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Public hearing 20 - Preventing and responding to violence, abuse, neglect and exploitation in disability services (2 case studies), Virtual - Day 6

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Publication date

CHAIR:   Good morning to everyone who is following these proceedings.  This is the sixth day of Public Hearing 20 on preventing and responding to violence, abuse, neglect and exploitation in disability services with special emphasis on two case studies involving Life Without Barriers.

We commence, as always, with the acknowledgement of country.  We acknowledge the Gadigal people of the Eora Nation, the traditional custodians of the land on which Commissioner McEwin and I are participating in this hearing.  We also acknowledge the Wurundjeri people of the Kulin Nation upon whose lands Commissioner Galbally is participating in this hearing.  We pay our respects to their Elders, past, present and emerging, and we also pay our respects to all First Nations people who may be attending the hearing and to those who are following the hearing on the live stream.

Yes, Mr Griffin.

MR GRIFFIN:  Chair and Commissioners, I call Claire Robbs.  Ms Robbs is the chief executive officer of Life Without Barriers.  She has provided two statements for this public hearing, a statement dated 17 November 2021 and a supplementary statement dated 8 December 2021.  The first statement has an identifier STAT.0485.0001.0001.  This statement is in hearing bundle D, volume 1, at tab 1 and the annexures to her statement are in hearing bundle D, volumes 1 to 4, tabs 2 to 380.  Ms Robbs' supplementary statement bears the identifier STAT.0485.0002.0001.  This statement is in the hearing bundle D, tab 1A.  The statement is comprised of 14 paragraphs, designed to correct a small number of typographical and otherwise minor errors in her first statement.  Ms Robbs also gave a statement to the Commission for public hearing 5 of this Royal Commission dated 14 February 2020 and a supplementary statement dated 19 August 2020.  Ms Robbs gave oral evidence to the Commission on 20 August 2020.

May the witness be sworn?

CHAIR:   Ms Robbs, thank you very much for coming to the Royal Commission to give evidence today.  As you heard, but I shall repeat to make sure that it is clear, Commissioner Galbally is joining this hearing from Melbourne and you can see Commissioner Galbally on the screen.  Commissioner McEwin is on my right and, of course, participating in the Sydney hearing room; and as you can see, Mr Griffin is also in the Sydney hearing room and shortly I will ask him to ask you some questions.  If you would be good enough in the meantime to follow the instructions of my associate, he will administer the affirmation to you.



MR GRIFFIN:  Ms Robbs, is the contents of your statement dated 17 November 2021 true and correct, to the best of your ability?

MS ROBBS:  Yes, it is.

MR GRIFFIN:  And likewise with your supplementary statement dated 8 December 2021, do you say that's true and correct, to the best of your ability?


MR GRIFFIN:  Ms Robbs, I understand that you wish to read a public apology in relation to this public hearing.  Is that the case?

MS ROBBS:  Yes, please.

MR GRIFFIN:  Can I invite you to do that now?

MS ROBBS:  Yes, thank you.

I have read the evidence given by residents and their families during this hearing, to the two Life Without Barriers homes that are the subject of the case studies.

I have also listened to the evidence of all of the witnesses, including people with a disability, their families and other experts the Disability Royal Commission has heard from during this hearing.  Life Without Barriers exists to partner with people and change lives for the better.  Whilst I witness the extraordinary work our organisation does for thousands of people every year, it deeply saddens me that for the people who have shared their stories with the Disability Royal Commission, our organisation has not met this promise.

I recognise that when we partner with people who choose our services, we are supporting people who are loved members of families and valued members of our communities who have fundamental human rights.  The people and families who offered their stories to the Disability Royal Commission have provided invaluable insights in areas we acknowledge we have further improvements to make.  We have also listened carefully to the experts who have given evidence during this hearing and we are committed to ensuring their evidence informs how we support and work with residents and their families in the future.

The views and experiences of people and their families have highlighted several areas where harm has been caused to people and we acknowledge and offer our deepest regret.  I would like to focus on the particular residents whom the Disability Royal Commission has heard from, either directly or from their loved ones.

Sophie and her family.  The physical abuse Sophie experienced is unquestionably not in keeping with Sophie's right to feel safe and respected in her own home.  I do not condone the violence towards Sophie and I offer Sophie and her family our sincere  
apology for the harm caused to her, including for the manner in which our investigations into the matter was undertaken.

I also recognise that we should have been more supportive in relation to Sophie's wish to engage in sexual relationships, including to ensure that Sophie had a safe location to do so.

I thank Sophie for her unique insight to the importance of romantic and sexual relationships for people with a disability and I commit to leading further actions we will take as an organisation that are informed by the people we support.

For Natalie and her family, the sexual misconduct by a staff member is completely unacceptable and I acknowledge the pain and trauma that has caused Natalie and her family.  Our priority should have been to protect Natalie earlier.

I offer this apology to both Natalie and her family with a full understanding that our delay in offering a genuine and human response was also unacceptable.

I recognise the pain and fear that Natalie must have experienced during the acute episode in relation to her bowel care about which the Commission has heard.  I also acknowledge the frustration on Jennifer's part, particularly the gaps in documentation in relation to Natalie's bowel care.

We also could have been more communicative and reassured Jennifer about the proper spending of Natalie's money.

I would now like to apologise to the residents of the Melbourne house and their families.  For Rebecca, and her family, I apologise that Rebecca felt she needed to have a goal of feeling safe in her own home.  No home should feel violent and unpredictable and I appreciate the conflict between residents can cause considerable distress, both to those directly impacted and people living in the home.

I acknowledge that Robert's family raised a number of concerns and requests, and I am reminded of the importance of the family's rights and their important role to advocate with our organisation to ensure we are recognising the individual preferences and choices of people with a disability.  I offer our apology for the delays in addressing the concerns and requests raised by both Rebecca's and Robert's families with us.  I also apologise to residents and their families of the Melbourne house for the other instances where we could have done more to respond to and reduce where violence was occurring between people in the home.

Finally, to each person whose story has been told through this hearing, your words and experiences have been a powerful reminder of why we must continue to strive to be the very best organisation we can be for the people we serve.  Thank you.

MR GRIFFIN:  Thank you, Ms Robbs.  Before I ask any questions, can I ask whether you've been watching the hearing to date, or read transcript in relation to  
the evidence in this hearing?

MS ROBBS:  I have watched all of the witnesses to date.

MR GRIFFIN:  Thank you.  Can I begin by asking you a little bit about the history of Life Without Barriers.  I take this from one of your annual reports.  The organisation was established in 1995 in Newcastle.

MS ROBBS:  Correct.

MR GRIFFIN:  In 1999, Mr Ray Dunn became the CEO and at that time more staff were recruited, the business was expanded and some New South Wales government funding was applied for?

MS ROBBS:  Correct.

MR GRIFFIN:  Between 2001 and 2002, LWB expanded into Queensland and South Australia?


MR GRIFFIN:  And then in 2005, you expanded further in South Australia and also moved into the Northern Territory?


MR GRIFFIN:  In 2006, you established operations in Tasmania and in the far west of New South Wales?


MR GRIFFIN:  In 2007 you commenced operations in Western Australia.


MR GRIFFIN:  Finally, in 2009, you expanded into Victoria and New Zealand.  In 2011, Mr Dunn retired after 12 years as CEO and you were appointed to the position, which you still hold?

MS ROBBS:  Correct.

MR GRIFFIN:  You, in fact, had been working for Life Without Barriers since 2004.

MS ROBBS:  I have.

MR GRIFFIN:  Why was Victoria the last State in which LWB commenced operations?

MS ROBBS:  We always had an approach where we only provided services in jurisdictions or states that requested for us to come to do that, or where there was a particular gap in the service system that we thought we had something unique to offer.  Victoria has had a long standing, very strong service sector in the disability sector and, really, up until we made the decision that we would offer services, there wasn't a particular gap that we felt Life Without Barriers had something unique to offer.

MR GRIFFIN:  Was the fact that Victoria had a slightly different regulatory model a factor in your late incursion into that state?

MS ROBBS:  No, not at all.

MR GRIFFIN:  When you became CEO in 2011, there was a board of directors comprising nine members?


MR GRIFFIN:  Eight of those nine members had been on the board of LWB for at least five years at that time; does that accord with your recollection?


MR GRIFFIN:  The board included Mr Terry Lawler, who had been one of the original founders of LWB?

MS ROBBS:  Correct.

MR GRIFFIN:  You would concede that in those circumstances, it was an experienced board in the sense it was experienced in the operations of LWB?


MR GRIFFIN:  When you commenced as CEO, did you attend all board meetings?


MR GRIFFIN:  Were you ultimately responsible for what was included in the agenda for the board meeting?

MS ROBBS:  Not solely, no.

MR GRIFFIN:  What other people were involved in setting the agenda for the board?

MS ROBBS:  The agenda for the board meetings is generally set with the chair and the chief executive; sometimes other directors, if there are items of particular note, or  
items that would be carried forward from our previous meeting.

MR GRIFFIN:  As CEO, did you have the authority to escalate an issue to the board at any stage?

MS ROBBS:  At the board meeting, sorry, or    

MR GRIFFIN:   No, just generally.

MS ROBBS:  Oh, just generally, I would think that would be the responsibility to do that, yes.

MR GRIFFIN:  So if something arose between scheduled board meetings, you nonetheless could still make the board members aware of it?


CHAIR:   Mr Griffin, you are intending these questions to relate to the whole of the period 2011 to 2021?

MR GRIFFIN:  2011.  I'm going to move on to later on.

CHAIR:   I thought Ms Robbs may have misinterpreted your question, that's all.

MS ROBBS:  Sorry.  I did.  Thank you, Chair, I did.  Sorry, my apologies.

MR GRIFFIN:  Was it the case that from 2011 to the present, you've always had the authority to escalate an issue for consideration by the board?


MR GRIFFIN:  I take it that, initially, Mr Terry Lawler, the chair, was readily available to discuss issues with you?


MR GRIFFIN:  In 2015, the constitution of the LWB board was amended to impose a time limit of nine years on board membership; is that correct?


MR GRIFFIN:  What was the thinking behind that decision?

MS ROBBS:  My memory was that it came out of some good practice guidelines, most probably from the AICD at the time, suggesting that there was a tenure incorporated into constitutions and boards.

MR GRIFFIN:  The AICD is the Australian Institute of Company Directors?

MS ROBBS:  My apologies, yes.

MR GRIFFIN:  You understood that it was regarded, by 2015, as good governance, to use my words, to refresh the board?


MR GRIFFIN:  That amendment imposing the nine  year term limit didn't apply to existing board members in 2015, though, did it?

MS ROBBS:  I think what you are asking me is, did we start ,   did the start date,      was the start date when the decision was made?

MR GRIFFIN:  No, what I'm asking you is when you amended the constitution, that was to apply to all people appointed to the board from that date onwards; it didn't apply to existing board members?

MS ROBBS:  Sorry, I think it did apply to existing board members.

MR GRIFFIN:  Well, in 2015, as I understand it, you had a director in Terry Lawler that had been on the board since 2002.  You had a director, Tracey McCosker, who had been on the board since 2002 and you had a third member, Jan Lowe, who had been on the board since 2004.  All of those would have been ineligible to continue on the board if the amendment applied to them; do you agree?

MS ROBBS:  So I think that's why I was just seeking that clarification, because when the amendment came in, my understanding was that the board said it started as of the date that the decision was made.

MR GRIFFIN:  By that, do you mean did the nine years start to count from 2015, as opposed to only applying to new board members?

MS ROBBS:  Correct.

MR GRIFFIN:  So we weren't dealing with a situation where existing board members were grandfathered    


MR GRIFFIN:     in that sense?


MR GRIFFIN:  Thank you.  Mr Lawler has now retired, in 2021, I believe?


MR GRIFFIN:  Along with Mr Anthony Deegan, who had been a director for nine years, and Mr Dean, who had been a director for six?

MS ROBBS:  Correct.

MR GRIFFIN:  Your current board as of 2021 has a relatively new group of members of different levels of experience as board members.

MS ROBBS:  No, I think there's a good mixture of people that have been on there for some time.  There are some new members, yes.

MR GRIFFIN:  It's certainly the case with Ms McCosker, Ms Lowe and Gillian Calvert, who have been on the board since 2002, 2004 and 2012.  Mr Graeme Innes has been on the board since 2014; correct?

MS ROBBS:  Sorry, that doesn't sound correct to me, I'm sorry.

MR GRIFFIN:  I am subject to correction, but I took that from your annual reports, but I may have made an error.  Then the remaining board members, Natalie Walker, Helen Szoke, Kurt Fearnley, Rajiv Viswanathan and Paula Head, the company secretary, have all been appointed from to 2017 onwards.  Does that accord with your recollection?

MS ROBBS:  Sorry, I think you are correct around Mr Innes, my apologies.  That is correct on the other directors.  Ms Head is not a director; she is a company secretary and an employee.

MR GRIFFIN:  Yes, that's correct.  During your time as CEO, that's over the 10-year period, have you raised, directly with the board,  any issues specifically relating to the Lismore houses?

MS ROBBS:  My understanding is that a matter related to     I think it's worker 3, was reported through to the board for the risk committee.

MR GRIFFIN:  So you have certainly raised an issue in relation to an employee.  Have you raised any issues over that 10- year period with the board in relation to any resident of the Lismore houses?

MS ROBBS:  I don't think so.

MR GRIFFIN:  Can I assume, Ms Robbs, that the situation involving Sophie and the sexual assault perpetrated against Sophie, to your recollection was not escalated to the board of directors?

MS ROBBS:  Yes, that's my recollection.

MR GRIFFIN:  Given the fact that Sophie was assaulted and the perpetrator was charged with a criminal offence and taken to court and convicted, can you indicate why you took the view, assuming you knew that at the time --     perhaps I'll go back a step.  Did you know that was happening with Sophie, that she'd been assaulted, someone had been charged and he'd been taken to court?

MS ROBBS:  I think I knew, but I cannot find the documents that say that.  But, yes, I do think I knew.

MR GRIFFIN:  Going back to my original question, then, did you then raise that, I will call it, incident with the board?

MS ROBBS:  No, I did not.

MR GRIFFIN:  Can you explain to the Commissioners why you didn't?

MS ROBBS:  Yes.  So the reporting to the board of directors around incidents is generally around where the responsibility for the incident occurs within Life Without Barriers.  So where we would be responsible, effectively, for the incident.  In the Sophie matter, that didn't occur, the sexual assault didn't occur whilst she was in our care, effectively, and as a result at the time it was noted as an incident in her personal records but was not flagged through the incident system.

MR GRIFFIN:  With the benefit of hindsight, if those events were to occur in 2021, would you take a different course in relation to the board?

MS ROBBS:  So if the same sort of event was to, unfortunately, happen today, then the event would     we would expect it to be entered on to the incident system and then it would be assessed by the national safeguarding unit and it would be managed differently.

MR GRIFFIN:  Specifically, would you, as the CEO, raise directly with the board an incident such as I have described with Sophie?

MS ROBBS:  I'm hesitating about where it would go in regards to the purpose of the reports.  The reports to the board     the general purpose of them is to report around our responsibility.  I appreciate the magnitude of something like this in someone's life, I'm not questioning that at all, I'm just hesitating what the purpose would be and where that would go in the board reporting, at the moment, the way we do it at the moment.

MR GRIFFIN:  Can I take you back a step.  I understand the distinction you drew between what happens within LWB and what happens externally, but you know from the evidence in this public hearing that there were certain rules in relation to Sophie in the Lismore house that gave her no ability to have someone come into the home after 6pm; correct?

MS ROBBS:  Correct.

MR GRIFFIN:  You know from the evidence that when the man turned up to collect Sophie, it was about 9 o'clock at night?


MR GRIFFIN:  You know that staff apparently expressed surprise, in the sense that he was surprised he was picking someone up from a disability home?


MR GRIFFIN:  In those circumstances, why do you maintain the distinction between events internal to LWB and events external?  Aren't you, in effect, at least morally responsible to treat that as if it happened in the home, in terms of your reporting?

MS ROBBS:  I think the reporting     I appreciate your point     the reporting to the board is about our responsibility around our care to individuals and whether we are responsible for harm under our care.  That is different to a sense of general moral responsibility.  I think it's about the purpose of the board reporting.  So, no, I don't think that, in that sense, it would be reported directly to the board with the incidents that we hold responsibility for as Life Without Barriers.

MR GRIFFIN:  I should be frank with you, Ms Robbs.  I'm troubled by your answer.  What I'm suggesting to you is the imposition of those rules, in effect, made LWB in part responsible for what subsequently happened because Sophie was denied the opportunity to have someone in her home and, consequently, was put in a more vulnerable position.  Do you accept that proposition?


MR GRIFFIN:  When you outline the reporting to the board, up until this day, have you spoken to any board members currently on the board about the events surrounding Sophie?

MS ROBBS:  Before the    

MR GRIFFIN:  Up until today    

MS ROBBS:  Up until today.

MR GRIFFIN:      have you had any discussions with any current board member about the events that Sophie told this Commission about?

MS ROBBS:  During the preparation and the Commission?

MR GRIFFIN:  Right up until today.

MS ROBBS:  Up to today, sorry, my apologies.  Yes.

MR GRIFFIN:  Have any of those board members expressed a view that they would have liked to have known about it if it arose on their watch?

MS ROBBS:  I think the conversations with the directors that I have had through the preparation and hearing the witness statements, particularly from Sophie and her parents, and others, have made us reflect on a number of things in the organisation, one being around the suitability of the reporting, the, you know, robustness of the systems, which I think is all exactly the type of conversation you would want a chief executive and board to be having around matters like this when it's brought to our attention through processes like this.

MR GRIFFIN:  Do you recall listening to the evidence of the experts, Jodi Rodgers and Ms Dore?

MS ROBBS:  I do, yes.

MR GRIFFIN:  Do you recall the tenor of part of their evidence was that by compelling a resident in a group home to meet people outside the home, it had the effect of potentially increasing their risk; that is, contrasting meeting within the home and meeting outside, potentially put the residents at greater risk.  Do you recall that evidence?

MS ROBBS:  I do recall that evidence.  My response to that, in listening to that evidence, is that I appreciate the general comments made by the two experts and they made some valuable comments.  I don't think they would have appreciated the full complexity of the situation at the time and I think that that's where the more difficult work lies, in that individual complexity, not in a general sense of what could possibly happen in an instance.

MR GRIFFIN:  Ms Robbs, have you had the opportunity to read the statements of Ms Dore and Ms Rodgers?

MS ROBBS:  To    

MR GRIFFIN:   To read their statements?

MS ROBBS:  To read them    I listened to them .

MR GRIFFIN:  You will know, won't you, that in a request for them to provide statements, the Commission set out a scenario in five stages?  You're nodding, are you saying "Yes"?

MS ROBBS:  Sorry, I'm not aware of that.  Sorry.

MR GRIFFIN:  In the evidence, I took them through five particular issues and those scenarios were based broadly on Sophie's story.  I'm puzzled by your answer that the experts wouldn't understand the complexity of what was going on at the time.  I was wondering whether you might elaborate upon that     complexity     for the Commissioners?

