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Public hearing 28 - Violence against and abuse of people with disability in public places, Brisbane - Day 4

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CHAIR: Good morning, everybody, and welcome to this, which is the fourth day of Public hearing 28 of the Royal Commission into Violence, Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation of People with Disability. In this Public hearing we are considering violence against and abuse of people with disability in public places. 

We commence with the Acknowledgement of Country. We wish to acknowledge the Jagera and Turrbal people as the traditional owners and custodians of the land on which the city of Brisbane is now located and on which this hearing is taking place. We pay our respects to their Elders, past present and emerging. We also acknowledge and pay our respects to all First Nations people who are following these proceedings, either from the Brisbane hearing room or via the live broadcast. Yes, Ms Bennett. 

MS BENNETT: Thank you, Commissioner. This morning we have a panel comprising three police officers. We have present in the hearing room Assistant Commissioner Fellows of South Australia Police, Senior Sergeant Pickard of Queensland Police, and I trust in a moment Acting Deputy Commissioner Cooke from New South Wales will become present. Yes.

CHAIR: I think we have Acting Deputy Commissioner Cooke on the line now. 

MS BENNETT: Thank you. If I could ask that the witnesses be sworn or affirmed.

CHAIR: Yes. Thank you very much Commissioner Fellows, Commissioner Cooke and Senior Sergeant Pickard for coming to the Royal Commission today, either in person or virtually. We appreciate the assistance you are providing to the Royal Commission. We have statements that have been prepared or answers to questions that have been posed and, of course, we have read those. I'll ask in a moment Ms Bennett to ask you some questions, but in the meantime if you would be good enough to follow the instructions of my Associate. She will administer the oaths or affirmation, as the case may be. I understand that, Commissioners Fellows and Cooke, you wish to take the oath. So, I'll ask for the oath to be administered first. 

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




CHAIR: Thank you very much. I will now ask for the affirmation to be administered to Senior Sergeant Pickard.

ASSOCIATE: I will read you the affirmation. At the end, please say yes or I do. Do you solemnly and sincerely 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 very much. I'll now ask Ms Bennett to ask members of the panel some questions.


MS BENNETT: Thank you for appearing. I'm going to ask each of you questions in turn and direct traffic between you as we go. Starting with you, Assistant Commissioner Fellows, you've been present in the hearing room this week. Are you in a position to offer any reflections on the evidence that you've heard this week? 

ASST COMM FELLOWS: Yes. I suppose, if I'm frank, it's been quite harrowing to listen to. I think as police we have a statutory obligation to protect the community and fundamentally to protect the vulnerable, and I suppose my instinct on Monday when we first started hearing evidence was, you know, we need to be out there arresting more people for these types of things, but as the week has progressed, I've probably concluded that had we can't arrest our way out of this problem. It's a complex issue and I think the answer lies somewhere in a structured approach, a framework for activity which is coordinated across a range of different areas that need to be joined very well together. And I think that's - that's going to take some time, but it's achievable. 

MS BENNETT: We'll unpack that in the course of your evidence. Turning to you, Senior Sergeant, I have no criticism if you've been unable to observe the hearings, but to the extent, have you been able to watch or be briefed upon any parts of the hearings this week? 

SNR SGT PICKARD: I've been watching the live feed as much as I could.

MS BENNETT: Thank you. Do you have any reflections you care to offer? 

SNR SGT PICKARD: Some of the stories are absolutely saddening, the fact that people living their lives day-to-day are dealing with this sort of abuse in a public area. I think that there's going to be some great learnings to come from what we've heard during this week, in particular, the courage of those people to stand up and speak forward. And if we are looking for change, cultural change, it has to start with understanding and experience. So, that's what I appreciate. 

MS BENNETT: Acting Deputy Commissioner, can you see and hear me? 


MS BENNETT: Again, I understand you're an operational police officer, and this is no criticism of that, but have you had the opportunity to be briefed on or to observe any of the evidence this week? 

ACTING DEP COMM COOKE: Yes. Whilst I've not seen the evidence, I've read those documents that were provided to us in the bundle and particularly those lived experience statements, which are enlightening, certainly raising a number of difficulties which is the experience of people. So, that experience is the reality for us that we need to take heed of and build into our process. It's very clear that there is a need in terms of access, and assurance, and I take the point of Assistant Commissioner Fellows there looking at how that access can be achieved effectively. 

MS BENNETT: Thank you and thank you all for those reflections. Can I now understand, Assistant Commissioner Fellows, what area of responsibility do you hold that relate to people with disability in your role? 

ASST COMM FELLOWS: Currently not anything specifically, although one of the areas under my command is Police Prosecutions for South Australia, I think which has some relevance for discussions this week. Previously I was in charge of Human Resources for South Australia Police within which was the disability - sorry, the Diversity and Inclusion branch. And I oversaw the development of the Disability Access and Inclusion Plan for South Australian Police. Prior to that, I was in charge of Crime Service and oversaw the establishment of our Public Protection branch which currently is where our Vulnerable Persons portfolio sits. So, those, I guess, experiences over seven years give me some insight into the matters before the Commission. 

MS BENNETT: And are you able to say whether or not you've had the benefit of the lived experience of people with disability and the development of some of those policies or procedures that you've just referred to? 

ASST COMM FELLOWS: Probably not personally, but the people that worked with me and for me who have developed some of those things certainly consulted widely in the community, particularly around the development of the Disability Access Inclusion Plan, which was part of the requirements for developing that plan in South Australia. 

MS BENNETT: So Senior Sergeant, your role - can you tell the Commissioners about the extent to which your role is connected with people with disability in the community? 

SNR SGT PICKARD: So I'm currently with the State Domestic Family Violence and Vulnerable Persons Unit, and my portfolio is that I'm the State Coordinator for programs in Mental Health, so I sit alongside the Senior Sergeant who's in charge of programs and developments for Disabilities. But my background for the last seven years I've worked with prevention and intervention within the Sunshine Coast district looking at Mental Health Intervention and Vulnerable Persons Coordination. 

And that's inclusive of people with - with mental health crisis and issues but also with intersections with disability, homelessness, domestic family violence, substance abuse. And I think a lot of - we're realising now that, within my role, a lot of the individuals that we - we have intersections with, we misidentify as having mental health, actually sit on - as ASD or ADHD or psychosocial disabilities so that's a learning that I have undertaken the last seven years, but it's only recently we've gone okay, we're starting to understand that we're misidentifying a number of people. 

MS BENNETT: Acting Deputy Commissioner, can you identify any areas of your responsibility that are relevant to people with disability? 

ACTING DEP COMM COOKE: Yes. So, my substantive position is the Commander of what we call Central Metropolitan Region, so it's effectively a third of the Sydney basin. So, I have 10 police area commands, 2,500-odd police under my command. In a corporate sense, I am the Corporate Sponsor for the Communities portfolio. So, New South Wales Police Force maintains corporate sponsorships at the executive level to provide executive level focus upon issues of concern for policing. The Ageing Disability and Homeless portfolio is one area specifically within my Communities portfolio, which also encompasses multiculturalism, LGBT issues and customer service. So, if you like, I'm the executive portal in support of our relationships with people suffering disability and representing the executive in driving our performance in terms of service to that community. 

MS BENNETT: Can you tell us, Acting Deputy Commissioner, we've heard some positive evidence about the Hate Crimes Unit in New South Wales. Can you tell the Commission about how that relates to the group that you've just mentioned as falling within your Communities portfolio? 

ACTING DEP COMM COOKE: So, the Engagement and Hate Crime Unit is a unit within, in fact, our Counterterrorism command. It is responsible for hate crime and a range of issues that occur in and around that across varying forms of hate crime but including involving those people with a disability. That's a command within, as I said, the CT command, which is comprised of police. So, operational police who police the community in that particular respect, as - as do other officers, and supported by also non-sworn police who support them in a policy sense. So, my intersection with the Engagement and Hate Crime Unit runs across each of my portfolios, particularly in the multicultural space, the LGBT and also the ageing, homelessness and those with a disability. 

MS BENNETT: Is that Hate Crime Unit model one that has, in your view, some potential to be expanded to capture some of the violence and abuse we've heard about this week, that is, in public places, against people with a disability? 

ACTING DEP COMM COOKE: Well, it certainly does that, in fact, now. That unit is responsible for, for example, for an advertising campaign which will go live, I believe, in November, December this year which specifically targets the reporting of hate crime across each of the areas of concern. So, those will be out in the broader media, I'm told, later this year, but that's about people being able to identify hate crime across the range of areas and then encouraging people to report instances of such crime so that it can be dealt with. 

