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Public hearing 28 - Violence against and abuse of people with disability in public places, Brisbane - Day 1

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Publication date

ASSOCIATE: Royal Commission into Violence, Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation of People with Disability is now in session. 

CHAIR: Good morning, everyone. I would like to welcome everyone who is participating in or following this, the 28th Public hearing of the Royal Commission into Violence, Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation of People with Disability. This hearing is being conducted in the Royal Commission's public hearing room in Brisbane, Queensland, and will continue for five days. The evidence to be given at the hearing will examine violence against and abuse of people with disability in public places. 

I begin by acknowledging the Jagera and Turrbal people as the traditional owners and custodians of the lands upon which the city of Brisbane is now located. We pay our respects to their Elders past, present and emerging. We also acknowledge and pay our respects to any First Nations people who are following these proceedings, either in the Brisbane hearing room, or via the live broadcast. 

I'm joined today in the Brisbane hearing room by Commissioner Rhonda Galbally AC and Commissioner John Ryan AM. Senior Counsel Assisting the Royal Commission at this Public hearing is Ms Elizabeth Bennett SC, and she will shortly be making an opening statement. Ms Bennett appears with Ms Cathy Dowsett and Mr Andrew Fraser of Counsel. All three Counsel are in the Brisbane hearing room. 

A number of parties have been granted leave to appear, and I will invite the parties with leave to appear to announce their appearances shortly. As I have frequently remarked at Public hearings, the conduct of these hearings requires a great deal of preparatory work, not least with people who are to give evidence, including, of course, witnesses with lived experience of disability. This hearing is no exception and we, the Commissioners, express our appreciation to all those who have contributed to the preparations for the hearing, including, of course, the witnesses from whom we shall hear during the week. 

As I have indicated, this Public hearing will focus on the experiences of people with disability who have been subjected to violence or abuse in public places. By "public places", we mean not only physical spaces such as streets, parks, and public buildings, but also the online space, particularly social media. In the course of the hearing, we shall investigate the prevalence of violence and abuse of people with disability from strangers they encounter when in public spaces or engaging online, the cumulative impact of incidents of this kind on the wellbeing and social inclusion of people with disability, the limited extent to which violence and abuse directed at people with disability in public places is reported, and the changes to regulatory systems that may be required to prevent and respond to violence and abuse of people with disability in public places. 

Let me say something about our Terms of Reference. The Royal Commission's Terms of Reference require us to investigate, among other things, what should be done to promote a more inclusive society that supports the independence of people with disability and their right to live free from violence, abuse, neglect and exploitation. In conformity with our Terms of Reference, we published a Rights and attitudes issues paper in April 2020. In that paper, we asked people with disability, their representative organisations and other interested parties, to comment on the relationship between attitudes towards people with disability and the realisation of their human rights. The overview of the responses that were received to the Rights and attitudes issues paper recorded that a common theme amongst the responses was that   and I quote:

"A lack of awareness and understanding of the rights of people with disability, coupled with discriminatory and negative attitudes towards them, go to the core of the mistreatment of people with disability." 

The Queenslanders with Disability Network in its response to the issues paper, for example, stated that the: 

"Most significant barriers facing people with disability from accessing our communities equally are often not the physical obstacles but the attitudes, assumptions and biases of the people they meet." 

In December 2020, we published an issues paper on Promoting inclusion. We asked a number of questions, and they included what makes an inclusive society, and what are the barriers to an inclusive society for people with disability. Responses to the issues paper overwhelmingly identified negative attitudes and behaviours towards people with disability as one of the key barriers to their inclusion in society. 

We were repeatedly told that negative attitudes held by members of the community are associated with increased risks of violence, abuse, neglect and exploitation of people with disability. For example, People with Disability Western Australia said that when people with disability are seen as the "other" or as a "burden", this can lead to violence, abuse, neglect and exploitation. Down syndrome Australia said that tackling the stigma and discrimination experienced by people with disability, particularly people with intellectual disability: 

"... is a prerequisite if we are to create the social conditions required for a truly inclusive society." 

We have often referred, of course, to the provisions of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, the CRPD. Most of the provisions in the CRPD impose obligations on state parties such as Australia. For example, Article 19 provides that: 

"State parties to the present convention recognise the equal right of all persons with disabilities to live in the community with choices equal to others and shall take effective and appropriate measures to facilitate the full enjoyment by persons with disabilities of this right and their full inclusion and participation in the community, including by ensuring that community services and facilities for the general population are available on an equal basis to persons with disabilities and are responsive to their needs."

As I've indicated, that's an obligation imposed upon state parties such as Australia, that is, parties to the Convention. But the CRPD also contains provisions acknowledging the rights of people with disability in ways that go beyond imposing obligations on governments that are parties to the Convention. The preamble to the CRPD recognises, among other things, that: 

"Disability results from the interaction between persons with impairments and attitudinal and environmental barriers that hinder their full and effective participation in society on an equal basis."


"Accessibility to the physical, social and cultural environment and to information and communication is important in enabling persons with disabilities to fully enjoy all human rights and fundamental freedoms."

Article 3 of the CRPD sets out the principles underlying the Convention. The principles include respect for differences and acceptance of persons with disabilities as part of human diversity and humanity. These provisions of the CRPD indicate that giving effect to the human rights of people with disability is not only the responsibility of governments, but it is the responsibility in each and every member of the Australian community. The most fundamental and far-reaching change that will ensure that people with disability enjoy human rights on an equal basis with all other people is the elimination of prejudicial attitudes towards people with disability. 

Ms Bennett shortly will outline the evidence to be given this week. Some of it will be distressing. People of short stature and other people with disability will tell of the verbal and physical abuse, harassment, and humiliation to which they have been subjected in public places. Their evidence will show that violence and abuse has significant and long-term effects on people who experience it, including on their health, social activities, and sense of place in the community. 

These abuses also have a significant impact on people with disability more widely, since they are only too aware that they may also experience similar violence or abuse. The word that is most commonly used to describe the attitudes that motivate harmful behaviour directed at people with disability is ableism. The State of Victoria has recently released an exposure draft to the Disability Inclusion Bill to allow for public comment. This is an extremely interesting piece of draft legislation that offers definitions of key terms such as disability, accessibility, and intersectionality. The draft defines ableism this way:

"A belief that persons with disability are, as a result of disability, less worthy of respect and consideration, less able to contribute to or participate in society, or of less inherent value than persons with disability."

This draft definition aptly describes the prejudice that provides an explanation for, but, of course, can never justify the violence and abuse experienced by people with disability in public places. Professor Gwynnyth Llewellyn will give evidence into the important disciplinary research she and others have conducted in violence and abuse in public places. Her research sheds light on the nature, extent and consequence as what she describes as interpersonal discrimination and interpersonal violence. 

Professor Llewellyn concludes that to reduce and prevent interpersonal discrimination towards people with disability requires the organised efforts of society. Public attitudes are not easy to change. But over time, profound changes can and do take place. For example, attitudes concerning gender equality, sexual identity, domestic violence, racism, and the place of First Nations people in Australia as the original inhabitants have all changed markedly in recent decades. That does not mean that all is well   far from it. We only have to recall the incident at a recent soccer match to realise that attitudinal changes in this country are very much works in progress and a great deal still needs to be done. 

The point, however, is that seemingly entrenched prejudices can be diminished over time by education, legislative reforms, advocacy, exposure of injustices, and all the other mechanisms that influence people's beliefs and behaviour over time. People with lived experience of disability have given evidence at practically every public hearing of this Royal Commission, of their experiences with many different manifestations of ableism. But we also heard of developments that do give reason for optimism. Everybody will, of course, be familiar with monumental advances such as the introduction of the National Disability Insurance Scheme, despite its flaws, and events of great symbolic significance, such as the announcement of Dylan Alcott as Australian of the Year. 

These potentially transformative developments do not come out of the blue. They have their origins in modern times with the work of disability theorists in the 1970s and 80s who redefined the concept of disability. Their work influenced individual disability advocates and disability representative organisations to agitate for change. Their efforts led to the rights of people with disability being embedded in domestic and international law, notably, in the case of Australia, through the Disability Discrimination Act 1992 of the Commonwealth, and, of course, the adoption of the CRPD in 2008. 

Signs of continuing change in attitudes have been evident during the three-and-a-half-year life of this Royal Commission. They can be discerned in the greater coverage of disability in the mainstream media, although I emphasise that some outlets are very much better in this respect than others. Importantly, we now see people with disability appearing in advertisements, something that witnesses at this hearing will say they consider to be very important in shaping community attitudes. 

All Australian Governments have taken steps to address the disadvantages experienced by people with disability, including the multiple forms of disadvantage experienced by groups such as First Nations people with disability, or women with Disability. There are other indications of progress 

I do not by this mean to imply that the observable changes in community attitudes can be attributed to the work of the Royal Commission, although we hope that the exposure of violence, abuse, neglect and exploitation of people with disability in so many areas of life is having and will have a significant impact. Nor do I mean to imply that the Australian community is entitled to be satisfied with the advances that have been made. In many ways, the process has only just got underway, but at least the process has begun, and it does have some momentum. The principal message from this hearing is that progress towards the ultimate goal of eliminating ableism is the responsibility of everyone in this country. Not just governments, institutions or businesses, everyone. I shall now take appearances. 

MS BENNETT:  Commissioner, I appear with Mr Fraser and Ms Dowsett. 

CHAIR: Thank you, Ms Bennett. Yes, other appearance, please. 

MS ROBERTSON: May it please the Commission, Courtney Robertson. I appear on behalf of the Commonwealth, together with my senior, Amy Munro, who will appear in person from Wednesday. 

CHAIR: Thank you very much. 

MS McMILLAN: Thank you, Chair and Commissioners. I appear on behalf of Queensland, McMillan, initials K.A., King's Counsel, and I appear instructed by Crown Law. 

CHAIR: Thank you, Ms McMillan. Is there anyone else in the hearing room to announce an appearance? 

MS BENNETT: No, Chair. I understand that South Australia intends to announce their appearance on Wednesday. 

MS FURNESS: Chair, my name   

CHAIR: Ms Furness. I think Ms Furness is seeking to be heard remotely. Yes, Ms Furness. 

MS FURNESS: Yes, I seek leave to appear with   

CHAIR: I think you are on mute. 

MS FURNESS:  I'm not on mute at my end. 

CHAIR: We can hear you now. We won't worry about allocation of responsibility, but continue. 

MS FURNESS:  I'm very happy to allocate responsibility to the Royal Commission, if you wish me to. But I appear with Trent Glover instructed by the Crown Solicitor's office for the State of New South Wales. 

CHAIR: Thank you for your appearance and observation. Is there any other appearance to be announced?

MS BENNETT:  We have Victoria might appear online. 

CHAIR: We have Victoria on the screen, do we?

MR CHESTERMAN: Chair, it's Scott Chesterman, appearing on behalf of the State of Victoria. I can't   

CHAIR: Thank you, Mr Chesterman. We can't see you, but we can hear you. And we assume you are who you say you are. Yes, Ms Bennett. 

MS BENNETT:  Thank you, Chair. Chair, we also acknowledge the traditional custodians of the lands on which we are meeting today. This hearing is being conducted primarily from the Brisbane office, which is on the Turrbal and Jagera lands. We pay our respects to First Nations elders past, present and emerging, as well as to all First Nations people following this public hearing. 

Commissioners, this hearing is concerned with public places. The spaces we all have a right to be. They are our parks and playgrounds. Public transport, the footpath. Public spaces are both a destination and a pathway. The right to enjoy public spaces without hindrance is a key part of living in this Australian community. 

In this public hearing, we will examine abusive and sometimes violent behaviour of members of the public towards people with a disability in a public space, in circumstances where the perpetrator is generally a stranger who knows little or nothing about the person they are abusing, except that they have a disability. 

The public space is an area, real or virtual, where any person has the right to be. It may be characterised by the fact that individuals have little or no control over who they may encounter there. The hostility and abuse you will hear about this week will take a range of forms, but the evidence is remarkably consistent across time, place, and disability type. 

The witnesses this week will describe their experiences of various types of violence and abuse, including name calling, insults, derogatory comments, threats and verbal abuse. Staring, intimidation, non consensual photography and filming, stalking, sexual comments, sexual assaults, physical assaults like spitting, shoving, hitting and throwing objects at a person. 

One witness, Ms Tracy Barrell OAM, will describe her experiences of some of these types of violence and abuse and say that:

"Incidents like this make me feel like I'm not even a person."

Commissioners, intersectionality has a role to play. You will hear from Ricki, a First Nations transgender woman, who will say. 

"I believe I experience violence and abuse when I'm out in the community because of my gender identity, Aboriginality, age and disability. Sometimes it may be due to one of these attributes; other times it may be a combination of them."

You will also hear from a woman we identify as Elissa, a Filipino woman who will speak to her experiences of violence and abuse as a woman from a culturally and linguistically diverse background. 

Commissioners, in addition to the immediate harm caused, the types of violence and abuse we will be addressing appear to have a ripple effect on all other aspects of the lives of the people affected. When people commute to their job, they take public transport. When they meet with friends, they go to public venues. Families and friends get together in playgrounds and parks. All of the things that contribute towards connection and engagement in our community are underpinned by safe access to public spaces. 

Many of the witnesses this week will speak in terms of the world outside their front door being a battle. One witness puts it this way: 

"There are some days when I'm not mentally prepared for the onslaught and just do not have it in me to go to battle with the world. On these days I simply won't leave the house."

Another witness will say:

"My life outside my home is one of constant mitigation strategies to avoid being abused."

The effect is harm and social exclusion of people with disability that goes well beyond the impact of a single incident. The effect, Commissioners, is cumulative. Another witness will say: 

"The impact of the abuse is not easily described. For me it is a number of things. It is defeating, it is shame creating it is humiliating, it is terrifying, it is revolting."

The evidence will suggest the result is a loss of involvement by people with a disability in the social and economic fabric of the community. The evidence will further suggest that the result of this can be a reduction in the health and wellbeing of people with a disability. In addition, it is conduct that reduces the equality and diversity of the Australian community as a whole. 

In addition to examining the ways in which people with disability can experience violence and abuse in public places, we will also start to explore some of the reasons why this occurs. We expect this will involve consideration of attitudes towards people with disability, including as they are connected with inaccurate and stereotyped representation. Cultural and attitudinal issues towards people with a disability has been the topic of evidence in this Royal Commission in previous hearings. For example, in Public hearing 17, on the experience of women and girls with disability, Senior Counsel Ms Eastman said: 

"We will make little progress until we recognise ableism and the intersecting forms of inequality and discrimination that are the underlying drivers of violence and abuse of women and girls with disability."

As the Chair has already identified, ableism refers to negative attitudes and behaviours that dehumanise people with disability. Witnesses in this hearing will show how assumptions that people with disability are different, other, less than human, drive violence and abuse in public places. 

It will be apparent from the evidence this week that there is no single framework for reporting or responding to incidents which captures the full spectrum of abusive conduct against people with a disability in public places. You will note, Commissioners, that some of the conduct described is plainly criminal, and some probably does not meet that threshold. 

There are, of course, laws against harassment, stalking and assault, and some of the witnesses this week will suggest that those laws should carry particular penalties where conduct is aimed at a person because of their disability. There are some such laws relating to some kinds of disability presently in place in Queensland, Northern Territory, and South Australia. We will consider anti-discrimination legislation which operates in particular contexts, Commissioners: Accommodation, employment, education, and associations. It has virtually no scope of operation in public places, particularly where the perpetrator is unknown and likely unknowable. 

Save for Tasmania and the ACT, there are no laws prohibiting vilification of people based on their disability. One question that arises from this hearing is whether such a prohibition in public places is appropriate. Whether or not new structures or adaptations to existing structures are required to more squarely address violence and abuse targeting people with disability in public places are matters to be considered by the Royal Commission in due course. 