MS ROBBS:  I appreciate that they had some information.  I think, when I read the material around the events at the time, and I look at the documentation, much that has been in the hearing, and particularly listening to Sophie and her parents, I can see that Sophie and her parents and her staff were grappling with how to balance Sophie's dignity of risk to relationships and sexuality and choices and control and the sense of duty of care to Sophie and to the other residents in the house.

I can see that through the documentation.  I think that it's that    that's the complexity, I think, that I'm talking about, to that level of detail and that level of very intimate understanding of Sophie and her family and the other residents in the house and how that played out on a day  to   day basis as well.  It's that piece that I think makes things more complicated.

CHAIR:   Do you think Mr Doley has a good understanding of these issues?


CHAIR:   You heard Mr Doley's evidence yesterday?

MS ROBBS:  I did, yes.

CHAIR:   You heard Mr Doley concede that the rules that were formulated and applied to Sophie were inappropriate?

MS ROBBS:  Yes, I did.

CHAIR:   Do you accept that?

MS ROBBS:  I'm not sure "inappropriate" is the right characterisation.

CHAIR:   What is?

MS ROBBS:  I think they were     I think they were really well intended.  I think they were trying really hard to balance up needs, wants, you know, pressures, and I think they did their best job on the day.  I understand    

CHAIR:  People can do the best job they can and still produce an outcome that is unsatisfactory.  That's the case, isn't it?

MS ROBBS:  Yes, yes, that is the case, yes.

CHAIR:   I'd like you to consider:  do you accept the concession that was made by Mr Doley that these rules were not appropriate for Sophie at that time?

MS ROBBS:  I would have liked us to be able to do something better.

CHAIR:   Could you answer my question?

MS ROBBS:  To solve that problem.

CHAIR:   Could you answer my question?

MS ROBBS:  Sir, could you perhaps repeat the actual question to me?

CHAIR:   The question is do you agree with the concession made by Mr Doley that the rules that were formulated at the time for Sophie and where she could experience intimate relationships were not appropriate?

MS ROBBS:  I'm sorry, I can't agree with "appropriate", sorry.

CHAIR:   What can you agree with?  Are you saying they were appropriate, as distinct from the people who formulated the rules trying to do their best?  Let's assume that's the case.  It doesn't answer the question as to whether the rules that were actually enforced were appropriate for Sophie's welfare.

MS ROBBS:  Yes, I understand that good people can do things with good intent and still get an outcome that's not satisfactory.  I understand that.  I just    I don't feel "appropriate" is the right characterisation in this instance.   I think    I don't think that "inappropriate"      in that way, I would have liked us to be able to come up with a different way to manage the risk and Sophie's goals.

CHAIR:   Can I come back to your answer to Mr Griffin earlier.  I'd like to be clear as to when, on your best recollection, you became aware that Sophie had been assaulted outside the premises run by Life Without Barriers?  Was it shortly after the event?

MS ROBBS:  I can't recall that, my apologies.  I'm sorry.

CHAIR:   In any event, when you first heard about it, were you aware of the circumstances, including the existence of the plan, the fact that Sophie had gone out at 9 o'clock at night?  Were you aware of any of those things?

MS ROBBS:  I became aware of the detail of the safety plan during this hearing     sorry, my apologies, in preparation.

CHAIR:   In preparation.  Prior to this hearing, your knowledge of the assault that was perpetrated on Sophie was limited to the fact that Sophie had experienced this  
assault outside the premises conducted by Life Without Barriers; is that right?


CHAIR:   How could you possibly know, if that was all you knew, that this was not Life Without Barriers' responsibility?  How could you know that, without making detailed inquiries as to the circumstances that led Sophie to be outside her home at night and in circumstances that led to a sexual assault?  How could you make the judgment that this was not Life Without Barriers' responsibility?  You couldn't know, could you?

MS ROBBS:  I think that the matter was investigated    

CHAIR:  No, no.  I'm talking about your knowledge     prior to this hearing, you have said the only knowledge you had was that Sophie was sexually assaulted outside the home run by Life Without Barriers, and you have also said that the reason for not notifying the board was that this was not a responsibility of Life Without Barriers, the event having taken place outside the physical premises of Life Without Barriers; that's what I understand you to have said.  I want to know how you could make the judgment that Life Without Barriers was not responsible without knowing the details of what happened and how it came that Sophie was in this position?

MS ROBBS:  My apologies.  I understood you were asking if I had seen the safety rules before the preparation.  My apologies.

CHAIR:   All right.  Do you understand the question?

MS ROBBS:  I do understand it, sorry.  So I was    I had not seen the particular safety plan before the prep of the hearing, but I know that there had been processes undertaken within Life Without Barriers, some of which is in the documentation, which showed that we had reviewed the events around the sexual ass ault and   -

CHAIR:  Are you saying that you only learned about the sexual assault after investigations    at the same time that you learned investigations had taken place?

MS ROBBS:  Sorry, I'm not as in the flow, I'm not particularly    

CHAIR:   No.  Well, I share Mr Griffin's concerns about your answers, because they do suggest that you made an assumption that as long as this event occurred off premises, Life Without Barriers could not be responsible.  Is that a fair assessment?

MS ROBBS:  I don't agree with that.

CHAIR:   Why not?

MS ROBBS:  Because I know that we have really very strong processes and checks and balances in place to make sure that we review matters, so we generally are  
an organisation that looks for our responsibility in matters and takes that responsibility on.  We certainly don't shy away from that in way whatsoever, in the way that we review     particularly matters of this concern.

CHAIR:   Thank you.  I'm sorry to have taken so long, Mr Griffin.

MR GRIFFIN:  Ms Robbs, are you saying that the board is only interested in matters of legal responsibility, strictly defined?

MS ROBBS:  No, not at all.  I'm saying that the reporting to the board for particular events or incidents generally is around where we have deemed we have some direct responsibility for the matter.

MR GRIFFIN:  That responsibility is using the word in a very general sense.  It includes legal and nonlegal moral responsibility, does it?

MS ROBBS:  I think those are     there are protocols and processes in place which say what's reported to the levels in the organisation.  Whether they particularly refer to those points, I couldn't say, sorry, but there are guidelines around what's reported to the board and to myself and why.

MR GRIFFIN:  I understand that, but isn't the core of LWB's operations the care of the residents living in their various facilities?

MS ROBBS:  Absolutely.  Absolutely.

MR GRIFFIN:  That's your central reason for being, isn't it, to take care of those people?

MS ROBBS:  Our central reason for being would be to care for them, yes.

MR GRIFFIN:  So if a resident, for whatever reason, suffers the tragedy which befell Sophie, isn't that at the centre of your care for her, that you'll take a proactive approach to try to work out why it happened and to what extent Life Without Barriers may have contributed to those events?

MS ROBBS:  There is absolutely no doubt that the care for the people -    the quality of the care for the people that we support - is our absolute driving force for the whole ,    all of the work we do.  And, yes, in instances where events happen, like the event for Sophie, which is impactful and life changing, then absolutely it is beholden upon us as an organisation to understand that fully, as fully as we can and then consider what we need to do to repair what we can for that individual, but also any broader learnings  and we work really hard to do that.

MR GRIFFIN:  But your reporting requirements internally did not automatically escalate Sophie's position to board level.  Now, those reporting requirements are ones that you've decided on as an organisation.  They are not imposed from without, are  
they?  You decide what to report to the board.  Can I come back to the question.  In those circumstances, why wouldn't you report the details of what happened to Sophie to the board?

MS ROBBS:  Going on your last question there, I think that the    sorry, the -    as I said a moment ago, the care being the ultimate priority, and our ability to understand events that have impacted people, to repair anything we have from that and to learn from that is something we spend    we are ever, ever vigilant to, ever vigilant to in Life Without Barriers.  I think the assumption t hat that is our    categorised  in one document, be that a board report, is not a reasonable assumption.

MR GRIFFIN:  Ms Robbs, before the Chair asked you questions, you had explained to us that Sophie's situation was very complex.


MR GRIFFIN:  If one assumes that all questions of dignity of risk, the right to have intimate relationships, all have their complexities in each individual case, how can a board decide on what an appropriate policy is for the organisation if they are not aware of those complexities and, as a subsidiary to that question, wouldn't the best way to inform and educate the board be to say to them, "Before we consider our policy on these issues, let me tell you the story of what happened to one of our residents"?

MS ROBBS:  So if I can just take that question in the two parts, possibly, the second part that you are talking about, around how do we have conversations with the board, particularly perhaps board members that aren't as familiar with our work at a frontline level, so that when they are making decisions around policy or other governancerelated  decisions, they understand how that may impact on the individuals that we are responsible for, I think that's a very important role for us to do and we do a lot of activities with the board so that they have direct contact with people, so they do hear stories, so they do actually get an opportunity to understand the lives of the people that we support at a level of detail that enables them, hopefully, to make good, informed decisions in their governance role.  So that's more of an education role with the board and I feel we are very strong on that.

I think that is different to a reporting and governance and assurance roles, so I will just split the two.  Perhaps my apologies, counsel, you could just refresh my memory on your first question.  My apologies.

MR GRIFFIN:  I was talking about whether the particular complexity of Sophie's situation wouldn't have been highly informative to the board in terms of determining what policy they might seek to adopt.

MS ROBBS:  Yes, thank you.  So I think what I have just answered explains the piece about here's an example or a case study or a story.  I feel that's --- I have answered that.  To your first question, I do think that if I reflect on Mr Doley's  
statements yesterday, I think he articulated the point you're making around the policy, which we have lots of good policies, is really important, very important, as well as actually what's happened for the individual in their individual circumstances.  They are connected, but quite different in regards to a policy that's relevant for a whole organisation and lots of people with completely different needs, in comparison to each individual's particular circumstances and needs.  So in that way, it is important that the board understand stories and case studies and meet people and understand the places we provide the services and meet the people.  That's really an important part for them in understanding how to make policy decisions.

MR GRIFFIN:  No one would dispute that having policies is important and, indeed, laudable, but the other aspect of any policy is is it understood by the frontline staff and do they have sufficient training to deal with situations which are relevant to the policy.  How can a board determine a policy without thinking about those factors?

MS ROBBS:  That is a good question and one that we have been working with the board on around when they agree a policy, when they approve a policy, they want us to bring     and we have only just started doing this     the implementation plan for that policy, or new system, or improvement, particularly to your point where they could approve the policy, but if they don't really have line of sight, that we have a really solid plan to implement, then it's, yes, just a policy.

MR GRIFFIN:  The board has a policy before them which it is considering.  Isn't an important part of that consideration to say to the board, "Here's a case study of what happened in one of our homes.  If we apply this proposed policy to that case study, would the outcome have been any different"?  That's part of the consideration, isn't it?

MS ROBBS:  I mean, yes, we do use case studies.  We would often use case studies perhaps on more complex matters, where it might be difficult for directors to pick up that information when they are out on their visits and when they are talking with people, because it's more personal and complicated.  So we certainly would use case studies in lots of different ways to try to help everyone in the organisation, including in staff training and in decisions at different levels, so that we are always really focusing on what is the impact of the decision that we are making today on the lives of the people that we are responsible for.

MR GRIFFIN:  You've got an Executive Masters of Business Administration from the University of Sydney?

MS ROBBS:  I do.

MR GRIFFIN:  You obtained that qualification in 2012?


MR GRIFFIN:  LWB is a very large organisation?


MR GRIFFIN:  It has a revenue north of $750 million per year, currently?

MS ROBBS:  Correct.

MR GRIFFIN:  You've described some of the reporting lines to the board.  As chief executive officer, who reports to you directly and who is part of your executive team?

CHAIR:   You mean now?

MR GRIFFIN:  Now, yes.

MS ROBBS:  Now, as we sit now.  At the moment, I have an executive team that has an executive responsible for disability services and mental health services; an executive responsible for our child, youth and family services; an executive responsible for our people safety and culture; an executive responsible for our risk assurance and quality; an executive responsible for our strategy and engagement, our marketing; an executive responsible for our finances and commercial services; and an executive responsible for our IT, ICT.

MR GRIFFIN:  Information in relation to those various areas of the organisation are fed up to you as the CEO?


MR GRIFFIN:  During your MBA, were you taught that many successful CEOs in all sorts of organisations allocate a significant time out of their working week to walking the floor     that is, to go into their workplaces and talking direct to frontline staff?  Is that a concept that was discussed during your MBA?

MS ROBBS:  I'm sure it was.

MR GRIFFIN:  Do you have a process in place that enables you to avoid the line of people reporting to you and from time to time go direct to the frontline staff to get their take on the issues in their workplaces, unfiltered by middle and upper management?

MS ROBBS:  Yes, I think that's important for all leaders to have that.

MR GRIFFIN:  Do you do it?

MS ROBBS:  Do I    

MR GRIFFIN:   Do you go to various facilities run by LWB and just talk to the  

MS ROBBS:  It's one of the better parts of my job.

MR GRIFFIN:  How often would you do that?  What percentage of your time as CEO would be spent in that type of engagement?

MS ROBBS:  We don't have a fixed sort of percentage.  I would     I think perhaps if I     visiting     because working the floor is quite different in offices or buildings that often the people that talk in the MBA are talking about, walking through corporate offices.  So I think in organisations that do what we do out in the community, the way that I find it most helpful to really understand what's happening on the ground, what's landing for people, what's not, are the improvements for planning the right ones to help people on the ground, is visiting the locations where the care and support actually happens.  So be that, in this environment, the homes or in day centres or other locations where the service is delivered from and talking with their individuals and the direct staff and their families.

Sometimes it can be helpful often, though, to have separate conversations, where we have advisory groups or family groups and they have a national disability advisory council that's really helpful as well, that doesn't have line management at the meeting, so that's really helpful for me.

The other way that I gauge that is to talk one onone .  We have a process where there is a schedule where everyone talks of two down in the organisation, with leaders.  So for me to really sense check how I think services are going on the ground, I like to visit     not in the last period of time; obviously, during the COVID that's been awfully difficult, but have interestingly been able to do more of that remotely, just because of the travel in this country, so large.  Visit the houses, talk with people, staff, families, the consultation teams and often the line management as well is really important.  But we get information from other places, too     unions, regulators.  There's lots of different places that we     I, sorry, apologies, intentionally go so that I can do my best to satisfy myself about what's happening out there.

MR GRIFFIN:  Did you ever visit the Goonellabah house?

MS ROBBS:  No, I don't think I did.

MR GRIFFIN:  Did you ever visit the Lismore house?

MS ROBBS:  I don't think so.

MR GRIFFIN:  Did you ever visit the Melbourne house?

MS ROBBS:  I visited other houses in Melbourne, but not the particular house, yes.

MR GRIFFIN:  So you haven't physically been to any of the houses that were the subject of this public hearing?

MS ROBBS:  No.  I would remember if I met the residents.

MR GRIFFIN:  Ms Robbs, you heard the evidence of Mr Doley yesterday?


MR GRIFFIN:  And you might recall that there were some questions which were, to put it mildly, handed over for you to answer because Mr Doley wasn't able.  I just want to break and deal with those now, if I can, while the evidence from yesterday is fresh in the mind of the Commissioners.

Do Life Without Barriers agency staff have access to the policy centre of the organisation?

MS ROBBS:  They don't, no.

MR GRIFFIN:  And why is that?

MS ROBBS:  I can't see a particular barrier to that, actually.  I think it's really just about the security around the log ons to the system, in the computer system.  So I appreciate we have lots of sensitive information on the system and so we work really hard to secure it.  Regardless, the way that we work around that, then, is that when agency staff are coming, and I can see a very good example is particularly in the Melbourne house of this occurring, where the line management, either of the house or the next level up, are responsible for sharing the relevant information     relevant only information with an agency staff member coming on shift.  There's lots of policies on the policy centre.  So it's probably arguable that that's actually more helpful for an agency staff member than trying to navigate through the policy centre.

MR GRIFFIN:  Is there any reason in principle why agency staff shouldn't have access to the policy centre in 2021?

MS ROBBS:  I think, as I said, I actually think it might not be     it may be more helpful to them the way it's happening just now, which is the relevant policies to do with direct care in the home that they are providing are provided and the team leaders responsible for helping them understand the really important things about the house and particularly the residents.  I think it is more helpful than being given access to the policy centre.

MR GRIFFIN:  What's the problem with giving them access to the policy centre?  Is it difficult to navigate or do you think they wouldn't understand what is there?

MS ROBBS:  I think     I think it's probably just about giving log on and managing the log ons to the system.  I don't understand if there is another technical  

MR GRIFFIN:  There is no reason why you wouldn't give each agency staff member the option     they can go to the policy centre or not, as they choose?

MS ROBBS:  I don't know     well, they would need a log on to the system to do that.  I don't know, sorry.

MR GRIFFIN:  Is that something you intend to follow up as a result of the evidence in this inquiry?

MS ROBBS:  I think we are always trying to look at how to get helpful information into the hands of people doing the care, yes.

MR GRIFFIN:  Is the answer to my question, "Yes", you are prepared to look into it?


MR GRIFFIN:  Thank you.

COMMISSIONER McEWIN:   Ms Robbs, could I just ask, you said earlier that the central premise of Life Without Barriers is the care of the individual.  So if you have an agency staff come into the house and perhaps not have access to policy, what could people speculate about whether that agency staff would have the same philosophy and care and aim and objective?  Do you think that's a fair proposition, that they may not have that?

MS ROBBS:  Yes, I understand, Commissioner, the proposition.  I think that the material that we give the agency staff members is the most important to do exactly that, which is to help them to do their task on that shift the way we want it to be done and that's why it's a more personal approach.  I think if we     and we may give consideration to giving access to the policy centre.  I think it would be very difficult for them coming on shift, starting straightaway, trying to access where the core documents were there for them.  Much better to have that explained to someone     by someone, my apologies, to them.  Yes.  Good question, I understand.

COMMISSIONER McEWIN:  Perhaps my final part of that question is you, therefore, put your trust in the agency, that they will provide staff who then can do that, what you've just described, to provide that support to    

MS ROBBS:  Well, the staff providing the support to the agency staff are our staff, the Life Without Barriers staff.  So an agency staff     so if an agency staff comes on shift, it should be a Life Without Barriers staff member that explains that to them.  We have, through     as an example, through COVID, we did make it mandatory that any agency staff members who were coming to work in Life Without Barriers houses had to complete our online COVID training.  So they did that within their agency and we did hold the agency responsible for making sure that happened.  But, generally,  
we want a Life Without Barriers staff member to help that person understand what needs to be done on shift.


MR GRIFFIN:  Ms Robbs, my understanding of Mr Doley's evidence yesterday is that he thought that advocates and family members of residents should have access to your policy centre; do you agree with him?

MS ROBBS:  Yes, I can     actually, I can share that when Mr Doley was giving that evidence, we could just put the policies on the website.  You know, there is no reason why people can't.  Now, there could be some technical barriers with that, I'm not sure, but the policies, yes, I can't see why they wouldn't be shared.

MR GRIFFIN:  You are proud of your policies and you stand behind them?

MS ROBBS:  Yes.  Well, particularly the ones probably that are in easy English are probably particularly helpful for people.  Some of the policies, you know, would be more     would be very detailed.

MR GRIFFIN:  But even a detailed policy can have a simple English summary, can't it?

MS ROBBS:  Oh, no, the plain English versions are very, very good.

