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First Royal Commission Public hearing to focus on education

​​The first Public hearing of the Royal Commission into Violence, Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation of People with Disability in Townsville on Monday 4 November will focus on education.

The Chair of the Royal Commission, the Hon Ronald Sackville AO QC, said education has been selected as the first topic because of its importance for the life experiences of children and adults with disability.

'Over the next four days, we will be hearing from a range of witnesses, including parents and carers of students with disability, disability advocates and experts in inclusive education.

'We will hear from Principals and Heads of Special Education from three separate schools as well as the Queensland Teachers' Union. We will also hear from the Queensland Department of Education about the implementation of its Inclusive Education Policy and its impact on the experiences of students with disability,' Mr Sackville said.

The Royal Commission recently published an issues paper on education and learning to provide guidance for people wishing to make submissions or provide information about their experiences.

Mr Sackville said the Royal Commission is conscious of the concerns about the timing of the first hearing.

'We are disappointed that counselling and legal supports being funded and administered through agencies external to the Royal Commission have not been established as quickly as we had hoped.

'Having appropriate advocacy, counselling and legal supports in place for people who have experienced violence, abuse, neglect or exploitation is essential, and those supports have been put in place for the Townsville hearing.

'Individuals involved in the first hearing will be supported through the Commission's internal counselling and support team.  And all witnesses appearing at this first hearing have been able to access legal representation through the legal financial assistance scheme administered by the Attorney-General's Department,' Mr Sackville said.

The National Counselling and Referral 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.

The Royal Commission will be holding other hearings on education, as well as other key areas of investigation including the interactions between people with disability and the justice and health systems and discrimination in employment. 

There are many opportunities and avenues for people to take part in the Royal Commission including through hearings, submissions, community forums and eventually private sessions.

'We are conscious that the disability community, as well as the wider Australian community, have extremely high expectations of this Royal Commission.

'This hearing will not prevent anyone who wishes to share their experiences from doing so. There will be other opportunities at public hearings to present case studies and consider policy issues relating to inclusive education. Nothing will be ruled out. No one will be prejudiced,' Mr Sackville said.

The selection of education as the focus for this hearing provides an opportunity to consider the significance of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

Article 24 of the Convention recognises the right of people with disabilities to education without discrimination and on the basis of equal opportunity. Australia as a party to the Convention is required to ensure an inclusive education system at all levels.

'Despite Australia having ratified the Convention, no Australian jurisdiction – Commonwealth, State or Territory – has passed legislation expressly recognising a right to inclusive education for students with disabilities. This is an issue the Royal Commission will need to address,' Mr Sackville said.

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

  • The Chair, the Hon Ronald Sackville AO QC
  • The Hon Roslyn Atkinson AO
  • Ms Andrea Mason OAM
  • Dr Rhonda Galbally AC

Senior Counsel Assisting the Royal Commission Dr Kerri Mellifont QC will be principally responsible for conducting the Townsville hearing, with Counsel Assisting Andrew Fraser. Ms Kate Eastman SC will also appear for part of the hearing.

The hearing at the Townsville Entertainment and Convention Centre will begin on Monday 4 November 2019 at 10:30am AEST. It will be livestreamed on the Royal Commission website.