We turn now to foreshadow the evidence that we will hear from the witnesses this week. We will hear from 14 witnesses this week, being 14 people with disability. Five of those witnesses are women of short stature who will discuss the particular kinds of violence and abuse that they experience when out in public. These witnesses come from a range of states and give evidence about their experiences over an extended period. 

However, violence and abuse in public places is not confined to people of short stature. We will also hear about the experience of people with physical, cognitive and psycho social disabilities. Most will give their evidence live and in person here in the Brisbane hearing room, where some will appear by audio visual link. Three witnesses will not be called to provide their evidence during the week, but we have pre recorded oral evidence from them. 

Dr Debra Keenahan will be the first witness to give evidence today, and I will return to the content of her evidence shortly. Later today, you will hear from Ms Tracy Barrell OAM. Ms Barrell is a proud First Nations woman, and she will give evidence about the supportive community in which she grew up and how she has excelled in a range of sports in her professional life. She has two Paralympic gold medals from the Barcelona Games where she represented Australia in swimming. 

She says, however: 

"Despite all of my achievements and successes, like many people with disability, I am frequently subjected to abusive comments and behaviour when I am out in public, generally from strangers."

She will explain in her evidence that this increased as her mobility decreased until she came to feel like every time she leaves her house, she has to gear up for battle. And some days, she's just not mentally prepared for the onslaught. And on those days she simply won't go out. 

This afternoon we were scheduled to hear from Mr David Gearin. He is ill, and so Counsel Assisting, Mr Fraser, will read part of his statement. Mr Gearin has used an ID cane for many years and has a guide dog since 2019. He says it is unusual for a week to pass without him encountering some form of abuse when he is simply going about his business in public. 

On Tuesday, we will hear from Ms Fiona Strahan, who first experienced discrimination as a child when she expressed desire to be a teacher, only to be told she will not get such a job because she's a person of such stature. She said she would pursue acting instead. She was told there would be no good roles for her. She now lives in Tasmania and, among other things, has been involved in an organisation called Disability Voices Tasmania, designed to build a collective voice for people with disability in Tasmania. 

She will give evidence about the spectrum of abuse that she has suffered when out in public, including unwanted physical touching, being the subject of sexualised comments and taunts. She says if she kept a list of incidents of times that she's been abused, she would simply never go out. 

A woman we identify as Jenni will also give evidence on Tuesday morning. Jenni is a woman of short stature, and she will give evidence about the abusive comments, taunts, harassment, intimidation, and threats of violence which she says have happened "more times than I can count", including acts of violence in public places. Like many others, Commissioners, she speaks eloquently about the cumulative impact of the abuse that she has suffered and how it has chipped away at her confidence over many years. 

Ms Peta Stamell is a mother of a 10-month-old son, graphic designer who lives in Canberra, enjoys cycling and making digital art. She is also a woman of short stature, who will give evidence that she is stared at, laughed at, filmed and yelled at on a daily basis, often from a car window with little or no opportunity to respond or address the situation. She talks about feeling like she is enduring a campaign of harassment which is effective because it is so decentralised. Ms Stamell describes the way she screens the environment all the time, meaning that her life outside her home is one of constant mitigation strategies. 

Also on Tuesday you will hear from a representative of the Short Statured People of Australia, Ms Maree Jenner. SSPA have been actively advocating around the issue of safety in public spaces, including for it to be ventilated in this Royal Commission. Ms Jenner will give evidence about why, in her opinion, there are low levels of reporting of the kind of conduct that is the subject of this hearing, including that many people may not know where to report the conduct when it is not obviously criminal in nature or where the perpetrator cannot be identified. 

The SSPA has identified a number of initiatives which it believes will assist in reducing violence and abuse in public places, including education initiatives, dedicated safe spaces, legislative reform, and diverse representation of people with short stature. 

On Wednesday, we will hear Tim Marks a man living in Tasmania. Mr Marks has been active in his local community for many years, including as a Chairperson and Director of the Tasmanian Amputee Society and Director and director of the Tasmanian branch of physical disability Australia. Before he became an amputee and started to use a wheelchair, he said he very rarely experienced any form of violence, harassment or abuse in public. He calls the difference since his amputation and a use of a wheelchair stark, and he wonderers if people see his wheelchair and believe him to be an easy or vulnerable target. Like so many of the witnesses this week, he says that it would be impossible for to provide an account of every instance of violence at the hands of people unknown to him in the community. 

Mr Marks now expects violence or abuse when he goes out. He will give evidence about the sense of continual building fear, the impact it has had on his life. Commissioners, he doesn't leave his home after 4 pm. He is hypervigilant when he does go out, and, increasingly, he does not go out alone. 

Ms Julie Butler of Speak Out Advocacy represents an advocacy organisation for people in Tasmania and a membership organisation for people with intellectual and cognitive disability. Speak Out has over 20 members across Tasmania, and violence and abuse in public places is something that Ms Butler identifies as a significant issue for Speak Out's members. 

Indeed, Speak Out sought feedback from its members earlier this year about their experiences of violence and abuse. It hosted facilitated consultations at regional self advocacy meetings. Of the 110 people with intellectual or cognitive disabilities participating, over 70 had experienced some form of violence, abuse, exploitation or bullying in the community by someone they did not know. 

Ms Butler's evidence is that whether the violence and abuse happened recently or a long time ago, the trauma and impact on people from those impacts was no less. Ms Butler will describe how representatives of a Speak Out peer group engaged in a local advocacy with a local city council about incidents at a local bus mall. The Access and Inclusion Officer from that council engaged with local law enforcement, City Council officers and the bus operator, with an increased focus on safety, security at the bus mall being the result. 

The Speak Out members in the area have reported feeling reassured that the safety of the bus mall has improved, and they have commented positively about this. And while not all members feel safe enough to return to the area, it is a strong example of community action that's resulted in change. 

Also on Wednesday you will hear live or pre recorded oral evidence from Ashleigh and Ricki Spencer. Once again, their evidence will highlight the frequency, nature and impacts of violence and abuse that they have experienced in public places. Another witness, Marie, who is an autistic woman in her 60s, will describe what she has learned about violence and abuse targeting autistic people in the community from 19 years of involvement in a peer support network for adults with autism in New South Wales. 

Commissioner, the evidence from witnesses with disability and representatives of advocacy groups and organisations about the nature, extent, and impacts of violence and abuse paints a consistent picture. Nonetheless, you will hear that there is limited data to assist researchers and policy makers in understanding the nature, frequency and locations of violence and abuse as it is directed to people with disability in public places. 

These limitations in data and research will be explained by two expert witnesses: Professor Nicole Asquith of the University of Tasmania and Professor Emerita Gwynnyth Llewellyn of the University of Sydney. Professor Asquith's experience is in the field of policing and criminology. She is the Director of the Tasmanian Institute of Law Enforcement Studies. As well as her academic work at the University of Tasmania, she is the Convener of the Australian Hate Crime Network, a partnership of non government and government agencies and academics, including a core of eight people with disability and allies who collaborate on matters concerning ableist violence. 

Professor Emerita Llewellyn, who was a Professor of Family and Disability Studies and Co Director of the Centre for Research Excellence in Disability and Health, will describe her involvement in a number of research projects over many years, focusing on what she describes as interpersonal discrimination against people with a disability in public places. 

The expert witnesses' observations about limitations on the availability of data is consistent with the conclusions of research commissioned by this Royal Commission. There are reasons to be cautious about relying on the limited published data in relation to the prevalence of violence against and abuse of people with a disability in public places, as Professor Emerita Llewellyn will explain on Tuesday. We note, however, Commissioners, that what data there is does appear to reflect the lived experience of the witnesses from whom you will hear this week. 

For example, the findings of a 2020 analysis of the Australian Bureau of Statistics Personal Safety Survey, included that 21 per cent of people with disability experienced stalking and harassment since the age of 15 compared with 11 per cent of people without a disability. It said as well that people with a disability experienced stalking and harassment in the preceding 12 months at a rate 2.49 times higher than people without a disability. It said also that young people with disability aged between 18 and 29 years were twice as likely to experience violence than their peers across all types of violence. 

The results of a pilot project of the National Disability Data Asset, utilising data from New South Wales, were recently released. This data has a number of limitations but broadly found people with certain types of disability were more likely to experience violent crimes than others. A Community Attitudes Survey carried out in Victoria in 2018 found that 21.9 per cent of respondents said people should not expect too much from people with disability and 11.8 per cent said they felt people with a disability were a burden on society. 

On Thursday, we will hear from members of three different state police forces, South Australia, New South Wales, and Queensland. We will hear about the ways in which police forces are equipped to respond to the needs and reports of people with a disability, what mechanisms they have in place to encourage reporting of violence and abuse, and what responses are available for those who do so. We will seek to understand from our law enforcement witnesses how reports of abuse and violence against people with disability are recorded and what the response is where the identity of the perpetrator is not reasonably knowable. 

We will also hear evidence from Ms Debbie Mitchell of the Department of Social Services, and she will discuss the scope and purpose of a National Disability Abuse and Neglect Hotline, and how this hotline provides referral services to people with a disability who have been the subject of abuse or violence in any context. 

And we will turn then, Commissioners, to consider and examine the models that have been adopted in some jurisdictions to provide additional protections and monitoring for people with a disability. For example, the New South Wales Ageing and Disability Commissioner, Mr Robert Fitzgerald AM, will appear to discuss the role of his agency and whether it offers some scope to address the full range of abusive conduct that is the subject of evidence. 

Similarly, Ms Cassie Mason of the South Australian Adult Safeguarding Unit will give evidence about the way in which that unit can respond to violence and abuse of people with a disability when it is reported. 

We are testing, Commissioners, whether there needs to be a new and better way to ensure holistic response to the problem of violence and abuse against people with a disability and what role state based adult safeguards systems have in ensuring that there are accessible reporting pathways and appropriate responses. 

You will hear on Thursday afternoon about other community initiatives. The Canterbury Bankstown Disability Abuse Prevention Collaborative is a community organisation that is supported by the New South Wales Ageing and Disability Commission. Its mission is to protect adult with disability from abuse, neglect and exploitation in the home and community. Ms Renee Traynor will speak about the work of the collaborative. We see this evidence as important part of ensuring that any recommendation that this Royal Commission may consider making is not imposed upon the very people it seeks to assist. 

Ms Traynor will be joined by Ms Mariam Veizadeh, who founded the Islamophobia Register, and examples of a response to targeted violence that started as a grassroots level and is responsive to the needs of that community. 

Commissioners the online space is also a public space, and one that is increasingly present in our everyday lives. The online or virtual world shares much in common with real-life public spaces that will be the subject of so much evidence this week. In many online spaces, the identities of individuals with whom you interact are unknown and often unknowable. Many online environments, there is little control over how people are required to behave, and, in some instances, little or no consequence for inappropriate conduct. Once again it is an environment where people with a disability report substantial abuse and harassment. It is not only an issue for people with disability, of course, and there has been considerable recent public discussion about how to tackle a range of types of online harms, in Australia and elsewhere. However, people with disability may face particular risks of online abuse and may need targeted responses. 

On Friday we will hear from Ms Carly Findlay OAM, who has a substantial online presence, and has been subjected to vile online abuse because of her disability, as well as in real life. She will give evidence about her journey and about how far we have to go. 

We will then hear from Ms Kara Hinesley, and Ms Kathleen Reen, representatives of Twitter, one of the public squares of the 21st century. We will hear about their evolving understanding of the risks associated with the use of public space, and how Twitter is facing the challenges of violence, abuse and harassment as it plays out online. 

Finally, the eSafety Commissioner will provide evidence about the regulatory steps available to her when online abuse of people with disability is reported as well as about projects and strategies being implemented by her office in order to assist in preventing and responding to such online abuse. 

Commissioners, the evidence that we will present this week will identify the depth and breadth of the issues of violence and abuse in public places and will begin canvassing some of the options for reducing the prevalence of that behaviour. 

We will explore the available models for adjusting the available levers   regulatory levers to provide mechanisms to respond to the kinds of violence and abuse described or whether an entirely new approach is required. We recognise that the evidence that we have gathered for this hearing strongly suggests a substantial cultural and attitudinal element to the issues of violence and abuse. 

Commissioners, these are matters that go to the very core of this Royal Commission, and so, in that sense, Commissioners, the evidence gathered in this hearing will contribute, along with other hearings, towards recommendations aimed at the fundamental shifting of understanding towards greater inclusion in Australian society. How we can foster an approach to   that can make society safer and more inclusive. 

That true inclusion, true equality can only come with understanding and empathy, and it is that spirit, Commissioners, that I would like to return to the evidence of the week's first witness, Dr Keenahan. Among her many accomplishments, Dr Keenahan is an artist. Her art is in many ways directed at communicating her experiences of violence and abuse in public places over many years. Including, fundamentally, how she moves through public spaces. Dr Keenahan says in her statement, 

"After each time I am the subject of a instance of violence and abuse I have to practice self-affirmation to ensure that my sense of dignity remains. This is a very tiring exercise."

That self-affirmation has become part of Dr Keenahan's work. She has agreed to allow us to play that work for you to allow us to attempt to have some insight into what it is like to venture into public places, a space she has every right to be   and feel fear. 

I request that this audio work not be recorded by anyone in the hearing room, or anyone listening to the live stream. The text of the work will be captioned on the screen, and when the work has ended, I will ask that we adjourn briefly to prepare for the first witness. If it please the Commission and if the operator could now play the work. 

CHAIR: Thank you.

(Artwork – Whispering Forest played)

Internal monologue of FEMALE:

FEMALE: First  

(Deep breath in) 

FEMALE:   you scan everything - 

(Deep breath in)

FEMALE: - the street. 

(Car passing, murmuring voices in the background)

FEMALE: - the people - 

(Continued murmuring voices)

(Deep breath out)

FEMALE: - the general atmosphere. 

CHILD WHISPER: Why is she small? There's a little lady. 

(Deep breath in)

MALE: Shh. 

FEMALE: If it's bad   

FEMALE ECHO: You can always tell if it's bad.

FEMALE:   you look for an escape route. 

(Car passing, echoing footsteps get louder)

FEMALE: You cross the road. 

(Echoing footsteps continue, man yells)

(Deep breath)

FEMALE: You take another path. 

(Echoing footsteps continue)

FEMALE ECHO: Keep walking. 

(Echoing footsteps continue, deep breath)

FEMALE: And if a phone appears – 

(Echoing footsteps continue)


FEMALE: You ensure there is an object between you and that person. 

(Echoing footsteps continue, getting louder)


(Echoing footsteps continue)


(Echoing footsteps continue, deep breathing)

FEMALE: You have the right, however, to be here.

(Echoing footsteps stop)

FEMALE: and take space. 


(Deep breathing)


FEMALE: You're allowed to walk down the street like everyone else. 

(Deep breath out)

FEMALE: So you decide to stand tall   

FEMALE ECHO: Stand tall. 

FEMALE:   and keep walking. 

(Echoing footsteps, deep breath in)

FEMALE: You check the crowds and adjust accordingly. 

(Distorted echo of voices)

FEMALE ECHO: Keep walking. Always prepare for an attack. 

(Deep breathing, echoing footsteps continue)

FEMALE: If they have seen you, you gauge their facial response. 

(Echoing footsteps continue)

FEMALE ECHO: Prepared. 

(Echoing footsteps continue, deep breathing)

FEMALE: A smirk. 

(Echoing footsteps continue, quick sharp laugh)

FEMALE: A quick glance at their mate. 

(Echoing footsteps continue, deep breathing, quick sharp laugh)

FEMALE: A chuckle. 

(High pitched, distant laughter) 

(Deep breathing)

FEMALE: And you sigh with boredom. 

(Distorted echo of voices) 


(Deep breath in)

(Teenage chatter ‘fuck’, ‘shit’, and laughter in the distance)

FEMALE: Teenagers are trouble 

(Teenage chatter, boy yells ‘shit’ ‘midget’ in the distance)

FEMALE ECHO: Prepare, stand tall, keep... 