MR GRIFFIN:  Thank you.  Before we break for the morning tea adjournment, I just want to run through very quickly some other questions put to Mr Doley and I was wondering if you could try to confine your answers to be as brief as possible, including that you may not know the answer.

Was funding provided to the Goonellabah house reduced as a result of the change in classification from emergency response transition unit, so-called “ERTU”, to a disability support accommodation?

MS ROBBS:  I will need to take that on notice.

MR GRIFFIN:  Thank you.  A subsidiary question to that is whether the residents and the families were told of that change in classification.  Do you also take that on notice?


MR GRIFFIN:  Did the Regional Operations Manager Far North Coast, the person known as LWB Manager 2 in these proceedings, have any experience in managing disability group homes when the Goonellabah house was first established?

MS ROBBS:  Sorry, I need to take that on notice.

MR GRIFFIN:  Thank you.  Were any additional support workers brought on to work in the Goonellabah house when the resident Tyler moved in?

MS ROBBS:  I can give a brief response on this one.  I can't answer if any particular workers came on shift, but I can say that at that time that was funded under the State     the NSW State funding, and when they would have placed someone else in the home it would have been general practice for them to then adjust the funding to accommodate for an additional person.  Some of the funding would have remained the same because some of the costs don't vary, you know, in a house, but some do.  So generally it would have been practice under that funding for that to be adjusted.

MR GRIFFIN:  Thank you.  Chair, I'm now about to move on to issues arising from the Melbourne house.  It might be an appropriate time to break.

CHAIR:   Yes.  Perhaps I could ask the Commissioners if they have any questions.  Commissioner Galbally, do you have any questions about the evidence thus far this morning?

COMMISSIONER GALBALLY:   No questions, thank you.

CHAIR:   Commissioner McEwin?

COMMISSIONER McEWIN:   No, thank you.

CHAIR:   I just have one question at the moment.  In the apology you read this morning you say the following:

I also recognise that we should have been more supportive in relation to Sophie's wish to engage in sexual relationships, including to ensure that Sophie had a safe location to do so.

Can you explain how that part of your apology is consistent with your evidence, as I understand it, that Life Without Barriers had no responsibility for what happened to Sophie?  Do you want to think about that over the break?

MS ROBBS:  No.  I     sorry, I don't think my evidence was that we had no responsibility for Sophie in any way.  I think my recollection was that     the questions were more granular than that.  I think we always have a responsibility for doing our best to make sure people are safe and that's what I'm trying to apologise for, and acknowledge, sorry, in my apology.

CHAIR:   Thank you.  It's now nearly 11.15.  Shall we break until 11.30?

MR GRIFFIN:  Yes, thank you.

ADJOURNED    [11.13AM]

RESUMED    [11.30AM]

CHAIR:   Yes, Mr Griffin.

MR GRIFFIN:  Ms Robbs, can I go now to the Melbourne house.  That was a house built by the Department in Victoria for high disability support residents?


MR GRIFFIN:  Do I take it that LWB tendered to operate that house?


MR GRIFFIN:  And we had evidence, I think, that at the same time you obtained the rights to run that house, you also took on some other houses in Victoria.

MS ROBBS:  Correct.

MR GRIFFIN:  How many houses similar to the Melbourne house     that is, high disability support residents     did LWB operate nation-wide at the time you took on the Melbourne house?

MS ROBBS:  Sorry, can you just remind me of the date?

MR GRIFFIN:  Yes.  In 2011, you successfully obtained what I will call the rights to operate the Melbourne house.  My broad question is how much experience had you had elsewhere outside Victoria operating houses which were designed for high disability support residents?

MS ROBBS:  I don't have the precise number for 2011, sorry, across the country, but I do know that by 2011 we already were providing similar care in New South Wales, in particular.

MR GRIFFIN:  In recruiting staff for the Melbourne house and any other house that you took on in Victoria at that time, did you take anyone from the New South Wales houses who had experience in the area to manage in Victoria?

MS ROBBS:  In 2011?


MS ROBBS:  I couldn't comment, sorry, no.

MR GRIFFIN:  Between 2011 and I think 2021, your revenue from disability services seems to have increased from about a third of your revenue in 2011 to now approaching two thirds; is that correct?

MS ROBBS:  That sounds, yes, about right.

MR GRIFFIN:  Has that been a deliberate focus of the board over those years, to increase your presence in the disability services area?

MS ROBBS:  Certainly what has been a focus is that as part of the NDIS coming in in 2016 and onwards in various states, we really wanted to make sure that people with most complex needs who up until that point had often been in State government care     not always, but often     we really wanted to make sure that they didn't miss out on what the NDIS ought to have been able to offer them in regards to choice and control, so we did intentionally tender so that we thought we could bring our expertise in supporting people and make sure that they then got full benefits, really, of what the NDIS brought.

MR GRIFFIN:  Moving into Victoria, you recognised that Victorians were taking houses which used to be controlled by the Department and offering them to private providers; was that correct?

MS ROBBS:  When you say moving into Victoria, sorry, are we in 2011?

MR GRIFFIN:  Yes, in 2011, when you decided to expand your operations, is it generally the case that the Victorian government was moving from operating houses via the Department into a situation where certain houses were being offered to private providers?

MS ROBBS:  Possibly.  Possibly in 2011.  Certainly when the NDIS came in, that was a very intentional thing from some States, but, yes, before then, yes.

MR GRIFFIN:  In respect to the original residents of the Melbourne house, Robert, Rebecca, Amanda, Marco and Stevie, was LWB aware of the individual support needs of each of those residents?

MS ROBBS:  On tendering --- or    

MR GRIFFIN:   As soon as you got the house and you realised who the individuals residing in the house would be, were you fully aware of their individual support needs?

MS ROBBS:  As part of the tendering, we would have received some information on people and then when we obviously started providing the services, then yes, we would have gotten to know people really well quickly.

MR GRIFFIN:  Initially, I understand that the Department would select the  


MR GRIFFIN:  And over a period of time, that process changed?


MR GRIFFIN:  When do you recall it changing to a situation where LWB would have a role in the selection of residents?

MS ROBBS:  I don't recall a particular date for this particular house, but generally over time, particularly as the roles changed a little, when the NDIS came in and the Department then took on the role of the SDA provider, then that role, yes, changed somewhat where vacancies in houses are generally then discussed between, hopefully, the residents and families and the SDA provider and the SIL provider.

MR GRIFFIN:  I will come to that in a moment.  When you first started operating the Melbourne house, was there an operations manual which told the management and the staff how that house was going to be conducted?

MS ROBBS:  Life Without Barriers?


MS ROBBS:  I would have expected there were guidelines, yes.

MR GRIFFIN:  Did you ever see such a manual yourself?

MS ROBBS:  In 2011, probably.

MR GRIFFIN:  Do you know what, broadly speaking, the contents of that manual was?  For example, did it mirror some manual that you had in New South Wales?

MS ROBBS:  Well, at the time there were still the disability service standards in place.  Even though there were, and continue to be, some nuances across States, at its core, a lot of the service expectations are similar.  So, yes, we would have used experience from other jurisdictions always to develop the policies and procedures.

MR GRIFFIN:  You were aware at that time that residents were entitled to receive a residential statement?


MR GRIFFIN:  That statement would usually include information to the residents and their families about what services would be provided?


MR GRIFFIN:  And, as far as you know, such statements were made available to the residents in the Melbourne house?

MS ROBBS:  Yes, in reviewing the documentation for this hearing and on hearing Paul speak, I can see that     I heard his comments around some of that information and how helpful it may or may not have been for him to understand what was being provided.

MR GRIFFIN:  Yes.  Because at paragraph 37 of your statement, you referred to a communications protocol.  Do you have your statement in front of you?


MR GRIFFIN:  By all means consult it, if you need to.

MS ROBBS:  Thank you.  Sorry, did you say 37?


MS ROBBS:  Thank you.

MR GRIFFIN:  Do you recall Paul giving evidence that he was frustrated by the communications protocol and proposed to Life Without Barriers some different procedures?

MS ROBBS:  Yes, I do.

MR GRIFFIN:  He says that he never heard back from LWB in response to his suggestions.


MR GRIFFIN:  Why didn't he receive a response?

MS ROBBS:  I can't think of a good reason why he wouldn't have received a response.  He certainly ought to have received a response.

MR GRIFFIN:  He ought to have received a response partly because family members can be a very important source of information for LWB, can't they?

MS ROBBS:  Hugely.

MR GRIFFIN:  In the case of Paul, he was very thoughtful and very articulate in the matters he raised with the organisation.

MS ROBBS:  Most definitely.

MR GRIFFIN:  And he also raised queries with LWB on behalf of other residents and their families.

MS ROBBS:  I understand that, yes.

MR GRIFFIN:  And you know, don't you, from reading the documentation provided by Paul, that it's not unfair to say he was potentially a very useful asset for LWB in assisting you in how the house was run?

MS ROBBS:  Yes.  I think Paul was able to really clearly share his expectations and views and experiences, and particularly obviously for his son, but other residents, too.

MR GRIFFIN:  Now, the Melbourne house was taken on by LWB under a five year lease?


MR GRIFFIN:  It had a nominal rent of $12 per annum, which, amongst lawyers, is called a peppercorn rent; that's correct, isn't it?

MS ROBBS:  That would be a low rent, yes.

MR GRIFFIN:  When you were providing information to residents, did you indicate to the residents that part of the service being provided included a rental component which LWB had to pay?

MS ROBBS:  Yes, I would have thought that we covered that in the agreement.

MR GRIFFIN:  Did you explicitly tell the residents that LWB was paying $1 a month by way of rent?

MS ROBBS:  Sorry, I'd need to go back to the agreement for that particular time, I'm sorry.

MR GRIFFIN:  Well, you might take that question on notice, but as a general observation, when you were informing the residents about where their money is being spent, rent really wasn't a factor, was it?

MS ROBBS:  Sorry, without going to the actual document, I'm unclear if we were clear with the families that the rent collected was then paid to Active Housing for the repairs.  Sorry, I'm not sure if we were very clear with them about that.

MR GRIFFIN:  I understand.  Let me talk about Active Housing.  They were another body outside of LWB?


MR GRIFFIN:  And they were engaged by LWB, in relation to the Melbourne house, to provide some services?


MR GRIFFIN:  What were the services provided by Active?

MS ROBBS:  So there is in the material quite a detailed outline and agreement with them.  In essence, it was around repairs and maintenance and other issues that would relate generally to the tenancy.

MR GRIFFIN:  So repairs to the physical structure of the home and anything in it, and maintenance in relation to the home and the grounds?

MS ROBBS:  Yes.  My experience of these agreements is that there is some     and I can see it in the agreements that are present between ourselves and Active, is that there are some points in that which are very clear and there are some points in those agreements where it is often less clear.  I don't think that's unique to disability houses, however, I think that's probably similar in lots of property environments.  But it is spelt out, the functions that Active were expected to do under the agreement.

MR GRIFFIN:  The residents of the Melbourne house would contribute a specified sum of money from their Disability Support Pensions?

MS ROBBS:  Correct.

MR GRIFFIN:  I think in relation to Robert, Paul gave evidence that he was charged in 2012 $536.49 per fortnight as a residential charge, of which the rent was a component, and there was also a component for utilities such as food, et cetera.  Is that broadly the position?

MS ROBBS:  Yes.  Generally, there is a contribution from people's disability and support pension provided and a component of that, generally 25 per cent of the payment, is rent and then a component of that is for household expenditure.

MR GRIFFIN:  So across your various houses, can we make an assumption that the charge to the resident was notionally 25 per cent to rent and the balance of the 75 per cent for other reasons?

MS ROBBS:  Sorry, so it's generally 75 per cent of the person's pension, of which then 50 per cent is retained for the household expenses and 25 for rent     sorry, of the 75, sorry.

MR GRIFFIN:  It seems a curious description to call that a rent component when you  
are, in effect, not paying rent, in the traditional sense of that word.  Can you explain to the Commission the thinking behind the allocation you've just mentioned?

MS ROBBS:  Well, effectively, my understanding is that the costs that might be encompassed in a rental case is some of the functions that Active performed, so Life Without Barriers then collected the money from the pensions as per the agreement and then we paid Active their charges, which in some years was, yes, correlated to the pension that we brought in.

MR GRIFFIN:  I understand what you are saying, Ms Robbs, but would you concede that to describe the percentage taken from the Disability Support Pension as "rent" is misleading in the ordinary use of that word?

MS ROBBS:  Sorry, I don't know what people generally think of rent.  Yes, so, I'm not sure if what people think, it covers those things.

MR GRIFFIN:   Let me illuminate for you, Ms Robbs.  I think I can safely say that most people in the street, when asked, "What rent do you pay?", say, "That's the amount of money I pay to the landlord for the right to live in my home".  Assuming the residents and their families have that same understanding of "rent" that I have just described, wouldn't they assume that the percentage you ascribe to rent was being paid to someone else for the right to live in the premises?

MS ROBBS:  I think if someone asked me that question, I would think that the rent also covered repairs and maintenance that would be required to be done to the premises.  That would be something I would expect that would be part of the rental payment.

MR GRIFFIN:  Okay.  Did you also have a memorandum of understanding with Active Property Services Management?

MS ROBBS:  Yes, we did, yes.

MR GRIFFIN:  You refer to that, I think, in paragraphs 28 and 29 of your statement.

MS ROBBS:  Mmmhmm .

MR GRIFFIN:  And again at paragraphs 269 to 272.  I believe a copy of that management MoU, memorandum of understanding, is in Hearing Bundle D at tab 17.  Can you explain to me, under that memorandum of understanding     and, by all means, look at it if you need to     exactly the services provided under that MoU of the Melbourne house to Active Management.  I'll give you a moment to turn that document up.

MS ROBBS:  What services were provided?

MR GRIFFIN:  Yes.  Exactly what did Active do for the money you were paying  

MS ROBBS:  Well, on reviewing the document, I am assuming that there are some general statements about the function they fulfil as the property manager in the main body of the document, and then there's a schedule attached, which is a list of services, really, that they would provide.

MR GRIFFIN:  If I could ask you to turn to paragraph 28 of your statement and just read that paragraph to yourself.  Does that paragraph encapsulate the main points of the MoU, vis à vis you and Active Property Services Management?

MS ROBBS:  I think so.

MR GRIFFIN:  So they are to manage the property, provide 24 hour responsive maintenance     that's the equivalent of calling the plumber when the pipe bursts; correct?

MS ROBBS:  I would assume so.

MR GRIFFIN:  To conduct planned works and repairs and pay rates and utilities.  I understand that, Ms Robbs.  Then it says:

Active was not responsible for tenancy or occupancy management.

That was the responsibility of LWB, wasn't it?

MS ROBBS:  Yes, I assume so, yes.

MR GRIFFIN:  How did you strike the appropriate fee to pay Active for the tasks they were undertaking?

MS ROBBS:  I don't know that particular detail, sorry.

MR GRIFFIN:  That's all right.  We might take that question on notice.  You then in your statement deal with maintenance and cleaning issues at paragraphs 146 to 155  and again at 268 to 289.  I'm not going to take you to the detail of that, but you are aware that on occasions between 2016 and 2019, families of residents of the Melbourne house raised concerns about the cleanliness of the house?


MR GRIFFIN:  In setting out how LWB took steps to address these concerns you outline in part at paragraph 148 of your statement, but in that part of your statement you only refer to action taken in 2019 and 2020.  Can we take it from that that there wasn't any substantive response to the concerns between 2016 and 2018?

MS ROBBS:  Are you able to just     which particular point of my statement, sorry?

MR GRIFFIN:  If you go to 148 of your statement.

MS ROBBS:  148, thank you.

MR GRIFFIN:  It starts at 146 when it talks about repairs, maintenance and house cleanliness.


MR GRIFFIN:  You will see that concerns were raised in 146 and then in 147, it enumerates further concerns raised in respect of cleanliness?

MS ROBBS:  Mmmhmm .

MR GRIFFIN:  From (a) to (g).  Then in 148, you say:

Life Without Barriers took several steps to respond to concerns raised by families with respect to house cleanliness.

Then you particularly concentrate on what happened in 2019 and 2020.  My question was does the omission of any reference to 2016 to 2018 indicate that there was no substantive response to those concerns during those years?

MS ROBBS:  No, definitely not.

MR GRIFFIN:  What, to your knowledge, was done in the years between 2016 and 2019, or 2018, at least?

MS ROBBS:  In general, in that period, I can see in reviewing the documents    I can see lots of efforts from management of the house and several layers above the house, to try to flag the concerns raised, try to respond and try to, most importantly, incorporate some of the improvements, perhaps cleanliness is a good example, into the day to   day  work, I think, in the house.

MR GRIFFIN:  It would seem over the period of time from 2016 through 2019, at least, that those efforts weren't particularly successful.

MS ROBBS:  I think, and again in reviewing the material, because we don't want families at all to be thinking that their loved ones are living in homes that aren't of a standard that they think they ought to be.  That's not at all what we want.

I think if I reflect on the effort I can see from the local staff and yet the sense from the families that things haven't been addressed, I think one of the things that we have not been good enough is having some structure and better process to feed back to families really clearly and promptly two things:  one, what we are doing about things, because sometimes it takes a while to get things repaired; and, secondly,  
when we think things have been repaired or addressed and then get the feedback from the family.  I can see that we have not done that well enough.

MR GRIFFIN:  Is it the case, Ms Robbs, that effort didn't necessarily equate with achievement?

MS ROBBS:  I think effort didn't equate with satisfaction of the families and their concerns, which is disappointing.

MR GRIFFIN:  But you're not suggesting that the level of satisfaction requested by the families was unrealistic, are you?

MS ROBBS:  I think that if I use a small practical example, I think some of the requests were     the requests were all fair and reasonable.  I think some of the detail, like     I'm not stepping outside of my expertise too much, but the sealant in some of the bathroom tiles had become discoloured.  I appreciate that, so it wasn't so much a can we clean the bathroom task, it was a bigger task.  So I think that it's not that the    the  families' concerns were absolutely reasonable, that's absolutely clear.  I think sometimes the way that we did or did not articulate ourselves to the families about what was involved wasn't helpful for them.

MR GRIFFIN:  Ms Robbs, I understand the difference between a repair and a renovation, but the residents are really only asking that the existing facilities be clean, irrespective of their age; that's right, isn't it?

MS ROBBS:  Well, I think my example isn't an example of a renovation.  I think my example is something where it could be perceived that if someone got in there with some stronger cleaning product, they might have been able to fix that problem, and what I'm suggesting is that that wasn't the case in that particular instance, but we should have still fixed it, but, most importantly, we should have been clear with the family about why we weren't able to do it as timely as they wanted.

MR GRIFFIN:  You should have said to the family, "We have tried, this is the best result we can get".

MS ROBBS:  No, I think     no, I think we should have said to the family, "This is actually what's causing the problem, this is what we need to do to fix it, it is going to take a bit longer and we will keep you posted and we will tell you when it's done" and then we should have fixed the problem, yes.

MR GRIFFIN:  Can I move on to the question of resident selection and compatibility.


MR GRIFFIN:  You know that's been a major issue?

MS ROBBS:  I do.

