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Royal Commission to hold first public hearing in Townsville

The Royal Commission into Violence, Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation of People with Disability will hold its first public hearing in the north Queensland city of Townsville next month.

The hearing will be held at the Townsville Entertainment and Convention Centre from 4 to 7 November 2019.

The Chair of the Royal Commission, the Hon Ronald Sackville AO QC, said the hearing will consider education and will examine existing policies and procedures, in particular the Queensland government education system.

The hearing will also include a preliminary examination of the state’s inclusive education policy and its impact on the experiences of students with disability.

The members of the Royal Commission who will sit at the Townsville hearing are:

  • The Chair
  • The Hon Roslyn Atkinson AO
  • Ms Andrea Mason OAM
  • Dr Rhonda Galbally AC

Dr Kerri Mellifont QC will be responsible for conducting the Townsville hearing, assisted by Brisbane-based junior counsel.

Dr Mellifont was appointed to the Royal Commission ahead of its First Public Sitting. Dr Mellifont is Queens Counsel at the Queensland Bar with a broad range of legal experience, including appearing before a number of commissions of inquiry. Dr Mellifont was one of the Senior Counsel Assisting the Queensland Floods Commission in 2011.

The first hearing comes after a Community Forum in Townsville in September, which was attended by around 150 people. Some people shared stories about their lived experience either as a person with disability or as a parent or advocate for people with disability.

The Royal Commission is committed to being accessible to all. It will adopt the principles of trauma-informed engagement to assist in recognising and understanding the effects of all types of trauma and to avoid re-traumatisation.

‘It is important that we make a start on the complex and important task ahead of us, and, in doing so, we will be ensuring that any individuals involved in the first hearing are appropriately supported. This includes through the Commission’s internal counselling and support team, including social workers and counsellors.’

‘We are pleased to see the National Counselling and Referral Service has commenced operations to support those who may be affected by the material explored at the hearing. The service, being delivered by the Blue Knot Foundation, offers free counselling support for people with disability, their families and carers, and anyone affected by the Disability Royal Commission.

‘All witnesses appearing at this first hearing will be able to access separate legal representation through the legal financial assistance scheme administered by the Attorney-General’s Department,’ Commissioner Sackville said. 

The Disability Royal Commission wants to hear from all Australians about their experiences of violence, abuse, neglect and exploitation of people with disability.

There are multiple opportunities and avenues for engagement with the Royal Commission. The Royal Commission is actively encouraging submissions via email, phone or mail. The Royal Commission will also be holding hearings around the country, as well as private sessions, community forums and workshops.

The second hearing is expected to be held in Melbourne in December. It will be conducted by Ms Kate Eastman SC. Ms Eastman is working closely with Dr Mellifont and they are supported by a number of experienced Junior Counsel.

Ms Eastman is Senior Counsel at the New South Wales Bar and has a distinguished legal career working in human rights, equality and discrimination law among many other areas of the law. She has appeared as Counsel in many disability discrimination cases. Among other positions, she is the Chair of the Law Council of Australia Equalising Opportunity Committee.

An interim report is due by 30 October 2020, and a final report is due by 29 April 2022.