FEMALE: So you eyeball them - 

(Teenage chatter in the distance)

FEMALE: - and don't look away. 

(Echoing footsteps and deep breathing continue)

FEMALE: Older women smile - 

(Echoing footsteps and deep breathing continue)

 FEMALE: - condescendingly. 

(Distorted echo of voices)

(Echoing footsteps continue)

(Wolf whistle in the distance)

FEMALE: Businessmen can be predatory. 

(Echoing footsteps continue)

MALE: Look out, hey, look at this

FEMALE ECHO: So you eyeball them. 

(Echoing footsteps continue)

FEMALE: The look can also be thrown at them. 

(Echoing footsteps continue, deep breathing)

FEMALE ECHO: And don't look away. 

(Echoing footsteps continue)

CHILD: Mum, look!

FEMALE: Children can go either way, depending on their parents. 

(Echoing footsteps continue)

CHILD: Dad look, there's a little lady. 

(Echoing footsteps continue)

MALE: Shh. Don't stare. 

(Echoing footsteps continue)

CHILD: Why is she so small? 

(Echoing footsteps continue)

MALE: Shh. 

(Echoing footsteps continue)

(Deep breathing)

FEMALE: Sometimes there's a lovely smile and you relax. 

(Echoing footsteps quieten)


FEMALE: That makes your day. 

(Deep breathing)

(Distorted echo of voices)

(Deep breathing)

FEMALE: You are always prepared for an attack. 


FEMALE: And the attack –


(Car passing)

FEMALE:   may not be physical. It may be emotional. 

(Car passing) 


(Distorted echo of voice)

FEMALE: And psychological. 

MALE: Hey, midget! 

(Distorted echo of voice)

FEMALE: You are always thinking about your safety. 

FEMALE ECHO: Always thinking   prepared. 

(Distorted echo of voice)

FEMALE: You breathe in. 

(Deep breath in)


FEMALE: Put on your armour. 

FEMALE ECHO: Put on your armour.

(Deep breath)

FEMALE: And keep walking. 

(Echoing footsteps)

(Deep breathing) 

(Echoing footsteps continue)

(Deep breathing continues)

FEMALE ECHO: Put on your armour. 

(Echoing footsteps continue)

(Deep breathing continues)

FEMALE ECHO: Sometimes there's a lovely smile – 

(Deep breath)

FEMALE ECHO: - and you relax. 

(Deep breath)

FEMALE ECHO: That makes your day. 

(Deep breathing)

(Artwork – Whispering Forest ends)

MS BENNETT: If we could now adjourn briefly? 

CHAIR: Yes, it's just before 11. We will adjourn until 5 past 11. 


 <RESUMED 11:18 AM 

CHAIR: Yes, Ms Bennett. 

MS BENNETT:  Thank you, Chair. The first witness this morning is Dr Debra Keenahan. I ask the witness to be sworn or affirmed. 

CHAIR: Dr Keenahan, thank you very much for coming to the Royal Commission in Brisbane to give evidence today. We very much appreciate your assistance and the statement that you have provided. I will ask you, please, to follow the instructions that will be given to you for the taking of the affirmation. Thank you.

ASSOCIATE: I will read you the affirmation. At the end, please say yes or I do. Do you solemnly and sincere declare and affirm that the evidence which you shall give will be the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth? 



CHAIR: Thank you, Dr Keenahan. I will now ask Ms Bennett to ask you some questions.


MS BENNETT: Dr Keenahan, you have made a statement to assist this Commission; is that right? 


MS BENNETT:  Have you read that statement recently? 


MS BENNETT:  Are its contents true and correct? 

DR KEENAHAN: Absolutely, yes. 

MS BENNETT: Thank you. Chair, I would like to, at this stage, tender this statement as Exhibit 28 1, along with the attachments to that exhibit, numbered 28 1.1 through to 28 1.7, excluding 28 1.8 and including 28 1.9, in accordance with the list I trust the Commissioner has. 

CHAIR: Yes. Thank you very much. Those documents will be admitted into evidence and given the markings that Ms Bennett has indicated. 


MS BENNETT:  Thank you, Chair. Dr Keenahan, you are the youngest of five children? You grew up in Wollongong? 


MS BENNETT:  Can you tell the Commissioners about what it was like growing up in your family? 

DR KEENAHAN: Oh, I think I had a pretty good family. I have four brothers, all significantly older than me, and my parents came over from England. I think the term is Ten Pound Poms. I was born six years after they arrived in Australia. I was a change of life child. My father was 42 when they had me and my mother 41. All of my brothers are able-bodied, as are my parents, which is the case for 80 per cent of people who are born with achondroplasia, which is my condition, that is, they are born to able bodied parents. 

I was diagnosed with achondroplasia at about three or four days of age. My mother would tell the story of being in the hospital, because back then, the mother stayed longer, had longer periods in the hospital, and she tells the story of being visited by a doctor who said   and I quote, "Mrs Keenahan, there is a problem with the baby. She it was dwarfism" and she was left. My mother said she cried. And the reason she cried was that she knew my life would be hard. She didn't cry because I had dwarfism. That made no difference. She cried because she thought my life would be harder. That was how my father found her. 

They were determined that my life would be as normal as possible. My father was a very forward thinking man and he   because of having this idea that I   my life   I would have difficulties, that he was determined to make my life more easier. And so he said, one thing would be education and the school situation. And so he said right at this point, "She has to have a simple name." Which I do. Debra, D e b r a. And he was determined that I would be able to spell and write my name before I started school, with the whole intention of he wanted me to be able to show that I was capable and very capable. 

And I can remember when I started kindy, I was the only one in my class who could spell and write my name. So, number one achievement. And so that   that was how   I think that story tells the brand of my family. 

MS BENNETT:  And is what your father was really anticipating there is that people were going to underestimate you. 


MS BENNETT: And they were going to expect you not be able to do things? 

DR KEENAHAN: He   dad would always say to me, "Debra, it would be wonderful if society came to you. And in many ways, it should. But chances are it won't. You are always going to have to fight."

MS BENNETT:  I'm going to come to specifics in a moment but as you sit here today, would you say your father was right back then? 


MS BENNETT: You have always had to fight? 

DR KEENAHAN: Yes, I would like to think it was a good fight, yes. 

MS BENNETT:  Let's go through some of the   your journey. You first studied and qualified as a psychologist. 


MS BENNETT: Can you tell the Commissioners about what interested you in that particular branch? 

DR KEENAHAN: Well, I can remember the time I actually   prior to doing psychology, I had always wanted to do zoology. I was originally thinking doing zoology. I was intrigued about marine mammals. But I am an avid cricket fan. And I   we went to a cricket match at the Sydney cricket ground, and it was Australia and the West Indies. And this is back in the time of Viv Richards, Dev and Hall, you know. They were always beating the pants off of everybody. So, of course, they were beating the pants off of Australia. 

And we had a young family behind us, two children and a father. And as it became clear that Australia were going to lose, these children became really vociferous and racist in how they were behaving, the calling out, and it was vicious. It was   it was scary. It was vicious. And the father thought the whole thing was hilarious. And I thought it was scary. And I couldn't understand it. These people just simply looked different, as did I. I just look different. And that was the   the event that changed my mind. I said, "I've got to understand this. I have to understand this." And I changed my choice, and I became a psychologist, and I studied dehumanisation. 

MS BENNETT:  And what did that   did that give you any insight into what you were experiencing or    insights?

DR KEENAHAN: Yes, it did. It did. So, we have heard today the term "dehumanisation" and that   as I said, that's what I studied for, my first PhD. And, for me, it was very much founded in the social structure and especially if you have social structures that have strong sense of hierarchies in them in which there is this notion of some people are better than or superior to or whatever. And so, for me, it was very much that dynamic of asserting some sort of hierarchy or superiority. 

Of course, I'm simplifying this immensely, but at the crux of it the issue of not seeing others as moral equals, and I think that is critical. That is the fundamental thing in dehumanisation is not seeing others as moral equals. And so hence if somebody is not your moral equal, then you can treat them in a way that you would consider to not be appropriate for oneself. 

MS BENNETT:  You mentioned there your first PhD. Your second  


MS BENNETT:    was on critical disability aesthetics; is that right? 


MS BENNETT: Can you tell the Commissioners about what led you to that area of study as well? 

DR KEENAHAN: Well, I have always done art. And I also   I'm one of those interesting people, I just have a lot of interest in a lot of different things. And I've always loved art, always done art, loved theatre. And when I was much, much younger, I would have loved to have made that a career choice. But 60-odd years ago, that's a point where you go, "No, you've got to get yourself a real job." And so that becomes the zoology and then the psychology. 

So   anyway, my dehumanisation, the first PhD, became the foundation for my second one, critical disability aesthetics, and my   I base my artwork on communicating the critical social theory of disability. I will say ad nauseam, my dwarfism doesn't disable me. Yes, it may impair me in some ways, but it doesn't disable me. What disables me is people's attitudes to my dwarfism. And what I found with being in academia is that I was talking with   it was a very narrow spectrum of people and affecting a very narrow spectrum of people. And I wanted my work to be broader and my experience with the arts is that it does engage a very broad spectrum of people. And so, consequently, I wanted my art to reflect this phenomenon of, well, that   what I said about my dwarfism not disabling me but people's attitudes being what was the disabling   

MS BENNETT:  Can I pause there just to show a few of those examples that you exhibit to your statement, and I will ask the operator just to scroll through three examples. There are IND.185.12, IND.185.1.3, IND.185.1.4. And can you tell the Commissioners just briefly about what motivated you to do these works? 

DR KEENAHAN: This is a sculpture, life-sized form called Little Big Woman Condescension, and the reason that I did this   this image   you will see that it is life-size, that is me with it, the work being on exhibit at the Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences. And what this work does is capture an attitude of   as the work says condescension, which is something that we   people with short stature will often experience, and that is this attitude of us being like children and so being spoken down to and being condescended to. 

And what can go with that is an attitude of not being taken seriously, of being somewhat a little comic or   and sometimes with this attitude, it isn't matched with one of negative or hatred or anything like that, but it is, as I said   used the description before, not being a moral equal. So, I can be spoken to like this by someone who I could be even 10 years, 15 years older. And yet spoken down to like a child. 

MS BENNETT:  Is it the same thing your father talked about as you   needing you to be able to write your name. People aren't going to expect you to be able to do that when you get to school? People are not going to expect you to be their moral equal? Can you tell the Commissioners a bit more about what you mean by that? 

DR KEENAHAN: Yes. Well, when I say the "moral equal", we grow up   and all cultures have a moral framework which, of course, varies from culture to culture. And the assumption is with   that within the culture that people who are deemed equal, that framework applies to them in the same way. However, if someone is seen as an "Other" with a capital O, an Other, not equal, well, that moral framework does not apply to them to the same extent. Now, that moral framework being based and that application being based on respect. But if you   if someone is seen as another dehumanised or not a moral equal, and Other, then that respect can be diminished. 

MS BENNETT: Can you tell the Commissioners a little bit about how that plays out for you in public? Now, you give a number of examples in your statement, but start with what you talk about in paragraph 17 as the most common form of verbal abuse that you receive. 

DR KEENAHAN: Yes, yes. Language is incredibly important. It is powerful. It is how we communicate, not just ideas and thoughts, but it's how we communicate attitudes. It can be how we communicate attitudes as well. And language is   it evolves. What was acceptable to say 20 years ago is not as acceptable to say today. And words   names are certainly one of the ways that we can   that people use to diminish, denigrate, and insult others. Within the short statured community, the word "midget" is deeply offensive. And part of the reason for that word being offensive is because it actually stems from the meaning for an insect, an insect that can be squashed, killed, gotten rid of. Interestingly, when I am yelled at from a car, the insult that is always used is the word "midget". 

MS BENNETT: It is often surrounded with swear words? 

DR KEENAHAN: Yes, yes, yes. It is   pardon, it is effing midget. Yes. Usually. That's usually it. 

MS BENNETT:  Without being precise, is this a common occurrence? 

DR KEENAHAN: Yes. Yes. Now, when   I said that rather strongly and without hesitation. The answer is yes. The last time it happened to me was just simply last week. It would happen   depending, of course, on the amount to which I go out. Obviously, the more I go out, the more it's going to happen. And obviously if I go out into places where I am not known, then it's more likely to happen. There would rarely be   I think it would be the more social I am, the more out   time I spend in public, you would say it would happen, on average, easily once a month. Easily. Easily once a month. And if it   if I go out more, then it would be   yes, it would increase exponentially. 

MS BENNETT:  You talk in your statement about a visceral response to those occurrences. Can you tell the Commissioners what it's like in your body, your mind, when this happens? 

DR KEENAHAN: You tense up. More often than not it happens from a car rushing by you. They yell at you, or it is from a distance from a crowd. You don't necessarily know where it's immediate   you can't identify. You don't know what they are doing. It's always yelled at. It's always yelled and so there is this   I use the word in the sound art "attack." And that's what it feels like. You brace, you immediately   is it coming again? Are they coming at me? Am I going to   have they gone? Do I keep walking? What do I do? Is   and that goes through one's mind very quickly. And so it is   you assess all these things rather quick. But there is a tense in the body, the heart rate will go up to the point where you will feel it in your ears. That   yes. 

MS BENNETT:  You talk in your statement about an occasion at the Museum of Applied Arts and Science where you went to discuss your work and you felt surrounded and threatened by a group of boys. Can you tell the Commissioners about that experience for you? 

DR KEENAHAN: It was both disappointing and scary, and I had to resort to a behaviour to protect myself and another person that I shouldn't have to do. But what happened was, I was there to talk about the sculpture that you saw, and while I was in this public area, there was a school group coming through. It was a   I'm assuming it was a private school, as they were all of the same gender and the nature of the uniform. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to identify the uniform specifically. 

And what happened was I was stood in this room and a couple of the boys came in. One spotted me, pointed me out to the other one. They laughed and then ran in to the other room, I'm assuming to grab their other mates, because more and more came into the room basically to get a load of me. I then was   as I was taken with one of the museum staff, because I had finished my business, they took me   the individual took me down to wait for the lift. Now, as I was waiting for the lift, another staff member came along, and she was heavily pregnant. 

Anyway, these boys   more of them   started coming around and it was the jostling and the "have a look" and "ha ha ha" and it was   well, now when I say easily 10, a dozen   something like that. So, we are talking a significant crowd now. Anyway, they were starting to   to move around us. And one thing I have experienced is the   all too often, is this   okay, they won't address me or whatever, but they will do a   a shove or a push or they will push their mate into me or something. And it's, "Ha ha ha you touched a midget, ha ha ha" that sort of thing. 

And you could tell from their jostling from their behaviour, that that was the sort of mindset, the framework that I was dealing with. I was concerned for the staff member with me. As I said, she was heavily pregnant. Anyway, the lift came up and it was   it's a glass walls. So, you can see out. The doors opened and I let the staff member in first. I followed her in. And I swivelled around very quickly, and the boys were coming   surging forward, clearly to get in to   you know get into close proximity. And I said to them in a very low, vicious   and I used a foul language   "Don't you effing dare." And they backed back. 

CHAIR: We have got the full version in your statement. 

DR KEENAHAN: Thank you. Thank you. So, I don't have to   right. Thank you. 

CHAIR: Well, you can if you want to. 

MS BENNETT:  Please don't feel constrained. 

DR KEENAHAN: Yes. Now, that was very   and as we were going down, you could see them from   as I said, it was glass walls. 

CHAIR: How old were the boys? 

DR KEENAHAN: Easily mid-teens. Easily mid-teens. Teenage boys are usually the worst. Yes. Usually the worst. 

MS BENNETT:  Let's talk a little bit about filming and photography. 