MR GRIFFIN:  Compatibility doesn't simply involve finding people with similar disabilities and putting them together, does it?


MR GRIFFIN:  It's a much more nuanced and sophisticated process than that.

MS ROBBS:  Sometimes.

CHAIR:   It is, or should be.

MR GRIFFIN:  We have discussed the fact that the department initially selected the residents and I think LWB was then involved in replacing a resident that left, or, indeed, in suggesting that a resident might be moved to some other form of accommodation.


MR GRIFFIN:  What factors did LWB take into account when you were looking at the issue of whether a resident would be compatible with other residents?  Explain the process you would go through.

MS ROBBS:  I think there is some material in here and some of it is on some guidelines and some checklists and forms that might be used to make that judgment.  I think the level of detail that any compatibility is able to be done does depend on, as a number of other witnesses have spoken about here, particularly the witness from the Victorian government, the supply of houses at the time, residents at the time and the demand for those to be     that's the practical reality, I think, that Ms Congleton from Victoria expressed.

So I think what we would want to happen is that we would want to have enough information to be able to assess the needs and goals and preferences of the person who may be eligible or want to move into the home, and then consider whether we can meet those needs and then consider how that can be met within the home environment, particularly in regards to the other residents.

MR GRIFFIN:  So you start by developing a profile of the individual concerned, particularly paying attention to their particular needs?

MS ROBBS:  Ideally, yes.

MR GRIFFIN:  Do you also look at previous accommodation they may have been in and what their history in that accommodation was?

MS ROBBS:  In some instances and I know that in the Melbourne house some of  
that we would have known.  In some instances, that's not always available, but ideally, it would be available.

MR GRIFFIN:  So we do those two things and we come to a preliminary view that that person may be suitable.  Do you then consult the existing residents and/or their families as to the candidate you are looking at?

MS ROBBS:  Well, we ought to.

MR GRIFFIN:  Do you in 2021 consult the families and residents in that situation?

MS ROBBS:  I know it does happen and I know I heard Mr Doley make statements to that effect yesterday, so it is a practice, it's a known expectation.

MR GRIFFIN:  Specifically, if a vacancy arose in one of your houses today, as a matter of policy, would LWB have a process of consulting the existing residents and any family or guardian or advocate?

MS ROBBS:  Sorry, as a matter of policy, yes.

MR GRIFFIN:  As a matter of reality, do you always do it?

MS ROBBS:  I would hope so.

MR GRIFFIN:  Do you have doubts that it's always done?

MS ROBBS:  I think it's done.  I just --- I think sometimes if people are really    really  need the placement, I think sometimes that can drive decisions.  I think it probably     sorry, just to finish quickly, particularly maybe in regional settings where the options are less     there's less options for people.  I think we do consult, but I do think that that pressure probably, yes, is still present.

MR GRIFFIN:  I anticipate the Chair may have a question, but before I turn to the Chair    

CHAIR:  No, keep going.

MR GRIFFIN:  When did you start applying a policy of automatically consulting existing residents and family members as to the suitability of a potential resident?

MS ROBBS:  I think at a policy level it may have been a long standing statement.  I think that has been made more specific over time and iterations of policy.

MR GRIFFIN:  Ms Robbs, when did you start doing it?

MS ROBBS:  Sorry, policy or in practice?

MR GRIFFIN:  No, when did you actually start doing it on the ground?

MS ROBBS:  So I think the reality will be that when the NDIS came in and people had more choice, that's when people actually were given more of a voice.

MR GRIFFIN:  When you say when the NDIS came in, what date do you have in mind?

MS ROBBS:  Well, that varied across the jurisdictions, sorry.

MR GRIFFIN:  Strange about some of my questions, they have a reason behind them.

MS ROBBS:  I'm sure.  So     sorry, so it won't be one particular date in regards to practice because, as I said, really it's around     it's always the intention, it's definitely best practice and should absolutely happen.  It's the practical reality of that depending on the other options available for people in that particular time, location.

MR GRIFFIN:  Tell me the earliest date you started doing it, as a matter of routine?

MS ROBBS:  As a matter of routine, I don't think that would have happened as a matter of routine before the NDIS came in.

MR GRIFFIN:  And when you say that, do you mean 2000 and    

MS ROBBS:  From 2016, I think would be fairest, yes.

MR GRIFFIN:  So can we assume that between 2011 and 2016, that was not happening as a matter of routine?

MS ROBBS:  I think that's fair, yes, that's a fair statement.

MR GRIFFIN:  Why wasn't it happening from the very start?

MS ROBBS:  Well, I think I have tried to answer that in saying that the pressure on the system for availability.

MR GRIFFIN:  With respect, Ms Robbs, that's a separate issue.  The Commission understands that in an individual circumstance, the need to give someone a roof over their head may carry more weight that other factors.


MR GRIFFIN:  We accept it's a complex task, but it doesn't, with respect, answer why you weren't consulting the residents and their families between 2011 and 2016.

MS ROBBS:  Maybe I'm --- in trying to answer the question, maybe I'm  
misunderstanding "consult".  Do you mean speaking with before someone's    


MS ROBBS:  Right, sorry.

MR GRIFFIN:  Saying to them, "We have a potential candidate, we want to sit down and talk to you about who they are, what their needs are, to see if you have a view as to whether or not they would be compatible in this house".

MS ROBBS:  Sorry, my apologies.  Yes, I understand.  I was misunderstanding "consult" in regards to decisionmaking , too.

MR GRIFFIN:  So why wasn't it done between 2011 and 2016?

MS ROBBS:  I think it probably wasn't done as a matter of    like, consistently, because it was sensed that the  decisionmaking  sat between government and/or government and a provider.  I think that would be what I think was on people's minds at the time.  Then when that started to change because there was more choice available to people, then I would say that that, in practice, not only in Life Without Barriers but across the sector, probably, then you would hope increased.  And certainly there's lots of examples in these case studies.  There are examples, but also there are other examples in Life Without Barriers in my work where I know that that's happened and happened very actively with families and advocates and guardians.

MR GRIFFIN:  You are familiar with the situation involving Katie in the Melbourne house and the proposal that she move into the Melbourne house after Stevie's departure?

MS ROBBS:  Yes, I am, yes.

MR GRIFFIN:  What inquiries did you carry out as Life Without Barriers in relation to Katie to try to assess whether she would be a suitable resident to move in?

MS ROBBS:  To my understanding, looking at the material, is that Katie had already been living in another Life Without Barriers home    

MR GRIFFIN:  She had, indeed.

MS ROBBS:      so, therefore, we were very familiar with her needs and at the time, the home that Katie was living in wasn't meeting her needs and so everyone in her support network was looking for an alternative and the staff closest at the time felt like this would be a good option for her.

MR GRIFFIN:  Now, in the document in Hearing bundle D at Tab 60, which is LWB.1026.0004.0026, perhaps if that can be made available to the witness.   
Ms Robbs, is this document a request from the LWB to the Victorian department dated 27 January 2014 to transfer Katie into the Melbourne house?

MS ROBBS:  Yes, I understand it is.

MR GRIFFIN:  In describing Katie, it refers to her having been physically aggressive towards her previous housemate, including pushing and hitting; that's correct, isn't it?


MR GRIFFIN:  So not only had she been living in an LWB house, you were aware of that particular behaviour, of being physically aggressive towards her previous housemate?


MR GRIFFIN:  And pushing and hitting that housemate.


MR GRIFFIN:  There is then at Tab 61 of Hearing bundle D, which I will also have provided to you, Ms Robbs, what's known as a vacancy profile.


MR GRIFFIN:  That profile notes the needs and behaviours of each of the existing residents; correct?


MR GRIFFIN:  It appears to make no mention of the prior trauma which was caused by Stevie's behaviours     that is, the departing resident.

MS ROBBS:  Yes.  Sorry, I'm just looking over it now.

MR GRIFFIN:  Please take as much time as you need.

MS ROBBS:  Yes.  No, it doesn't particularly call that out, no, correct.

MR GRIFFIN:  Then the form suggests that it be noted any important dynamics existing between residents in the house that need to be considered when selecting a new resident.  Do you see that?

MS ROBBS:  Page 8?  Is it page 8?

MR GRIFFIN:  I will just get my instructing solicitor to assist you.  I believe it is on page 8.

MS ROBBS:  Yes, it is, yes.

MR GRIFFIN:  That section which asks to note any important dynamics existing between residents in the house that need to be considered when selecting a new resident, that's left blank.

MS ROBBS:  Mmmhmm .

MR GRIFFIN:  Life Without Barriers had information relevant to that question, didn't it?

MS ROBBS:  Which piece of information, sorry?

MR GRIFFIN:  That the dynamics between the existing residents     you'd been operating the Melbourne house, you had information about the dynamics between the existing residents and you had information about Katie from her former accommodation.

MS ROBBS:  Mmmhmm .

MR GRIFFIN:  But it doesn't appear that anything was put in the form relevant to the information you had.

MS ROBBS:  No.  The fact it has not been filled out in the form, that's correct.

MR GRIFFIN:  Then there are sections headed "Critical compatibility factors" and "Preferable factors" which also seem to be blank.

MS ROBBS:  I think it's our detailed form and I think that the information that would be included is in the earlier parts of the form.

MR GRIFFIN:  Well, in your statement at paragraph 75, if you could turn to that     for the benefit of people listening, I will simply read:

I have reviewed the vacancy profile and note that it contains some sections which were left blank at the time of submission to the department, including sections of recording "critical compatibility factors" (eg aggressive behaviour) and the "rationale regarding compatibility".  This falls short of my expectation around this practice.

What did you mean by that comment of it falling short of your expectation around this practice?

MS ROBBS:  Well, if there's a form that has sections to be completed, then it would generally be the practice for those to be completed.

MR GRIFFIN:  Because this isn't simply a form filling exercise, is it?  This is information critical to the existing residents and their families about the person who is being proposed to move in; would you agree?

MS ROBBS:  This form?

MR GRIFFIN:  The information that this form asks    

MS ROBBS:  The information.

MR GRIFFIN:  The information it asked for is critical.

MS ROBBS:  The information.  Yes, I think the families of the existing residents are probably quite familiar with the existing resident.

MR GRIFFIN:  They are, but they are not familiar with the proposed new resident, are they?

MS ROBBS:  No, no.

MR GRIFFIN:  And that's the very piece of information they would like to know; correct?

MS ROBBS:  I think it's     yes, I think it's absolutely fair that people want to know a level of information about people coming into the home of where their sons and daughters and family members are living.

MR GRIFFIN:  Because you know from your experience of the world that when people share a house without disability at all, the first thing you want to know about someone who is proposing to move in is what are they like?  What's their background?  What can I expect if they move in?  That's all     it's trite to make that observation, isn't it?

MS ROBBS:  No, I think it's absolutely fair that people want to know who is going to share a home with them     absolutely fair.

MR GRIFFIN:  And it's absolutely crucial that the department know that information as well, isn't it, because this form is being submitted to the department?

MS ROBBS:  Yes, you would hope that the form was as wholesome as possible.

MR GRIFFIN:  And without that information, the department might think this is a good fit because there's no red flags being raised; correct?

MS ROBBS:  I don't     I don't know.  I think, actually, Ms Congleton said there are a number of inputs they have to the placement process, so I'm not familiar with those at all, but regardless, you would want to have fulsome information and submit it.

MR GRIFFIN:  The department, being involved in the decision making, would want to know everything that was relevant to their decision; correct?


MR GRIFFIN:  And that missing information would clearly have been relevant to their decision making?

MS ROBBS:  Sorry, which missing information?

MR GRIFFIN:  The history of Katie and her behaviour in the other house and any question of behaviours which might go to the question of compatibility with the existing residents.

MS ROBBS:  So my understanding was that the form that you took me to, the first form, the supported accommodation service reconfiguration request form, I understood that that also went to the department?

MR GRIFFIN:  It does, yes.

MS ROBBS:  Yes, which does     that does spell out in some level of detail Katie's needs and challenges.

MR GRIFFIN:  Can I perhaps conclude this by asking you are you satisfied in this particular instance with the information which was provided by LWB to the department?

MS ROBBS:  I think I said in my statement I would have preferred for the forms to be fully completed.

MR GRIFFIN:  Yes, you did.

MS ROBBS:   Yes, so I would certainly stand by that, but I do feel like with the two together, there is quite sufficient information there to make a decision.

MR GRIFFIN:  Yes, because one can be unhappy simply because a form hasn't been filled out completely, which is totally different from the question of whether or not you are satisfied all the relevant information was provided to the department.

MS ROBBS:  Yes, yes.

MR GRIFFIN:  And your conclusion is, based on your assessment, that all the relevant information was provided to the department; is that the fact?

MS ROBBS:  Well, I think that     I don't know the other sources the department have, but I think in these forms    

MR GRIFFIN:  Sorry to interrupt you, but are you satisfied that LWB provided all the relevant information it had in relation to Katie to the department?

MS ROBBS:  I think so, to make the decision.  I think so.

MR GRIFFIN:  Can I move on to the topic of staffing at the Melbourne house.  You deal with that issue at paragraphs 92 to 109 and paragraphs 119 to 131 of your statement.  Can I ask you, as a preliminary question, are you aware of a report from the Office of the Public Advocate in 2019, in Victoria, titled, "I'm too scared to come out of my room"?

MS ROBBS:  I am, yes.

MR GRIFFIN:  Have you read that document?

MS ROBBS:  I've read the main parts of that document.

MR GRIFFIN:  Do you have any recollection of what you learnt from reading that document?

MS ROBBS:  Well, I think it expressed people's experiences, is probably the most impactful part from the document.

MR GRIFFIN:  You are aware that in that document, there was the suggestion that competency of staff members could be measured by a standard equivalent to or, in fact, a Certificate IV in disability?

MS ROBBS:  Yes, I do understand that, yes.

MR GRIFFIN:  Have you had the opportunity to look at what components are in the Certificate IV disability training?

MS ROBBS:  I'm familiar with it to, you know, a level of detail.

MR GRIFFIN:  And you know that support workers in the Melbourne house between 2013 and 2017, were required to have a Certificate III in community welfare, or similar?

MS ROBBS:  Correct.

MR GRIFFIN:  Is there a particular reason why Life Without Barriers chose that level of qualification rather than the Certificate IV or equivalent level?

MS ROBBS:  I did hear the comments made from the community visitors, and I can't remember which particular visitor it was, who gave a good     their understanding of the difference between the Certificate III and the Certificate IV.  We held that view  
at the time because we felt that the duties performed at that direct level, the Certificate III was the most suitable qualification, particularly for people who perhaps hadn't done a more than academic qualification post school, perhaps, before.

MR GRIFFIN:  Could you explain perhaps in a bit more detail why you thought in the circumstances of the Melbourne house, Certificate III was more appropriate for those workers as a requirement?

MS ROBBS:  I think it's not     the view at that time wasn't unique just to the Melbourne house.  The decision really was made on the fact that people that we often attract into the disability sector may not have and completed any other training after school, so a Certificate III really gives them the kind of     an entry and the kind of basics and the framework, I think, to     yes, to help them with their role, really, which is really what the qualification should all be about.

MR GRIFFIN:  So at that time, is it fair to say you took the view that you might run the risk of losing very, very good potential workers simply because they didn't have a Certificate IV?

MS ROBBS:  No, I don't think that particularly would have gone through our mind, actually.  I think it was much more about what would be really helpful for the workers in fulfilling their duties on the day.  It wouldn't have been around us being worried about that, yes.

MR GRIFFIN:  You thought Certificate    

MS ROBBS:  I don't think so.

MR GRIFFIN:  You thought the Certificate III was more applicable to the actual work they'd be doing?

MS ROBBS:  Yes, at the time, yes.

MR GRIFFIN:  Do you have a view in 2021 as to what the minimum qualification of a disability support worker should be?

MS ROBBS:  I have a view that it's a vexed topic in the sector and I know that lots of people with a disability would like their workers to be trained to a particular standard.  I also know that lots of people with a disability and their families say that, actually, that's not really the point that makes a difference to them about what makes a good worker for them and they would actually prefer workers that had things like common interests with the client, you know, someone that the client really liked and had a good relationship with.  So I think that's a topic that we are     yes, we are grappling with in the sector, I think, about do you set a bar; where does it sit for someone, for people with a disability in their families, to determine what workers they want to be able to have.

MR GRIFFIN:  One advantage of having a minimum requirement is the world at large knows the benchmark, knows what that worker is expected to know.

MS ROBBS:  Yes, yes.

MR GRIFFIN:  If you don't have a benchmark, how do you satisfy yourself as to the extent of knowledge of a worker?

MS ROBBS:  I mean, I think organisations like Life Without Barriers have lots of their own training, induction, mandatory modules, optional modules that they will provide workers with.  I do appreciate the benefit of having a benchmark on industries and I know that other areas that we work in, sometimes that does happen.  In my answer before, I was just trying to share the kind of current debate, probably, in the sector about what really matters.

MR GRIFFIN:  I understood that answer, Ms Robbs, and I appreciate the distinction you make.  Dealing with the Melbourne house in particular, we know about the Melbourne house in 2011, that it had residents with significant behaviours of concern and high support needs.  That's a fair characterisation, isn't it?


MR GRIFFIN:  Would not a house composed of people with those characteristics require the sort of skills that a Certificate IV would have?

MS ROBBS:  I think any education that people do is helpful, so, yes, I would imagine that would be helpful.  In setting the minimum standard for us, we weren't remotely suggesting that people couldn't do more and higher; we were just trying to state what we wanted as a minimum.

MR GRIFFIN:  I understand that, Ms Robbs, and I understand your point, looking at the sector wide position, because there are all sorts of different accommodation at different levels.


MR GRIFFIN:  I understand that.  I'm putting to you specifically with the characteristics of the residents of the Melbourne house, that's at the upper echelon of support, really, isn't it?


MR GRIFFIN:  Unquestionably, surely?

MS ROBBS:  It's in the complex end, yes.  It's not at the upper end of support.

MR GRIFFIN:  I understand the distinction you are making, but it's complex and, in  
those circumstances, my simple proposition is wouldn't a Certificate IV have merits over a Certificate III?

MS ROBBS:  I think, as I said before, there is always merits.  Our intention was not to say that people couldn't do a Certificate IV, but I do think that we are still     in Life Without Barriers, in Melbourne and across the sector, really encouraging people into the sector and Certificate III is a good place to start.

MR GRIFFIN:  Can I move on to the question of management of the Melbourne house.  I take it you heard the evidence from Leonie Swift and Dr Colleen Pearce, particularly in relation to the results of numerous visits to the house?


MR GRIFFIN:  At one point, they estimated that between 2011 and 2019, the Melbourne house had at least 10 different people in the role of either being team leader, disability coordinator or practice leader positions.  Does that accord with your understanding?

MS ROBBS:  In preparing for this, I've spent quite a lot of time trying to really understand that, because I understand the importance that people are placing on that, particularly for the families actually knowing who to go to and who to raise concerns with.  We definitely did make structural changes at a couple of points in time through that     those years, sorry, over the period.  The other piece I just put in there is my observation from reviewing particularly probably the documentation and the email communications and such, is that we didn't so much have lots of new people coming into roles.  What we did have was people that were there in roles changing roles and I hadn't really appreciated that quite as much until I reviewed the material.