Now, many parts of the organisation play a particular role, the Engagement and Hate Crime Unit specifically in this area. The Crime Prevention Units within each police area commanded within my region have a function as well. So, it's a coming together and which is why the corporate sponsorship role is important because it draws together those parts of the organisation who contribute in some way to - to the matter of assisting people, vulnerable communities, people who require assistance across the broader spectrum of police. 

MS BENNETT: And is there a model for sharing your learnings around that model with other police forces in Australia? 

ACTING DEP COMM COOKE: Look, certainly there - there would be, and I know that there are ongoing conversations across policing across a range of issues. So, absolutely there - there would be opportunity to share among agencies, as we do often, as I said, across a range of matters. 

MS BENNETT: Assistant Commissioner, you talked about, I think, the sharing of information is something that you think is going to be important here. Can you tell the Commissioners about what you think is going to be important to share information about between police forces? 

ASST COMM FELLOWS: Yes, I think, you know, the systems and the models that exist, and I think police generally are good at doing that, in terms of not trying to reinvent the wheel in terms of systems and structures, and we look both across States and overseas for ways in which policing is being done to find new and advanced ways. And so there is - there's always that element of trying to be consistent, but at the same time, every jurisdiction has its own nuances. New South Wales has a particular different focus due to its size compared to, perhaps, South Australia or Tasmania, and our ability to centralise unique types of policing activity centrally is perhaps a bit more limited than what a bigger police force might be. But, you know, we can still do certain things, just on a smaller scale. 

MS BENNETT: And speaking there of the smaller scale, is it the case that that's really a reason to develop some centralised element, so that each of the states can benefit from, if you like, the sunk cost of developing the best practice elements that can be rolled out in each jurisdiction? 

ASST COMM FELLOWS: Yes, and I think we have a Public Protection Branch which takes portfolio functions, vulnerable people being one, but what that does is it gives a connection point or a pathway into the organisation for other agencies such as Adult Safeguarding Unit in South Australia. They have a connection point to make contact, which then you can use that as a funnel to get the information in the right direction. 

MS BENNETT: And, Senior Sergeant, I take it that you would - you'd agree with your colleagues that this is something where sharing of information would be a benefit? 

SNR SGT PICKARD: Absolutely. And just to refer a little bit more locally, because we're talking about - within our state command, even though we hold different portfolios under that state command, being Domestic Family Violence, Disability, Elder Abuse, Mental Health, Victims Assist Queensland, White Ribbon, the sharing of those learnings - 

MS BENNETT: I'm very sorry to interrupt. Could I ask you to speak up a little bit. 

SNR SGT PICKARD: My apologies. Usually I'm asked to keep quiet, not to speak up. I do apologise. 

MS BENNETT: Not at all. 

SNR SGT PICKARD: So across those portfolios, vulnerabilities, what we do learn is we can learn experiences from each other's portfolios, for example, use the learnings we have at the moment within Domestic and Family Violence and the Commission of Inquiries and apply that to disabilities because the same things are arriving from the learnings, from the Women's Safety Justice Task Force that we hear at the Commission today. It's about confidence in reporting. It's about accessibility. It's about re-traumatising individuals. So, we have that learning already systematically within our organisation. What we look for is opportunities to share those learnings, absolutely, across the nation. 

MS BENNETT: You spoke about confidence in reporting, and that's been something we've heard some evidence about this week. I mean, would you accept there's been a historic trust deficit between some communities and the police? 

SNR SGT PICKARD: Well, that - that's evident. It's evident from the voices of lived experience, and I think if we don't listen closely to that, we're going to miss the mark. 

MS BENNETT: Yes, just being clear, and I include specifically with that people with the lived experience of disability - 


MS BENNETT: - have a historical, perhaps, trust deficit with some police forces. 

SNR SGT PICKARD: Absolutely and I think that expands more greatly to institutions, whether that's hospital health systems and policing responses. So, there is a lack, I guess, a lack of confidence in that reporting and I think to - to really start the question is how do we address that lack of confidence so that we can get the reporting, because we need the reporting. Without the reporting of the incidents from policing, how do we create preventative measures or how do we even respond, how do we investigate. It's hard to -

MS BENNETT: And I'd like to discuss some of those models in a moment, but, Assistant Commissioner, would you accept there's a historic trust deficit that needs to be, I guess, overcome? 

ASST COMM FELLOWS: Without doubt. It doesn't just sit in disability and, you know, we've experienced it with domestic violence over the years. We've got a huge focus, as most jurisdictions have, on domestic violence. We know it's underreported extensively for a great number of reasons, and there were a couple of occasions this week listening to some of the evidence where, you know, I heard people say, "I didn't think there was anything that the police could do about it because I didn't have the registration number or the - the evidence that was needed" but I was sitting there as a police officer going, yeah, but we can access CCTV, we can do facial recognition, there's a whole range of investigative tools that we can do to identify offenders. It doesn't, you know, have to come with the brief. But, again, that's a knowledge and unawareness thing for anybody, not just people with disability but I accept your proposition. Yes. 

MS BENNETT: And, Acting Deputy Commissioner, would you take a different view for New South Wales or would you broadly accept that there's historical trust deficit there? 

ACTING DEP COMM COOKE: No, I would accept that, having heard or read particularly some of the evidence, that that is certainly a matter, and I think that again though is for us as a group and here today a great opportunity by police forces appearing and acknowledging that, but talking about those ways that there are available for people to under - sort of overcome that issue: The advertising campaign I spoke of earlier, the work of our Engagement and Hate Crime Unit, the Crime Prevention Units within command. It's certainly - the opportunities that we have working in partnership with our Ageing and Disability Commission about providing information through a community. 

One comment I would make, you spoke of centralisation and I absolutely agree in terms of leadership, and the sponsorship arrangement that we have in New South Wales does that. But it's also important that we recognise that there are many stakeholders, service providers, within the local community at the ground level who deal very, very well with police area commands and police on the ground, and they are those - that first port of call for community. So, it's very important that we recognise that much of that work on the ground done is very, very important, and at that local level, that's a place I'm certainly keen on seeing that we continuing to break down these issues in terms of reporting and develop that relationship, really building confidence. 

MS BENNETT: Professor Asquith gave some evidence that New South Wales had been successful in particular with, or it had some significant success with the LGBTIQ plus community and that community connection. Is there anything from that model that can be adapted to the disability community, in your view? 

ACTING DEP COMM COOKE: I think it is, in fact, the same, and that is exactly where we are heading. And that relies on that same model, working with a Corporate Sponsor, me across both of these things, down through my function as a regional commander to my police commander to ensure that that's important to them, which makes it important to the police on the ground and that we provide that support to the community. It has worked well, and I'd be very confident that we can continue that working with people with a disability.

CHAIR: Commissioner Fellows, South Australia, if you go back far enough - not necessarily that far - has a terrible record of hate crimes directed at LGBTGI people. How has South Australia overcome the trust deficit for that community, assuming it has? 

ASST COMM FELLOWS: Yes, Chair, I - we have a network within SAPOL of - we refer to them as GLLOs, Gay and Lesbian Liaison Officers, that are police officers that have volunteered as part of their normal duties to be a representative or a liaison officer to that community, and they've been in place for some time. I think it's been referred to this week as a model that could be picked up for disability. We are certainly well down the path of implementing Disability Engagement Officers within our districts. 

We're in consultation on that at the moment and that it's part of our Action Plan to implement that. So, I think that's the model that we're trying to pick up. And the GLLO network has certainly had a good impact in terms of it just gives people a pathway into the organisation to either get advice or make a report or be confident that their issues will be heard.

CHAIR: Thank you. 

MS BENNETT: And the GLLO network, just to pick up on that model, are those police who undertake general policing duties in parallel to their GLLO responsibilities? 


MS BENNETT: And are they people from within the LGBTIQ community? 

ASST COMM FELLOWS: Some are and some are not. And we asked for volunteers and some people just have a passion for representing people in the community and they take on that responsibility. 

MS BENNETT: And is there any plan that Disability Liaison Officers be people with an experience of disability themselves? 

ASST COMM FELLOWS: Not specifically but we wouldn't exclude that. We think that the - the knowledge and the expertise is the most important thing, and the ability of a police officer to open the door to other areas of the organisation that are necessary, and if they - if they have lived experience, that's terrific, a bit like the GLLO network, but not necessarily a prerequisite to those roles. 

MS BENNETT: And Senior Sergeant - sorry, before we leave you, Assistant Commissioner, when is it planned for that liaison office to take effect? 

ASST COMM FELLOWS: We had hoped to have already had it in place. COVID has slowed us down in a range of areas. But we're out in the community consultation at the moment, so if it's not before the end of this calendar year, it will be certainly in the - early in the new year.