DR KEENAHAN: Yes, well, I have had more than my fair share of that. One happened just recently, a week   a bit ago. Again, with a teenage boy. And then I will talk about the time when my daughter and I went to the public   the park. But I was taking our puppy for a walk, and I was going up to our park. And as I was walking up the hill, I turned around and this young man on his way to school   he was clearly a senior. I could tell from his uniform   probably about 16, 17. And he stopped and just overtly stared at me, laughed, and he pulled out his phone. 

And he was obviously taking   and I stood, and I just went   like that at him. And he put his phone down and he just cacked himself laughing and then put it up to continue. And I did this again at him. And he then just put it on the top of the head and then mocked how   I mean, we have an obvious way of walking which we can't help, which is a side to gait   and did that. And I just thought   and this is where I live. 

MS BENNETT:  Just to pause there before you move to the next story, where do you suspect those images   where do you fear those images end up? 

DR KEENAHAN: I would love to know. I   I know   I am aware of an associate of mine who has found herself as a meme on social media. She has found herself as a meme. And that is most distressing. So, the capacity for that to happen is possible. There are other sites that such things can, you know, there are sites on   about dwarf jokes, and I'm currently doing a work around that. And the opening line on the site goes: 

"Dwarf jokes, incredibly cruel? Yes. Very funny? Absolutely." 

What can we say?

MS BENNETT:  I think I interrupted. You were about to tell us about a park that you had an incident that   

DR KEENAHAN: Yes, yes. This was with a family outing. And I was with my   my husband, who is able bodied, and my daughter, who has dwarfism like me. And we went to Western Sydney Parklands. We arrived, we parked the car, we got out of the car, we were walking along, and across the other side was a young family   a couple of adults and kids. And they spotted us. They started to cack themselves laughing, and they pulled out their phones. Sarah and I have learnt   and what you start doing is dodging, going   you know, weaving in and out of cars. In other words, you   almost sounding like a moving target, but you make sure you get something between yourself and the camera. 

Anyway, that was most distressing because they didn't even hide their laughter, they didn't hide their efforts to take photos of us. We went into the Parklands. We found a spot. We had our two puppies. We   we raise guide dog puppies and so we had one with us as well as our own. And we were sat there, and we had another group come by us and we obviously   they saw our difference and made comment on it, laughed and, again, there was an attempt to take out the phone. But they did move on, thank Heavens. 

Anyway, Sarah   my daughter and I decided to go for a walk and we   and left my husband with the puppies. We walked through this garden area, we came up over a rise and over a   like   almost like a Japanese bridge. And there was a gentleman coming towards us and he quite overtly had the phone and brought it up, pointing it directly at us. Anyway, clearly my daughter had had enough and he   

MS BENNETT:  Just to pause there, this is the third time in the one visit to a park. 

DR KEENAHAN: This is the third time. Oh, yes. 

MS BENNETT: And these are all different people? 


MS BENNETT:  And none of them are known to you? 

DR KEENAHAN: That's exactly right, absolutely. Yes. 

MS BENNETT:  Sorry, please continue. 

DR KEENAHAN: Yes. And my daughter confronted him, and she said, "Excuse me, you have just taken a photograph of us. We don't appreciate that. We don't like it. It's not appropriate. Please get rid of it." And he goes, "Oh, I didn't, I didn't." But as he did that, he put his phone down and there we were on the screen. And she pointed to it, and she said, "Yes, you did. There we are." She said, "I want you to delete that now, please." Which he did and then   "oh I'm sorry" and wandered off. 

Anyway, we walked on, and I looked back a few times to make sure we were still   you know, not being further filmed. And we got back to my husband and the puppies, and my daughter was in tears. And she said, "I just want to go home." I don't want to be here anymore. I just want to go home." We hadn't even been there two hours. Hadn't been there two hours. 

MS BENNETT:  And, Dr Keenahan, you have been back to that park since? 

DR KEENAHAN: No. And I would like to think I think I would. I would like to think I would. But that memory would be there, and it would be tarnished with a sense of anxiety and concern, and I think I can safely say that my daughter wouldn't be back. I can safely say she wouldn't be back. 

MS BENNETT:  Dr Keenahan, only so far as you are  

DR KEENAHAN: Can I say one thing?


DR KEENAHAN: There was one big positive from that event. I was very proud of my daughter, and I was really pleased to know that she had the capacity to stand up for herself and that she knew that she should not be treated like that. And she had the adequate   enough dignity and self respect to be able to say, "You don't do that." So that, for me, was the take home from that. 

MS BENNETT:  Thank you Dr Keenahan. Can I ask   and only so far as you are comfortable, can you   what can you tell the Commissioners about the kinds of sexualised comments and abuse that you have been subjected to? I emphasise only to the extent that you are comfortable. 

DR KEENAHAN: Right. You are talking about the comments the verbal comments. Oh, I have been grabbed. I have had   and these are   these are by strangers. These are by strangers. I have been grabbed on public transport. I have had a man rub his crotch at the back of my head. I have had a hand coming down the front of my top grabbing my breast. I have had overt sexual comments about having intercourse with me would be like having sex with a child. Overt comments like, "You are just at the right height for a head job or a blow job" or "while you're down there, love." That's a classic one. "While you're down there." 

I have also had the overt question, "Can you even have sex?" Response being, "Yes, but never on the first date." You know. No. It's   there's just these overt, really disrespectful   and with them comes this menace. Almost like a sense of menace of what could be done. And I can   I can say that throughout my teenage   later teenage years and young adult years, I would not go to nightclubs. I would not go to nightclubs. It was just no go zones. No go zones. 

MS BENNETT:  Has that been your consistent experience over the years? Is it still your experience today? 

DR KEENAHAN: Well, I don't visit discos. It depends. Certain environments are more welcoming than others. Some pubs, clubs, can be more welcoming than others. You can gauge the atmosphere rather quickly. You can gauge it as soon as you go to the entrance and if there are people outside and if there is any   what I   I would refer to in my work as microaggressions. The microaggressions, the shoving, the chuckling, you know, the dirty looks. That sort of thing. And it's the microaggressions that you read, and you read very quickly. And they will give the tenor of an environment and there will be times when I will be at a place with my husband and I will say   or just simply say, "We need to leave. We need to leave" because it doesn't feel safe. And it's the microaggressions that I am reading. 

MS BENNETT: You tell us in your statement that you didn't   you don't   you don't report these incidents. Can you tell the Commissioners about what gets in the way for you? 

DR KEENAHAN: Part of it has to do with the fact that it   they are microaggressions. And it's a bombardment of microaggressions, which then presents as a general atmosphere. So, in that   in those situations, what is it you would report? Who is it you would report to? So, that makes it impractical. Now, with the situation of if I am actually threatened or handled or when I've done that in   when I've had that in   on public transport, which is when the main   the most overt ones were, I really   it became   because they are what I would almost term a hit and run. It's like who would you report to? What would you report   what would be done? 

And there comes a point at which all you want to do is get to a point of being safe. You just want to be safe. You want to get through your day. And taking on   for me, addressing those sorts of behaviours and trying to do something about that is what I'm doing now. There is some capacity to get something to happen. In those situations at those points, because they happen so frequently, you will be spending a lot of time reporting to people and not getting through your day. 

MS BENNETT:  Do you fear, Dr Keenahan, you might not be taken seriously? 

DR KEENAHAN: Yes. Oh yes. 

MS BENNETT:  Can you tell the Commissioners about that? 

DR KEENAHAN: And it becomes, "But it's just a look. Oh, it's just a look."  Or, "Come on   you're oversensitive. You're oversensitive. Grow a thicker skin."  That sort of   and it's also I have   I have unfortunately received a comment, "Oh, well, if it happens so much you must get used to it." I go, "No. No. Nobody gets used to being abused." You may come to expect it. You learn to manage it, you never, never get used to it. 

MS BENNETT:  These quite serious sexual assaults you have been talking about, I mean, is that something you felt you could report to the police? 

DR KEENAHAN: In those situations no. No. No. No, I didn't. No, I didn't. In retrospect, probably I should have. Probably you should have but, no, I didn't. Again, it's that sort of thing of what would you   if you   I didn't   I couldn't identify the perpetrator in that   in those situations. What would I do?

MS BENNETT:  Have you ever heard of a Commonwealth reporting line   a Commonwealth line for   before this Royal Commission, that is, have you ever heard of   

DR KEENAHAN: No, no. No, I hadn't, and it was through talking about this that I learnt about the online thing. And I   I wished I had   if those things were made much more common knowledge. To empower people to actually do something, to take some sort of control of the situation is one avenue for redress and to assist. 

MS BENNETT:  What's the online thing you are referring to? 

DR KEENAHAN: I believe there is an online that I can report that people can report to. And I was not aware of that until   yes. Yes. 

MS BENNETT:  Can you tell the Commissioners about what the overall impact of these matters are on you all together in terms of places you avoid, behaviours that you change? 

DR KEENAHAN: Right. Yes. Oh, I avoid skate parks like the plague. I will not only cross the road, I will go a block out of my way to avoid a skate park. Going past a school at recess or lunch can be problematic that   yes, you basically become a moving target then. Certain nightclubs, certain pubs you will avoid like the plague. I am   I   I force myself to go to beaches because my daughter enjoys them. She enjoys them. She is a swimmer. She is   well, she was a competitive swimmer. She loves swimming. She loves the water. I enjoy the water. I do have an aversion to beaches. And I   but I force myself to go. They become a forum for comments and the microaggressions. 

MS BENNETT:  You speak in your statement as well about online experiences, and you have said you have just become aware of some online reporting, but you can tell the Commissioners a little bit about your experience in the online world? Has that been markedly different to your experience in the real world? 

DR KEENAHAN: Yes, yes. This is   with the online situation, I   I   I think you would be aware   it's in there   that I did the ABC show One Plus One and   which was a wonderful experience, a very positive experience for me. And they had a comments section and absolutely the overwhelming majority were very positive and supportive. Absolutely. But there came negative comments with that, which were very quickly taken down. There was the recent situation which was most distressing of members of the executive of the SSPA meeting with Bill Shorten to discussing the NDIS. 

Now, I am fully aware that Mr Shorten actually requested if they could take a photograph, and he requested what would be their preferred way of having the photograph taken. And they said, "Let's just stand with each other", which they did. He put it up and that came to me via the SSPA. Anyway, there came a barrage of comments all to do with words to the effect of, "Hey, Shorten, what are you into? Midget porn now?" And it just continued from there. Completely derogatory. Very, very distressing to the point where he took that down. 

Myself, I also had a period of   as is the acceptable way of doing things in the past decade, of being online dating. And I would experience extremely negative comments on there. One coming from a   his profile described himself as educated, was, "What is somebody with your affliction doing on a site like this?" And there would be similar sorts of negative comments. I was always honest and open about my physical condition. So I never hid it, and with   if I shared   I shared a photograph once with an individual whom we had been speaking with and I got back, "If I had have known you really looked like that, I would never have wasted my time on you." But a lot of negative   the comments around the "having sex with you would be like having sex with a child." That sort of thing. 

MS BENNETT:  Dr Keenahan, what do you think needs to change? 

DR KEENAHAN: Well, that   that is a very good question. What is really required is a cultural shift. There is, I believe   it's not a simple answer because a cultural change is a big effort. Because what is required is a multiplicity of activity in various areas, and all of these have to occur all at once. Cultural change can only occur slowly because it is complex and has multiple avenues. 

But one   obviously I take a great deal of   place a great deal of value on education. So, our education system is one. And of course there are massive inroads in that area already. I mean, hats off definitely. The way my child was handled in the public system and in   also in the independent system was really excellent, but she still experienced bullying, but it was addressed extremely quickly. But that is certainly where a lot of effort needs to go. As you said, my main source of angst comes with teenagers. And so we are looking at high schools. So, education. So, we are talking about respect, valuing difference, and trying to understand different perspectives on life. 

I would also say the media. How people with disability from represented. And we are talking about all avenues of media. So, we are talking about cultural representation here. We are talking about newspapers. We are talking about the news. We are talking about TV. We are talking about visual arts. The theatre. It would be wonderful to start seeing the representation of people with disability or disabled people as simply members of society doing   living their lives whereby the storyline isn't necessarily focused around their difference. They are just simply part of the fabric of the narrative. Which would   which is basically what we are. 

So you have cultural representation, but I would also say   and this comes through partly with the education, and that is our medical system and our doctors and how they approach and have an understanding around disability and especially with a disability that with   that is permanent, that is   has a genetic aspect to it and the   how that is discussed with the parents be, with the families, and such like. 

Can we take, for example, my parents in that opening experience when I was diagnosed, that was very negative and devastating to them, and they went to multiple doctors. And they went to one specialist who   he said to them, "So, tell me, she's got four   you have got four sons?" And they said, “Yes". He said, "Tell me, what are they like academically?" And mum and dad said, "Well, they're not slouches." And they weren't. They said, "They are not slouches." And he said, "Well, I can tell you this little one is going to buy and sell them." That was the first time they got something positive. And there's a lot to be positive about. But up until then, it had all been negative. 

MS BENNETT:  Dr Keenahan, the last question I would like to ask you is to really invite you to say anything else that you would like the Commissioners to know. We would like to hear from you about your experience, what needs to change, anything else you would like this Royal Commission to know? 

DR KEENAHAN: Well, the first thing I would like to say is I think this is a wonderful opportunity, and I would like to thank you for giving me this opportunity and other members of the community to do so. And I think we are at a really important juncture in our society. In your opening address, Commissioner, you quite appropriately addressed all the positives and the way forward that our society has gone. We still have ways to go, and this Commission is one way forward. 

You spoke quite, you know, accurately on human rights, and for nearly 30 years, that's been my area of teaching in academia on human rights. And when   often, with aspects around, you know, I was talking about cultural representation, and one of the issues becomes comedians and we, being people with dwarfism, being used as a source of humour and comedy. And when I talk about the issue around jokes and that sort of thing and issues around social media and what is said, and often what I am hit with is, "Oh, but there is such a thing as freedom of speech. We have a freedom to do this" sort of thing. 

And when I was teaching, I would say, yes, yes, we do. But one thing about rights, with rights also comes responsibilities. And the one   rights that one person has are shared by absolutely everybody. And I also talk about with freedom   freedom is an interesting thing, because there are two sides to it. There is freedom to do things but freedom from. So, you   yes, we all have freedom of expression, but we also have a right to be free from abuse. And so it is always a balancing act. 

And I think that this Commission is an opportunity of getting to understand that it is a balancing act. It's never just a one-way street, that it is a matter of respecting how you wish to be treated oneself is exactly how everyone else wishes to be treated. And so I think this is just a wonderful opportunity to start that conversation. Thank you. 

MS BENNETT:  Commissioners, those are the questions I had for Dr Keenahan. 

CHAIR: Dr Keenahan, thank you very much. If you don't mind, I will ask my colleagues if they have any questions for you, if that's okay. 


CHAIR: I will start with Commissioner Galbally. 

COMMISSIONER GALBALLY: Thank you. Thank you very much. It was   made me enraged listening, really. And so to what degree would you say that the experiences you described in the park and the   when   you know, extensive and constant, that they are hate crimes about people with disability? 

DR KEENAHAN: Oh, oh, I   some of it is hatred. I think a lot of it is curiosity. I think some of it is fear. I would say   and also some of it is just sheer ignorance. But hatred, yes, it is definitely, definitely there. Yes. 

COMMISSIONER GALBALLY: And that's the other end that you   

DR KEENAHAN: Yes, yes. Yes. I   it's   I think the other thing too is, when we are talking about disability, is that it is the one group   minority group   that everybody has the capacity of becoming a member of. And I sometimes wonder if that is a dynamic that plays for people and that projection of fear and, yes, hatred in that way.


CHAIR: Commissioner Ryan. 

COMMISSIONER RYAN: Thank you, Mr Chair. I was just   I thought it would be useful, given that we Commissioners have had the opportunity of your written statement, something I don't think has quite come out in the questioning we've had to date is just how recent these events are. For example, the incident at the Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences, which most of us know as the Powerhouse Museum, how long ago did that happen? 