So I can better understand now why, from a team perspective, management's perspective, it didn't feel like lots of turnover, because they would have had the same people working in the same team in Melbourne, but from a family perspective, it would have felt like that because different people were doing different jobs through that time.  If that's a helpful observation.

MR GRIFFIN:  Thank you.  Chair, I should correct the record.  I indicated that that estimate of 10 different people came from Dr Pearce and Ms Swift.  In fact, it came from investigations carried out by those who instruct me.  So that's a conclusion reached by the Commission on the basis of analysis of the document.  Rather than being simply a question of people changing roles, it identified 10 different people during that period of time in those various roles.

Having made that correction, Ms Robbs, can you tell me from your experience what the effect upon residents of a high turnover of management can be and on their families?

MS ROBBS:  I think on the families     because that's just been so clearly expressed  
by particularly Paul and     I'm sorry, Rebecca.  My apologies.  I will come back to that.  Sorry, so further impact to the residents, firstly, the most important thing there is the stability of the staff in the house and that that is absolutely the most important thing for the residents.  So the impact to changes in supervision over the house will be in regards to the consistency of knowledge of the residents so that people can give good advice to the staff about how to support the residents as best as possible.

For the families, I think the main challenge will be who to go to, but, most importantly, the relationships.  So who do the families have a relationship with, who are they building a relationship with that they can go to with concerns and know that that person understands their family member and will support the staff to best care for them.

MR GRIFFIN:  Would you agree that your answer has encapsulated what Catherine said at paragraph 38 of her statement, where she said:

There were some good managers who did their best but it always took them a while to get up to speed and to try and put things in place to assist, and then they'd be gone and we'd have to start again.

Does that pretty much sum up the sorts of difficulties that arise?

MS ROBBS:  More articulate than me, yes.

MR GRIFFIN:  And Leonie Swift, from the Office of the Public Advocate, at paragraph 77 of her statement made this observation:

Continuous changes in the operational managers responsible for the house meant that when we .....

That's the visitors:

..... got some traction in resolving a particular matter, we would then find ourselves back to square one.  It was very frustrating.

Would you accept that that's a possible consequence of a high turnover of management?

MS ROBBS:  Definitely.

MR GRIFFIN:  What steps do you currently put in place in LWB to try and get more stability of management of houses?

MS ROBBS:  So at that local level, and which is the most important level for the people that you are speaking about there, one of the things we are trying really hard to do is to run things more from a team perspective rather than just a particular individual, so that we have got     not too many, because you don't want too many  
people knowing people's personal information or actually causing confusion, but more than one person or two people really familiar in that local team with the residents, the staff, the families, the current issues and, in that way, we are hoping that, firstly, there is a few points for family members to go to.  Secondly, it will be smoother when people go on leave or when there is reasonable --- you know, reasons why people aren't present in the organisation, but also when people do leave the organisation, that it's not as disruptive to people.  It's just a practical thing we are trying to do.

MR GRIFFIN:  Can I now move to the issue of the use of casual or agency staff.

CHAIR:   Mr Griffin, I notice that the program called for us to break at about 12.30.  I'm not troubled by the specific time, but how long would you like to go before we break?

MR GRIFFIN:  I'm happy to break now, but I wonder whether I might give the Commissioners an opportunity to ask any questions to date.

CHAIR:  If you prefer to continue for a little while, subject to Ms Robbs being comfortable, then we can do that.

MR GRIFFIN:  I can certainly go through to 1 o'clock without any difficulty, but I'm conscious    

CHAIR:  Are you comfortable, Ms Robbs?

MS ROBBS:  I'm happy to continue.

CHAIR:  Will that help us finishing today, if possible?

MR GRIFFIN:  I think it will, because it will be a section of evidence we can complete.

CHAIR:  Perhaps you might continue and give the Commissioners an opportunity just before 1 o'clock to ask questions.

MR GRIFFIN:  Thank you, Chair.  As a general comment, the use of casual and agency staff, do I correctly understand the position of LWB that you've moved significantly between 2011 and 2021 to reduce the percentage of agency and casual staff?


MR GRIFFIN:  What's been behind that move to try and reduce the percentage of such staff?

MS ROBBS:  Why do we want to do that?


MS ROBBS:  Well, particularly because the circumstances for casual and agency are quite different, so if I take agency staff first, if that's helpful.  Agency staff are very helpful in a circumstance that is more short notice and critical, because we have not been able to have a consistent staff member come on shift, and I do appreciate and respect that and really good people do a really, really great job, undoubtedly, and under quite difficult circumstances often, but they are not Life Without Barriers staff, so even though they are good workers and they are often very experienced and often do know a lot of the participants, we would really, at the end, prefer for people who have made a decision to come and be a Life Without Barriers employee, they have gone through induction and training and are part of our culture and values in the way that we want to provide care.  So that, really, was the driving force behind us trying to, you know, really reduce agency staff.  Again, not about the individuals themselves, but about the way that we want to provide care.

Casual staff is a bit more complicated because some people who make really fantastic workers actually only want to be casual.  But we have been working hard, again a similar driver, to say that you look in house, you want to have some permanent, stable staff.  You want to have some casuals there, so there's flexibility, and we don't want people that are really good workers not being able to come to the organisation, and you want to use agency staff as an exception, really, only.

MR GRIFFIN:  Can I put to you an impression formed by Ms Barbuto, who was one of the community visitors in 2013.  She observed that staff retention at the Melbourne house was affected by the constant violence at the house and that staff may not have felt sufficiently supported or equipped to deal with that situation.  In reviewing the Melbourne house, do you accept the proposition that there seemed to be quite a high level of violence, firstly resident to resident and, indeed, some incidents between resident and staff?

MS ROBBS:  I think that there is no doubt that the Melbourne house was a very busy, complex environment for the     in this instance, we are specifically talking about workers.  There is no doubt that it was a very busy home; that taken.

Whether that then contributed to staff turnover, I couldn't say.  I mean, I do understand that staff can work anywhere.  I do understand that sometimes perhaps during a shift in a house that's more complex, is more challenging and people may prefer to do less challenging work, but that's really more of a generalised comment than specific to this house.

MR GRIFFIN:  When support workers employed by LWB decide to leave the organisation, do you have an exit interview process?

MS ROBBS:  We do.  Yes, we do.  It is optional, but we do have one.

CHAIR:   Ms Robbs, I think the question that Mr Griffin put to you, the question before last, was in reviewing the Melbourne house, do you accept the proposition that there seemed to be quite a high level of violence, firstly resident to resident and, indeed, some incidents between resident and staff.  Your answer referred to the Melbourne house being a very busy, complex environment, but I'm not clear that you actually answered Mr Griffin's question.  So do you accept the proposition he put to you?

MS ROBBS:  I was answering whether that impacted on staff turnover.  My apologies about the    

CHAIR:   Don't worry about apologies.  What's your answer to the question?

MS ROBBS:  About whether the Melbourne house had a high degree of    

CHAIR:  High level of violence, firstly resident to resident and, indeed, some incidents between resident and staff.  Do you accept that proposition which was put to you by Mr Griffin?

MS ROBBS:  I think I would say back to that that any level of violence is not an acceptable level of violence, sorry, in a home.  No violence is acceptable at all so it's difficult for me to comment on that degree, would be my first statement, and I'm agreeing that it was a house with people with complex needs and a demanding place, I'm sure, for people to work.

CHAIR:   I'm still not clear whether the answer to the question is "Yes" or "No".  Do you accept the proposition?

MS ROBBS:  I think I'm challenged by the proposition that any violence is acceptable.  I don't     it's hard for me to say that that    

MR GRIFFIN:   Perhaps if I qualify the question by saying this:  compared to other houses conducted by LWB with similar residents, did the Melbourne house have a high level of violence resident to resident and occasionally resident and staff?

MS ROBBS:  I think it's not a particularly challenging home outside of other homes of people with similar needs.

MR GRIFFIN:  Let me put it this way:  did you ever engage in the exercise of doing a profile of your houses to see if they had similar characteristics when it came to the level of violence, in order to identify whether there was a particular problem in one or other house?

MS ROBBS:  Yes.  We have definitely looked at incidents and whether there's a link around incidents, complaints and property damage, et cetera, that would be indications of houses that, you know, maybe needed particular extra support.  We definitely have done those exercises before.

MR GRIFFIN:  I'll come to that issue very directly.  Before I do, Ms Barbuto in her evidence at page 287 of the transcript on 9 December said in part about the Melbourne house:

There were times when the house was completely staffed by casual and agency staff with no core worker present and no house supervisor present.  There were periods of time when the program manager position was vacant.

Assuming what Ms Barbuto says is correct, can that ever be acceptable, in your eyes?

MS ROBBS:  Well, the program manager piece is a bit separate, it's more of a senior management role, but would you want a situation where you had just casual staff and agency staff in a house with people with complex needs?  In essence, some of that practically would depend on whether the agency staff were longterm     the casual staff, sorry, were  longterm  casual staff.  Because we assume sometimes that casual staff means they just drop in for a few shifts, but actually people can be casuals for a long time.  So you would want permanent staff on and it's always our goal, but in some instances, if it had been casuals that were known to the residents and had worked in the home before, that would be different than if people showed up on the day, which obviously is completely unacceptable.

MR GRIFFIN:  I want to suggest to you that the only sensible answer to that question is, no, it can never be acceptable.  Do you agree with me or not?

MS ROBBS:  No, I don't.

MR GRIFFIN:  Can I come to the issue of incident reporting of resident to resident conflict and violence.  Can I indicate to the Commissioners that we did not ask Ms Robbs to answer detailed questions in her statement about resident to resident conflict and violence at the house prior to May 2014 when Katie moved in, so I don't propose to concentrate on questions before that time.

Ms Barbuto had been visiting the house since 2013 right through until the present.  She gave evidence about a high level of resident to resident violence.  There was also evidence given by Catherine and Paul to the same effect.  You accept that, don't you?


MR GRIFFIN:  In light of that evidence being given from the two individuals and the community visitors, do you accept that the Melbourne house was either typical of your houses in that respect, or unusual in respect of other houses you are familiar with when talking about the level of violence?

MS ROBBS:  "Typical" or "unusual"     well, I just     sorry, I appreciate what you  
are trying to ask me, I think, I just     I'm just really struggling to use those terms to characterise any violence between     in the homes, sorry.

MR GRIFFIN:  In preparation to give evidence to this Commission, did you familiarise yourself with all the records LWB held in relation to violence at the Melbourne house?

MS ROBBS:  Yes, I did, yes.

MR GRIFFIN:  And when looking at those records globally, did you form a view as to whether the level of violence being reported seemed out of the ordinary compared to other homes that you controlled?

MS ROBBS:  So when I review the information on the incidents and I consider the residents in the house and their needs, then I can see the efforts around supporting people with their behaviours of concern, but     and I can still see that incidents occurred and one is always too many.

MR GRIFFIN:  We gave you a notice to give a statement in writing to this Commission.


MR GRIFFIN:  In relation to question 35 of that, we asked you to indicate how many incidents of resident to resident violence, abuse and/or conflict recorded by LWB in the house from 1 May 2014 in accordance with any LWB policies outlined, et cetera.  We asked you to provide the date of the incident, who was involved, description.


MR GRIFFIN:  As a result of that, you provided to us an Excel spreadsheet which appears at Hearing bundle D of volume 4 at Tab 320.  Do you remember doing that spreadsheet?


MR GRIFFIN:  I can't bring that up on screen for technical reasons, but is it the case that the information you provided to us turned out not to be complete?

MS ROBBS:  It did, yes.

MR GRIFFIN:   On 13 December this year, did your solicitors write to the Commission indicating that you had identified seven additional incidents of resident toresident  violence, abuse and/or conflict which was recorded by LWB in accordance with its policies in the period from 1 May?


MR GRIFFIN:  Did you then instruct your solicitors to tell the Commission that these additional seven items were not captured by the searches that had been conducted?


MR GRIFFIN:  And that the incidents recorded in hard copy documents were not migrated on to the iSight when you transitioned to that system of recording in December 2017?

MS ROBBS:  Correct.

MR GRIFFIN:  Are you aware that the Commission responded to your solicitors on 13 December identifying a further eight incidents which we thought may have been relevant to the request we made to you?

MS ROBBS:  I am, yes.

MR GRIFFIN:  Are you aware whether there was any response to those additional eight matters which we have highlighted?

MS ROBBS:  Sorry, I haven't had an opportunity to read that, sorry.

MR GRIFFIN:  That suggests that the ability of LWB to identify reports of violence in 2021 is deficient; would you agree?

MS ROBBS:  I think the additional matters that have come from the Commission to us and before, I haven't had a chance to review and I'm not sure if any of them were before 2017, sorry.  If they were, then I think that that would be a similar migration issue where we made some decisions around what we would and wouldn't migrate into the iSight system in 2017.  If there are matters on that list that you provided that are since 2017 and ought to have been reported into the iSight system, then that's very disappointing, because we work really, really hard to make sure that people know how to use the system, what to put in the system.  We tried really hard to make it easier to use and so it's important to us that the incidents do get into the system, because that's what then triggers all of the action.

CHAIR:   Ms Robbs, the question you were asked was as follows:  that suggests that the ability of Life Without Barriers to identify reports of violence in 2021 is deficient, would you agree.  I wonder if you would mind answering that question directly?

MS ROBBS:  Sorry, not without reviewing that information and understanding a little bit more, it would be difficult for me to make such a broadreaching  statement just on that.  Sorry.

CHAIR:  Why?

MS ROBBS:  Why would it be difficult?

CHAIR:   Yes, why is it so difficult for you to make a general conclusion?  You are putting, are you, that if this happened, it must have been an isolated incident and would not be replicated in any other places?

MS ROBBS:  I would be saying that if it happened, we would     it would be more an isolated incident.  That's not 100 per cent guaranteeing it could never happen again, but that's not accepting that     the generalisation at all.

CHAIR:  How would you know that it might be an isolated incident rather than a general systemic problem?

MS ROBBS:  So when we do have an instance where we are aware of matters, like this is what we will do if these matters are in that category, then we try to understand why it was they weren't on the system, was it people didn't understand, was it they put them into the system wrongly.  Then we think about, well, is there something we need to do, either for extra training or awareness, or do we need to     at the moment, for example, we are putting the system on to people's phones because we are hoping that that's easier for people to record rather than having to go on to the system    on to the laptop.  So we try really hard to respond if anything like that happens, which is why I would say that it would be more the anomaly.  We also do monitor the number of matters, so that we can see if anywhere's  got a little less matters than we would expect and, if that's the case, then we would get our quality team to interrogate that and see if there is anything in there that would be of concern.

MR GRIFFIN:  Chair, I wish to move on to the topic of access to reports given to the community visitor.  I wonder whether this might be an appropriate opportunity to ask the Commissioners if they have any questions.

CHAIR:   Yes, certainly.  Commissioner Galbally, do you have any questions at this stage for Ms Robbs?

COMMISSIONER GALBALLY:   Just a question to clarify whether I understood you properly.  I thought you were saying that the level of violence, lateral and to staff, wasn't     there were other examples in the LWB group homes around Australia, that this wasn't the only place where that occurred, from your knowledge.

MS ROBBS:  Yes, I think what I'm saying is that, in my experience and looking at the material, for --- with people with needs similar to the needs of the residents in Melbourne, the reason that Life Without Barriers and the whole sector has an approach around behaviours of concern and positive behaviour supports and active support, is because we are always trying really hard to reduce those incidents.  So those incidents     those incidents can, therefore, be present in other homes managed     similar, sorry, can be present in homes managed by Life Without  
Barriers and across the sector.

COMMISSIONER GALBALLY:   After all your years of experience in this area, do you have a view as to the actual suitability of this model for people with tendencies to get frustrated and, you know, about other people as well as environments?  Is there a better model, in your view, in terms of numbers and, you know, staff ratios and even stimulus in interests?

MS ROBBS:  I think Mr McNaughton in his statement used the words in his statement "contemporary models".  I think that where we are able to have housing that is more purposebuilt , to enable people to have more personal space, but still balance up the access to staff support, so that we can have that balance better, I think that's been proven that that can be really, really successful for people even with quite complex behavioural or medical needs, so different models that enable them to have more personal space probably, so things like small units together, or units that have staff on site but not there all the time and then probably smaller groupings, I think this came up, Commissioner, in regards to Sophie and her experience now, when she is actually just sharing with one other person.  Only one other person has got similar needs to her and it's really clear that her funding's been adjusted to allow her to only have to share with one person.  She's sharing with someone that she has really compatible likes, and I appreciate her parents said it wasn't perfect, but it sounded good.  That's obviously a great situation for her to be in.  So  I think there are other models and I know there's more and more coming, you know, through the NDIS and SDA and all of those housing models that you would think would be more suitable for people with really complex needs.


CHAIR:   Commissioner McEwin?


CHAIR:   Thank you.  Is this a convenient time?


CHAIR:   It is just after 1.  If we resume at 2, will that give you enough time to finish?


CHAIR:   We will resume at 2pm.


RESUMED    [2.00PM]

CHAIR:   Yes, Mr Griffin.

MR GRIFFIN:  Thank you, Chair.  Ms Robbs, I want to take you to issues surrounding the witness Natalie.  Can I ask you to look at Mr Doley's statement commencing at paragraph 288.  You'll see at paragraph 288 on 18 February 2015, the Life Without Barriers director of operations New South Wales and ACT was notified of [omitting that name] conduct towards Natalie.  Do you see that?

MS ROBBS:  Yes, I can.

MR GRIFFIN:  It then goes on to describe what happened with the notification.  In paragraph 290, notification of the chief executive officer.  Do you recollect receiving notification concerning the conduct of Natalie?

MS ROBBS:  Sorry, at the time, because this was pre iSight, this matter I would expect this to be notified verbally and, as it says in my statement, I'm not able to find any documentation.

MR GRIFFIN:  And you don't have a particularly strong recollection of that matter?

MS ROBBS:  I was aware of the matter before this hearing, but it's hard for me to know now that I'm immersed in the information, yes.

MR GRIFFIN:  If I can ask you to turn to paragraph 294 of Mr Doley's statement.


MR GRIFFIN:  You'll see a heading "Notification of board risk management committee".


MR GRIFFIN:  Do I take that paragraph to mean that when the notification in relation to the conduct of a staff member in respect of Natalie came for board consideration, it was allocated to the board risk management committee because of its insurance nature?

MS ROBBS:  Yes, possibly, yes.  I'm not sure if it     I can't remember if it was in the report as a legal matter or an insurance matter, sorry.

MR GRIFFIN:  So when it was notified to the board risk management committee, am I correct in assuming that the committee was considering the details of this matter from a legal/insurance ramifications point of view?

MS ROBBS:  I think not from an insurance point of view, I wouldn't think, no.  When those matters     when matters come to the risk committee, the discussion with the committee is usually more around the context and content of the matter, what we've done in response, what hasn't and what's at play for the organisation.  There's not     insurance doesn't really feature really in the discussions with the board.

MR GRIFFIN:  Were the events surrounding Natalie notified to your insurers?

MS ROBBS:  Yes, my understanding is they were, yes.

MR GRIFFIN:  When the board became aware of those events, do you know if anyone within LWB provided advice to Natalie or her family that she was entitled to seek independent legal advice?