MS BENNETT: And is that community consultation including people with disability? 


MS BENNETT: Senior Sergeant, is there an equivalent in Queensland of the Disability Liaison Office or a plan to have officers in that role? 

SNR SGT PICKARD: Within the State Domestic and Family Violence command, there is a Senior Sergeant. So, there's portfolio of Disabilities which has a Senior Sergeant who is a State Coordinator. And to give a little bit of history - as well as an AO4 who's a Projects Officer. And to give a little bit of history behind that, we - the Command - sorry, the State Domestic and Family Violence and Vulnerable Persons Unit was established 2015 but it sat under a different command. It was Community Contact command. 

In 2019, we've stood the command up to sit separate. So, what's happened there is the temporary positions have now become permanent, so I'm very happy to say that the role, that Senior Sergeant, she started Monday of this week. So, at the moment within the State Domestic Family Violence Unit, we're at a transition and building stage. So, that person's responsibility for looking at the strategic and political intents of the whole of government and designing programs and projects for our district Vulnerable Persons Unit to address an increase of response and confidence in policing vulnerabilities, particularly with disabilities and elder abuse. 

MS BENNETT: And so a dedicated liaison is something that will be considered as part of that process; is that - 

SNR SGT PICKARD: So within the state at this point in time - so, we have 15 districts across the State of Queensland and all of which have been promised Domestic and Family Violence units. Because of the sheer volumes of domestic and family violence that we get as an organisation - there's over 200,000 calls for service per year - a lot of the resources is pushed towards domestic and family violence, but what we do have is, within those units, we have a Mental Health Intervention Coordinator. 

Now, we have over 60,000 calls a year as a police organisation toward mental health and we're able to track that because of the job codes assigned to mental health job codes. So, within these units, sits a Mental Health Intervention Coordinator but they are more so intersections of people that sit in that vulnerabilities, so they are a liaison of type for vulnerabilities, not just mental health, but towards disabilities as well. I think that it would be great if we could design a purpose-built dedicated role within our districts that looks at disabilities as we do with mental health. 

MS BENNETT: So it's fair to say there's an opportunity to expand in that direction? 

SNR SGT PICKARD: Absolutely. 

MS BENNETT: And, Acting Deputy Commissioner, New South Wales has Aged Crime Prevention Officers; is that right? 

ACTING DEP COMM COOKE: That's right, yes. 

MS BENNETT: And they're within - 


MS BENNETT: Yes, can you tell the Commissioners what falls within their scope of responsibility? 

ACTING DEP COMM COOKE: So they are part of our Crime Prevention Unit which is a unit within every police command and police district across the state. Their predominant role is to assist command's delivery of service to the ageing population, those with a disability, and the homeless population. They work with Crime Prevention Officers, including Domestic and Family Liaison Officers, generalist Crime Prevention Officers and other engagement officers, driving the command's response in support of community. 

So, I think one of the things in terms of reporting is that whilst we have these specialist officers at the time, most incidents are, in fact, attended as the general response to a call for assistance, which will be generalist policing who will attend to take a report. Now, depending on the nature of that report, that may well be funnelled to - in a serious manner to a Criminal Investigation Unit. It may be retained by that officer as part of his or her case load. 

The role of the Crime Prevention Teams is to provide that underlying support and connection, supporting the person and supporting the investigators or those investigating the matter to ensure that, where it's appropriate, services can be provided, where they're necessary, to support that victim or person in otherwise need of care. 

MS BENNETT: That depends, doesn't it, Acting Deputy Commissioner, on the frontline police officer identifying this as a matter which involves a person with a disability that will require some support; is that right? 

ACTING DEP COMM COOKE: Absolutely, and that's why part of the training at recruit level and then continuous training through the life cycle of an officer, into and including specialist functions, includes specific training around the recognition of people with a disability and those actions that that might be undertaken where they are supporting such people. 

MS BENNETT: How many Aged Crime Prevention Officers are there at present? 

ACTING DEP COMM COOKE: There are 12 across the state at present and I've been tasked with conducting an evaluation of the role and function of those officers, which is in scoping at the moment. 

MS BENNETT: And where are they - are they located in a geographically centralised place or are they spread out across the state? 

ACTING DEP COMM COOKE: No, they're in 12 police commands at present. 

MS BENNETT: And what's a police command? 

ACTING DEP COMM COOKE: Police command, you would suggest, is in a geographical area of Sydney, for example, the St George area. 

MS BENNETT: So there are 12 geographic areas which are each described as a command and have a - and each of those has an Aged Crime Prevention Officer; is that right? 

ACTING DEP COMM COOKE: Within it, that's right. As I said, as part of their Crime Prevention Unit. 

COMMISSIONER RYAN: Can I just clarify, are there only 12 commands across New South Wales or is there only 12 commands which have CPOs? 

ACTING DEP COMM COOKE: There are - there are 12 commands which have Aged Crime Prevention Officers within them. There are 57 police commands across the state. 

COMMISSIONER RYAN: So not every command has one of these officers? 

ACTING DEP COMM COOKE: No, they do not. 

COMMISSIONER RYAN: Well, when they were announced in 2018, I believe the commitment was to have one in every command. Is there some reason why that hasn't been realised? 

ACTING DEP COMM COOKE: That is - I'm undertaking - as I said, I've been tasked to undertake an evaluation of the role and function at present, which is within scoping at the moment, but I think - again, I'd draw your attention to the fact that, whilst I understand about that commitment, the officers are part and one of a Crime Prevention Unit within every police command across the state. 

MS BENNETT: Assistant Commissioner, I understand from the materials that South Australia have some stations that are accredited as assisting people with communication difficulties; is that right? 

ASST COMM FELLOWS: Not stations, but people. So, police officers that have undertaken additional course of training. Under our legislation we have Vulnerable Witness legislation, which, where a person is unable to give a coherent account of their experiences, then if they're interviewed by a person who's trained to the level required, then in - once the matter progresses to court, their evidence-in-chief can be given without that person having to attend court. So, we have something like six or seven hundred police officers trained with those interviewing skills. 

MS BENNETT: We've heard some evidence this week that some people, particularly people with an intellectual disability or cognitive impairment, might - might not be seen as entirely credible to a reporting officer, and that's the reason that they feel unable to report. Is it - are those officers trained to sort of combat that kind of preconceived notion, that kind of prejudice? 

ASST COMM FELLOWS: Yes, I mean, that goes with the training. The training is focused on the best way to communicate with a person with communication difficulties, but with that, it's inherent in the fact that, you know, that there's a way to build trust with a person who you're interviewing to enable them to communicate what's happened to them. 

MS BENNETT: Is that concern that we've heard a little bit this week something that you've heard of before in your career as a police officer? 

ASST COMM FELLOWS: Yes, it is, and, in fact, one of the training tools that we use at the Police Academy for recruits is a video of a lived experience of a person with cerebral palsy, who her experience was she had attended a police station on a number of occasions but was turned away because the police that was she was intoxicated. In fact, it was her disability that was the problem. And so just being able to communicate that to recruits to get them to understand that not - everything is not always as it seems when you're dealing with people on the first instance. So, those sorts of things, I think, are really valuable in training for new police officers and any police officer, really. 

MS BENNETT: I take it you didn't mean that cerebral palsy was a problem; the response to that was a problem? 

ASST COMM FELLOWS: Correct. That's right. Yes. 

MS BENNETT: Senior Sergeant, are you aware of that as an issue that you've come across in your role?

SNR SGT PICKARD: Yes, I think the way our organisation is moving is ensuring that communication, the one thing that we're relying upon in our careers every single day, the communication that, what we rely upon in our careers every single day, is better trained. So, we teach policing with influence, which is a behavioural influence stairway model, which is taken from negotiated response and applied to police negotiators. And we're broadly educating recruits on that manner of communication. 

And it's about taking the time, understanding someone's needs, and it looks at building rapport through active listening and empathising with the individual, therefore create behavioural change. And if that behavioural change is getting better trust, then it's worked. So, we use that model of communication more so on our front line, but that's the model of communication that we use within our Domestic and Family Violence Units, the Vulnerable Persons Units, because it's difficult to engage with vulnerable people that have lost faith in policing, and often the case is our unit will get request, actually engage with these individuals, these vulnerable individuals, to try to get them supports that they require. 

MS BENNETT: On the subject of supports, what about accessible reporting pathways? So you've talked a lot about the trust deficit but assume that's not a barrier for the moment. What about making the act of reporting as something that's accessible for people with all needs? 

SNR SGT PICKARD: After hearing the Professor in Tasmania yesterday -

MS BENNETT: Yes, Professor Asquith, yes. 

