Questions and answers

The first Workshop conducted by the Commission was held on 18 June 2019 in Melbourne. The Workshop was attended by 31 disability advocates and was facilitated by Commissioner Rhonda Galbally AC.

The Workshop included a Questions and Answers session during which the Chair of the Commission, the Hon Ronald Sackville AO QC, answered questions asked by the attendees.

The Questions and Answers set out below are based broadly on the questions that were asked during the Workshop but include additional information available after the workshop. They are therefore not a verbatim record of the session at the Workshop.

The Commission proposes to update and supplement the Questions and Answers from time to time. 

1. Will the Commission be defining the terms used in the Letters Patent, particularly “abuse, neglect and exploitation”?

The definitions will be important to the work of the Commission since they will mark out the scope of its inquiries. The Commission expects to release definitions of these terms when it calls for submissions.

2. How are you going to support people with disability to be able to give evidence in their own way?

The Commission will ensure that people with disability who require support to engage with the Commission and to tell their stories will receive that support. The budget provided to the Commission includes funds that are to be used to support people with disability. In addition to giving evidence at public hearings there will be many ways for people with disability to engage with the Commission.

3. Is the Commission only going to capital cities?

It is likely that the Commission will hold hearings in all capital cities, although a final decision has not been made. Some hearings may also be held in regional centres. In addition, the Commission will hold community forums in a variety of locations, including regional centres.

4. Is the Commission looking at reports from other Royal Commissions or inquiries relevant to the terms of reference?

Yes we are. Our terms of reference specifically require us to take into account evidence and information obtained by previous inquiries. In fact numerous reports on important issues affecting people with disability have been prepared in recent years. We have commenced research to examine the information recorded and the recommendations made in these reports.

5. In reference to other inquiries that have been undertaken, are you proposing to apply the same rights based philosophy lens – especially how they relate to Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD)? What if there are contradictions? 

While the Commission is required to take into account evidence and information obtained by previous inquiries, we do not have to agree with the policies or recommendations adopted by those inquiries.  The Commission will be guided by the principles stated in the CRPD and the other principles incorporated in the Letters Patent. We will apply those principles to the information and evidence gathering process, the research program and the formulation of policy and recommendations

6. What mechanisms will the Commission have in place to keep checking in with people now and throughout the life of the Commission?

There will be a number of ways in which people with disability and other stakeholders can follow the Commission’s work and contribute to it.

A website has been created and will be made more informative and user friendly over time. Submissions will be invited and guidance provided as to how submissions can be made. Issues Papers will also be published and in due course the Commission will produce an interim report.

The Commission will ensure that it is accessible to people wanting to tell their stories, make submissions, obtain information, give evidence, attend or follow hearings or otherwise engage with the Commission. The Commission intends to comply fully with its obligations and to meet the expectations of people with disability as to accessibility and safety.

7. What role is the Commission going to play in commissioning research, in preparing issues papers and in addressing gaps in the existing information? And how much of that is going to be led by the sector?

Research will be an important part of the Commission’s activities and some research projects are already under way. The research program will include rigorous empirical work designed to ascertain the levels of violence, exploitation and neglect experienced by people with disability.

8. Will the Commission be looking at issues confronted by refugees with disabilities? Or other groups like those from LGBTQI or ethnic backgrounds?

The terms of reference expressly state that the specific experiences of violence, abuse, neglect and exploitation against people with disability are influenced by their experiences with age, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, ethnic or racial origin, including the particular situation of indigenous people with disability. Accordingly, all these matters are potentially the subjects of investigation and report.

People with disability who have been accorded refugee status fall into various categories. For example, some have permanent resident status, some have temporary visas and some are in detention (whether in Australia or offshore). Subject to advice, the terms of reference may cover certain of these categories but not necessarily others.

9. Will the Commission be providing a framework that tells the community about the lines of inquiry and perhaps even opportunities for feedback on proposed direction?

Yes.  The Commission will publish Issues Papers. These will identify important issues on which the Commission wants feedback on from people with disability and other stakeholders.

10.  Will the Disability Royal Commission follow a similar process to the Aged Care Royal Commission and how will you deal with any overlap?