MS ROBBS:  On my review of the material, I don't think we would have done that.

MR GRIFFIN:  The circumstances were, it was alleged, that an employee of LWB had assaulted Natalie.


MR GRIFFIN:  If that situation arose today, would either you or the board ensure that a resident was advised that they could seek independent legal advice as to their position?

MS ROBBS:  I know that if that was to happen today, we would talk around     we had the redress policy that would be relevant.  The independent legal advice     I'm sorry, I'd need to take that on notice, actually.

MR GRIFFIN:  Well, if somebody has been the alleged victim of an assault, you would understand that they may have legal options available to them?

MS ROBBS:  No, absolutely, and I'm not suggesting that we don't do that.  I'm just suggesting that I can't assure you with any level of precision enough sitting here today.  I would hope that we would, but I can't provide that assurance today.

MR GRIFFIN:  Well, shouldn't that be in one of your policies, should those events occur?


MR GRIFFIN:  Because one can't be certain that a resident has family members, can you?

MS ROBBS:  No.  It should be.

MR GRIFFIN:  Did you or the board make an apology to Natalie when you became  
aware of what had happened to her?

MS ROBBS:  No, we didn't and we should have.

MR GRIFFIN:  Did you consider apologising to Natalie on behalf of the organisation for what had happened to her in the house?

MS ROBBS:  We have our active apology policy now, but at the time, we didn't take that action, and, hopefully, I was clear in both my statement and my apology that we ought to have.

MR GRIFFIN:  Briefly, what is your current, to use your words, active apology policy?  What's the gist of it?

MS ROBBS:  Well, the gist of the policy really is that when there is harm or an event occurs where we ought to apologise to the person receiving support and/or their family members, then we proactively offer that apology in a form that's helpful for the person.  Sometimes that's writing, sometimes that's in person, and we do that in a proactive way.

MR GRIFFIN:  Can such an apology include an offer of some sort of financial or other redress?

MS ROBBS:  We do have a redress policy around people with a disability that we are working on just now.  We do have     we are part of, sorry, the scheme around children in care as a result of the Royal Commission several years ago, and, yes, we would provide that information to people in giving the apology through the active apology process.

MR GRIFFIN:  If the resident didn't qualify for the current scheme, which arose out of the Royal Commission involving the sexual abuse of children, would your proposed policy offer the same range of redress that the other scheme offers?

MS ROBBS:  Well, I think one of the challenges that we have is that the scheme for children that you are referring to has some clear responsibilities, clear decision making processes, guidelines, et cetera, set across the country that we then adhere to and are part of.  It is much more complicated for us to do that as a single organisation, but we are working out how we can do that without some of that decision making that at the moment does sit outside of Life Without Barriers because it sits within the scheme and that provides us with really good guidance, which isn't     to my understanding isn't present for us at the moment with regards to adults with a disability.

MR GRIFFIN:  Well, if you have an adult resident in one of your homes who suffers as a result of the conduct of a staff member in the way Natalie did, why is it complicated to offer them some sort of redress which may include financial compensation?

MS ROBBS:  Well, I think that the complication is possibly why there are so many guidelines and processes in place for children, because determining the means by which you will award the compensation, the amount of that, the process around that, there would be definitely some complexities in there, which is why my understanding is that some of that decision is made by government, so there's some consistency across the country.  We wouldn't have that support in this instance.

MR GRIFFIN:  Why couldn't the board of Life Without Barriers in an individual case decide to make an ex gratia payment to a resident in recognition of what they had suffered?

MS ROBBS:  I think I'm not suggesting that the board wouldn't     we wouldn't want to do that, otherwise we wouldn't have the active apology and the redress policy.  I think the challenge that we are still grappling with is the mechanism to determine the entry, the eligibility, for want of better language, and how we would possibly determine value of any redress.  We are provided with those directions by governments and they are consistent across the country for children.  We just don't have some of those guidelines which, yes, means that we would have to make those decisions and that's complicated.

MR GRIFFIN:  I want to pursue that, if I could.  In the apology you read out this morning, you said:

For Natalie and her family, the sexual misconduct by a staff member is completely unacceptable and I acknowledge the pain and trauma this has caused Natalie and her family.  Our priority should have been to act earlier and protect Natalie.  I offer this apology to both Natalie and her family with a full understanding that our delay in offering a genuine and human response was also unacceptable.  I recognise the pain and fear that Natalie must have experienced during the acute episode in relation to her bowel care, about which the Commission has heard evidence.

In light of that apology, why wouldn't the board of Life Without Barriers today sit down and say, "We're going to supplement that apology with some tangible redress to acknowledge the things" you've apologised for, and why couldn't the board do that on an ex gratia basis without having to have a scheme in place?

MS ROBBS:  So with the policy that we have at the moment, then people can approach us and there is the capacity in the decision making in the organisation to make those decisions.  Sorry, I may not have been clear, I'm not suggesting that's not open to Natalie and her mother.  I was more addressing the query around a more broad redress scheme across the organisation that has some more of those structures in place.

MR GRIFFIN:  I understand that, as you are speaking to me now, you can't think of any impediment to that happening.


MR GRIFFIN:  Thank you.

CHAIR:   Ms Robbs, you've been asked questions about what happened to Natalie.  It wasn't just a question, was it, of her being assaulted or her integrity being violated; investigations by Life Without Barriers resulted in findings that two members of staff played a part in allowing this to occur; is that correct?

MS ROBBS:  Yes, that is correct.

CHAIR:   Isn't it pretty obvious that in that situation, that Life Without Barriers has committed a serious breach of a duty that it owed to Natalie?


CHAIR:   The normal consequence of a breach of duty, if someone chooses to take action, of course, will be in the end result a form of compensation; do you agree?

MS ROBBS:  Yes, I would, yes.

CHAIR:   When you said that you're not sure whether Natalie was ever given advice or her parents given advice to seek independent legal advice, are you suggesting that you think, based on your analysis of the documentation, that there is a significant possibility that that actually occurred?

MS ROBBS:  That they were given that advice?

CHAIR:   Yes.  It seems wholly unlikely, doesn't it?

MS ROBBS:  Yes, I think     I think not.

CHAIR:   Exactly.  Are there minutes of the risk management committee as a matter of course?


CHAIR:   Have you looked at the minutes of the risk management committee that dealt with the Natalie case?

MS ROBBS:  I have, yes.

CHAIR:   What do they say about what happened at the meeting or meetings that considered Natalie's case and perhaps considered the role of an insurer?  Do you remember what's in those documents?

MS ROBBS:  Sorry, I might have to have a look at them again, if possible.

CHAIR:   It was relevant, wasn't it, to the statement you were preparing?

MS ROBBS:  Yes, yes, definitely.

CHAIR:   All right.  Well, no doubt in due course, one way or another, that document can be obtained, or there may be more than one document.  Yes, thank you, Mr Griffin.

MR GRIFFIN:  Thank you.  It may be document LWB.0007.0001.1298.  I'm currently having my instructing solicitor turn it up to see what that document contains.

CHAIR:   Thank you.

MR GRIFFIN:  Chair, it is an executive summary of the document.  It will take some time to digest because it contains a number of matters.

CHAIR:   That's fine.

MR GRIFFIN:  Ms Robbs, do you recall the evidence of Dr Pearce, the Public Advocate for Victoria?


MR GRIFFIN:  As we currently understand your evidence, descriptions of resident to resident violence would not, as a matter of routine, be reported to the board; that's correct?

MS ROBBS:  Sorry, I'm just not sure when you say "descriptions of resident to resident violence", what that really means.

MR GRIFFIN:  Well, individual incidents of resident to resident violence would not currently be reported to the board.

MS ROBBS:  The board reporting has, understandably, changed over time.  At this point, current sort of point, individual incidents are reported through generally     generally in an aggregate sense with a categorisation and then there are discussions at the meeting around particular points or highlights that both the management may want to make to the board and also questions obviously from practice committee directors around any particular matters that they have questions around.

MR GRIFFIN:  So does someone within LWB gather together all the reports of resident to resident violence and make a summary for the board?

MS ROBBS:  So we     my understanding is that we gather the reports from our iSight system.  The quality assurance team and risk team extract the information and prepare the reports and then our service delivery executives are     we would call them client services directors     then prepare the narrative and context, explanation for the matters and the facts in the report, and then both on the client services directors, myself, sorry, and the director for quality and risk all attend the practice committee so that the members are able to talk to both the people responsible for the matters, but also the quality assurance and risk executive.

MR GRIFFIN:  So that reporting goes to a committee of the board called the practice committee?

MS ROBBS:  Practice committee     practice governance committee, actually, yes.

MR GRIFFIN:  How many board members sit on that committee?

MS ROBBS:  In the board, that committee is chaired by one of our board members and there are two other members of the board on that committee as we are today and there are two external members of that committee as we are today.

MR GRIFFIN:  And for how long has that process been in place?

MS ROBBS:  The practice committee started in 2014, in a slightly different format.  We had different external members that may or may not have started by then, but the actual practice committee, from a governance sense, started in 2014, I think.

MR GRIFFIN:  How long has the committee been receiving the information you described in summary form?

MS ROBBS:  I want to say several years, because the information has changed in the way that it's provided.  So it wouldn't have been in its current form for a period of time, but in a different form but similar information over several years.

MR GRIFFIN:  "Several" meaning two, or three?

MS ROBBS:  Possibly.

MR GRIFFIN:  So from about 2019?

MS ROBBS:  I tend to go a little bit earlier than that because one of the things that really helped us do that was the iSight system.

MR GRIFFIN:  Which was introduced in 2018, I believe.

MS ROBBS:  2017.  So probably just a little bit earlier than '19, I would think.

MR GRIFFIN:  From some time after iSight was introduced?


MR GRIFFIN:  Prior to iSight, were any such summaries made available to the board or a board committee?

MS ROBBS:  Sorry, I couldn't be completely clear back before 2017, sorry.

MR GRIFFIN:  Do you accept the evidence of Dr Pearce that the level of resident to resident violence is a key indicator of the standard of care within a house?

MS ROBBS:  It's definitely an indicator in the house, but I think there's other factors that impact upon those matters     the particular needs of the individuals involved, the complexity of their needs, et cetera,  so    

MR GRIFFIN:  I appreciate that, but my question was do you accept that the level of resident to resident violence is a key indicator?


MR GRIFFIN:  Standard of care within the house.

MS ROBBS:  Yes, it's definitely an indicator.

MR GRIFFIN:  Now, such violence is not only a concern for LWB, but it may also involve the police; is that right?

MS ROBBS:  Sometimes, yes.

MR GRIFFIN:  Can you briefly tell the Commissioners, on what occasions do you expect staff to involve the police and on what occasions do you believe that a threshold of police involvement is not reached?

MS ROBBS:  So we would generally expect staff to call the police if there was an imminent danger to residents and/or staff that, you know, was of the form that the police could help with.  If there's a crime, we would expect staff to call the police and, really, if it's a matter that the staff member feels the police are going to be a helpful source, yes, from the community, for them.

MR GRIFFIN:  I'm still not clear on where the threshold is.  Are you saying if a crime has been committed, you would involve the police?

MS ROBBS:  I think if a crime's been committed, we would want that reported to the police.  I think the threshold is difficult because sometimes that is the individual decision of either a staff member or a group of staff members around how they are sensing the situation is in regards to the need for the police to attend.  So we've got guidelines on it and it's listed in a number of policies and procedures.  It's difficult to  
be too prescriptive because people do need to use their judgment in the moment.

MR GRIFFIN:  You indicate in paragraph 304 of your statement that during the relevant period, any alleged criminal acts were to be reported to the police, as you've just said.


MR GRIFFIN:  Are you able to tell the Commission whether all such incidents were, in fact, reported to the police?

MS ROBBS:  Sorry, could you just give me that number again?  Sorry, for my statement, sorry?

MR GRIFFIN:  Yes, paragraph 304.

Perhaps I can give an example.  From our examination of the documents, police were called in the following circumstances: on 2 January 2015, after Katie punched Marco, threw a picture to the floor and punched a cupboard door.  That appears in hearing bundle H at tab 29.  Similarly, on 9 January 2015, police were called after Katie punched Amanda in the mouth; hearing bundle H, tab 30.  On 29 March 2017, police were called after a fight between Katie and Marco, during which Katie punched Marco and he tackled her to the ground; hearing bundle H, tab 131.

So they are examples which seem similar where police are called; do you agree?


MR GRIFFIN:  And they appear to involve what could be classified as a criminal assault.  I don't want to get into technical legal things, but they were all assaults, let's put it that way.

MS ROBBS:  I think it sounds like they were appropriate for the police to be called.  We don't really look at those behaviours in that sense of a perpetrator and a victim.

MR GRIFFIN:  Well, except to say that you did say in an earlier answer that a threshold was where a crime had been committed.

MS ROBBS:  Oh, absolutely, but that doesn't necessarily mean in the moment of behaviour of concern.  That could be anything from fraud or any crime.

MR GRIFFIN:  I understand all that.  I've given you three examples where there appear to be assaults, but on 8 September 2018, an incident involving Katie dragging Rebecca along the carpet and pulling out her hair     no report to the police.

MS ROBBS:  Mmm hmm.

MR GRIFFIN:  After the February 2019 incident between Katie and Marco, during which Marco hit Katie with a chair on three occasions and broke her finger, the community visitors queried why the police had not been called.  What I'm trying to understand from you is how do you draw the line between when you involve the police and when you don't, under your policies?

MS ROBBS:  So the policies do set out, as clearly as I think is possible, the circumstances that we would want staff members to be calling the police on.  Then in a practical sense, on the ground, in the home in that moment, then advised and informed by those policies and their training, staff members then use their judgment.  I     for the matters you just referred there, it's difficult for me to comment, I wasn't in the home at the time.

MR GRIFFIN:  On their face, those five incidents seem to have the same sorts of characteristics, yet three involved the police and two didn't.

MS ROBBS:  Well, I would say that I appreciate that on the information we have, that might look to be the case, but in those instances it shows that staff members do make decisions to call the police on the instances you've explained and not in others.  So I would suggest then that there could be a difference in those that's not immediately obvious perhaps in reading some of the documentation.

MR GRIFFIN:  I appreciate sometimes a decision has to be made very quickly.


MR GRIFFIN:  But if a staff member was unsure, who would they seek advice from?

MS ROBBS:  So the staff member themselves who are unsure, they may have a colleague that they can work that through together with.  If not, then they would have access to On Call that they could work that through with, or they could phone their manager or the office and, if in doubt, they would make their best decision.

MR GRIFFIN:  Is that set out clearly in the policies?

MS ROBBS:  I'm sorry, I'd need to look whether it's in the policies or perhaps our procedure or protocol, it might be, because that's a bit more     a little more operational, perhaps, than maybe any organisational policy document.  That may sit more in a guideline or it may be in the policy.

MR GRIFFIN:  Okay.  Can I move on to the question of community visitors in Victoria.


COMMISSIONER GALBALLY:   Just before you do, I just wondered if I could ask you what was expected that the police would do?  When you said there was no  
perpetrator and you don't want to see it that way, what's the hope from the police when they are called?

MS ROBBS:  I think that's why we particularly encourage and want staff to phone the police when there is imminent harm that the intervention of police and the presence of police will keep everyone more safe, and that's not in every circumstance where there's a behaviour of concern at all, because for lots of people the police may actually escalate the situation, not through their actions intentionally at all, but just by means of escalating everything.  So     yes, and if there is the presence of a crime, which     I used that language, I did not necessarily mean in the context of a behaviour of concern, I actually meant other crimes that may occur, we     it's not usually helpful, in my experience, to use the police to try to support people to calm sometimes.  Sometimes it may be, but not often.  And it is certainly not, in my experience, particularly helpful to use the police as an education or skill building to support people to manage when they are angry and frustration builds.  That really sits in a clinical environment and sits with the clinician and their support staff and their families, not with the police.  So that's why even though we absolutely want people to call the police when they feel at risk and they feel that the police intervention is needed, we don't see them as an educative tool for people who are just struggling really hard to manage their anxiety and frustration.


MR GRIFFIN:  Can I follow up Commissioner Galbally's question.  I asked you earlier in your evidence whether you were familiar with the report of the Office of the Public Advocate entitled "I'm too scared to come out of my room" and you indicated you were?


MR GRIFFIN:  At page 22 of that report, it notes:

Violent behaviour perpetrated by and towards persons with disability is not always labelled as violence.  It is instead often dismissed as behaviours of concern or put down to resident incompatibility.

Do you have any observation on that part of the report, in light of what you've just said?

MS ROBBS:  I appreciate that extract and that being their view.  I also, from my experience and this role and beyond, have a strong view that our role in people's lives is to support them to live the best life they can and to acknowledge that a lot of the people that we support come with complex needs that impact on their ability to manage their stress and frustration that we all have.  Yes, I understand that sometimes that does come out in behaviours that can be harmful and sometimes deemed violent.  I appreciate that and that's not     it's not okay.  I understand that, but it's also the person doing their best to manage that with the support of the people  
around them.  I don't think it's helpful often for us to characterise them as perpetrators.  They are just     they are people trying really hard to make it through life and in that moment where the behaviours of concern escalate     and I understand the impact to other individuals is not okay, and I understand, I do, and I respect that.  But for that individual, it is one moment in that day, or one moment in that more or that year.  They are well managing, with the support of their network, those same anxieties and frustrations every other minute of the day and I don't feel that we should characterise or label people on their     the moment where it doesn't go right for them in life.

MR GRIFFIN:  So in part, Ms Robbs, are you concerned that an incident might end up with a resident in the criminal justice system in circumstances where it may have been managed in a different way?

MS ROBBS:  I would think that would be     I can't think that would be a good outcome for people    

MR GRIFFIN:  I appreciate    

MS ROBBS:      at all.  It's the labelling.  It's the labelling, yes, that I don't think is helpful.

MR GRIFFIN:  I understand the perpetrator may well engage in conduct because of various behaviours they have or frustration, that's accepted, but what about the rights of the victim of that violence, who has to continue to live in the home with the perpetrator.  How do you factor in their rights?

MS ROBBS:  Yes.  I think, you know     and I spoke to that in my apology around Rebecca's goal of having a goal in your plan which is to feel safe in your own home, I know that's not okay.  So it's a challenge for all of us to balance that up.  I'm just suggesting in my comments to the extract that you read out that it doesn't feel right to jump then to violence and perpetrator mindset and language.  I would like to think that there's a better way for us all to support that and protect people's rights of the other people in the house which I absolutely respect.

MR GRIFFIN:  I want to suggest to you, Ms Robbs, a better way.  If we didn't label people as perpetrators, but instead saw it as being resident to resident violence being recognised as a violence and reported as such up to the LWB senior management, they could then address the issues of how to address it.  Wouldn't that be a model which would work more effectively?

MS ROBBS:  Sorry, that is the model.

MR GRIFFIN:  Well, do you say that that model was applied to the Melbourne house from 2011 onwards?

MS ROBBS:  I think that the model where incidents are reported up the line so that  
they can be     the people involved in those can be as best supported as possible, that is the model.  I think that we have tightened and improved and continued to improve that through the organisation and the sector, but that would be     the intent of us knowing about incidents is to learn from them and try to make sure that people have the right support around them so that they     yes, so they are as best supported as possible to manage those pressures that build up in them.