SNR SGT PICKARD: That was a brilliant model whereby the reporting of a vulnerable persons with disabilities could report to an external agency and order to be validated around their complaints, their issues. I think there's a great opportunity to buy into that sort of program whereby then we could have a system where those reports can be directly then reported to police. You know, whether that be on a platform that individuals feel more comfortable telling their stories - because at the moment we do have accessibility to report incidents online, and COVID actually pushed a lot of our reporting online through Police Link reporting. 

But there's also other avenues because people also feel comfortable talking to a person, so vulnerable persons can contact Police Link and request for a client service personnel to guide them through making complaint or making a report to police. And then we have the other standardised approaches through the National Relay Service, and you can opt to actually ask to communicate through the email and SMS approaches. So, we are looking at those separate platforms. 

And I think too we developed them domestic and family violence about how we could better engage with our vulnerable persons that were impacted by domestic and family violence to report safely. And that's a modelling that we could use for disabilities, but, again, this is something that would have consultation with lived experience. 

MS BENNETT: So, Acting Deputy Commissioner, are you able to speak to the steps that New South Wales has taken to make reporting accessible to people with disability? 

ACTING DEP COMM COOKE: Yes. There is much information available publicly on our internet site that is quite easy to navigate and provides advice to people on how to report things. We're finding our relationship with the Ageing and Disability Commission very beneficial in terms of third-party reporting, and then that relationship and information sharing which occurs between the two agencies. 

There is - whilst trust very clearly is an issue, and that - that is about confidence, I think, and us providing confidence to the community that - that they can report, and the reports will be heard. That is also about developing and continuing to develop the relationship at the command level among stakeholder groups who are frequently interacting with community and who become aware of matters who can bring these matters to us in a third-party type sense for investigation or highlight, or for sharing amongst themselves to ensure that a person who might be requiring a service, which might not necessarily be a policing service, can be connected.

CHAIR: Can I raise a general issue which arises out of this discussion. We've heard that during the week - quite a lot about hate crimes and that's been referred to today. In New South Wales, the Hate Crime Units, as I understand it, are within Terrorism Units which rather suggest that the original concern was the relationship between hate crimes of a very serious kind leading to the possibility of acts of terrorism. Perfectly understandable concern. 

But we've heard hate crime and the hate crimes - and Professor Asquith, I think, prefer the term "targeted violence", but the way in which it's been used this week, including by people with lived experience, extends far beyond criminal behaviour. The kind of harassment and humiliation and so forth that we've heard about may not rise to the level of a crime, and it also may not be the kind of behaviour that is best responded to by criminal prosecution. 

It may be there are many other ways of dealing, for example, with adolescent behaviour of that kind that may proceed more from ignorance than from anything else. Are we asking the police to do things that they're not necessarily equipped to do? And is this - is the answer in part, this third-party reporting so that we're not asking the police to perform welfare roles that they may not be particularly well equipped - and this is not a criticism - particularly well equipped to perform? Is this something that you're concerned about? I don't mind who answers, as long as all three do. 

MS BENNETT: Well, perhaps we will start with the Acting Deputy Commissioner, and I'll run through. 

ACTING DEP COMM COOKE: Thank you, Commissioner. Yes, I agree, the Hate Crime Unit, yes, born out of that initial sense. The broadening, though, of its scope is a recognition of the fact that hate crime extends not just in that CT-type space but across the range of community and, in fact, the definition for New South Wales Police in terms of hate crime names a mental or physical disability as part of a concern. 

In terms of the general approach, I think it really rests upon good communication and engagement among the stakeholders, because many matters do not amount to a criminal offence. However, people are feeling unsafe so if they are reporting to police at the initial phase, then we need that and have that capacity through current arrangements - and I can only speak for New South Wales - that - that joined up stakeholder engagement among police, local providers, to my engagement with Mr Fitzgerald at the Ageing and Disability Commission at the executive level retains that model or structure, if you like, that we can direct things where they might be best dealt with. 

So, I think in terms of whether we're being asked to do things which aren't necessarily a bailiwick, I think that's life for police in many occasions. Could we look at another way of reporting? Potentially, yes. 

MS BENNETT: And can you tell the Commissioners a little bit about the nature of your relationship with the Ageing and Disability Commission and how you do share information around these issues? 

ACTING DEP COMM COOKE: So yes, the Ageing and Disability Commission, I, as the executive sponsor, meet with Mr Fitzgerald only this week - and I paraphrase that by saying I'm new into the portfolio. So, this is evolving in terms of my own personal involvement, but certainly sponsors before me engaging with the Commission. Underlying me, I also have a policy officer within our Crime Prevention command who are tasked specifically into the Ageing, Disability and Homelessness portfolio, so they also engage with the Commission at the operational level. 

We have a Memorandum of Understanding between the two agencies which allows us to share information and, in fact, the Commission have actually direct access to our policing operational system. They have read-only access to our police, if you'd like, incident recording system. We called it COPS. Every state has an equivalent system. So, the Commission have direct read-only access to that. 

There's very clear understanding and, in fact, the legislation governs that the Commission has certain responsibilities, where it takes reports which amount to or they believe amount to a criminal offence, and there are other arrangements in place contained within the MOU where they can refer matters to us which bring upon us responsibility and vice versa. So, it's actually quite a strong relationship between the two of us in - with regard to reports between the two agencies directed to the ADC or from police as a reference to the ADC. 

The ADC also operates a number of, I think, collaboratives would be the word, cooperatives, collaboratives, which reaches down into local government areas. I think there are 16 or 17 such collaboratives at present operating. And police are present as part of those collaboratives. So, at the ground level - and I speak - I think, the Canterbury Bankstown collective Council may well have been raised. That is - Canterbury Bankstown is the local government area within New South Wales, sort of within inner western Sydney. 

So, police, the Ageing and Disability Commission and a range of stakeholders within that local government area come together to discuss issues affecting the community within that area of responsibility. So, that again, I think, refers to the matters I spoke to about earlier, down at the ground level, responsible agencies and stakeholders coming together to discuss how it is we are actually providing service across the community, which I think is very effective at ground level, brings services within reach of people at the ground level, which builds relationships, which builds trust, which builds confidence, which can only assist, I think, the community in overcoming that deficit, and then receiving the service that they require. 

MS BENNETT: Thank you. And turning - I'm going to return to talk about that model in a moment, but before I - 

CHAIR: Sorry, I'd like to hear, please, what Commissioner Fellows and Senior Sergeant Pickard think about the issues that have been raised? 

MS BENNETT: So the - I think the Chair originally asked about the - whether or not this kind of model, I think, assists people with lived experience that extends beyond criminal behaviour to the kind of harassment and humiliation that we've heard about this week. Are you able to comment on that? 

ASST COMM FELLOWS: Yes, I'll pick up your original statement, Chair, about this label, if you like, of hate crime. And it's probably something that's challenged me this week listening to the evidence because I think everyone has been grappling with what is it, what is it. And we've got legislation in South Australia in the Sentencing Act which mandates the sentencing judge or magistrate, they must take into account that if the crime's been motivated by hate or prejudice, and I think that prejudice-type concept sits more comfortably with some of the evidence that we've heard this week. 

I'm not sure that the hatred thing really fits, and maybe doesn't fit with what the community think is happening or would understand of hate - hate crimes. So, I add that for context. The issue for police - and you've pointed to it - is that not all of the behaviours we've heard about this week amount - reach that criminal threshold. Now, I guess we can change legislation to make - to lower the bar, if you like, but where it sits at the moment, if we don't meet that criminal threshold. 

So, we don't - we don't have an intelligence picture, really, of what's going on. We've got those that are reported, that meet the prima facie case for a crime, we will have that. What we don't have is that sort of bigger picture of some of the really terrible things that have been discussed this week that actually don't become crimes, and I think this is where this third -

CHAIR: Or perhaps ought not be to treated as crimes. 


CHAIR: Because there are other ways of dealing with it. 

ASST COMM FELLOWS: Correct. But there is always an intelligence picture that police can use in a prevention sense. That's what police do very well. But you need an information source. There's a model that I quite like around retail theft which is a platform that it's called Auror. It's run by a private company and it's from New Zealand, now in Australia, where retail companies are given access to this portal, and they upload all sorts of information about who's stealing from their - from their shop. 

It's contained to the retail owners and people there, and it becomes this intelligence picture. Police are given access to it for free. It's not a crime reporting thing, although police can reach in and do so, but it provides a very good intelligence picture of what's going on around retail theft. They upload videos and photos and information. And it's just another example of a third-party platform that, whilst doesn't create crime reporting, what it does is give the big picture, whether there's suspicion of a crime or an actual crime or just suspicion about individuals who are involved in organised theft. 