There are differences between the two Commissions, not only in subject matter but in their expected duration (we are scheduled to continue for three years.) Nonetheless our approach is likely to be broadly similar. It will include:

  • holding community forums;
  • providing opportunities for people with disability and stakeholders to make submissions;
  • undertaking investigations designed to ascertain the nature and extent of violence, abuse, neglect and exploitation of people with disability;
  • facilitating people with disability who wish to do so to tell their stories safely;
  • conducting public hearings which focus on case studies and policy issues;
  • commissioning research projects; and
  • using the Commission’s powers to gather information relevant to the terms of reference.

Our terms of reference require us to co-ordinate our activities with those of the Aged Care Royal Commission. We have commenced discussions with the Aged Care Royal Commission with a view to agreeing on a protocol.

11.  Has the Commission given consideration to how it will interact with and refer to the criminal justice system?

The terms of reference direct the Commission to facilitate the timely communication of information and evidence in accordance with the Royal Commissions Act 1902 (Cth) for the purpose (among others) of enabling the investigation and prosecution of offences. The Commission is therefore obliged to consider recommending prosecutions in appropriate circumstances.  We intend to recruit people who have experience in investigating allegations of criminal conduct.

Research indicates that people with disability are disproportionately represented in the criminal justice system and in custodial institutions. They are also especially vulnerable to abuse in those institutions. The Commission will be examining these issues and others connected with the criminal justice systems.

12.  Will the Commission be going into institutions and other places to take evidence or hear the stories of people with disability?

There will be times when it is appropriate for the Commission to conduct hearings with considerable formality. If, for example, the Commission is examining claims of misconduct against an individual or institution, the inquiry must be conducted in accordance with principles of procedural fairness. But the Commission is not limited to obtaining information through formal hearings. It can arrange, consistently with the governing legislation, to meet more informally with people wishing to provide information or recount their experiences. Subject to the Royal Commissions Act 1902 (Cth) being amended (which is a matter for Government), the Commission will be able to conduct private sessions in a manner similar to that of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, although not necessarily to the same extent.

13.  How will the Commission deal with matters of legal capacity given this is sometimes used in a way that excludes people from participating in legal processes? Additionally, how will the Commission work through the issues where those with a disability are also the perpetrators?

These are two very important questions. The issue of legal capacity and the principles of supported decision-making will form part of the Commission’s inquiries.

The Commission is well aware that abuse of people with disability is sometimes perpetrated by carers and other people with disability. Work will be done on how abuse of this kind can best be brought to light without compromising the safety or security of people experiencing abuse.

14.  Given that the work of the Commission will extend over a number of years, are there opportunities for policy change as we go?

If the Commissioners form the view that policy change is warranted on the basis of the material that has been gathered at a particular point in time, there is no reason why recommendations cannot be made at that point. It is not necessary to wait until the Commission’s final report.

15.  Can the Commission arrange legal advice on particular matters such as the enforceability of contract service agreements?

The Commission is not in a position to provide or arrange for the provision of legal advice to persons or organisations in matters unconnected with the Commission’s activities. If in the course of the Commission’s work it identifies a problem because the legal position is uncertain or unfair, it may investigate and decide whether it should recommend changes in the law.

16.  How will the Commission address matters from a First People perspective, particularly in relation to violence and abuse based on disability and/or race? How will the Commission deal with poverty as abuse and neglect, and that being a universal experience sadly for many Aboriginal people with disabilities, particularly living in remote Australia?

There are a number of reports indicating that abuse and neglect of Aboriginal people with disability are linked to broader issues of poverty and racial discrimination. The Commission will need to take these broader considerations into account.

Commissioner Mason OAM will be conducting Workshops within the next month specifically on issues of importance to First Nations people with disability. There will be research projects and public hearings directed to the specific experiences of First Nations people with disability. These will also explore the broader policy questions associated with the links between violence and abuse and the poverty and discrimination often experienced by First Nations people.

17.  Where and how can people with disability get support to access or engage with the Disability Royal Commission?

The Department of Social Services (DSS) will administer funding to organisations to provide advocacy and counselling support.  At the time of publishing this Q&A document, DSS is still finalising arrangements for funding to be allocated to organisations to deliver this support.​​​​