MR GRIFFIN:  Let's assume that's correct.  When Ms Barbuto in paragraph 26 of her statement describes how she's been a visitor at the Melbourne house for a long period of time and when distilling her impressions of those visits, comments on the high frequency and intensity of resident to resident violence at conflict at the house, did management reach the same conclusion about the Melbourne house as Ms Barbuto did?

MS ROBBS:  So when I look through all of the material that I had, I can see extraordinarily strong efforts and competence from our staff around supporting all of the individuals with their behaviours of concern     the language you want to use     the extremely strong competence on that around how they both manage to support people to be well and happy and achieve their goals and, when things were escalating, to redirect that to deescalate the situation, or certainly not to let it escalate further.

CHAIR:   I wonder if you would mind directing your attention to the question Mr Griffin asked.  Let me repeat it.  When Ms Barbuto in paragraph 26 of her statement describes how she is been a visitor at the Melbourne house for a long period of time and when distilling her impressions of these visits, comments on the high frequency and intensity of resident to resident violence and conflict at the house, did management reach the same conclusion about the Melbourne house as Ms Barbuto did.  That was the question asked.  What is your answer to that question?

MS ROBBS:  I think my answer to that question would be similar when this was asked previously around that it's     I said already that any violence that is noted, where there's harm, which you have examples, is high and the complexity of the clients, I think my answer remains the same.

MR GRIFFIN:  You're familiar with the provisions of the Disability Act in Victoria, which I raised with the community visitors, I take it?  Firstly, section 30 of that Act which sets out eight matters they can inquire into?


MR GRIFFIN:  Then section 130 sets out five entitlements of a community visitor when visiting a service provider, including, and I quote.

..... inspect any document relating to any resident which is not a medical record and any records required to be kept under the Act.

Life Without Barriers, I take it, doesn't dispute that that is a clear legal entitlement that resides in the community visitors?

MS ROBBS:  Absolutely.  I don't     sorry, I do not dispute that.

MR GRIFFIN:  Life Without Barriers would always attempt to comply with the law in the jurisdiction they were working in, wouldn't they?


MR GRIFFIN:  But you have no doubt heard evidence in this inquiry that community visitors had enormous difficulty in accessing records, particularly in relation to incidents; do you accept that?

MS ROBBS:  I do.  I read the statements and heard the oral evidence as well.

MR GRIFFIN:  Have you made inquiries over your period of 10 years as the CEO, as to why in the Melbourne house and, according to visitors to other houses as well, but in the Melbourne house, why staff were unable to satisfy the visitors by letting them inspect the relevant documents they are entitled to see?

MS ROBBS:  So in regards to what I have personally done around that, my understanding, firstly, is that that has been resolved, that matter     that concern, sorry, with Dr Pearce's office now in regards to the method by which we will provide the community visitors to the Melbourne houses access to the critical incident reports and other information that they may want.

MR GRIFFIN:  Just pausing there, can you describe to the Commissioners what that resolution is as of 2021?

MS ROBBS:  So, my understanding is that we have agreed that there will be print offs off the system of the Critical Incident Reports in the houses when the community visitors go to visit and     because those visits are unannounced, if they occur, and perhaps a report isn't in there, then there's a responsibility to make sure that file is fulsome when the visit occurs.  Because they are unannounced, sometimes it's difficult, obviously, to know when they are coming.

MR GRIFFIN:  When did you, Life Without Barriers, cease to be the operator of the Melbourne house?

MS ROBBS:  I think October/November 2020.

MR GRIFFIN:  The evidence suggests, Ms Robbs, that up until mid 2019, the lack of access to the documents I have referred to was a source of considerable frustration to the community visitors.  Do you dispute that assertion?


MR GRIFFIN:  So any resolution has occurred in your mind some time after the middle of 2019?

MS ROBBS:  Sorry, I was     I was working back from the fact that I personally have assured myself that it's resolved after reading the information and hearing the witness statements.  Sorry, before that, I know that the community visitor met with our team, as they outlined in their statement, in 2019, and I understand that from that point to     and very recently, we have been trying to work with them so that we can have     we can give them suitable access in a way that met their needs.

CHAIR:   This series of questions, Ms Robbs, began with Mr Griffin asking you have you made inquiries over your period of 10 years as CEO as to why in the Melbourne house, staff are unable to satisfy the visitors by letting them inspect the relevant documents they are entitled to see.  In a series of answers, you have said the matter has been resolved because some new arrangements were put into place.  But have you, as Mr Griffin asked, made inquiries about why it was that staff could not satisfy the community visitors by letting them inspect the relevant documents?

MS ROBBS:  Thank you, Chair.  This came to my attention in 2019 when a meeting was held between the community visitor and our senior team.  At that point, yes, there were discussions around why it was difficult to be able to make sure the community visitors had the information that they sought.

MR GRIFFIN:  How could it have taken so long for this issue to come to your attention?  What were your managers doing?

MS ROBBS:  The concerns from the community visitors up to the meeting in 2019 with our senior team, the concerns had not been escalated outside of the individual community visitors and our individual managers, and at the time the reports for community visitors were held at a local level and not centralised.

MR GRIFFIN:  So coming back to my question, why did it take so long for this to be brought to your attention?  What were your managers doing?

MS ROBBS:  I think my managers at a local level were trying to respond and solve the issue.

MR GRIFFIN:  With respect, Ms Robbs, eight years     eight years of complaints from community visitors, highly skilled and professional volunteers doing a specific role.  It's just not acceptable, is it, to suggest that such a simple issue would take eight years to come to a point where there was, to use my words, a serious discussion or consideration on your part about what to do?

MS ROBBS:  So, two things I might say to that.  I agree with you that it's been an extraordinary amount of time to resolve that issue that actually ought to have been very easily resolved, because community visitors all across this country access our  
services every day and access the critical incident reports in lots of different jurisdictions, so there is no reason why that wasn't possible.  I agree with you on that.

MR GRIFFIN:  Have you made inquiries as to why, in the Melbourne house at least, the community visitors had such little success in accessing those documents?

MS ROBBS:  So my understanding, and I think this did come out in the community visitor panel, was that it was around the     certainly from 2017, we wanted the community visitors to access the records online, on our system that we have got, iSight, in, and they preferred the hard copy and that seems to be a point of frustration from both sides.

I would say two things, if I can comment, two things that     improvements that have been made to address that, which I agree, far too long for something which should have been easily resolved.  The first is that we now     all community visitors reports are logged centrally with our national safeguarding unit and reviewed, so that we get the information directly.  The second thing is a really good improvement from Dr Pearce's office, that she now sends an annual letter to providers, and I received one earlier this year, with a summary of the concerns and findings from the community visitors and that then gives me an opportunity to respond, which is really helpful.

MR GRIFFIN:  I appreciate the evidence, Ms Robbs, but it's really not addressing the issue that I'm raising with you.

MS ROBBS:  I'm trying.

MR GRIFFIN:  The only explanation you offer, that it was in 2017 the community visitors wanted to see a paper copy and you could only offer an electronic copy.


MR GRIFFIN:  What I'm saying to you is that community visitors had a legal right, indeed an obligation, to look at this sort of material and your organisation frustrated them over and over again.  It was raised with management on many occasions, because the community visitors would write a report after a visit and they'd say in the report, "We couldn't access it".  You can't shift the blame on to the OPA or the community visitors.  This was totally within LWB.  I'm trying to understand why LWB management didn't immediately address the issue.

MS ROBBS:  So the records that I see are around local management trying to     from 2017, after we had the system; before that, different     trying to negotiate access for the community visitors to the system, trying to encourage the community visitors to use the system    

MR GRIFFIN:  Let's talk about before 2017.

MS ROBBS:  Right.

MR GRIFFIN:  We were all on paper, weren't we?


MR GRIFFIN:  So when an incident occurred, the worker would get their pen and quill and they would write it up.  That document would be kept     a copy would be kept in the home and sent to wherever it needed to be sent to.


MR GRIFFIN:  When the community visitors attended, they went looking for the initial incident report and what response had been made to that by LWB management.


MR GRIFFIN:  And frequently they were denied access.  So how does that explain between 2011 and 2017 what I would describe as a contemptuous disregard for letting them do their job?

MS ROBBS:  So when I read the material, our staff were trying really hard to make sure that those incident reports were in a folder in a suitable format.  I appreciate that that didn't meet the community visitors' needs and I appreciate that they gave us that feedback at a local level because they would leave the reports in the house, so they certainly let us know at a local level they were not happy with their access and I don't have a reason, as I sit here today.  I do understand after the system came in, I appreciate that --- to a point     I don't know why we weren't able to, between 2011 and 2017, have a more reliable approach to providing that data.  But I am absolutely confident, from looking at the material I've seen, that it was not the intention of the staff to deny any access at all.

CHAIR:   You've said more than that.  You've said that the staff was actually actively attempting to satisfy the requests or the requirements from the official visitors in relation to the documents.  That's what you say your review of the document shows.  What I'm going to ask you to do, Ms Robbs, is to identify the documents     not now, you can take this on notice     identify the documents that you say you are relying upon in order to conclude that the staff were doing their best to satisfy the requirements of the official visitors between 2011 and 2017.

MS ROBBS:  I can certainly do that.

CHAIR:   Thank you.

MR GRIFFIN:  Ms Robbs, can I move to the meeting between the OPA and Life Without Barriers on 24 May 2019.  Can I indicate that that appears in the documents  
at OPA.9999.0004.0378, Hearing bundle B, Tab 122.  That was a meeting which was convened by the Public Advocate and you understood, did you not, it was convened by the Public Advocate because of her frustration with certain issues with LWB?


MR GRIFFIN:  Present at that meeting was David Benau, the ALG State director; Ashley Creighton, the national client services manager for LWB?

MS ROBBS:  Mmm hmm.

MR GRIFFIN:  Peter Singh, the regional manager, disability and aged?

MS ROBBS:  Mmm hmm.

MR GRIFFIN:  Is Peter Singh also LWB?


MR GRIFFIN:  Dr Pearce, the Public Advocate, and various other people, including Chris Barbuto and Leonie Swift.


MR GRIFFIN:  That was obviously a serious meeting because     am I correct in understanding that Ashley Creighton, your national client services manager, flew to Victoria?

MS ROBBS:  No, he lives in Victoria.

MR GRIFFIN:  He lives in Victoria.  Anyway, it was so important that he attended that meeting?

MS ROBBS:  Yes, that would be the kind of meeting his role would have him attend.

MR GRIFFIN:  After that     did you know he was attending that meeting before he attended it?

MS ROBBS:  I'm not sure.  Ashley didn't report to me at the time, so I'm not sure, sorry.

MR GRIFFIN:  Subsequent to that meeting, did anyone report to you as to the result of the meeting?

MS ROBBS:  I certainly was aware that the meeting had been called because, as you say, Dr Pearce is a really important regulator really for us, so I was aware the meeting was called and I expect I would have had a verbal summary after the  

MR GRIFFIN:  Do you have any recollection of what you were told about the meeting?

MS ROBBS:  Not in specific detail, other than that concerns had been expressed, as we have covered.

MR GRIFFIN:  Did this meeting give you an indication that LWB's so called proactive strategies were insufficient?

MS ROBBS:  When you refer to "proactive strategies", what do you mean by that?

MR GRIFFIN:  You referred to a number of things that LWB was doing in a proactive nature.  But let me perhaps deal with it this way, in the minutes of that meeting, in the document I have referred to     and it's on the screen, I believe     you'll see point 2, "Incident reports":

Chris .....

Chris Barbuto, the community visitor:

..... said community visitors had been unable to view reports over 18 months since LWB moved to i-Sight.  We were given an undertaking as Community Visitors we would be able to review them.  One summary report has been supplied but the report only had resident names and one line about the incident, nothing re any action taken.  Preferences to have incidents sorted by facility and residents.  Ashley said it can change fields to include the name of the residents and actions.

You understood that was discussed, didn't you?

MS ROBBS:  Perhaps not at that granular level of detail, but the topic, yes.

MR GRIFFIN:  As a result of that meeting, are you aware whether or not Ashley did anything in particular?

MS ROBBS:  I thought there may have been     I can't actually see the document.  I thought there may have been action items committed to out of this meeting, or perhaps that may have been an internal action document prepared, and I understand that there were commitments made to address the concerns, like the one there about Ashley.

MR GRIFFIN:  Point 3:

Lack of responses to CV reports and CV reports not at residences also an ongoing problem.

COMMISSIONER McEWIN:   It might help if we can have the relevant part highlighted, to perhaps help.  Is that possible?  Thank you.

MR GRIFFIN:  I'm now reading point 3.  Does that assist?

MS ROBBS:  Thank you.


Lack of responses to CV reports and CV reports not at residences also an ongoing problem.  Victorian protocol requires providers to respond within 21 days.  Written responses to be kept at the house so if CVs change from visit to visit, the CV can view the last report at the house.

That's all a reasonable expectation on the part of the Community Visitors, isn't it?

MS ROBBS:  Yes, absolutely.

MR GRIFFIN:  And, indeed, without that expectation being met, that would inhibit their ability to do their job.

MS ROBBS:  I would think so.

MR GRIFFIN:  Do you know one way or another whether the action proposed there:

OPA to send reports on outstanding responses and open issues electronically to Ashley, Peter and David.

That it occurred?

MS ROBBS:  Not that particular action, sorry.  I --- we would have focused more on the provision of our incident reports.  Sorry, I'm not across that one.

MR GRIFFIN:  But you certainly accept that a crucial part of the process was that when a Community Visitor wrote a report, a provider was required to respond within 21 days to any relevant matters raised?

MS ROBBS:  I do understand that.

MR GRIFFIN:  You do accept, don't you, that that frequently wasn't complied with?

MS ROBBS:  Which is definitely one of the contributing reasons to us centralising that, to get some more control and assurance over that now.

MR GRIFFIN:  There is also an agenda item at point 4:

Investigations into resident bruising.

Are you aware that the visitors had expressed concern that the bruising to residents wasn't adequately documented?

MS ROBBS:  I don't think before this hearing that had been called out at the same level as the non provision of the reports, yes.

MR GRIFFIN:  You can see there the CVs were apparently concerned:

Staff were only making the bruise chart with an X, not details of the size of the bruise.  CVs saw bruising on the front and back of legs that was not consistent with the explanation that the resident had fallen.

MS ROBBS:  Sorry, I don't have it in front of me, but I'm sure that's accurate.

MR GRIFFIN:  I will just show the witness point 4.  In point 4, which I just read from, that's a very serious concern, isn't it?

MS ROBBS:  I think if the concern being expressed is about whether we're accurately documenting that, then I think that that would be a concern.

MR GRIFFIN:  Well, it's firstly how accurate the documenting is    


MR GRIFFIN:      and, secondly, whether the observation of the resident seems consistent with the explanation about how they sustained the bruises.  At the very least, that requires a response from LWB, doesn't it?

MS ROBBS:  Sorry, I'm not clear if they are asking for a response or     I can see that the action item is training, so I'm not clear if they were asking for a response in the meeting or they were asking us to do something else.

MR GRIFFIN:  What I suggest to you is that if a Community Visitor in a report observed that the explanation for the bruising didn't appear to be consistent with what they observed, that would be a matter which you would respond to, presumably, wouldn't you?

MS ROBBS:  That would be a matter we'd want to look into, yes.

MR GRIFFIN:  Because it goes to the integrity of the record, doesn't it     is the record accurate?

MS ROBBS:  Yes.  I think also if the Community Visitor     assuming from this that Community Visitor would put something like that on their report to us, then I think that, as was clear before, we have got an obligation to look into all of those matters and re 
port back within the 21 days.

MR GRIFFIN:  As a result of the meeting on 24 May 2019, have all your staff in Victoria been trained as to their obligations under the Disability Act in respect to Community Visitors?

MS ROBBS:  I don't think we'll have a particular module on that, but I would with some confidence say that our training for staff includes the relevant regulation for that state, so I would think that staff would be clear.  And certainly my review of the material from the staff at the time didn't indicate that they were unclear about the     that responsibility.

MR GRIFFIN:  So a failure to comply was deliberate?


MR GRIFFIN:  Because they were clear.

MS ROBBS:  No.  It wasn't; I don't feel it was deliberate at all.

MR GRIFFIN:  On what basis do you say it wasn't deliberate?  A clear obligation, systemic non compliance; why shouldn't this Commission draw a conclusion that that was deliberate on the part of LWB staff or management?

MS ROBBS:  Sorry, which part was deliberate?


MS ROBBS:  What was deliberate?

MR GRIFFIN:  The failure to give access to the documents that they were entitled to see on a consistent and systematic basis over a number of years.  Why shouldn't the Commissioners draw a conclusion that, in all the circumstances, that was deliberate?

MS ROBBS:  I would suggest that when I review the emails between our staff and I look at the documentation, I think it's very clear that it was not deliberate and that they were clear on the requirements and they were trying, albeit they may not have met that requirement, I appreciate that, but it's very clear to me that various people were trying hard to do that and understood the importance of it, notwithstanding I appreciate it may not have happened to the Community Visitors' satisfaction.

MR GRIFFIN:  Can I ask if the Commissioners have any questions on the section involving Community Visitors?

CHAIR:   Commissioner Galbally, do you have any questions on the Community Visitors?

COMMISSIONER GALBALLY:   No questions, thank you.

CHAIR:   Commissioner McEwin?

COMMISSIONER McEWIN:   No, thank you.

CHAIR:   No, I don't have any questions either, so please continue.

MR GRIFFIN:  Ms Robbs, can I ask you what your experience has been since the NDIS, NDIA QSC has come into operation in terms of reporting matters to them?  Particularly in the context of Victoria, how it might have differed from reporting to the department or someone else.

MS ROBBS:  Well, I think one of the things that may have varied is the quality and safeguarding commission has implemented a consistent national approach to the classification of incidents and their approach, in the way that they are managed across the country.  Because we are in multiple jurisdictions, we can see that     we have had to do the work, so we can see that that has been slightly different in some jurisdictions than others.  I can't talk to specifics, I'm sorry, for Victoria, but it would be moving from state based systems to one federal consistent system, would probably be the main difference.  The Community Visitor Program, obviously, still runs in Victoria, yes.

MR GRIFFIN:  Has that made it easier for Life Without Barriers, the ability to take a national approach through those national bodies, as opposed to dealing with state by state?

MS ROBBS:  With regards to the regulation?

MR GRIFFIN:  In reporting.

MS ROBBS:  I think it enables us to better do the work that I spoke to earlier, which is compare, you know, jurisdictions for reporting rates and such like, because the definitions are the same.  But, that being said, for Life Without Barriers, we already had to harmonise that, for better language, when we brought iSight in nationally in 2017.  So we really had already done that work as a national organisation anyway, so it didn't make as much difference to us.  I can't really comment on what it would have done for organisations that were just working in one jurisdiction.

MR GRIFFIN:  And within Life Without Barriers, do you have an internal investigation unit now?

MS ROBBS:  Yes, we do, yes.

MR GRIFFIN:  Can you tell the Commissioners how that unit is set up and what its role is?

