First Public Sitting - Brisbane

Webcast of First Public Sitting, Brisbane, 16 September 2019.

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Highlights

Acknowledgement of Country and opening statement

Commissioner Andrea Mason OAM opened proceedings with an Acknowledgement of Country, part of which she delivered in Auslan. In her opening statement, the Commissioner set out statistics regarding First Nations people with disability:

'I recognise that today we gather on sacred ground. Sacred because it's from this place we will uncover uncomfortable truths. It's from this place we will hear stories of violence, abuse, neglect and exploitation. It's from this place that brave First Nations people with disability will finally be heard. The enormity of the task ahead is well understood by First Nations people with disability, their advocates and allies. Seven-point-three per cent of First Nations people, or around 60,000 people, have a severe or profound disability compared with 5.8 per cent in the non-Indigenous community.'

'... Our purpose as a Commission is to shine a much needed spotlight to reveal the instances of abuse of First Nations people with disability wherever it has occurred.'

Commissioner Andrea Mason OAM - Acknowledgement of Country, First Public Sitting - 16 Sept 2019

Terms of Reference

Chair of the Royal Commission, the Hon. Ronald Sackville AO QC, talked about the Terms of Reference. First he noted the breadth of the Terms of Reference and that they apply to people with disability in all settings and contexts.

'All of us are deeply conscious of the magnitude and complexity of the task ahead of us. It is truly formidable. We cannot complete that task successfully unless people with disability who have experienced violence, abuse, neglect and exploitation are prepared to tell their stories to the Commission.'

The Hon Ronald Sackville AO QC, Terms of Reference - First Public Sitting - 16 Sept 2019

New Commissioner

The Chair introduced the Hon Roslyn Atkinson, newly appointed as a Commissioner of the Royal Commission. He provided an overview of her experience and, in particular, her experience as President of the Queensland Anti-Discrimination Tribunal.

Judge Roslyn Atkinson photo 

Read Commissioner Atkinson's bio

Conflict of interest

Chair of the Royal Commission, the Hon. Ronald Sackville AO QC, addressed management of perceived conflict of interest. He noted that the Royal Commissions Act 1902 states that the Chair of a multi-member Royal Commission must determine which Commissioners are authorised to conduct or participate in a particular hearing, and made the following commitment:

'I, as Chair, will not authorise a Commissioner to participate in a public hearing if that Commissioner's participation would give rise to a reasonable perception of a conflict of interest or a reasonable apprehension of bias.

… Under no circumstances will anyone be asked to tell their story to a Commissioner with whom they do not feel comfortable.'

The Hon Ronald Sackville AO QC - Conflict Statement - First Sitting, 16 Sept 2019

Accessibility and engagement

Commissioner Alastair McEwin AM acknowledged the importance of accessibility and engagement.

'Accessibility is also at the heart of everything we do at this Royal Commission. It will be accessible to all who seek to engage with it. The Royal Commission will also take proactive steps to reach out to those in hard-to-reach communities; in particular those in rural and remote areas and those in closed settings. And the way we communicate will be premised on the individual needs of how people choose to communicate.'

'The international disability community's mantra is "Nothing about us without us". Your individual stories and experiences along with your expertise and knowledge about what works will be central to examining processes that have resulted in systemic failures, as well as success.'

Commissioner Alastair McEwin AM on accessibility & engagement - First Public Sitting - 16 Sept 2019

Violence, Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation

Senior Counsel Assisting, Rebecca Treston QC described definitions of key terms in the Terms of Reference, such as Violence, Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation, and provided a statistical overview of how these are experienced by the Australians with disability:

'Almost one in five Australians have a disability. The prevalence of disability increases with age – around one in eight people aged under 65 have some level of disability, rising to one in two for those aged 65 and over.'

'We know that people with disability experience high rates of violence. Every 10 minutes, someone with profound or severe disability experiences physical or sexual violence.'

'According to the 2016 ABS Personal Safety Survey, in a 12 month period, 330,400 adults with disability or a long term health condition – or one in every 18 – experienced sexual or physical violence. At least 54,800 adults with profound or severe disability (adopting the terms used in the ABS survey) experienced sexual or physical violence in the previous 12 months. The same survey reported that in the previous 12 months, around 860,000 people with disability or a long term health condition – or one in every seven – experienced sexual harassment, most commonly inappropriate comments about their body or sex life. The figure is even higher for women with disability. First Nations people with disability experience higher rates of violence. Nearly one in every six First Nations people with disability were the victims of physical violence in the last 12 month period.'

Senior Counsel Assisting, Rebecca Treston QC - First Public Sitting, 16 Sept 2019

Submissions

Senior Counsel Assisting, Rebecca Treston QC provided an overview of how people can make Submissions to the Commission. This information is available in multiple formats on the Royal Commission website.

She confirmed that the Commission "will be happy to receive submissions in the first language of the person making the submission, including Auslan and Indigenous languages, and is actively investigating options to receive submissions in video and audio formats".

Independent legal support

Senior Counsel Assisting, Rebecca Treston QC provided an overview of legal supports that will be provided by the Australian Government to members of the public engaging with the Royal Commission.

'A person does not need to be a formal witness before the Commission to access assistance to the legal advisory support. The support will be independent, trauma-informed and culturally safe. It will be delivered nationally and will target people with disability, their families and carers from community groups including First Nations, culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds, LGBTQI-plus communities, residents of institutions such as care facilities, prisons and detention centres.'

'… These supports are being funded and administered through agencies external to the Royal Commission. The Commission knows how vital these supports are and looks forward to them being available as soon as possible.'

Private sessions

Senior Counsel Assisting, Rebecca Treston QC confirmed:

'The Royal Commissions Act 1902 has now been amended to enable a Royal Commission to hold 'private sessions' where a regulation is made authorising it to do so.'

'… This is a very important development as it offers people the opportunity to share their experiences with the Commission in private and in safety.'

Senior Counsel Assisting, Rebecca Treston QC - Private sessions - First Public Sitting, 16 Sept 2019

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