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.
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
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
Commission proposes to update and supplement the Questions and Answers from
time to time.
Will the Commission be
defining the terms used in the Letters Patent, particularly “abuse, neglect and
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
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.
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
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
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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
facilitating people with disability who wish to do so to tell
their stories safely;
conducting public hearings which focus on case studies and
commissioning research projects; and
using the Commission’s powers to gather information relevant
to the terms of reference.
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.
Has the Commission
given consideration to how it will interact with and refer to the criminal
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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.
Where and how can
people with disability get support to access or engage with the Disability
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.