DR KEENAHAN: That was 2017. 

COMMISSIONER RYAN: So not long ago, really. 

DR KEENAHAN: No, just last week I experienced that   you know, that young gentleman that I said about   I experienced him again just last week with a mate of his. He wasn't as overt in his, but there was the shoving, the "Hey, look at that" and "ha ha ha." I also had a week prior an incident in the shopping centre near where I live of a young man spotting me   spotting me and being very performative and dramatic and running at me as if he was going to push me. I was able to get out of the way and ran past, and he yelled at me and screamed quite viciously. So, I also just at the beginning of last week got yelled at from a car near me. So, these things happen   it's very recent. 

COMMISSIONER RYAN: So they are not historic, and they are not reducing? 

DR KEENAHAN: No, they are not. If anything, they have ramped up of late, unfortunately. 

COMMISSIONER RYAN: It is wonderful to speak to someone   and I must say, it has been lovely to hear you talk about the arts. But you have also talked about young people in particular who I think, if I have taken your message clearly, there might be a particular problem particularly with young people and school students. I'm wondering whether you've put any thought to the art with which we expose them too, particularly at the early stages of their life. And I don't want to go into them, but there is clearly movies and other portrayals of people of short stature that probably don’t set our young   and I don't suggest cancelling  

DR KEENAHAN: Totally. Yes.

COMMISSIONER RYAN:   but there is something we need to do to sort of put that in a context before kids arrive at school, practically framed with, you know, things such as, you know, much-beloved stuff such as Willy Wonka and Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and so on.

DR KEENAHAN: Well, it is all about the representation and the media, the television, online movies. They are very powerful. Very, very powerful. Computer games. Computer games in which we all too often readily perform violence upon the subjects portrayed in there. But as soon as you represent somebody of difference in a comical way or an unauthentic   real way, then   and that's the dehumanising, well, then  

COMMISSIONER RYAN: Condescending, I must say, is a very powerful image. 

DR KEENAHAN: Yes, yes. Then you actually   I won't say you give permission, but you certainly diminish the impact that negative treatment can have upon   upon these people. So, keeping in mind that teenagers are in a period of identity flux quite significantly, that they are an important cohort to really target as regards getting constructive ways of body imagery, of   for their own sake, not just for how they relate to others, but even for themselves, very constructive ideas and representations of difference and understanding that it is okay to be different. So, I think the arts have a   a great capacity of being a very powerful avenue for addressing these issues, particularly for youngsters. Yes. 

COMMISSIONER RYAN: You said in your evidence that you thought the way back from this is going to be very complex. 


COMMISSIONER RYAN: It will probably take us some time. I think in some of the research and other things that the Disability Royal Commission has tried to look at, one of the things we have kind of looked at   and I was wondering of your view   are there things which you have seen work to change attitudes that could be accelerated or scaled up? Because I have a feeling that might be a fruitful place to look? 

DR KEENAHAN: Well, one thing that they   that has   has been shown to be most effective is equal status contact with people, but not only equal status contact, but also equal status contact whereby the people have to work together. So, in a team situation, even if that is in a game situation or such like. Contact in and of itself isn't necessarily   it is helpful, but the equal status contact is particularly helpful. But the interdependent interactions are   can I give a quick example of   with my daughter's situation. 

When she started school, she was in a public school, and I went to the teachers when she started. And I said, "Look, I am happy to come to the school and do, you know, a public discussion about the difference just to get the kids used to it." And the teacher said, "No, it's alright, Debra. It will be fine, don't worry. We have talked about it with the kids, and it will be alright." Okay. That was the very first week. Week three, they came to me and said, "Debra, can we take you up on that offer to do" and I said, fine. 

Anyway, they split the school into two. They did the public   the assembly 3 to 6 and then they were going to do kindies to 2. And they started the 3 to 6 assembly with, "This is Dr Debra Keenahan, Sarah's mum. She is here to talk about disability."  And I said, "Sometimes when we don't understand difference, we feel fear and we avoid people or we get scared and we don't like them, and I'm here to answer any of your questions to kind of get rid of some of those fears and anxieties". And I said, "So you can ask me whatever questions you like." 

And all these hands shot up and they said   and they were very practical questions. How do you drive your car? How   where do you buy your clothes? Have you changed your house? You know, all   very practical questions. So, many that they had to put me to the side of stage and have the line-up of the kids and I would just address it, and it was wonderful. And it was really good. And then they finished that and then they brought the kindies to year 2 in. So, we did the same sort of blurb and I said, "So, you can ask me whatever question you like. Whatever you would like to ask me, I will answer it."

All these hands shot up. And I said to this little one down there, I said, "Okay, darling how about you?"  And she said, "How do babies get out of their mummy's tummy?" I went, "That is a really good question and very grown up. So, I'm going to pass it to the principal to answer." He got up and looked at me. And said, "Yes, that is very grown up, but we will leave it for the classroom." So okay next question. Boy's hand, "How about you?"  "How many stars are in the sky?" “A lot”. 

Anyway by this time the teachers are at the back, and they are   I mean, at the sides and they are cacking themselves laughing. The parents are at the back, and they are laughing. I said, okay, what's   another question. This hand. "How about you?"  "How do you make cement?" It was clear   that was lovely because, to those children, the disability didn't matter. The difference didn't matter. They   my daughter was part of their fabric. They had far more important   far more important questions to ask, like how do you make cement. There were far more   and I think that's where we want to get. That's the point we want to get to. Where difference and disability is just part of the fabric of our lives and, yes, just accept it. 

COMMISSIONER RYAN: Thank you. Thank you, Mr Chair. Can I just say to you thank you for coming today. It's been a marvellous experience listening to such amazing, accomplished witness. Thank you. 

CHAIR: I just want to know, how do you make cement? 

DR KEENAHAN: I do too. I want to know how you make cement as well. 

MS BENNETT:  I will take it on notice, Chair. 

CHAIR: If you wouldn't mind taking that on notice, giving us an answer. It's   not many people have a doctorate. Far fewer people have two doctorates. Yours came 31 years apart. I'm interested to know whether your experiences with the first doctorate, in terms of the matters you have been talking about, was any different from your experience with the second doctorate that I understand you have obtained through the University of New South Wales? 

DR KEENAHAN: Yes. Yes. My first doctorate informed the second one. And when I say   the phenomenon of dehumanisation, most certainly. So   and, in many ways, my second doctorate really enriched the first. I kind of feel like going back and rewriting my first one. 

CHAIR: I was really thinking about your experiences with other people, other academics within the institution, whether there was any particular difference between your experiences 30 odd years apart. 

DR KEENAHAN: Within academic institutions at those levels, I always experienced a deep respect. Always experienced a deep respect. I can't say that I experienced negative attitudes in that sense. It was   my first experience was   I love the process of learning. I really do. I just enjoy it. And I found that for my first PhD, I   I went to both Wollongong and Oxford, and many people talk about Oxford being quite elitist, which in some ways it is. However, I certainly never experienced any form of discrimination or felt excluded in any way, shape or form when I was there. 

And, similarly, at UNSW in my   during my time there as a student, I never experienced any form of discrimination. I   I think actually, in some situations, people were a bit   because I was walking into a   a program of study already with a PhD, so that, I think, was a bit   they kind of   yes, a bit daunting sometimes. But. 

CHAIR: That's very interesting. In your   you have referred today to something that is of universal import, and that is the need for respect and the terrible things when groups are regarded as the Other. In your work, have you looked at connections with other forms of that kind of attitude and what it leads to? I think of the Holocaust, I think of Rwanda. I think of the Balkans. 

DR KEENAHAN: Totally. Exactly. Well, any   you have any situation of overt violence, overt   especially systemic violence, there   within all of them, there is that element of dehumanisation. Because human beings are by nature social. We are by nature social. So, we do tend to have an abhorrence towards violence. It's   but there are all sorts of reasons as to why it breaks down. But to systemically target a group, as occurs with genocide, then there has to   and to get people to the point where they can be instrumental in the killing process does require a process of dehumanisation of the targets so that the violence can be perpetrated on them without   as the same level of avoidance that would occur. So, that they can perform those acts more readily. There has to be a process of dehumanisation. Integral to it. 

CHAIR: Thank you. I join with Commissioner Galbally and Commissioner Ryan in thanking you very much for your evidence which has been, if I may say so, very powerful indeed. 

DR KEENAHAN: Thank you. 

CHAIR: We appreciate the thoughtfulness that you have put into it and the insights that you have provided in your evidence both in the statement and your oral evidence, so thank you very much indeed. 

DR KEENAHAN: Thank you. 

MS BENNETT:  Thank you, Chair. Could I ask, as we adjourn for lunch, if you could ask that the room be cleared for some of our witness preparation for the afternoon session? 

CHAIR: Yes, certainly. So, if people within the room would be good enough to leave the room so   when we have the luncheon adjournment, as there are certain things that need to be done by way of adjustment. It's now 12.35 Brisbane time. Shall we resume at 1.30?

MS BENNETT:  If it pleases the Commission, yes. 




CHAIR:  Yes, Ms Dowsett.

MS DOWSETT:   Thank you, Chair.  The next witness is Tracy Lee Barrell OAM.

CHAIR:  Ms Barrell, thank you very much for coming to the Brisbane hearing room to give evidence. Thank you also for the statement you have made which we have all read. If you would be good enough to follow the instructions of my associate, who is just sitting in front of me, she will administer the oath to you. Thank you.

ASSOCIATE:  I will read you the oath. At the end, please say yes or I do. Do you swear by Almighty God that the evidence you shall give will be the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth?



CHAIR:  Thank you very much, Ms Barrell.  Now Ms Dowsett will ask you some questions.


MS DOWSETT:   Thank you, Chair. Now, Ms Barrell, you have asked me to call you Tracy as you're giving your evidence today. So, Tracy, you made a statement dated 13 September 2022.


MS DOWSETT:   Have you had a chance to read that in preparation for giving evidence today?

MS BARRELL:  Yes, I have.

MS DOWSETT:   Are there any alterations, additions, or corrections you wish to make?


MS DOWSETT:  Are the contents of the statement true and correct?

MS BARRELL:  Correct.

MS DOWSETT:   Chair, I tender that statement and ask that it be marked Exhibit 28.2 in accordance with the index that I understand you have in front of you.

CHAIR:  Yes. Thank you. Ms Barrell's can be admitted into evidence and given the marking of Exhibit 28.2.


MS DOWSETT:   Thank you, Chair. Tracy, I would like to begin by giving a little bit of background about you or inviting you to give it yourself, rather. So, could you please tell us about your childhood? I understand you are a First Nations woman. You were born in the Shire in Sydney, and that's where you grew up?

MS BARRELL:  Correct. Yes. So, my father's from down in Goulburn way and my mother is white, but I was born in the Shire in the 70s, and back in those days they didn't have ultrasounds. My mother did comment when she was doing some of her prenatal stuff that she thought perhaps this   because she had some other children, she thought this pregnancy, I would have extra arms and legs. So when it came to give birth, I popped out and I only had one arm, no legs. This arm hadn't grown yet. It was just off, but eventually it grew. And so, yes, so my parents were shocked. Everybody was shocked. 

And my father made a joke and said, "I'll just whisk her off to the local service station, get some air in her and pop out her legs and things like that" because everybody was in shock. And back in those days they offered to   offered my family to perhaps just leave me there and I could be raised in an institution. And because it was such a profound disability at the time, they didn't know if I had any cognitive skills or if I was, like, permanently retarded like they said back in those days. And   but   so they   mum was in hospital for a while, and because it was such a shock, my grandmother remembers going to   to the room and she collected up all the booties because all the aunts and stuff had been knitting booties and clearly I had no legs. So, it was such a trauma for the family.

And so mum stayed there for a while and she was   a few days she didn't have anything to do with me because she was in so much shock, and   but they eventually   all the family rallied around, and all decided that they would take me home and see what happened. My grandfather, my grandfather said, you know, there is nothing wrong with her and stuff like that because I could follow everybody around with the room with my eyes and so, to them, they were like, "Oh, well, you know, we will take her."  My grandparent has the mean, the financial means to assist my family if I needed things. 

So, as I was growing up   when they brought me home from the hospital, the neighbours all were talking amongst themselves, and they passed comment to my parents of, "How could you bring it home" and things like that. And my parents and all my family were like, "What do you mean how could we bring it home? What happened if this happened to your child later in life, would you just leave them in the hospital?" And so, you know, so barriers were met early on for my family, and   but they met back, as in, like, they challenged back and as I grew up I was treated as a normal kid. I was able to zip around.

MS DOWSETT:   Can I just pause you there.  Tell the Royal Commission how you zip around?

MS BARRELL:  Yes, so when I was a little, little baby, probably about 12 months old, I was supposed to   you know, all your children are showed to be crawling around and starting to walk. Clearly, I wasn't, but I was sliding along on my stomach and just pulling my arm and sliding along and I've got uncles that weren't much younger   much older than us, so there was still some skateboards and things, and I hopped on a skateboard, and, yes, sat on it and did a little push. And my grandfather was, like, super excited so then that was my mode of transport. So, for 42 years I was on the skateboard.

And so, yes, as a little kid I went to mainstream like a   I think they call them family daycares now, and some of the families pulled their children out because they thought their kids were going to catch me and then their limbs would fall off. I was contagious. And they wanted me removed from the daycare centre, but the lady   mum who brought her, she said no, and she actually kicked those families out and I got to stay. So, yes, I was embraced with a lot of normality in my life. 

And I used to see other children with disabilities because obviously my parents joined the cripple group, as they say. I hate that word but that's what the terminology was back then.  They were in a family cripple group, and so made some friends there. And then when it was school age time, I was sent off to a spastic school, at Kingsgrove, which was for really profound disabilities. Non verbal, severely intellectual, non physical sort of disabilities. 

So, here I am, just missing my limbs, fully mentally capable, able to zip around, can function, can talk and have cognitive ability. It was extremely boring for myself. I was throwing tennis balls at the kids in the chairs and not getting anything back because they can't. So, then I asked my parents if I could leave that school, because it obviously wasn't enriching me. And my sisters were at a Catholic school locally, so my parents went to the school and asked if I could go there, and they were   they were shocked and they are saying, "Oh, what if children are going to do this and this and hurt her and say this and say that?" 

And my dad goes, "Isn't this a Catholic school? Shouldn't they all be embracing for everybody?" And they are like, "Oh, yes." So, I was allowed to go there.  And so from year 2 to   so, probably, I don't know, early 80s until '89, I was fully immersed in an able-bodied world and was able to fully function and follow my sisters around, which they didn't really like, but I had the freedom to explore myself. But as I was growing up, I was put into gymnastic classes and things so I could manoeuvre my body in an appropriate way and I learnt how to flip up onto chairs and be   be as normal as everybody else. 

And I was exposed to horse riding. We had horses. We had farms. We had things like that. So, I had a full immersive and rounded lifestyle of just being like everybody else and didn't really sort of think anything of it until puberty hit, clearly.  And so that was an awkward stage because then, you know, it's trying to meet boys and things and they didn't like me because I wasn't tall enough or you know, I didn't have legs. And so then that was when I went back to my mum, because my parents had divorced when I was 7. So, I went back to my when I was 14 years old, and I said I want to join, like, a disability sporting group to meet other people.

And as it   some of the kids are from the cripple group, they were there, so I knew some people. And so I started out in sports, and swimming was my choice of sport, which was funny because, when I was growing up my dad put in a round pool because he thought a round pool would be best because a one-armed person could swim around and around in circles, so when I met with a straight pool I'm like, "Oh, crap." And so I  

MS DOWSETT:  But you went on from "Oh, crap" to become a Paralympian gold medal-winning swimmer.

