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Royal commission into abuse of people with disabilities.

We have another royal commission, what happens now?

The royal commission into the abuse of people with disability will be the most expensive in this country’s history, with $527 million budgeted for an inquiry that is expected to run for three years.

It will also be Australia’s seventh royal commission in six years, as commissions  have become the ‘new normal’ when governments look to address significant issues in society.

So, what do you need to know about the Royal Commission into Violence, Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation of People with Disability, especially if you are a provider in the sector?

What is the scope of the royal commission?

Needless to say, with a three-year span, this commission’s scope is broad. In the government’s own words, the inquiry will cover all forms of violence against, and abuse, neglect and exploitation of, people with disability, in all settings and contexts.

The terms of reference state the commission will “prevent and better protect” people with disabilities against violence, abuse, neglect and exploitation; achieve best practice in reporting and investigation of such incidents; and promote a more inclusive society that supports the independence of people with disabilities.

What are the terms of reference?

The government received more than 3700 responses to online surveys on the draft terms of reference – and according to commission documents, more than 96 per cent of respondents agreed it should cover all forms of violence against, and abuse, neglect or exploitation of people with disabilities and all settings where they occur.

As a result of consultation, the government says the terms of reference will now also include:

  • ensuring people with disability are firmly at the centre of decision-making
  • recognising the importance of people with disability sharing their stories
  • acknowledging the multiple and diverse needs of people with disability, including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and culturally and linguistically diverse people with disability
  • focusing on themes from individual experiences to identify systemic and recurring issues.

Is there a template for how the commission might run?

Our experience from monitoring the Financial Services Royal Commission and assisting clients to navigate the Aged Care Royal Commission is that human stories will take centre stage – and the new inclusions to the terms of reference only reinforce the likelihood of this being a strong focus of this next commission.

As our National Director Karen Brown commented this week:

“Personal case studies are used to ensure there is a human face given to complex policy issues – indeed, a personal case study can elevate and amplify what might otherwise be seen as mundane procedural errors. Putting a human face on the issue makes it personal and the impact real.”

Expect to see support workers, carers and, of course, people with disability on the stand telling their personal stories…and for providers’ performance to be benchmarked against those ‘lived experiences’. The commission format, including livestreaming, is likely to be highly media-friendly.

Who are the Royal Commissioners?

The Hon Ronald Sackville AO QC is the Chair of the Royal Commission and will be supported by Ms Barbara Bennett PSM, Dr Rhonda Galbally AC, Ms Andrea Mason OAM, Mr Alastair McEwin and The Hon John Ryan AM.

Dr Galbally is a well-known disability rights advocate, while Mr McEwin has a background as Disability Discrimination Commissioner at the Australian Human Rights Commission.

What do advocates say?

People with Disabilities WA has welcomed the announcement of the Royal Commission.

“Unlike many of the States and Territories, we don’t have systems such as a community visitors scheme for people with disabilities, like they do for mental health in WA. In most other states they have community visitors who can visit people living in shared accommodation – because we don’t have it here, it makes it more difficult for people living in group and supported accommodation to know they can speak up,” Executive Director Samantha Jenkinson told us.

“I think there is a very important aspect of the Royal Commission which is about how people with disability are viewed by society and what that means in terms of how we respond to abuse and neglect. There are likely to be some similar themes coming out in the Aged Care Royal Commission.”

How do I get ready?

Cannings Purple and National Director Karen Brown, who has helped clients navigate the challenging landscape of the Aged Care Royal Commission, says businesses and organisations simply can’t prepare too much for a royal commission and the spotlight that can come with it.

“In the work we have done recently with clients we have stressed the need for preparation, preparation, preparation,” she told Perth business leaders at a lunch this week.

“Now is the time to get your house in order.

“Do a clear-eyed review of the risks you confront. Review your complaints register, audit your compliance measures and ensure you are implementing best practice responses to any concerns.

“The ability to acknowledge wrong doing is one thing – the ability to demonstrate that you have taken action to address and resolve the problem is another.”

And if you are in an industry which has been the subject of a commission there is no excuse for not having a clear and well-publicised response plan to recommendations.

“Providing assurance to your staff and stakeholders that things are changing is critical.”

Jean Perkins is a communications expert with more than 20 years’ experience in media, government and public relations, stakeholder engagement, large-scale events and project management

Cannings Purple has had significant royal commission experience and is currently providing advice and assistance to a number of aged care providers regarding the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety. For more information about the support we provide, contact Jean on 0438 886 954 or jperkins@canningspurple.com.au

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