or information going back as far as mid-2012.

Ms Treston said information gathered would assist the Royal Commission to prepare its public hearings, with the first session to focus on education and learning, and homes and living.

The initial hearing will focus particularly on the use of restrictive practices, exclusion of students with disability from education systems and issues arising from the types of housing available to people with disability in community, institutional or other settings. The Royal Commission is particularly interested in receiving submissions on these topics.

Ms Treston said there would be at least one, and perhaps two, public hearings before the end of the year, which would feature case studies.

She said the reluctance of some people to come forward to share their experiences before the Royal Commission’s legal advisory and other support services were operational had made preparing case studies more difficult.

Royal Commission Chair Ronald Sackville AO QC noted concerns by some disability advocacy groups about a conflict of interest involving two commissioners and reiterated measures were in place to manage perceptions of conflicts of interest.

He said after numerous reports and inquiries, the Royal Commission offered an opportunity for “transformational change” to improve the lives of people with disability.

“We must not attempt to reinvent the wheel, but we do need to analyse why, despite the multitude of reports and inquiries, people with disability continue to experience unacceptable levels of abuse, and why the objective of full and effective participation and inclusion in society is so difficult to achieve,” Mr Sackville said.

“Why have the recommendations that have been made by so many inquiries and so many reports not led to the hope for improvements in the lives of people with disability? That question is one we have to answer. It is a very important question.”

It is no secret that preparation is the heavy-lifting component of any successful communications strategy.

At Cannings Purple, we would advise disability services providers – including those who have not yet received their letters from the Royal Commission – to act now to gather the relevant information and prepare communications strategies to ensure they are in the best possible position to protect their reputations and reassure their stakeholders.

Key Royal Commission details:

  • Former Queensland Supreme Court judge the Hon Roslyn Atkinson AO was recently appointed the Royal Commission’s seventh Commissioner.
  • People will be able to make submissions in their own first language, including Auslan and Indigenous languages. The Royal Commission is also investigating options to receive submissions in video and audio formats.
  • Additional funding will be given to current providers of individual advocacy supports. The Department of Social Services will also fund counselling and referral support for people with disability, their carers and families.
  • The Royal Commission will conduct hearings in all capital cities and a number of regional and remote locations. Later hearings will examine themes such as relationships; economic participation; health; justice; individual autonomy, self-determination and the right to the dignity of risk; geographical challenges; and community participation.
  • Submission guidelines and four practice guidelines have been published on the Royal Commission website, covering general guidance, legal professional privilege, witnesses and conduct of hearings.
  • Regular community forums and workshops with key stakeholders will be held to develop discussion papers, which will be open for comment.
  • The Royal Commission will adopt a trauma-informed approach for hearings, and all community engagement. Private hearings may be held.
  • The Commissioners are required to provide an interim report no later than 30 October 2020, and a final report by no later than 29 April 2022.

Cannings Purple has significant experience supporting clients through Royal Commissions and is currently providing advice and assistance to a number of aged care providers for the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety. Contact National Director Karen Brown or Associate Director Jean Perkins.

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