So, I think something along that line in this topic may actually assist to paint the picture, because it's not the individual incident that we are to carry it all out on; it's the broader impact, and we tell you about the cumulative effect, so I think that's - that's the gap.

CHAIR: Yes. Thank you. 

MS BENNETT: And does that model - I'll come to you in a moment, Senior Sergeant. But is that a model that allows you to identify, for example, hot spots or areas of peak concern? I'm not saying that that exists in this space but is that something that does? 

ASST COMM FELLOWS: It does because we have - our internal analysts have access to that and they can pick up trends. And it might be that, you know, there's no evidence attached to a particular piece of information but when you put five or six or eight of those pieces together with other information that we have, all of a sudden, you've got evidence. 

MS BENNETT: It sounds as though it's something that doesn't create a burden on the person reporting; is that right? 

ASST COMM FELLOWS: No, because it's in their interests to report it. They are sharing information with their own industry, in fact, about people that are targeting - you know, it might be Bunnings or Big W that go around and steal particular items. "Keep a watch out for this particular person." So - and it's contained to - access to people limited to the person that should be accessing can. 

MS BENNETT: And, Senior Sergeant, are you able to comment on, based on your operational experience, how best to respond to these - this kind of conduct that might not reach the criminal threshold? 

SNR SGT PICKARD: Yes, I think the answer lies in partnerships, because what we see is this is a greater problem, just - more so than just responding. We've got to look at intervention and prevention modelling to address - really what we're looking at is shifting - shifting culture or shifting mindsets. Because holding the perpetrator to account is vital, absolutely vital, but ideally what we want to do is we want to effect positive behaviour change and shifting attitudes, and this can be done in a number of ways. 

And it's got to be done through the voice of the expectations of the victim. That's first and foremost. But I think behavioural change can come through advocacy, it can come through awareness, it can come through purpose-built behavioural change programs and, of course, it can come through enforcement action by police, or it can be a combination of those. So, I think, when we look at it, because it's such a complex spectrum of offending, we have to look at what we're addressing at that given time and, in all honesty, through our internal and external partnerships with key stakeholders and community, who is best to respond at that given time as well? 

MS BENNETT: And is it fair, Senior Sergeant, that we need not pick one. We could have, for example, a third-party reporting process and a police response, where it's appropriate, and they can work together? 

SNR SGT PICKARD: I can tell you that ‘hubbing’ is – ‘hubbing’ - my apologies, working within a co-responding model is absolutely critical to address problems that are multifaceted. And we've designed that through mental health with our co-responder models, because as a policing organisation - I do apologise I keep referring back to mental health modelling, but we've learnt from this over a number of years because we've gotten it wrong. And the best findings we can have is when we get things wrong. We can adjust. 

So with our mental health - and you talked about, Chair, inappropriate services being deployed. What was happening with mental health crisis is we were sending armed police to mental health consumers that had missed an appointment or a depot or their medication or they weren't - weren't complying with treatment authorities. And from the onset, I think the community says, well, that's expected because there may be risks assigned to that individual, but what we end up doing is we end up escalating that individual because they've missed a medical appointment.

So, in a co-responder-type atmosphere, what you have is we as police own a situational crisis that may be occurring, and we hold the safety around the individual and the community, absolutely, but what we don't own is the clinical pathways to that individual's care. That's either owned by Health or Mental Health or a number of non-government organisations that provide support services to that individual. We play a vital role, but I think we have to understand, as organisations, what our roles specifically are, and then we have to ask agencies to join us. So, collaboration would be the key. 

MS BENNETT: So returning to you, Acting Deputy Commissioner, and that - I take it you'd - from your answer earlier that you agree that collaboration with other interested and associated agencies is important to this; is that fair? 

ACTING DEP COMM COOKE: Absolutely. And it needs to be - the third-party reporting or whatever needs to be also skilled and from within a sector, in my view, for the very reasons we just heard. Safety of the individuals and community is the primary concern for police. The range of other supports that we can provide come with that, following an incident or an occurrence, but it's important that - I would be concerned in some - in some situations where people unskilled or self-necessary reporting were reporting in a system that might well miss issues that skilled people might pick up. 

Because whilst I agree with Assistant Commissioner Fellows, we have, you know, a “hate crime” which sometimes becomes a colloquialism for behaviour. But there are a range of other offences that - that may well also sit: assault, intimidation and stalking within New South Wales, offensive conduct. So, the reporting needs to be of a type that we build confidence in community, it is easy and accessible, but also is ‘triage-able’. So, that we are providing the right response, including the law enforcement response. And then, as my friend from Queensland indicated, that collaboration that sits underneath that reporting providing service, which generally would fall into either clinical or social support of some other nature. 

MS BENNETT: So, let me see if I can identify the elements that you're suggesting might be important to the response. Needs to have expertise, presumably in terms of identifying crimes and identifying an appropriate response. Needs to have community trust and engagement. It needs to have - and it needs to have the connection - to make the right connections to the right organisation. Is that a fair summary? 

ACTING DEP COMM COOKE: Through that process, yes. 

MS BENNETT: Yes, through that, so the person doesn't just get referred to somewhere else and left. They get a - they get a warm referral through the system in the appropriate way? 

ACTING DEP COMM COOKE: And that the - the intent of the person reporting is also part of that - that process. 

MS BENNETT: Yes. So, in the third-party reporting discussion that we've had with Professor Asquith and with you and your colleagues today, there's been the suggestion of a body that would provide a pathway for that kind of reporting. Is the model of the Ageing and Disability Commission one model that meets a number of those criteria? 

ACTING DEP COMM COOKE: Yes, it does and the legislation guides their activity as well. 

MS BENNETT: And obviously Mr Fitzgerald will be speaking to us later, but is that also somewhere where you can collaborate over the development of educational responses and proactive responses to have a policing and a non-policing element? 

ACTING DEP COMM COOKE: Yes. In fact, the Ageing and Disability Commission staff contribute to the development of our training products. They also attend training courses that provide information to those undergoing training. 

MS BENNETT: Assistant Commissioner Fellows, you have an Adult Safeguarding Unit in South Australia. Can you tell the Commissioners briefly about that body and how it interacts with your work? 

ASST COMM FELLOWS: Yes. So, they sit under - I think it's either the Health - the Department of Health and Ageing. They are a statutory body, and they have certain powers within their legislation. We have an MOU that exists between us to exchange information, and that happens very readily. And they also have a hotline number. So, we heard questions this week about the national Commonwealth hotline number, which we wouldn't refer to in South Australia because we have our own state-based one through the Adult Safeguarding Unit. 

But to your point on the third-party reporting, at the moment that doesn't pick up what we're talking about here. And one of the elements - I think you were just trying to list some elements there of what something like that would look like. I think another key part of it is analysis. Because if you don't have the ability to analyse what that information is telling us, you can't then predict or take action in another way. 

And again, a lot of this stuff might be out of the hands of police because it's not the police function, but if the analysis shows that things below the criminal threshold are happening a lot in a particular location or in particular groups of people, action can be initiated in the community without even involving the police and that's sure what we're trying to achieve - to achieve here. 

MS BENNETT: Senior Sergeant, your colleagues have provided a wish list of what that body would have in it. Do you have anything to add to what such a third-party reporting model or intermediary model might bring to the table? 

SNR SGT PICKARD: I think - I think the - the model will bring systems and people together because across a lot of our portfolios for vulnerable persons, we expect the vulnerable person to come to us. With this sort of modelling, we're actually bringing the systems to the person, and I think that's important. But what it will need is - it will need coordination, a lot of coordination across agencies, both government and non-government, across the disability sector, and across advocacy. 

So, I think the importance there is having a look at that coordination at the start, because as you start to build that model and it's co-designed, it really has to be co-created, and that co-creation part is going to need the coordinators across those agencies to come together to understand the limitations and capacities of each agency, understand the perspectives of each agency and what we can bring as specialists. 

MS BENNETT: Do you see it as a model that has utility in responding to the issues that the Commission has heard about this week? 

SNR SGT PICKARD: I think so. Definitely. Because we spoke about - well, I heard the Commission speak about, you know, the fact of policing - police responses not meeting the expectation of the vulnerable person with disability. So, there needs to be advocacy built into the reporting from the very start. I think that's very important. And then cross-pollination of training and education about what each agency is important - is responsible for - is important as well. So, that element of coordination would be something that I would be very interested in looking at how that would - would fit within our organisation. 

MS BENNETT: Commissioners, those were the questions I have for this panel, save to thank them for their time and expertise today.

