The first public hearing of the Royal Commission on Violence, Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation of Persons with Disabilities began today in Brisbane, highlighting the importance and scope of the investigation.
Although no testimony was heard, this was the first time that the entire bench of the Commission presented statements made by the Chairman of the Royal Commission, the Honorable Ronald Sackville AO QC; Commissioners, Andrea Mason OAM and Alastair McEwin AM and Deputy Principal Advisor, Rebecca Treston QC.
It also follows the announcement by Family and Social Services Minister Anne Ruston of a seventh commissioner, the Honorable Roslyn Atkinson AO.
Mr. Sackville says the investigation is the result of the tireless campaign by people with disabilities and their supporters.
“The most important part of the work of the Royal Commission is our engagement with people with disabilities, their families and supporters.
“Your contributions will be the heart and soul of this Royal Commission … you are the key to its success.
Mr. Sackville says Commissioners are wary of the scale and complexity of the task ahead.
“We are aware that the disabled community and their supporters, as well as the Australian community at large, have extremely high expectations of this Royal Commission,” he explains.
“People want and expect real change.
“We need to ensure that unheard voices are finally heard. ”
Commissioner Andrea Mason OAM underscored the importance of the Royal Commission to First Nations Peoples and referred to the “uncomfortable truths” that awaited it in her opening statement.
“I want to reassure all First Nations people, their caregivers and advocates that this Royal Commission, with all of its powers and protections, is a safe place for you to speak your truth,” promises Ms. Mason.
“We are here for you.”
Commissioner Alastair McEwin AM also acknowledges the hard work of the disability community in establishing the national inquiry.
“The Royal Commission was born out of many years of advocacy by people with disabilities and their allies,” he says.
“We pay tribute to their efforts to shine the spotlight on this issue. We tell them that the creation of this Royal Commission is your achievement.
“Your human rights are and will be at the heart of everything we do at this Royal Commission.
“It is a privilege to be one of the two disabled commissioners.
Senior Assistant Lawyer Rebecca Treston GC explains: “Every 10 minutes someone with a profound or severe disability experiences physical or sexual violence.”
She says the Commission will look to hold one or two public hearings before the end of the year, potentially focusing on education and learning and homes and living, including the use of restrictive practices, the exclusion of students with disabilities from the education system; and problems with the types of housing available for people with disabilities.
People with Disability Australia (PWDA) chief executive Jeff Smith said the historic opening of the Royal Commission today is the result of decades of work by people with disabilities, who have not made their voices heard.
“The terrible toll that violence and abuse has inflicted on people with disabilities will finally be brought to light, as people with disabilities start telling their stories to the Commission,” he said.
“The Royal Commission on Persons with Disabilities must be the starting point for the important changes needed to end violence against us, such as ending segregation and discrimination against us. ”
Mr Smith said the PWDA would listen with interest to how the Royal Commission on Persons with Disabilities will deal with the conflicts of interest of two of the commissioners, about whom many organizations and people with disabilities have raised concerns in the past two. month.
“This is something that we will continue to monitor as the Commission unfolds. ”
People with disabilities will be able to make submissions in their own native languages, including Aauslan and Indigenous languages, and the survey is also exploring options for receiving video and audio submissions.
The government is providing $ 119 million in funding to make free, independent support services available to people with disabilities hired or affected by the Royal Commission.
Mr Smith said: “We know there are many people with disabilities across the country who are writing their submissions right now and sending them to the Commission.”
“It is essential that the Royal Commission on Disability accepts submissions in any form and understands that people with disabilities will tell their stories about the abuse they have suffered in a variety of ways.
“We know how important it will be to ensure that people with disabilities have the legal, advocacy and counseling support they will need to talk about what has happened to them safely and without being re-traumatized. ”
Speaking about the new Commissioner, the Honorable Roslyn Atkinson AO, Minister Ruston said Ms Atkinson brings extensive experience to the post, serving as a Justice of the Supreme Court of Queensland for over twenty years.
Ms Ruston explains: “She was involved in a landmark decision on disability access and discrimination at the very location of the first hearing, the Brisbane Convention and Exhibition Center.
“Ms Atkinson’s experience adds to an already diverse panel of Commissioners with knowledge and skills in judicial, policy, disability-life and Indigenous issues that will best represent the interests of all Australians with disabilities and of their families. ”
Commission Chairman Sackville said the inquiry would hold hearings in Brisbane, Sydney, Canberra and Adelaide, with the first public hearing scheduled to take place later this year.
Acknowledging concerns about conflicts of interest, he says he will not allow a commissioner to participate in a hearing and his subsequent report if he feels it will be a conflict of interest.
“Under no circumstances will someone be asked to tell their story to a commissioner they don’t feel comfortable with,” says Sackville.
You can watch the live broadcast of the Royal Commission on the Violence, Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation of Persons with Disabilities here.