Response to questions by Senator Jordon Steele-John

 

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How will the commission will deal with conflicts of interest/perceived conflicts of interest that the Commissioners may have?

The approach to be taken to perceived conflicts of interest and possible apprehensions of bias is outlined in a statement on the Royal Commission's website. For your convenience the document is attached.

The Senator has concerns about some apparent discrepancies between the individual declarations of the commissioner and the policy released by the Chair.  The policy released states that Commissioners will not participate in the hearings and reporting processes if conflicts/perceived conflicts arise, however, individual declarations vary between them as to whether they will not be involved in the process of making recommendations which relate to hearings they could not partake in.

The Senator's concerns appear to relate to two matters:

  1. participation of Commissioners in hearings; and
  2. participation of Commissioners in the deliberative process leading to the preparation of reports and the formulation of recommendations.

i) The first concern is addressed in the statement on the Commission's website.

As the statement indicates, the Chair of the Royal Commission will not authorise a Commissioner to participate in a public hearing if in his view a Commissioner has a potential conflict of interest or there is a reasonable apprehension of bias. A Commissioner who does not participate in a hearing cannot be involved in making findings of fact arising out of the evidence given at a hearing.

No person will be asked to participate in a private session with a Commissioner with whom that person is not comfortable.

ii) As to the second concern, it is important to note that since the statement was uploaded to the website the Letters Patent for the Royal Commission have been amended. The Letters Patent may be accessed at https://disability.royalcommission.gov.au/about/Pages/Terms-of-reference.aspx.

If in the opinion of the Chair, after consultation with Commissioner Atkinson, the participation of a Commissioner in the process of making recommendations on a particular issue would create a potential conflict of interest or give rise to a reasonable apprehension of bias, the Chair will request the Commissioner concerned not to participate in the process. The Commissioner would be expected to abide by that request.

In the unlikely event of a Commissioner not acceding to  the Chair's request, the amended Letters Patent authorise the Chair to give a binding direction that the Commissioner not exercise the function of considering the evidence or other material relevant to the particular matter. Such a direction would effectively prevent the Commissioner concerned from participating in formulating of recommendations on that issue.

What is the process for inviting groups/individual to participate in the community consultation sessions?

Anyone can attend a community forum but for planning purposes we ask participants to pre-register to attend. When registering people are asked if they would like to make a brief statement at the forum. Although it may not always be possible for everyone present at a forum to make a statement, at the first forum in Townsville everyone who wished to make a statement was able to do so. If this is not possible at future forums the Commission intends to give priority to people with disability. Next in priority will be family members or support persons who wish to speak on behalf of people with disability.

Seek clarification on the draft accessibility strategy put forward.

The Commission welcomes feedback on the draft accessibility strategy. The Commission is currently assessing feedback received following public consultation. Comments were received from 28 individuals and organisations.

The main themes of the feedback received related to the need for trauma informed engagement, accessible communication and documentation and acknowledging different cohorts of people with disability. This feedback will be taken into account when finalising the strategy. The Commission expects to publish the accessibility strategy on its website shortly.

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