CHAIR: Thank you very much. I'll invite my colleagues, if they have any questions to put to the panel, and I'll start with Commissioner Galbally. 

COMMISSIONER GALBALLY: Thank you very much for your responses. That was really very interesting and valuable. Just to come back to - I think it was South Australia's experience where you put an example out, I think, about somebody with cerebral palsy being assumed to be drunk, and then thinking about what we heard yesterday about people with an intellectual disability not being seemed able to provide - you know, not being taken seriously. I'd like to know about the training, the ongoing training for police officers about these issues, and people who don't communicate verbally, who have other ways of communicating. And I'd like to know about training, thanks, for those cohorts because they felt very left out, or - or under attack by police officers because of their disability when there's misunderstanding. 

ASST COMM FELLOWS: It's been - probably for me listening this week, it's been eye opening in terms of what is it that we should train police officers to do or be aware of. And I think one of the things we are good at in a disability sense is training - we can always do better, but training police officers in a communication sense. That seems to be the focus of our training, is how to communicate on the assumption that a person with a disability has a communication issue or an access issue. 

One of the things we've missed is training and the awareness of the impact of some of these crimes on people with a disability and that's not evident in our training. Looking at it through the eyes of the people this week, that impact on them is immense, and if you don't appreciate that when you hear the one-off incident, it's very low level in terms of a policing response but to that person, it's immense. And the courage to actually come and report it the first time might be the end of a series of things that happened and having photographs taken of you and being video-ed, that - that is an awful thing to happen to someone. 

And so I think the training actually needs to shift to the impact on the people, and the responses that are available to deal with it rather than just how do we communicate with someone who cannot communicate at the right level. I think we do that not too badly. 

SNR SGT PICKARD: Did you want each panel -


SNR SGT PICKARD: From our organisation's perspective what we're looking at is training investigations to be more person-centric and trauma-informed and that's across all our vulnerabilities. And it's a learning that we've had through domestic and family violence. The good part is that our State Coordinator only started Monday. The bad part is that she's now been given the first portfolio of "let's look at training" because I think training is one of the most strategic things an organisation can do because it looks at the service delivery gaps of the past and it future proofs the future direction of the organisation. 

So, it's not something that can be rushed. It's something that we have to look at deeply. And we've taken learnings from - and, again, I do apologise, but it is my portfolio. We've taken learnings from mental health and the training that we're developing is across our tri-agencies, so it's training between Queensland Health, Mental Health, Queensland Ambulance, Queensland Police, and it's looking at intersectionality because knowledge and education is very specific. It's very context specific.

So if we look at the intersectionalities, we really have an understanding of what that certain intersection would benefit from across training and education. So, that's something that - that our Senior Sergeant, has - as a priority - been provided with, to have a look at our training around disability. 

MS BENNETT: Acting Deputy Commissioner? 

ACTING DEP COMM COOKE: Yes. Thank you. No, I would just agree with the comments of my colleagues. I had said earlier I think that we train from the recruit phase through to ongoing training which is delivered through commands and then into specialist investigative courses and then custody management around dealing with people within our care who are suffering a disability.

I think that that is about servicing and providing that support to victims which provides - again, I go back to that confidence, that reassurance, that ability to participate which drives better outcomes, which drives better community relations and resilience in the community which benefits both - which benefits the community essentially, in the broader spectrum of just particular individuals. 

So, yes, it's something that we continue to drive. The education, I think, working with the ADC and having them involved in the development of our education and delivery is providing that lived experience, potentially not through people suffering disability, but those whose day job it is entirely to work with the community. So, I think that is of great benefit to us, but it is certainly something that we need to continue to be conscious of.

CHAIR: Commissioner Ryan. 

COMMISSIONER RYAN: Thank you. Look, I thank you particularly, Acting Deputy Commissioner Cooke, in that the New South Wales Police Service provided us with the job descriptions and the capabilities of the significant people within the New South Wales police service who have responsibility for disability. And I did notice that the Aged - there are obviously the 12 Aged Crime Prevention Officers who appear at an operational level to report to both senior sergeants and then inspectors. 

But the one thing I did notice that in their job descriptions and the outline of key knowledge and experience, the word "disability" or anything about disability does not appear in any of their job descriptions. And in terms of the scope of their work, there is a lot of text about terrorism and other things of that sort of high-profile nature, and it seems hard for me to understand how at any time someone who had disability would ever get a guernsey in a discussion with an officer who was primarily responsible for quite high profile crimes like terrorism and politically motivated violence and things of that nature. 

And I did notice just standing outside that is a Program Manager for Disability Matters. That's a person who I think has the rank of a senior sergeant. They report to an 11/12 public servant. And I just sort of wonder, with that sort of level of governance within the New South Wales Police Service doesn't seem it's likely that the SES of the New South Wales Police Service is very often going to discuss the sorts of matters that have come to the Royal Commission about law and justice, not only in this hearing but in others.

CHAIR: John, can we get to the - 

COMMISSIONER RYAN: Yes, I'm just wondering, do you not - sorry about the extensive explanation, but there seems to be a governance gap in the ability for these issues to get to the Senior Executive Service and get the kind of attention that you'd expect. How often does the Senior Executive Service, for example, discuss the kind of issues that this Royal Commission has been hearing about this week? 

ACTING DEP COMM COOKE: So I meet with my - so myself as the Corporate Sponsor at the executive level, within each of the policing regions, so within each of the six policing regions, the seventh region specialist, I have a Superintendent who I work with which cascades down into the commands within the particular region. So, we do have a cascading chain of responsibility from the ground level through those operational people, through their region advocates to myself as the Corporate Sponsor. We meet quarterly. 

In terms of - I just take the characterisation of the Engagement and Hate Crime Unit. So the 11/12 Program Officer is there at the equivalent rank of Inspector and carries that weight within the organisation, and you'd be referring to Joanna Mackay as our individual there as the person who has been responsible for developing that hate crime advertising campaign, which is to be rolled out late November, December. So, in terms of communication and intent, I'm quite satisfied that I'm in quite regular contact with people, because involved in that as well, there are specific policy officers who work to me, which is their full-time job. 

So, whilst a range of the organisation is engaged in a range of activity, there are policy officers who draw that together and then form that outreach as well with stakeholders including, as I said, at the operational level with the ADC on an ongoing and regular basis. So, we can certainly look at ways that we can improve that. But I'm quite content for the moment that I'm getting across issues and the information flow is quite - is quite acceptable, as far as - as far as I'm concerned. 

I'm certainly not seeing any deficit. Where I do take that point is in relation specifically to the Aged Crime Prevention Officers and that's certainly something that will be reviewed during the evaluation. 

COMMISSIONER RYAN: You've given me a great description of what happens top-down. Again, the question I asked you is how often does the Senior Executive Service of the New South Wales Police Service discuss issues such as crime prevention amongst people with disability? I don't remember many circumstances in which an 11/12 or an Inspector of someone of that level ever got to the senior executive meeting in the government department that I worked in. So, I'm sort of wondering how often does this get on the agenda, given what this Royal Commission has heard about these matters? 

ACTING DEP COMM COOKE: As I - as I've indicated, in my role as the Corporate Sponsor, often that is happening, and it's part of the executive. If you're talking about, Commissioners, executive team level that would happen when issues arise from time to time. 


CHAIR: I only have one question. What's a Corporate Sponsor? 

ACTING DEP COMM COOKE: The Commissioner appoints members from the executive to lead the organisation's response to particular issues of concern. So, in my respect, I'm the Corporate Sponsor for Community. So, I manage our responses to the multicultural community, the LGBTIQ community, our ageing, disability, people with disability and homeless community and then customer service more broadly. What it does is have a member of the executive focused on those issues for and on behalf of the Commissioner and her executive team.

CHAIR: Right. So, it's part of the police terminology in New South Wales? 


CHAIR: I thought it might have something to do with getting tickets to football matches, that's all. I wasn't sure what it meant. 


CHAIR: I want to thank the members of the panel. This has been a very thoughtful and, as Commissioner Galbally said, interesting discussion, and I do want to thank you each, particularly for being so constructive in the way in which you've approached the issues about which we have heard this week. I think it's fair to say that, for all of us, certainly for me, it's been eye opening in the same sense as the term was used in today's discussion, and it's tremendously important that we have a constructive response from the agencies who, in the end, have responsibility which may be shared - for dealing with these really important issues that affect people with disability. So, I do want to thank you each for the contributions you've made to the hearing today and for the written material that's been provided. So, thank you very much. 


MS BENNETT: Commissioner, we'd now seek to have a break for about 15 minutes. It's 20 past now.

CHAIR: Yes. Well, you're cheating a bit. It's 22 minutes past now. 