MS BARRELL:  I did, so ha ha. So, yes, I enjoyed swimming because everybody was in the water, it didn't matter what was going on with their physical disabilities, or anything else.  We were all heads in water, and we did everything we could. So, yes, swimming was my natural sport.

MS DOWSETT:   And you also played volleyball, and you played volleyball for Australia?

MS BARRELL:  We tried to. Well, we represented Australia   we were trying out for the Beijing Games with the sitting volleyball. I had children by then, and so, yes, but we just missed out. We were trying for the Beijing Games.

MS DOWSETT:   And you have recently taken up shooting?

MS BARRELL:  I have, yes.

MS DOWSETT:   You enjoy that?

MS BARRELL:  I definitely enjoy that.

MS DOWSETT:   That's a very interesting back story, but what we're here about in this Royal Commission is to talk about the topic of violence and abuse in public places. And you talk in your statement about what you call "everyday abuse." So, perhaps you could tell the Royal Commission, a little bit about your experiences of everyday abuse and who the perpetrators of that abuse are. And if I can just, as we talked about before, slow it down a little for our interpreters.

MS BARRELL:  I told you that. So, even, like I've had   I will just be clear, I've had more abuse since being in the wheelchair since an incident happened at a hospital. So, I spent 42 years on my skateboard, and I did have acts of violence   verbal violence, and it was mainly because shop people didn't want me in their shops because they were worried I was going   it was more sort of the independent stores, not big stores. They were concerned that I was going to knock things over with my skateboard and things like that.  Certain restaurants didn't want me because they thought I was going to trip over their patrons. And I don't know why; I was sitting in a booth. And I have been excluded from nightclubs because, again, they thought I was going to be stomped on or trip hazards, things like that. 

So, I had that sort of abuse, but not as much as I do now, because, with the skateboard, I was able to camouflage myself in a restaurant or on a bus or on a train because I was sitting like everything else, the skateboard was under the chair. So, you didn't really see it. And also the novelty, of a skateboard, someone tries to process what's just happened and who has just gone past them, I'm already gone by the time it all catches up.

So, but now being in the wheelchairs, being such a big presence, such a daunting factor   I don't know if it is ignorance, if it's uncomfortability for people or what it is, but now more and more stores don't cater for wheelchairs, because they   some stores deliberately stock at the front so then we can't access that, and then the workers will yell at us like, "What do you want?"  And I'm like "I don't know what I want because I can't come in." They're like, "We don't want people like you in here." And I'm like, "What, people with money?" And they just get really rude and just don't want you in the shop because   I don't know. I don't know if it's because I'm going to damage something, which I'm no   not intentionally anyway. But   so it's more and more   

MS DOWSETT:   You talk in your statement about an occasion where you were trying to enter a store and the security guards were called and you were   you say marched away.  You were escorted away because you were trying to go in.

MS BARRELL:  Correct. I was actually with my children at the time and, yes, we got   I went into a particular store, and, again, it was a small independent store. And she was just so adamant. Like, there was room for me to go in and it seemed to be accessible. That's why I attempted to go in. Plus, I was getting some things for my children for an art project. And the lady just went ballistic, and she was swearing and carrying on because she didn't want me in her store.  And, yes, she just   I don't know, she thought I was going to contaminate stuff, and she just didn't want people like me in that store.

And we had to go, and I said, "No, I just want to get some stuff, like, and I will be out quickly" and she wasn't having it, so she was on the phone to security and then security came down and security ordered us to leave the store and we got marched out through the store to the carpark to leave the centre. Because the lady obviously said that I was abusive and things, but I was just trying to do what I was trying to do.

MS DOWSETT:   It's not just the retailers and the shop owners, though, that you have experienced this from. You also talk in your statement about interactions with customers, and you described an incident where you were accidentally hit with a trolley. Can you tell the Royal Commission what happened after that?

MS BARRELL:  Yes. So, I was   it was when I was actually on the skateboard. I was hit by a shopper with her shopping trolley at Christmas time and she fully knocked me over and I broke my shopping. And I got up and then she started swearing at me because how dare I be in her way. I'm   I'm   I should give way to her, and I shouldn't be zipping around on the skateboard and she's swearing and carrying on at me because I was in the way and all this incident, because then everybody is staring at her, yelling at me. So, then she's getting even more wild because then it's obviously embarrassment, so she's fully just trying to make it out as if it was my fault. But it wasn't even my fault 

MS DOWSETT:   And you have tried talking to shopping centre owners or shopping centre manager or management about your experiences. How does that go?

MS BARRELL:  It goes nowhere, actually. I have approached many shopping centre management, and I tell them the specific store, and I tell them what   what I consider as a human rights breach of blocking access for people to be in there because they are deliberately doing it to stop people like myself. And they   they just don't do anything, and everyone hides behind the thing of they don't want shopping trolleys in there. And I know that's a lie, because people still take their shopping trollies in there, but they are allowed and they don't get pushed out. And so it just goes nowhere.  They don't write it up. They just go, just shop somewhere else.

MS DOWSETT:   We heard as were you giving the introduction to yourself about what a big part sport has been in your life.  And you are also an avid sports fan.  You like to go to live events.


MS DOWSETT:   But this has become another place in which you experience violence and abuse.


MS DOWSETT:  Tell us a little bit about that experience.

MS BARRELL:  Yes, so being in the wheelchair now, I have to definitely book a wheelchair area. And some patrons take it upon themselves to when my support workers will go to the bathroom or get a refreshment, they see that as their cue to come up to me and start abusing me and they say horrible things like I make them fucking sick because they are trying to be out here enjoying themselves and I'm ruining their fucking night.  And how fucking dare I come out here tonight and I'm taking up all this space and I shouldn't have this space. Why doesn't he get that space. And they fully go off their heads and they are drunk and they stand over me and intimidate me, and I look to the volunteer people and they are just sort of like   and then when   

MS DOWSETT:   We will just pause there. Who are the volunteer people?

MS BARRELL:  They are the people that stand at the aisles to direct people where their seating is when they look at the tickets. 

MS DOWSETT:   So, these are at some of the larger stadiums, you are talking about?


MS DOWSETT:   So, you have looked to the volunteer people and they shrug. Have you had interactions with security guards? Have you called on them for assistance?

MS BARRELL:  I have. Then when the support workers come back, I tell them and I point to the person down there, saying that was the person, then we get security. Then I have the interaction with the security guards, and we say it's that person down there who said this and my support workers go, "Well, what are you going to do about it?" And they are like, "Hmm. It's nothing   you're not hurt. There is nothing   " that's what they do.

MS DOWSETT:   Have you ever seen security guards take a more active role in doing something to patrons who are abusing   


MS DOWSETT:    other people?

MS BARRELL:  Oh, I have seen one time when   where a man abused a female. They were both able bodied, and he got ejected because he abused her.

MS DOWSETT:   You say in your statement that you have a particular support worker who's also a friend, who you now take to sports matches with you. Can you tell us why you take this particular friend?

MS BARRELL:  Yes, I take this particular friend because they are male, they are big, and they politely intimidate people because I have been videoed before and we have noticed it, and that particular support worker will go up and make them delete what they have got on there. And he's very persuasive but never aggressive because why fight fire with fire?

MS DOWSETT:   And there is one   

CHAIR:  Could I ask this question. You have described the lack of response when you have been refused admission to a retail store or a supermarket or whatever. Have you ever referred to the Disability Discrimination Act or had someone do that for you?

MS BARRELL:  Yes, I have but they say it's too wishy-washy and it doesn't have clear grounds of actual discrimination because then they contact the management, and the management say the whole shopping trolley stuff and they downplay it.  Because I have actually put in   

CHAIR:  The shopping trolley stuff is because, what, a wheelchair is deemed to be equivalent to a shopping trolley?

MS BARRELL:  No, they are trying to hide behind the fact they don't want wheelchairs in there and they don't want us as customers. They try to say they are blocking it so everyone with a shopping trolley can't go in there because they can't.

CHAIR:  That's my point.  They are equating it to a shopping trolley.


CHAIR:  A wheelchair.


CHAIR:  Right.

MS DOWSETT:   Just finishing off on the sporting venues, you talk in your statement about a particular kind of match where you don't experience this violence and abuse. Would you like to tell the Royal Commission what matches those are?

MS BARRELL:  Yes. I love going to the Koori Knockouts or the All Star games because nothing ever happens there when it's Aboriginal people. Yes, I'm so safe and there's no derogatory comments. Everyone is super polite, and they don't bump into you and they respect you.  And I'm an equal.

MS DOWSETT:   You talk in your statement about being a member of three groups that are poorly treated within Australian   the Australian community. Would you like to share that thought with the Royal Commission?

MS BARRELL:  Yes. So, I'm technically one of society's worst demographics. I am an Indigenous woman, I have a disability, and I'm a single parent.

MS DOWSETT:   And do you find that those three characteristics are referred to when you are suffering these instances of abuse? Is that why you say they are the worst groups?

MS BARRELL:  Yes, because in society a lot of people turn their nose up like, oh, you are a single mum and then, oh, you you've got a disability. Oh, and Aboriginal. So, it's that sort of three for one deal, and one of them is not the best but having all three is a very big disadvantage.

MS DOWSETT:   You spoke about being filmed at the sporting events and your support worker who helps you deal with that.  Is that a common experience, being filmed or photographed without your permission?

MS BARRELL:  It is, yes.

MS DOWSETT:  And is it a current experience or is it something that used to happen in the past but doesn't happen anymore.

MS BARRELL:  No, it's a more current problem.

MS DOWSETT:   And when you don't have that one particular support worker with you, and you notice it happening, what do you do?

MS BARRELL:  That's where I   I do different activities.  I go to different areas.  I go to different parts of my community, or I just stay at home.

MS DOWSETT:   So when you say you do different activities or go to different part of your community, are you talking about avoiding certain places?

MS BARRELL:  Correct.

MS DOWSETT:   So there are places you don't go. Are there times of the day that you also seek to avoid?

MS BARRELL:  Yes. I don't go for daily walks past the local primary school because there is a set of traffic lights to get to the coffee shop and when you are at the traffic lights, if it's a certain time, there is kids will be out on the playground, and they are the worst offenders for yelling out disgusting stuff. And I brought it to the attention of the principal. I offered my services as a public speaker that I do, and I offered my services to go to the school and educate the children, and he didn't act on that. And so now I have to go a completely different way if it's that time and I forget and then I will go another   a whole another way or I just won't go past the school at that time.

MS DOWSETT:   You mentioned about the accessible spot at the stadiums as being kind of a target of for abuse. You are seeking to use this spot that's made available. You also talk in your statement about accessible toilets and accessible parking spots being a hot spot for violence and abuse. Can you share some of that experience?

MS BARRELL:  Correct. At my local shopping centre, there's only five accessible toilets in the centre, and there's, on average, 56 toilets for females and 47 toilets for men at the shopping centre. Yet every time I go to the toilet, there is an able-bodied person coming out, and they all just grab their tummy and go, "Oh I had a tummy problem" and I go, "Yes I do too, and I don't have any options" and that's   yes, they use it as their personal poop toilet.

MS DOWSETT:  And what about parking spots? How have you found being able to use parking spots?

MS BARRELL:  Again, in the demographics I live in a lot of people stare at us because we are younger people, and even when my carers are getting my wheelchair out of the vehicle they will still stop and stare and give comments like I don't   or we don't belong to park there.

CHAIR:  When you talk about what your experience is at stadiums, is this a particular stadium or more than one?

MS BARRELL:  It is more than one, but mostly Suncorp.

CHAIR:  Mostly Suncorp.


CHAIR:  And do you go to a particular code or are there more than one code of football that you go to?

MS BARRELL:  No, I only watch NRL, yes.


CHAIR:  Yes.

MS DOWSETT:   Thank you, Chair. So, we have talked about reporting at that local level, at the shopping centre and at the stadiums. And the Chair asked you some questions about the Disability Discrimination Act. But I want to ask you some more questions about that now.  Firstly, are you aware of or have you ever heard of the National Disability Abuse and Neglect Hotline?


MS DOWSETT:  I guess it follows you have never used it?

MS BARRELL:  Exactly.

MS DOWSETT:   And you say in your statement that when you do seek to make complaints, for example, to shopping centre management, that your messages often go unanswered, or you feel that your complaints aren't taken seriously?

MS BARRELL:  100 per cent.

MS DOWSETT:   What is it that is said to you that makes you think your complaints aren't taken seriously?

MS BARRELL:  They do that whole eye roll, "We will look into that."  And then   or they go, "Oh, we don't really know what to do about that. We don't have any policies on that. Maybe just shop somewhere else or send your support workers to do the shopping." 

MS DOWSETT:   What about the experience of reporting things to the police?  Is that something that you have done?

MS BARRELL:  I have done that.

MS DOWSETT:  And how did that go?

MS BARRELL:  It went nowhere.

CHAIR:  What about reporting them to the NRL?

MS BARRELL:  They don't   they don't do anything either.

CHAIR:  Have you done that?


CHAIR:  And there's been no response?


MS DOWSETT:   You talk in your statement about bystanders, people who literally stand by when these episodes of violence and abuse are happening to you. You say they don't intervene, and they don't stay   they don't say anything. What would you like them to do?

MS BARRELL:  I would like them as a   like, you know, even if three people called   three able bodied people called someone out for that I'm pretty sure they would pull their head in. But all those people, they will stop and look and hear them screaming and then after the perpetrator is gone, then they will go, "That was really rude of him, wasn't it?" And they all comment. And I'm like, "So you all heard it?" And they go, "Oh, yeah." And I'm like "Well, would you like to write a witness statement or something?"  "Oh, no, I don't want to be involved."

MS DOWSETT:  So what would your message to bystanders be about being involved? 

MS BARRELL:  They need to be more involved. And because if they get   if other people call them out   that's why they are opportunistic and wait for the support worker to go. And, yes, that's when they target or if I'm with   it's happened when I had another female worker but she doesn't work for me anymore because it was too confronting for her.

MS DOWSETT:  You speak in your statement about the approach that you take to each day being a clean slate and you want to get out and enjoy your life. But you also say that sometimes you just   you just can't do that. So, can you   tell us a little bit about what it takes to have that clean slate approach?

MS BARRELL:  Yes, it takes a lot. I have to be feeling really good about myself, you know, good vibes in my head, and strong enough to feel like I can take on whatever the next idiot is going to say to me or rude person is going to do something to me or kids say, "Mum, mum she's got no legs, she's got no legs, mum, mum, mum, she's got no legs, mum." And the parents just stay there like, "It's not happening." And so if I'm feeling really good about myself and I know I cannot lose my temper or be too upset, because I personally don't want to embarrass my own self by acting as bad as they are and don't want to become as miserable and nasty as they are, then if I can't do that, then I just stay at home and stay in my place and get the support workers to go out and do whatever they need to do or I just do art. 

MS DOWSETT:   How often does that happen to you that you are not able to go into battle like that?

MS BARRELL:  It's a fair few times a week.

MS DOWSETT:   A week?


MS DOWSETT:   What do you think needs to change about how people interact to   so that you don't have to psych yourself up for battle in order to go out?

MS BARRELL:  I definitely think accountability.  Accountability for the people that say the stuff directly. They should be more accountable for what they say, and management and security and the venue owners and the sites that I'm on, they should take accountability as well. Take it seriously. And, you know, remove somebody, so therefore they've been removed. And then I bet you they are not going to tell their mates "Well, I got removed for bagging out a disabled chick." Like, they are not going to admit that. And they are going to feel the sting of wasting their $46. 

And so things like that, or shopping centres should be way more accountable for the accessible parking that they have to comply with in council regulations to be accessible. They should be more accountable, because I hate the whole game of the centre management take no thing and they say call the police. The police say it's private property; it's not our problem. Council doesn't want to come on there because they didn't get called by centre management. It's just a free for all and no one is accountable, so therefore no one gets in trouble. The $174 fine they say on the signpost is never handed out.  No one ever says anything to anybody. So everyone continuously does it.