MS ROBBS:  So that unit is set up particularly to investigate matters of concern, so     and there's a definition around the matters that they investigate.  They look at matters that relate to staff and conduct, and predominantly that's where their history came from     really, from investigating matters of concern as they related to staff and clients, particularly children at the time.  That's the roots, I guess, of the unit.

The unit currently sits     it's staffed by people who have investigation skills.  So there are ex police officers, child protection workers and other senior practice social work qualifications in that unit.  We were particularly looking for people who have experience at, you know, investigating, obviously, matters and making findings.  That unit now reports through to the Office of the Special Counsel and they report directly to me.

MR GRIFFIN:  Generally, those matters are outlined in your statement as to the current arrangements that you have.  You mentioned the unit investigating the conduct of staff.


MR GRIFFIN:  Do they have a remit to investigate allegations of resident on resident violence?

MS ROBBS:  Sorry, I don't know this answer, sorry.

MR GRIFFIN:  Perhaps take that question on notice as well.

MS ROBBS:  Yes.  Please.  Sorry, yes.

MR GRIFFIN:  I'm interested in how Life Without Barriers is currently addressing the issue of resident to resident violence.  Would you care to elaborate on your current approach to that issue?

MS ROBBS:  Yes.  Notwithstanding     I will come back on that answer, the way that we would     the team, that we would work on the     and client to client and resident to resident violence is really our practice and our positive behaviour support team.  So we have a lead practitioner for positive behaviour support that reports to our executive responsible for disability.  We have our lead practitioner and our disability services and together they really     they are responsible for the teams that     and conduct that work across the organisation, and/or the external practitioners that people choose to support them with their Positive Behaviour Support Plans through the scheme, and they are responsible for supporting us, to make sure that within those plans, one, people have good plans and that our staff are trained on them and that we are doing everything that we can to reduce the client on client incidents.  That would be led through our practice and positive behaviour support streams.

MR GRIFFIN:  Are you able, in 2021, to do a comparison between houses as to the  
level of resident to resident violence and, if so, how do you do that?

MS ROBBS:  So we are able to extract data from the iSight system around the incidents that would be classified in that category, and then, yes     and, you know, use that to advise, I guess, us and the operational leaders particularly, particularly the people responsible, as I have just spoken, for the positive behaviour support and staff training and support around how we might need to improve.

MR GRIFFIN:  For how long have you been extracting that data?

MS ROBBS:  Well, I see in the material that around the Melbourne house, just as an example, that there is some material in there that that was provided to leaders I think maybe 2018/2019, because I don't think it would have been easy to do before iSight.

MR GRIFFIN:  Let's assume that your leaders got information concerning the Melbourne house in 2018.

MS ROBBS:  Mmm hmm.

MR GRIFFIN:  Have you got any information that enables us to compare whether violence was increasing, decreasing, remaining the same?

MS ROBBS:  For the Melbourne house?

MR GRIFFIN:  Yes.  I appreciate you were only in control of the Melbourne house for a short period after that but    

MS ROBBS:  It may be already in the     sorry, I know there's information in here around that.  I'm not sure if it particularly relates to the Melbourne house, but it may well be.

MR GRIFFIN:  What about more generally?  You've been extracting information of this nature since 2018, presumably in respect of all of your houses?


MR GRIFFIN:  What have you learnt, if anything, between 2018 and 2021 as to whether what you're doing is decreasing the level of violence?

MS ROBBS:  So we discuss     we've had several discussions, and I'm happy to provide, if it's helpful, at the practice committee level as well around the resident to resident incidents, what we are doing about it, what's in our plan to try to do more and better, particular areas of concern or development.

MR GRIFFIN:  Give me examples of positive things you've done in the last three years to try and address that issue.

MS ROBBS:  Of the client to client?

MR GRIFFIN:  Is it more staff, is it more resources, better training?  Exactly what in tangible terms has been done and then tell me whether you think it has had an effect.

MS ROBBS:  So, a couple of things that we have done that we think has had a positive effect     we haven't done anything we think has had a negative effect.  So  a positive effect, firstly, would be that we used to have all of the psychologists and clinicians that were performing the behaviour support function, they used to report locally and we thought that was the best thing to do because they were a part of the care team locally.  What we then decided to do was to report that nationally and bring that together as one team across the country to get an uplift in the quality of their practice and we are very confident that that's been achieved.  That also enabled us to recruit some more expertise at a national level, so we were able to secure some     the best expertise in the country, which has definitely also helped us improve that practice.

We also have implemented new and perhaps training for staff, particularly in response to     I think Ms Taylor spoke to the work with us in December 2020 around research practices.  So we introduced some new training particularly targeted at that, because we know, because  there's a competency check at the end of that training, so we know that, based on the competency check, people were more competent and confident after the training than before.

MR GRIFFIN:  Do you extract this information in respect of every house you operate or only in relation to houses where you've been notified there's an issue?

MS ROBBS:  No, sorry, the training I commented on was around an issue.  Well, the information is in the system, so I would     I'm not a technical expert on the system, but I would imagine it can be extracted in lots of different ways.

MR GRIFFIN:  And who is responsible, in your organisation, to analyse that information and to whom do they report the results of their analysis?

MS ROBBS:  So if it's around the board level that I've discussed, then, as I said before, that     those reports are pulled together by the quality and risk portfolio and the executive responsible for quality and risk reports directly to me.  If they are around teams and wanting to improve their practice, wanting to look at their own data, et cetera, then that would happen within the service delivery teams.

MR GRIFFIN:  Do you have the capacity to compare data generated by LWB with similar data generated by other major providers?

MS ROBBS:  I don't think we do, but I     but the quality and safeguarding commission certainly would have that from the point where they have taken responsibility, certainly.

MR GRIFFIN:  Have you had any discussions with the QSC as to whether they can tell you how you're doing compared to other providers?

MS ROBBS:  I think, as Ms Taylor outlined in her statement, the QSC has had a particular focus on restrictive practices, so they have been able to share with us how we are performing or travelling on that.  They don't share information that's inappropriate about other providers, but they certainly can bring that context to our data.

MR GRIFFIN:  On a more positive note, Ms Robbs, I want to give you the opportunity to address the Commissioners as to, based on your experience, improvements that you might see, recommendations that you might wish them to consider based upon the experience of Life Without Barriers and your 10 years as Chief Executive Officer, in the broad context of what we have been discussing today.  It's your big opportunity.

MS ROBBS:  Right.

MR GRIFFIN:  Purely voluntary.

CHAIR:   We are full of surprises.

MS ROBBS:  Indeed.  That is a big question, but I cannot take some sense of opportunity there.  I think Commissioner Galbally's question earlier would be the piece that I would go to, probably, around the positive impact that can be had in people's lives when they have more choice and control about who they live and where they live     who they live with and where they live, and the possibilities and potential for that through the NDIS and everything that comes with that.  But that's not going to just happen.  That has to be a real focus and intent, otherwise it could just become in the design but not in the implementation.  For me, if I had to think of a recommendation in general terms, there would be something there about continuing and, indeed, ideally escalating the point that Commissioner Galbally was making and the point that Mr McNaughton made around more contemporary models of care, particularly for people with more complex needs.

MR GRIFFIN:  Chair, can I hand back to you as to whether any Commissioners have any questions in the last tranche.


CHAIR:   Thank you.  Commissioner Galbally, do you have any questions for Ms Robbs?

COMMISSIONER GALBALLY:   Just to follow on in some ways from where you left off, the issue of these houses being about care and then somebody raised the fact  
that they are about support, there's two questions.  Number one, are they about development of people, and, number two, are they about a home that you live in rather than, you know, care places or support places?  So I'm just trying to understand whether they are beyond a sort of welfare model.

MS ROBBS:  Yes, thank you for the question.  I'm not sure if you saw me slightly flinch at the word "care" when it was mentioned earlier.  I, of course     of course, we want to care in the homes for people, of course we want people around them to care for them.  In fact, we know, sorry, that the evidence says that what actually keeps people safe are relationships with those people around them, that they care about them and that they are connected to community.  The evidence tells us that.  So we do want people to care.

The reason that I perhaps responded to the word "care" is because sometimes in the way we use it, it has a paternalistic tone to it and it indicates people's basic needs and that's not what we want or what is happening in lots of the homes.  It is absolutely about building people's genuine community inclusion, not just being present in the community but being included in the community and building skills and their development and enabling them to live the life they want to live.

I think there were some good stories shared there about how Sophie particularly had developed her independent skills, which is a fantastic thing in her time. So that's why I think it is important that we are careful with the use of the word "care", because I think it doesn't properly define the role of the worker, the role of the provider or the experience, most importantly, that we want people who live in these homes to experience.  So whether it's development or support or something     another term that someone comes up with, I think there has to be something better than "care".

The second point to your point around a home, as I travel around as     and counsel asked me, I see lots of fantastic examples where these homes really are people's homes.  They have often lived there for a long time.  Their bedrooms are really personalised, their homes are really personalised, they are safe, they enjoy living there; lots of examples of that.  But the reality is also that it's balancing that with the fact that paid staff are in the home and a community visitor can show up unannounced and paperwork's got to be kept because we're properly, properly accountable and all of that accountability is really suitable and necessary but it's balancing that up with making it a home environment.  That's something that we talk about all the time and can get much better on, I think.

I think there is a link for both of those things to my comments before about the     as I was given the opportunity by counsel to speak about, I was thinking more broadly about not only the bricks and mortar, but the models that support people to really realise their potential.

CHAIR:   Thank you.  Commissioner McEwin.

COMMISSIONER McEWIN:   My final question and topic is about supported  
decision making and it sort of relates to what Commissioner Galbally was asking.  We heard last week that there were different views about how Sophie might explore and implement her desire to have an intimate relationship     workers and parents and herself have different views.  So describe briefly how does Life Without Barriers focus on the person to really give them that support to be able to do that in a way that they want and recognising dignity of risk, which we have talked about?

MS ROBBS:  Yes, thank you.  I think the first thing I'd say to that is back to my comment that the thing that really helps people most are the relationships with the people around them and closest to them.  That is, first and foremost, the families.  We absolutely understand that.  And then for lots of people, the staff in their life are really important relationships for them as well, so equipping those staff, empowering those staff, enabling those staff closest to people to know that their job is actually more than care.  Of course, they have got to meet the care needs but it's more than that, it's really helping the person on their journey in life.  That's one of the first things that for someone like Sophie     and I can see evidence that she did have that from some really outstanding workers.  That's the first thing we can do.

Then the second thing which we do, but I think more could be done for us and the sector, is people around for who perhaps do not have strong decision maker supporters or strong family members or advocates in their life.  It would be really helpful for everyone to have someone that helps them realise what choices are available to them.

COMMISSIONER McEWIN:   Thank you.  Thank you, Chair.

CHAIR:   Ms Robbs, a couple of questions relating to Life Without Barriers' financial reports.  The financial statement for the year ended 30 June 2021 contains certain information relating to compensation for key management personnel.  Who are the key management personnel?

MS ROBBS:  My understanding is that that is made up of a     and definition through the     through the     through our auditor, so it would come through the financial reporting standards but who is in that grouping    

CHAIR:  I'm wanting to know how many there are within Life Without Barriers.

MS ROBBS:  Oh, sorry.  I think that has got certainly    

CHAIR:  Presumably, it includes you, so it is at least one.

MS ROBBS:  It certainly includes me and I think     I would think there's     I don't know, maybe about 100.  I'm sorry, I don't know.

CHAIR:  If you don't know, the better thing is to say you don't know.

MS ROBBS:   Sorry.  Yes, I can take that on notice.

CHAIR:  My second question is how long has Osborn Law been solicitors for Life Without Barriers in relation to property matters?

MS ROBBS:  I don't     a number of years, I don't know the particular year, but it is in all of the annual reports.

CHAIR:  I assume that none of the directors of Life Without Barriers receive any payment for their services as directors; is that correct?

MS ROBBS:  No, that's not correct.  We do pay our directors.

CHAIR:  You do pay directors?


CHAIR:  The amounts are not revealed in the financial statements.

MS ROBBS:  I'm happy to share that information, if that's helpful.

CHAIR:   I see.  The two directors who serve on the board of Jobfind LWB Pty Ltd, do they receive additional remuneration because of their role as directors of that company?

MS ROBBS:  One of those directors is me and I don't receive additional remuneration for that because I'm a paid employee, and the other director will receive some remuneration for that entity, not from Life Without Barriers, though; from the Job Life Entity.

CHAIR:   That's a joint venture between Life Without Barriers and a separate company known as Angus Knight Pty Ltd?

MS ROBBS:  Correct.

CHAIR:   The same question in relation to LWB Disability Services South Limited, are there directors of LWB on the board of that company?

MS ROBBS:  There is one director of LWB on the board of that company and, yes, they will receive some small level of remuneration, I would sense, to be on that board.  Again, I'm happy to provide the information.

CHAIR:   Thank you.  You appreciate that part of our job is to make findings about matters that have been explored in evidence?


CHAIR:   As part of that, it's necessary or may be necessary for us to form views  
about the evidence that has been given.


CHAIR:   One possible view of the evidence you've given     and I say possible view     is that you are very reluctant to accept that there has been any significant deficiency in the operations of or services provided by LWB to people with disability unless the evidence appears to you to be irrefutable and undeniable.  I'd like to give you an opportunity to comment on that possible view of your evidence.

MS ROBBS:  I would have hoped     I would hope that in my preparation of the witness statement and in the way I've tried very hard today to answer the questions in the best of my knowledge and bring my experience to those discussions, and in my open apology to the     particularly to the people with disability and their families that have been a part of this, I would have hoped that the Commission would be clear that we, I, have taken all endeavours to be as helpful and answer the questions as best I can.

CHAIR:   Thank you.  The second question, and it's a related question, is that a possible view of your evidence is that, as the chief executive officer, you tend not to take a proactive approach in detecting and rectifying deficiencies in the operations of Life Without Barriers but, rather, your tendency is to respond to revelations about deficiencies as those revelations occur.  That's a possible view.  I'd like to give you the opportunity to comment on that as well.

MS ROBBS:  So with a lot of strength, I would not agree with that possible statement.  I know how hard I work and how we work at Life Without Barriers to be extremely    

CHAIR:  The question isn't directed to how hard you work.  It's directed to another issue.

MS ROBBS:  To    

CHAIR:  The issue of whether you tend, as the chief executive officer, not to act proactively, detect and rectify deficiencies but, rather, to respond to revelations about deficiencies as and when those revelations occur.  That, I suggest, may be a possible view of your evidence.

MS ROBBS:  Thank you.  I think, I and Life Without Barriers are extremely proactive and I'm trying to identify where we need to improve, very open with ourselves about the things that we need to do better and then proactive in trying to make those changes so that, most importantly, the experiences of the people we are supporting, and our direct frontline staff, are better.  I feel we are     I feel it's a real strength of the organisation, that we do that extremely proactively and with ever vigilance to the need to do that.

CHAIR:   Thank you.  I will ask Ms Mitchelmore if she has any questions to ask of you.

MS MITCHELMORE:   Chair, I have no questions for Ms Robbs, thank you.

CHAIR:   Thank you very much.  I will assume that no other legal representative has any questions of Ms Robbs, unless someone metaphorically leaps up.

In the absence of that occurring, thank you very much, Ms Robbs, that concludes your evidence.  Thank you for coming to the Royal Commission to give evidence.  Thank you for your very detailed statements.  We appreciate your attendance, thank you.


MR GRIFFIN:   Chair, that concludes the oral evidence I intend to adduce in this public hearing.  I have some draft closing directions for your consideration.  I wonder whether we might adjourn for a period of 10 minutes, or so, to enable you to consider those and any closing you may wish to make.

CHAIR:   Let's do that and we'll come back in 10 minutes, or so.  It is now nearly 20 to 4.  We will adjourn until 10 to 4.


RESUMED    [3.50PM]

CHAIR:   I have been provided with directions, or draft directions.  What I propose to do is to read the directions with which I have been provided.  If at the end of my reading of the proposed directions any legal representative wishes to make any comment or make any submission about the directions, then there will be an opportunity to do so.  Otherwise, I shall make the directions as in the document.

The proposed directions are as follows:

1.  Any witness who took questions on notice during this hearing should provide his or her answers in writing to the Office of Solicitor Assisting the Royal Commission by 12 January 2022.  The answers should be targeted and concise and not address additional or unnecessary matters.  Counsel Assisting the Royal Commission may tender those responses into evidence.

2.  By 28 January 2022, Counsel Assisting the Royal Commission will provide a list  
of all documents he wishes to tender into evidence, including responses to questions on notice on a confidential basis to the parties with leave to appear at this hearing.

3.  Parties with leave to appear should advise the Office of the Solicitor Assisting by 11 February 2022 if they wish to suggest any additional documents for tendering by Counsel Assisting.  At the same time, they should identify any parts of the documents to be tendered that they consider need to be removed before the documents are made public with reasons.

4.  Counsel Assisting will tender those documents into evidence which he considers appropriate and will do so in chambers by 18 February 2022.

5.  Counsel Assisting the Royal Commission will prepare written submissions following the hearing by 18 March 2022.  These submissions will be provided on a confidential basis to parties with leave to appear, to any organisation that received a procedural fairness letter from the Office of the Solicitor Assisting the Royal Commission in preparation for this hearing, and to all States and Territories.

6.  Any responses to Counsel Assisting’s submissions should be sent to the Office of Solicitor Assisting by 1 April 2022.  Those responses should be concise and should not include any additional evidence.

7.  After receiving all written submissions, there will be a short hearing for oral submissions which will be scheduled in due course on a date to be determined.

Does any legal representative wish to say anything about those draft directions?  Thank you.

If not, I make the directions that I have just read out, so they are the directions of the Commission for the purposes of this hearing.

Before adjourning the hearing, I would like to express the thanks of the Commissioners to everybody who has given evidence.  Particularly we would like to thank Sophie, who gave evidence, as you will recall, on the first day.  Sophie, if you are watching or will watch, we are very grateful to you for being prepared to tell your story to the Royal Commission.  It has not only been your story, but it has raised issues of profound importance to many people with disability and we are sure that they will be grateful to you as well.

We express our appreciation also, of course, to Michelle and Greg and to Paul, Catherine and Jennifer.

I repeat that we are grateful for the evidence given by other witnesses, including the very detailed statements that we have received and the thoughtful contributions that have been made by a number of the witnesses on significant policy issues.

I want also on behalf of the Commissioners to express our appreciation to Counsel  
Assisting the Royal Commission for the work that they have done in preparing for and presenting this hearing; the Office of Solicitor Assisting, led by Lorna Davidson and Annick Wain; the counselling team, which, as always, has done an extraordinary job in making sure that witnesses who require that support receive that support and that the hearing is conducted in a trauma informed way; the hearings and logistics team that has an important role to play in the organisation of the hearing and, of course, Auslan translators, Law In Order and all who have otherwise contributed to the hearing.

As I have said in many of the hearings that we have held, these hearings take an enormous amount of preparation and organisation and we have held 20 hearings in the course of the Royal Commission.  Each of them has been a major undertaking and the conduct of the hearings reflect great credit upon everyone who has been associated with the preparation of evidence, the organisation of the hearings and the presentation of material at the hearing itself.  So thank you again and we will now adjourn.