MS BENNETT: If it please the Commissioner.

CHAIR: But we will resume, let us say, at 11.40. 



CHAIR: Yes, Mr Fraser. 

MR FRASER: Commissioners, the next witness is Ms Debbie Mitchell the Deputy Secretary, Disability and Carers of the Australian Government Department of Social Services. Ms Mitchell is present with us in the Brisbane hearing room. I ask that Ms Mitchell be affirmed.

CHAIR: Yes. Thank you very much for returning to the Commission yet again, Ms Mitchell, in order to give evidence. And thank you for the detailed written submission that you have - or written material which you have provided. If you would be good enough to follow the instructions of my Associate, she will administer the affirmation to you. 

ASSOCIATE: I will read you the affirmation. At the end, please say, "Yes" or, "I do."  Do you solemnly and sincerely 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, Ms Mitchell, I'll ask Mr Fraser now to ask you some questions. 


MR FRASER: Ms Mitchell, you've provided a written submission to this Commission dated 21 September 2022 which includes a number of annexures numbered from DM-1 to DM-30; is that correct? 

MS MITCHELL: That's correct. 

MR FRASER: Do you have a copy of that with you? 


MR FRASER: Are the contents of that correct to the best of your belief? 

MS MITCHELL: They are. 

MR FRASER: Commissioners, a copy of that statement is at tab 58 of the Tender bundle, followed by the annexures. I tender that statement and the annexures and ask that the statement be marked as Exhibit number 28-19 with the annexures to be marked sequentially from 28-19.1 through to 29-19.31.

CHAIR: Yes, Ms Mitchell's statement will be admitted into evidence and given the marking Exhibit 28-19 and the annexures to that statement will be admitted into evidence and given the markings indicated by Mr Fraser. 



MR FRASER: Ms Mitchell, as I mentioned, you're the Deputy Secretary of the Department of Social Services; that's correct, isn't it? 

MS MITCHELL: That's correct, Deputy Secretary, Disability and Carers. 

MR FRASER: Which I will refer to as the DSS for ease. And have you been following the evidence of this Public hearing? 

MS MITCHELL: I haven't watched much of the evidence, but I've read most of the evidence. 

MR FRASER: Are you aware that a number of witnesses, being persons with disability, have given evidence that the effect that, aside from the police, they're not aware of any reporting lines operated for the purpose of a person with a disability reporting instances of violence and abuse? 

MS MITCHELL: Yes, I'm aware of that.

MR FRASER: Now, the federal government operates a hotline called the National Disability Abuse and Neglect Hotline, doesn't it? 

MS MITCHELL: It does. 

MR FRASER: And what's the purpose of that hotline? 

MS MITCHELL: So the purpose of that hotline is to provide a complementary service to allow people with disabilities to report abuse and neglect and to be provided an appropriate referral to an appropriate service. 

MR FRASER: The purpose of the hotline doesn't - it's not to seek to resolve complaints, is it? 

MS MITCHELL: There are - there - the organisation has a dual purpose. The hotline number has an abuse and neglect line, and it also has a complaints area so that the person is triaged at the beginning of the call about whether they're making a complaint or whether they're making an allegation of abuse or neglect. 

MR FRASER: And its purpose is to refer people to particular bodies or advocacy services, isn't it? 

MS MITCHELL: Correct, unlimited referral. 

MR FRASER: In your statement at paragraph 21, you say that:

"The hotline forms part of the Australian Government's fulfilment of some obligations under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities."

And you've listed those particular articles. Now, Australia ratified that convention in 2008, didn't it? 

MS MITCHELL: I believe so. 

MR FRASER: And the hotline was established in 2001, wasn't it? 


MR FRASER: And it's been in operation since 2001?

MS MITCHELL: Yes, it has. 

MR FRASER: Originally it was established to provide a referral service to record abuse and neglect of people with disability in government-funded - state, territory and Commonwealth-funded disability services; is that right? 

MS MITCHELL: That's my understanding. 

MR FRASER: But you say in your statement - and this is at paragraph 55 - that that's:

"... evolved over time to accept reports of abuse of people with disability in any context."

Are you aware of that? 

MS MITCHELL: I am aware of that, and I think that's a very appropriate evolution of taking those complaints because the government and the Commonwealth is about providing “no wrong door” approach. 

MR FRASER: Were you concerned to hear or have read that in the course of this hearing that a number of witnesses with disability were not aware of the hotline? 

MS MITCHELL: As I - of course. Of course. As I said, the hotline is a complementary service, but, as you said, the hotline was established in 2001, and as I've given evidence previously, Australia's Disability Strategy was released in November 2021, and as part of that there has been a number of actions taken under this strategy. One of them is the Disability Gateway which is another way in which people can report those types of concerns or complaints. But it's an opportunity now, I think, because the hotline was commenced in 2001, we've had subsequent maturing of our policies around the Disability Strategy and around standing up for Disability Gateway, I think it's timely to be looking at the way in which we do promote the hotline and where it's best - where it's best fit within the Commonwealth. 

MR FRASER: Well, focusing on the hotline for the moment, in your statement, you deal with a number of calls or contacts made to the hotline on an annual basis, and if it assists you, that's on page 37, paragraph 186. There it's noted:

"The hotline received a total of 467 contacts or calls for 2020/2021."

Have you calculated - the phone line operates Monday to Friday, doesn't it? 

MS MITCHELL: It does. 

MR FRASER: So have you calculated the average number of calls received per day for the hotline? 

MS MITCHELL: No, I haven't done that calculation, but since the advent of the hotline, the calls have increased. So, in 2013 - 2012/13 the calls were at 267 for the year, and in 2021, they were at 468. So, you know, the hotline does have value, but I think - I'm not sure of the unmet demand and that's, you know, what has come to light this week. 

MR FRASER: When you say "the unmet demand" do you mean people ringing and not being able to get through? 

MS MITCHELL: No, I mean people having an understanding that that is an avenue for them to report abuse and neglect. 

MR FRASER: Well, I'm going to ask you some questions now about how the hotline is promoted by or on behalf of the government. But first of all, in terms of context, when it was first established back in 2001, it was operated by the organisation People with Disability Incorporated; is that right? 

MS MITCHELL: That's my understanding. 

MR FRASER: But since around 2012, it's been operated by WorkFocus Australia; is that correct? 

MS MITCHELL: That's correct. 

MR FRASER: And what is WorkFocus Australia? 

MS MITCHELL: It's an organisation that provides a number of services to the Commonwealth. They are - like, they provide support and promote many of the services under the Disability Employment Service Program. 

MR FRASER: The Disability Service Program - 

MS MITCHELL:  Disability Employment Service Program. 

MR FRASER: Employment. Particularly JobAccess services; is that right? 

MS MITCHELL: JobAccess is the broader implemented service. This is around Disability Employment Services. 

MR FRASER: So, in fact, in your statement you say:

"The hotline is now operated as part of the JobAccess service ..."

Which you've defined. 

MS MITCHELL: Yes. Can you tell me what paragraph you're referring to? 

MR FRASER: Paragraph 49 of your statement. So, there you state:

"The JobAccess Service incorporates five previously separate services."


MR FRASER: I'll take you through the - 

MS MITCHELL: JobAccess - yes, go ahead. Sorry.

MR FRASER: So you have the JobAccess address - sorry, advice service and website. 


MR FRASER: The Employment Assistance Fund. 


MR FRASER: The National Disability Recruitment Service. 


MR FRASER: And something called the Complaints Resolution and Referral Service, the CRRS. 

MS MITCHELL: Yes, so that is the service that I referred to before where people go into the same number of the hotline and the CRRS and they are triaged at that point. 

MR FRASER: And that's actually a complaint resolution and referral service for users of Australian Government-funded services; is that right? 


MR FRASER: And that's directed towards Disability Employment Services, so DES. 

MS MITCHELL: It sits under that area, but it can take complaints about any issues about government-funded services. 



MR FRASER: In your statement you single out, though, don't you, Disability Employment Services, Australian Disability Enterprises and Disability Advocacy Services. 


MR FRASER: At paragraph 49. Now, it's correct to say - or it might sound trite to say that the JobAccess Service is, for the most part, is concerned with employment, isn't it? 

MS MITCHELL: Yes, for the most part. 

MR FRASER: Now, there's a distinction, isn't there, between the hotline, as I'm referring to it, and the CRRS? 


MR FRASER: Historically, they had different phone numbers, didn't they? 

MS MITCHELL: I don't know the answer to that question. 

MR FRASER: I think in your statement, you say that - you say that, and you also now say at paragraph 63, if it assists you, that: 

"They now have the same telephone number."

MS MITCHELL: I apologise, I didn't recall that. 