But I think, if people start accountability, and start copping a repercussion of their actions or their simplicity actions that they don't think hurt people, if they get hurt in the hip pocket, then I think more and more it will spread that it's not going to be tolerated, because, at the moment, it's tolerated.  No one says anything.  No one acts upon it. There's all the signs saying don't park there, but they do, and nothing happens. And they constantly   it's the same people doing and doing it and nothing ever happens. 

So, everyone has been conditioned that, sadly, we are nothing, and we have got all these awesome little extra perks in life which is closer parking   which we need, because we need the width. It's not actually the closivity of the actual parking.  Or we have got an accessible toilet so we can go to the toilet like they can go to the toilet, but they think it is this exclusive, they are being excluded club and no one is held accountable at all.

MS DOWSETT:   You spoke about the sites you were on.  Do you mean by that, that you also experience this violence and abuse online? It's not just in real life?

MS BARRELL:  100 per cent. So, I   I too have done online dating, and I've maybe said I was missing a leg. Yes, it was a lie, but I was just giving a bit of a slow feel into a missing three limbs. And instantly the barrage of I should get off the site, it's disgusting, I should be on a cripple site, and, "Oh, if anyone found out I was rooting you, I would be a freak fucker." And, righto, delete.

MS DOWSETT:   So you don't do online dating anymore?

MS BARRELL:  No, single.

MS DOWSETT:   You have told us about the lack of traction you get with your attempts to make complaints, but you've come up with your own way of dealing with a situation.  Would you like to tell the Royal Commission about your   what you do to respond?

MS BARRELL:  What, when I'm a smart arse?

MS DOWSETT:   I was thinking about your social media stuff.

MS BARRELL:  Yes, well, there is also my social media stuff. So, in my immediate local community, there is   I like to go along this certain footpath because I can make it by myself. I can   my support worker can meet me at the shops and I can be independent for a bit. But people kept parking across the gutter scoops and I was a getting super frustrated because I never knew whose car it was, but it was always the same cars.  And so I posted the picture online and said, "Thank you so much for ruining my day.  I really appreciate it" and take a photo of myself going, "I had an awesome day, I nearly got hit by a car because I had to take the driveway instead."

CHAIR:  Can you just go just a little bit more slowly so that we relieve our interpreters.

MS BARRELL:  Sorry, this has happened before with interpreters.

MS DOWSETT:  Okay. So, you take a picture of yourself and the car.


MS DOWSETT:  And you upload it on to your social media. Now, you did say when we were talking about this that you were careful to block out the licence plate numbers, but you're not   

MS BARRELL:  100 per cent.  I give the licence plate numbers to the council with that photo, but then I blur out the licence plates for the public photo.

MS DOWSETT:   And what kind of reaction to do get to your public social media?

MS BARRELL:  A few people laugh because obviously they know the people or they are the people. But majority of them they fully   they go, "Yes, this person does it all the time." And they also have seen the same sort of thing. And so the encouragement is, like you know, it's not cool and they start sort of talking about the person. No one gets out of hand and it doesn't get all derogatory but they are just going, "Yes it's not cool, you shouldn't do it, and this person does it all the time." And then the people don't park there anymore.

MS DOWSETT:   So the way is clear, and you can use the footpath?


MS DOWSETT:   Is there anything else that you would like to share with us before I hand over to the Chair and the Commissioners' questions?

MS BARRELL:  No, I don't think so.

MS DOWSETT:   Thank you very much.  Chair, those are the questions for this witness.

CHAIR:  Thank you very much.  If you don't mind, I will ask my colleagues if they have any questions for you.  First Commissioner Galbally.

COMMISSIONER GALBALLY:  Thank you very much.  Your suggestion about holding people accountable, so you would like to see the shopkeepers, the restaurant, you know, the restaurant managers, the nightclub managers, the shop centres, that they would be accountable and that, therefore, you could report it as a vilification, you know, as a   and they would then be held to account.


COMMISSIONER GALBALLY:  That sounds like   I just wanted to make sure I was clear about it. The primary school that rejected your offer to educate the students, that's really flabbergasting.

MS BARRELL:  My son went to that school. He had moved on to high school. It was a new principal.

COMMISSIONER GALBALLY:  So just   have you offered to educate in other schools?

MS BARRELL:  I do. I do 

COMMISSIONER GALBALLY:  You do as part of your work.

MS BARRELL:  I do do schools work yes. I did that for my children when they were going to school. I went and spoke to their kids classes because I was concerned that perhaps they would be vilified or   because of my   the preschool incident, I thought maybe other parents might have thought my kids were contagious or something. And so I would sit with each   with their classes when they went to school and had a great talk and use the novelty of the skateboard and pretty much the questions I was asked was do I live in a doll house and how do I eat my dinner, and I go, "Like this." How do I brush my hair? With a hair brush. And that was the most important questions to the kids, but it broke the barriers.

COMMISSIONER GALBALLY:  But this school, where those students were bullying you   vilifying you, actually, they would become the shop keepers of the future.

MS BARRELL:  Yes. Yes.

COMMISSIONER GALBALLY:  And you were trying to change that back then, and he wouldn't let you in.


COMMISSIONER GALBALLY:  When you report the cars across the pavement to local council, what do they do?

MS BARRELL:  They take their sweet time, but once they get   once they realise it's on social media in the local area, then they fix it.


CHAIR:  Commissioner Ryan?

COMMISSIONER RYAN:  Thank you, Mr Chair. Tracy, when you book tickets to go to sporting venues, do you usually go through a ticketing agency and request an accessible seating and do you always get it?


COMMISSIONER RYAN:  Right. Is it a problem for you that usually when you are using a large venue like Suncorp that sometimes you have to wait for disability toilets   accessible toilets to be available because people who don't have a disability are using them?


COMMISSIONER RYAN:  Does that ever affect your day?

MS BARRELL:  All the time because it's when the men are getting drunker and drunker, they just use the whole room as the toilet.

COMMISSIONER RYAN:  It was suggested to me that one of the things that might solve that problem is that there is not often a lot of security guards patrolling the areas where toilets are used. So, it's pretty well the law of the jungle in those areas.

MS BARRELL:  Yes, I believe that if   if those particular venues   because I have offered the solutions when I have complained about it and I've said, perhaps you should just get fob keys and when people like myself and other wheelchair users come in that we get a fob key to only be able to access that. It's like the MLAK key that a lot of council toilets are using now. Like, use a fob key and then we hand it back when we are leaving and things like that, because then that would eliminate that problem. And I've said that to the shopping centre as well and Suncorp, but no one does anything. 

COMMISSIONER RYAN:  I understand it does contribute, but I have actually met someone who was in a disabled toilet and somebody used a credit card in order to actually open the toilet to them. 

MS BARRELL:  Criminal.

COMMISSIONER RYAN:  But that was why they suggested to me actually having security guards would be helpful. What about   it seems to me that the staff who work in places like Suncorp Stadium probably   unlike my own experience in the Sydney Olympic Games where I worked as a volunteer, I was given quite a lot of training about how to make the experience comfortable for people with disabilities. Do you think   do you think that people like Suncorp do that with their staff?

MS BARRELL:  Definitely not.

COMMISSIONER RYAN:  So do you think that would be helpful?

MS BARRELL:  100 per cent.

COMMISSIONER RYAN:  And since you are a Paralympian, I wouldn't be surprised if you have a view of this. One of the different features of the last Paralympic Games over in the United Kingdom was that they ran it in tandem with the regular Commonwealth Games. The Paralympic Games were integrated into the larger field of competition. Did you think that that had   made a positive message?

MS BARRELL:  100 per cent. They have done that in the Commonwealth Games for the last four, I think. So, they don't run the Paralympics like that, because that's why it's Paralympics. It's parallel to the Olympics. But, yes, the Commonwealth Games have blended   it's the higher classifications only; it's not lower classifications like myself. I came into the sport back in 1992, which was a new transition to   we would blend our competitions with the able bodied competitions, but we had our actual events during the ad breaks so we were never visually on the TV. 

And a couple of the big coaches were anti us being there, because they were concerned that we were going to be putting off their elite athletes. Like, I'm talking about Linley Frame, Lisa Curry, all those   that's how old I am. But back in those days, they were concerned that we were going to turn them off, but they all pushed back and they said, no, this is the best thing ever, they are thinking, "Shit, if they're pulling those times, we better pull our fingers out our arses and start get moving" because we were catching them. 

COMMISSIONER RYAN:  If I might go back to what you had to say about accessible and mobility parking spaces. There seems to be   I don't know whether you have a view about it but there seems to be a significant difficulty in that area. There are plenty of stories of people who have invisible disabilities, who are   will tell us that they resent the fact that someone has challenged their right to use an accessible parking space, and yet you quite frequently say the fact that no one challenges them means that they are not accessible. Do you think it's any solution to that impasse? Because I'm sure that impasse is contributing to your problems?

MS BARRELL:  Yes. Well, the whole   the parking scheme and the pass or the card thing that you have, now people are just sticking up the holders and there is not even any card. So, yes, I will challenge someone like that because they don't even have a permit but even if an able bodied looking person hops out of their car, if they have a permit, I won't say anything. I'm not there to judge them. And   but then we get judged all the time when my carers are literally taking the wheelchair out and they watch them push the wheelchair around, then they watch him or her lift me out of the vehicle, and then they are satisfied and they will drive away.

COMMISSIONER RYAN:  Thank you so much, Tracy.

MS BARRELL:  Thank you.

CHAIR:  Thank you very much indeed for giving us your evidence and your experiences.

COMMISSIONER RYAN:  Sorry, Mr Chair. Can I just ask one further thing.

CHAIR:  You are going to demonstrate your further knowledge of NRL? Or are we getting into another area?

MS BARRELL:  Go the Sharkies.

COMMISSIONER RYAN:  You referred to online dating, and I think that washed over us. I think probably what we need to do is have some context there.  As I understand   I mean, it didn't happen when I was going through the dating phase of my life, but online dating is a very important way of finding partners these days, is it not?


COMMISSIONER RYAN:  So not being able to access that, how does that limit you?

MS BARRELL:  Completely. Because at least it used to be a vehicle of actual conversation and they found me witty and all these other things, and my face pictures were fine. But the minute I said missing one leg or missing one arm, it totally flipped it. But now in the dating scene in the real life, at a pub or something, men are absolutely disgusting because they do say some horrible things of   they will snicker to their friends and they will go, "Oh, yes, we have got a sure bet over here. If everyone won't pick us up, we will have that one for sure." And I'm like, "Fuck off." 

COMMISSIONER RYAN:  Thank you, Mr Chair.

CHAIR:  Mr Ryan has expertise in dating.

MS BARRELL:  He does.

COMMISSIONER RYAN:  A long time ago, Mr Chair.

CHAIR:  It was a little different in my time.  Thank you very much for your evidence, which has been extremely helpful and extremely interesting.  And thank you so much for giving us the benefit of your experiences.

MS BARRELL:  Thank you.


CHAIR:  Thank you.  What do we do now?

MS DOWSETT:   Thank you, Chair. A brief adjournment while we reconfigure the room for the last   there will be the reading of extracts from Mr Gearin's statement and then the final   

CHAIR:  So, it is now nearly quarter past 2 Brisbane time.  Should we resume when?  2.30?

MS DOWSETT:   2.30.

CHAIR:  Alright. We will do that.



CHAIR:  Mr Fraser.

MR FRASER:   Thank you.  Commissioners, we were today to hear directly from Mr David Gearin, a person with a vision impairment, who has provided a statement to this Royal Commission about his direct experiences of violence and abuse in the community. Unfortunately, David is suffering from ill health and is unable to be here today. For that reason, I read some extracts from his statement so that the Commission can hear about some of his experiences in his own words.  Commissioners, David's statement dated 26 August 2022 is at tab 12 of the Tender bundle. I tender that statement and ask it be marked as Exhibit 28 3.

CHAIR:  Yes, that can be done.  Mr Gearin's statement will become Exhibit 28 3.  Thank you.


MR FRASER:   Before I read some extracts of that statement, which I anticipate will take around 15 minutes or so, I will provide the following background taken from that statement.  David is a 63 year old 63-year-old married man with two children who are in year 11.  He has Bachelor of Applied Science and Agriculture and has had many jobs in his life, including running of his own arborist business and teaching agriculture at TAFE and high school.

In 1997 at 38 years of age, he was diagnosed with a type of glaucoma which is a degenerative condition that has impacted his vision. He has a partial field of vision in his right eye, whereas his left eye really only picks up light and dark. There will likely become a day he will lose all functional sight. As a result, he is now unable to drive and is reliant on being driven by others or taking public transport.

Being able to move around independently on public transport is very important to him. David is very involved in his community, which he says gives him a sense of joy and purpose. Examples of this include having an organised a grassroots neighbourhood flood recovery network in his local area, acting as a committee member for the local soccer club, and for serving for five years on his local council's Access and Inclusion Advisory Committee.

David describes his condition and his reliance on mobility aids and the support of his guide dog Odin in his statement at paragraphs 15 to 18:

"In order to navigate the community, I rely on mobility aids. These include a long cane and a guide dog named Odin. I began using a long cane in around 2008 or 2009. Prior to this, I used an ID cane. This is a shorter version of a long cane which is primarily used to notify others of a person's vision impairment. Odin is my first guide dog and I've had him since 2019. I took steps to obtain a guide dog due to the degeneration of my vision, as well as an increasing number of incidents involving my long cane being missed or damaged while I was out in the community.  Unfortunately, with more and more people looking at their smart phones and walking around with headphones in, my long cane has become less noticeable.

It's important to note that a lot of work goes into being matched with an appropriate guide dog.  This work continues with bonding with the dog and building an effective working relationship. Odin and I are now very well attuned to each other, and the assistance he provides me is truly outstanding.  Odin has a particular strength in finding things I need."

David goes on to state:

"As well as being a working dog, Odin is also part of our family and I care deeply for him. When we are at home and his harness is off, he is akin to a regular family pet. Being without Odin is very difficult for me, even for short periods. Recently when he was ill, I was limited in what I was able to do without him. Were Odin to be seriously ill or be harmed and unable to work, my ability to manoeuvre around the community and lead my usual day to day life would be detrimentally impacted. This is something I often worry about, especially when I am out in the community with Odin." 

In his statement, David describes his experiences of violence and abuse in the community starting at paragraph 20:

"I am not able to recall every time stranger has sworn at me, accused me of faking my condition or being abusive towards me in another way since I have been vision impaired. This is because there have been too many occasions when this has happened over the years. While some of this abuse may not have been that serious or might, by itself, not seem to amount to much, the cumulative effect has been significant. It is unusual for a week to pass without me encountering some form of abuse when I'm simply going about my business.

This means I have come to expect it and it has become part of my day-to-day existence. Before my vision impairment, these types of encounters were practically non existent. It seems to me that there are a variety of factors which affect whether and to what degree I am subject to abuse while in the community. These include where I am, what time of day it is, and what members of the public are doing in that location. For example, if I am in a venue where alcohol is served, I am more likely to experience violence and abuse from someone I do not know. Equally, I am more likely to be abused if I attend a restaurant with Odin than without him. However, I can never entirely predict when and how I will be targeted or take measures to avoid it completely."

David goes on in his statement to detail specific incidents that have occurred in the community, including while on public transport. David describes an incident that occurred in May 2020 when he was travelling on the train home on a weekday afternoon with his guide dog Odin when a man became swearing   a man began swearing and asking him who he was. In his statement, David recounts:

"The man then accused me of being an undercover police officer and Odin of being a drug dog. I said that I am not a police officer, and that Odin was a guide dog. I remember asking the man if there was anything I could do to help him.  He became agitated and this seemed to escalate when I responded to him. 

The assault started when I heard Odin yelp in pain and push up against my legs. I understood from this that the man had struck Odin, likely by kicking him. I immediately tried to shield Odin when my legs. The man then punched me on the side of the head, around the temple area.  At the time, I was sitting down and wearing Bluetooth bone conductive headphones. He grabbed at them and ripped them from my head, splitting the webbing of my ear. He then punched me again while continuing to attack Odin. 

I was terrified and in pain. I yelled out in fear, and for help.  Midway through the assault, I stood up and swung my backpack to the front of my body, in order to create a barrier between me and the man. I was worried he could have a knife.  At the same time I tried to place Odin behind me to protect him as best I could. I was very concerned about him being harmed. I could hear and smell the man lurching around me as I tried to back away from him. It was around this time that he spat on me. He then asked me what I was carrying in my pocket.  I told him it was a phone and that he could have it. He then accused me of having a gun in my pocket and hit me again."

Now, ultimately an off duty train guard and trainee guard came to David's assistance, and the matter was reported to police.  The perpetrator, believed to have been intoxicated and high on drugs, at the convicted of assault. David states that the incident caused him physical pain and also impacted him psychologically. He states:

"I recall clearly the fear I felt while it was happening for both myself and for Odin the whole thing made me feel vulnerable, in a way that I had not experienced before."

It took David around six months to fully feel comfortable using the train system again, having started with short journeys. Around six months later, while travelling on the train in the morning with Odin, he was approached by a woman he did not know. He described the woman as speaking in a disjointed and difficult to comprehend way about the face mask he was wearing to prevent the spread of coronavirus. David describes becoming more and more panicked, and of being fearful that the woman was going to try to rip off his face mask, hit him or hurt Odin. He remembers thinking he had to get off the platform as soon as possible and, later having done so, having suffered from panic attack.

Public transport is just one setting where David has experienced violence and abuse. In addition, such incidents have occurred as a pedestrian, while walking around his local area. He refers to two such incidents in his statement which occurred in around May this year. In the first incident, he was out walking with Odin in the morning for some exercise when a couple that he described as being well spoken, who were walking towards him, took issue with the shirt he was wearing, being a shirt he was wearing in support of his preferred candidate in the then upcoming federal election. As the couple came closer, the man started to speak to David in an aggressive tone using abusive language about David's support of the candidate on his shirt. This abuse then shifted focus to David's disability. He described the following at paragraph 42:

"The man continued his verbal abuse of me, and aggressively said among other things, 'Who else could you vote for?  I suppose you are on the NDIS getting those payouts, you bludger.' I replied that we live in a democracy and supporting political parties is part of that.  By this time the couple were quite close to me, and the man then spat in my face and on Odin. I was not wearing a face mask as I was outdoors in my neighbourhood. I was shocked and disgusted as well as afraid that the man would continue this assault and it would escalate into further violence. The woman then said something to the man and they continued along the road."

David described being in shock, and rushing home in an anxious state and subsequently experiencing a panic attack which involved sweating, being short of breath, being unable to think clearly, and being highly anxious.

Commissioners, not only did David experience this quite serious assault of the type which many people never experience, he experienced a similar incident within weeks.  Again, while walking down the street in his local area, this time when taking Odin to the vet around midday on a Saturday.  David happened to be wearing a T shirt with a Ukrainian national emblem that he had been given as a thank-you gift for assisting and collecting and donating children's toys for a family of Ukrainian refugees whom his friend had taken into his home. As he was crossing at a set of lights, a man described by David as "very large" proceeded to walk directly into him, which David describes as feeling as if the man had dropped his shoulder into him with his full body weight.  David states:

"The contact was strong enough to knock me backwards of backward and off balance. Had it not been for Odin, I would have likely ended up falling backwards onto the road and hitting the back of my head on the asphalt. At the same time as the man hit me, I heard him say in what I believe to be a European accent, 'Fucking Ukrainian scum.' I recall hearing other pedestrians saying, 'Did you see what that guy did? He walked straight into that blind guy.' Some other people on the street even came up to me and asked me if I was okay. There was no doubt in my mind that the man had intentionally struck me and I was first shocked and then fearful that he would come back and continue to assault me."

Following this, David ducked into a local shop for safety.  Once he was confident that the man was not coming back, he left the shop and removed his shirt, turning it inside out and putting it back on. David then goes on to state the following:

"Even though I was still in shock and very afraid for my safety, I forced myself to take Odin to his veterinarian appointment. I had planned on doing a few other things in Richmond afterwards, but was fearful that I would run into the same man again, so I did not. I walked to a different train station in order to get home, which was out of my way, just to avoid running into the man."

David set out the impacts of his experiences from paragraph 54 onwards of his statement. 

"The impact of me and on these and other occasions when I have been harassed and verbally abused has bottled up over time. It feels as though each new experience of violence or abuse compounds and compresses the previous ones. Every new incident seems harder to deal with, my reactions are less controllable, and the impact feels greater than it would be if the event were taken in isolation. As a result of my experience, in particular the more violent assaults, I have come to consider myself as vulnerable to attack and unable to control what happens in situations when I am out in the community. I feel like I am a target. 

In addition, I know I would have a lot of difficulty identifying a person perpetrator of an attack during or afterwards, which makes it more difficult for me to do anything in response. This sense of vulnerability did not exist before my vision loss and before I began to experience abuse and sometimes violence at the hands of strangers in the community. I now view my cane and the presence of Odin at my side as advertisements of this vulnerability. This is particularly difficult, as both are essential to me in order to participate meaningfully in the community.  As well as feeling vulnerable, I also have a heightened sense of fear in some settings. This is fear for my personal safety, as well as for the safety of Odin."

David then goes on to state:

"Prior the assault on the train in May 2022, I can recall experiencing one panic attack in my lifetime. Since it occurred, I have experienced them more frequently.  Additionally, I now often find it difficult to assume that strangers in public will do the right thing. I am currently seeing a psychologist to help me work through these issues.

In addition, my sense of vulnerability and the fear that accompanies it have led to a narrowing of my life in some respects. For example, I no longer take the train or walk down the street alone after dark. This has resulted in me missing out on opportunities which I would have liked to pursue. For instance I recently had to forgo participation in a course on technology that I was interested in because it would have involved train travel at night. 

This narrowing of experiences also extends to other areas of my life, such as social engagements or entertainment. I would be very unlikely to attend something like a concert if it was at a familiar venue with a crowd. I now find myself doing a mental cost benefit analysis when deciding whether to attend social events or entertainment. Oftentimes, I come to the view that it is simply not worth the hassle or potential risk to attend.

Some days I just won't leave the house because I don't want to deal with the crap that I encounter when in the community. Despite these impacts, I am committed to not letting abuse and violence get in the way of me living a rich life. I know we only get one crack at life and that it goes by quickly. I want to live it as well as I can in spite of the negative attitudes and incidents of violence and abuse that I have experienced. After all, moving through adversity is what I do and is also the example I want to set for my children."

Commissioners, the next item for this afternoon is a pre recording   a pre recorded video of Elissa, a person with a disability giving evidence under a pseudonym, and a representative of the Royal Commission in which Elissa recounting experiences of violence and abuse in the community.  Elissa has provided a written statement to the Commission, dated 16 September 2022, which is at tab 56 of the Tender bundle. I tender that statement and ask it be marked as Exhibit 28 17.

CHAIR:  Yes, Elissa's statement will be admitted into evidence and given the marking of 28 17.


MR FRASER:   In addition, I tender the pre recording of the evidence as exhibit number 28 17.

CHAIR:  That too can be done on and the videotape will be given the marking of Exhibit 28 18.


MR FRASER:   I ask that that pre recording now be played.

CHAIR:  Yes.  That can be done.  Thank you.

(Video played)

MS BENNETT: Elissa, thanks for giving evidence to the Royal Commission. We really appreciate you giving us your time and your experience. Now, Elissa, I’m - that's the name we have given you but that's not your real name. You live in South Australia and with your family. What do you enjoy doing with your spare time?

ELISSA: My spare time at the moment, what I do is just around the house doing anything I can see around the house, tidying up and cleaning up and cooking. I like to cook different cuisine and also I like reading and looking at   Googling and searching, surfing on the web, just basically reading a lot of stuff. 

MS BENNETT: And you've been diagnosed with a – a musculoskeletal issues over time, haven't you?


MS BENNETT: What can you tell the Commissioners about that?

ELISSA: Initially in   back in 1992 when I was first diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis, and that was really severe. And I just carried on with the normal things, going to work and that. But then in   late in 2016 I started feeling a little bit   or 2017 when I was first diagnosed with myositis, which is the weakening of the muscles, and myopathy, and – and that's the diagnosis at the moment. But I think   that was   the doctor was saying is that they think there is something else there. So currently, it's under investigation whether - whether I've got the mitochondrial disease as well, but also, she also mentioned that MS   musculoskeletal disease too. 

MS BENNETT: And you tell us in your statement that one of the conditions, one of the symptoms of your conditions has been a weakening of your muscles which has led to fatigue and weakness and that's affected your mobility generally. How has that affected how you feel about going out of the house and going about your daily business? 

ELISSA: When I initially got diagnosed with that, I thought I will be fine. I still go out, go shopping, but then lately I just don't go out that much anymore, especially if I don't have anyone with me, either my son or my daughter or a friend. I find it difficult to go outside. Walking around is too tiring for me and it's very short period that I can only walk or I have to sit down. So my mobility has truly affected so much of this condition. 

MS BENNETT: You tell us that you started to use mobility aids, including a walking stick and a walker with a seat. How have you found that changes the way that you move around in public spaces? 

ELISSA: First of all, using those mobility aids, particularly the stick, walking around is not enough for me to   it's not enough to support myself should I gone out of balance or if I started to feel tired and that fatigue started. And because I've got this rheumatoid arthritis condition that all my joints are all affected, and I find it’s – I find it’s really hard to hold onto or carry all the   even this walker or anything that would help me to walk around that   all those mobility aids. So, yeah. 

MS BENNETT: And you tell us in your statement as well that you sometimes experience different types of violence and abuse when you've been out in the community? 


MS BENNETT: Can you tell us how often you estimate that's happened to you? 

ELISSA: I would say at least once a month. If I go out there, so, yeah. 

MS BENNETT: And just as far as you feel able to tell the Commissioners a little bit about what those experiences have been like for you.

ELISSA: Those experiences has left me really frustrated. Left   even like over the time when I think of all those things that happen to me, I find like I'm useless, I'm worthless because they find that   for me, that I'm just a nuisance and I can't do anything. It make me feel really bad that I   every time when I go to my doctor I say, "Please, I will do anything, anything to make me   everything better for me". 

MS BENNETT: And these are people who you've never met before, who abuse you in public?

ELISSA: No, I don't know any of them. And, yes, it's   some of these people, that are just so   they are just strangers that, you know, they see me, or there is   that's when I feel really, you know, bad about myself. 

MS BENNETT: Can you tell us about some   you have used an example in one of your   in your statement around an incident that happened in August of 2016 at a shopping centre when you were doing your grocery shopping. Can you tell the Commissioners what happened on that occasion?

ELISSA: There was this occasion at the   because there's a lot of those experiences that I have. One of those experiences is   there was one of the experiences that I went to the grocery, I parked at the designated disabled carpark which I have that permit, and then when I come out I   I opened the boot and started loading my stuff. And this woman, this lady, came to me and say, why did I park there, I shouldn't be parking there, there is nothing wrong with me. And - and that I just   I just said that I   and then   and then she – she – she just pushed me down on the ground. I remember it was like big puddle. It was that car park. There was a little bit of a hole there, there was like a puddle, and she just pushed me, and I was just like - mud and everything. And   and she   she just kept saying that I shouldn't be parking there, and I was just left there, and I couldn't get up. And I just said that I hope she doesn't get what I have because people don't know that I have   they look at me, nothing is wrong. So they just judge me that I shouldn’t   I'm not entitled to that parking. 

And I still say that I hope she doesn't get it. And that's what I normally say to people when they do things to me. I hope they don't suffer like me because it's really hard. Sorry. 

MS BENNETT: No, no. Have a moment, please. 

ELISSA: Because it just brings back to me, and I feel like so helpless. Because I couldn't get up, so   but I managed climbing up while I was doing, I was just - just lying there. 

MS BENNETT: And that made you not want to go to that shopping centre again? 

ELISSA: I have never gone back there. Never gone back there. I don't think I will ever go back there. 

MS BENNETT: And you tell us in your statement that abuse and intimidation at shopping centres is a fairly common experience for you. Is that still the case to this day?

ELISSA: Yes. It still happening. That's why I just stop, I just stay home. I've been in hospital for the last few weeks but – otherwise I’d be – that - if I'm home I feel safe. Safe with my condition and safe from those people would think that I'm useless. Those people just   look at you and said not entitled, not supposed to be here. You are not supposed to be parking here. You are slow, you   and all of those things really make me feel terrible for myself. 

MS BENNETT: That's those other incidents, is it, they tell you when you are walking along that you are moving too slowly. 

ELISSA: Yes. And that happens a lot of times. Even now just lately and it did happen   happens a lot of times. I mean, what's   I don't know if – if it's me or is it   and I really feel - I'm not   I'm useless because I know people think that so   

MS BENNETT: And, Elissa, have you felt like contacting the police might help? Is there any - anyone you could go to for help about those issues? 

ELISSA: I mean, before when I have   I have this experience I try before to contacting the police. They can't do anything. So I just been talking to my doctors and then she take me to a psychologist so the psychologist is telling me things that, it's not my fault. Yeah. 

MS BENNETT: And you talk in your statement a little bit about the impact of this on you, and you have spoken about that a little bit. But I just wanted to give you the chance to tell the Commissioners what you need to tell them about the impact that this has had on you over the years. How has it affected your participation in your community and your children?

ELISSA: Yes. I   over those years I still try to be independent. I still try doing things what I can do, and try look after my son for him everything, but every time I have all these experiences just stop me from going out. From   stop me from getting engaged, doing things outside there. And, I just feel all the time that I'm just useless. But when I'm home I feel safe. I feel I'm somebody for my son that I can do all these things still. But outside, I don't trust to be out there and to be safe. 

MS BENNETT: What do you think needs to change, Elissa? What can you tell the Commissioners about what you believe needs to change for people with disability to be safe in public?

ELISSA: I   I really feel   I've been thinking about it, because when I tried to get some help from the police, when I rang that number, they said there's nothing they can do because I'm not hurt. I think what can be done   I know society changes every day, but I was hoping that there's something to be put in place for people's awareness that disability is not always visible. That   that those people to be more – that they should   I mean, I don't really want people   seeing people being punished, but somehow if there is a law, if that is the only thing that people were going to do something stop things if they   if they think that it is a law not to do it. Which I think sometimes shouldn't be, because people should be more understanding. But I think it's about time for the Royal Commission to do something, to put something in place for the society. I mean, just like before, like now racism and things, but when the law comes it kind of stop. If this   if there is something that the Royal Commission can do to help this, to stop abusing people with disability and   and keeping them safe. 

I know it's not going to change overnight, if this thing is put in place then maybe the wider community and the whole society will change their perception about abusing people with disability. 

MS BENNETT: Elissa, thank you so much for sharing your story with us today. Is there any - final reflections you would like to give to the Royal Commission at all? You don't have to, but is there anything else you would like to tell them?

ELISSA: I don't know. 

MS BENNETT: No. Can I thank you on behalf of the Royal Commission for giving your evidence today. It's been incredibly valuable, and it will be very valuable to the Commissioners. It's so important that we hear from you directly, and I know it's taken a lot to do that today. So thank you so much for your time and your energy in speaking to me today. 

(Video ends)

MR FRASER:   Commissioners, that concludes the evidence for today.

CHAIR:  Yes, thank you, Mr Fraser. I take it we will resume at 10 am Brisbane time tomorrow? 

MR FRASER:   Yes.  Thank you, Chair.

CHAIR:  Alright. Thank you we will adjourn, then, until 10 am tomorrow.