MR FRASER: But now they operate under the same number, don't they. 

MS MITCHELL: They do, as I've just --

MR FRASER: And prior to 2016, the hotline and the CRRS were promoted on different websites, but they've been centralised on the JobAccess website? 

MS MITCHELL: That's correct. 

MR FRASER: In your statement, at paragraph 59 if it assists, when referring to the characteristics of the hotline, you say:

"One of its functions is to promote the hotline to clients, their carers, service providers, advocacy organisations and the broader community using information products."

And if I can take you, then, down to paragraph 118, I want to ask you some questions about how this characteristic is met. This is on page 26 of your statement. So, you address there, in response to question 11, some of the steps taken, or the steps taken by the department and/or WorkFocus to promote the hotline. 

Now, leaving to one side the obligation - sorry, leaving to one side the obligation you refer to on Workforce to assist the department to develop promotional material, there's really three main ways of promotion that you've referred to at paragraph 118 of your statement; is that correct? 

MS MITCHELL: Yes, that's correct. 

MR FRASER: Firstly, you refer to participating at relevant conferences. Can I ask you about that? For the 2021/2022 year, are the relevant conferences those that you've referred to at paragraph 128 of your statement? 


MR FRASER: So they are the HR Summit Melbourne, the National Disability Summit, Autism at Work Summit and the Disability Employment Australia Conference. That's correct, isn't it? 


MR FRASER: And you'd agree that, at least from their names, that three of those have an employment focus, don't they? 

MS MITCHELL: Yes, they do. 

MR FRASER: The second means of promotion, if I take you back up to paragraph 118, what's the second means of promotion that you refer to, 118(a), subparagraph (2):

"To promote the hotline by organising and developing employment seminars."

Is that right? 

MS MITCHELL: Delivering employment seminars. 

MR FRASER: Sorry, delivering employment seminars and then thirdly you refer to workshops - well:

"Organising and delivering national webinars."

Which you define as workshops. Now, that's the third way, isn't it? 


MR FRASER: And it's fair to say, isn't it, the third one, those workshops have an employment focus, don't they? 

MS MITCHELL: That's correct, primarily. 

MR FRASER: And, in fact, you've annexed to your statement at DM4-12 a PDF PowerPoint - sorry a PDF of a PowerPoint presentation where you say:

"WorkFocus distributes to attendees after those workshops have been concluded ..."

Can I just get you to have a look at that, turn to that. 

MS MITCHELL: Could you tell me where it is in the bundle, please. 

MR FRASER: It's DM4-12. I'm not sure -


MR FRASER: I'll bring it up on the screen for you. 


MR FRASER: Couple of pages I'll get you to have a look at. So, that's the first page of the PowerPoint, if it helps to assist your recollection. I'll turn up another one for you at the same time. If you - would you agree with me - I'm happy for you to look at the PowerPoint in its entirety but I'll get you to look at page 4 of the PowerPoint presentation. So, this is a reference, I think, on the bottom right-hand corner, to the National Disability - then it's slightly obscured, then you can see half of the word "hotline". You see that there?

MS MITCHELL: Yes, I can. 

MR FRASER: Do you accept, or do you think that might be reference to the hotline we've been talking about?

MS MITCHELL: Yes, I accept that. 

MR FRASER: Then if you go to page 23 of the PowerPoint, you can see here another reference to the hotline. 


MR FRASER: Now, I'm happy for you to go and refresh yourself on the PowerPoint slide if you wish, but would you accept if I said to you that they are the only two references to the hotline in this PowerPoint presentation? 

MS MITCHELL: I can't find it in my bundle, but I would accept that. 

MR FRASER: And while this PowerPoint does include a phone number for JobAccess, it doesn't actually include the phone number for the hotline? 

MS MITCHELL: I would accept that. It's not evident on that page. 

MR FRASER: Now, noting that, of course, not all people with disability are seeking employment or are employed, why is the focus of the promotion of the hotline the employment space? 

MS MITCHELL: So the hotline is - doesn't have a focus on employment. It's historically sitting under that contract, and as I started to comment on at the beginning of my evidence, the contract has been running since 2001, and we have now released Australia's Disability Strategy and the Disability Gateway, which is a heavily promoted gateway to ensure that people with disabilities know which avenues to take to seek assistance, advocacy, information or through complaint mechanisms. So it's timely in the department that we review where that hotline is situated and that it's - we're just having a look at it. 

MR FRASER: Is it fair to characterise - I will ask the question in these terms. Do you think the department should be doing more to inform the community about the existence of the hotline? 

MS MITCHELL: I think there's always opportunities to provide more information to the public to assist them with accessing any of our services. We review all of our services regularly, particularly our services that have been running for over 11 years, and the hotline is promoted through the Disability Gateway as well. 

MR FRASER: If I ask you some questions about the operation of the hotline. Now, if someone has become aware of the hotline and they call up and provide the details of a complaint, WorkFocus are required to make a record of that; is that correct? If it helps, I'm at page 18, paragraph 69 of your statement, which is an - you refer to the obligation on WorkCover to provide the following information about the hotline. The number of, location, nature of complaints, notifications, referrals and resolution outcomes. 

MS MITCHELL: So did you say page 18 of my - 

MR FRASER: Page 18, paragraph 69. 

MS MITCHELL: Yes, I see, thank you. 

MR FRASER: There's information that WorkFocus has to provide to you - to the department, I should say. 


MR FRASER: So you would accept that they are required to make a note of that when the complaint comes in on the phone. 

MS MITCHELL: Yes, in the quarterly and annual reports, as is mentioned above. 

MR FRASER: And you say in your statement that WorkCover provides an analysis - this is at sub-paragraph (b):

"... an analysis of emerging trends in relation to number, location and nature of complaints."

Are you able to expand on what you mean by "analysis"? What are they looking for? 

MS MITCHELL: Well, an - it would be a very basic analysis of the types of complaints, the location of complaints, as we've mentioned here. That helps the Commonwealth look at policies and procedures that we have. It is just one of the data sources that we use to make sure that we're designing and delivering programs appropriately. 

MR FRASER: If I can take you to paragraph 184 at page 37 of your statement. Now, you say there - and this is in the last sentence - and, sorry, starting from the penultimate sentence you say:

"WorkCover provides the department with six-monthly data report from which the department publishes publicly."

You then go on to say:

"The department undertakes limited analysis of the data it receives from WorkFocus about the hotline because the hotline is a referral service only."

What constitutes the "limited analysis" that you've referred to there? 

MS MITCHELL: As I gave evidence just a moment ago, it is about types of abuse, and I'm not sure about location, but I - I think that might be part of it as well. 

MR FRASER: If someone has made a complaint and a referral is made by staff at the hotline to a particular third party, sorry, let me understand the process. So, someone will ring up and the hotline staff then triages, if you like, the complaint to work out if it should be sent somewhere and where to send it. That's an accurate way to put it? 

MS MITCHELL: That's my understanding. 

MR FRASER: And that referral might be made to a government department is one example? 

MS MITCHELL: It could be. 

MR FRASER: And it might also be made to, more broadly, an advocacy service or something like that. 

MS MITCHELL: It could be, yes. 

MR FRASER: What - and if it assists, I'm at paragraph 181 of your statement. So, once a complaint has been referred, if it hasn't - and there seems to be two - two things that happen. If it's a referral about it to a government organisation about a government-funded service, you call that a targeted matter. That's correct, isn't it? 

MS MITCHELL: That's what it's called in their policy manual. 

MR FRASER: So, I'm asking, if it's not a targeted matter, so it's not about a government service, what is the process much - what, if any, is the process of follow-up once a referral is made off to a third-party, say, an advocacy service or something like that? 

MS MITCHELL: That is a deeply operational question that I don't have the answer for. I'd have to take it on notice, but I would assume that it is the same process as for a targeted matter, that there's follow-up to ensure that that person has the - the information has been handed over and actions are being taken. 

MR FRASER: If I can take you to your statement - this is in annexure DM4-4. This is the Policies and Procedures Manual, and I'm at page 167 of that manual. 


MR FRASER: You can see there starting at page 166, which is the Hotline Timelines and Responsiveness, if you follow that through, you can see there's a distinction drawn between target services matter and other matters. And if you see, if you follow me through in that table, there's a follow-up with notifier for target service matter only. Do you accept, looking at that document, that there's no reference to a follow-up with notifier for non-target service matters? 

MS MITCHELL: I accept that. This is the Policies and Procedures Manual for the organisation, so I don't have recollection of that particular table. 

MR FRASER: Thank you, Commissioners. That's all the questions I have for Ms Mitchell.

CHAIR: Yes. Thank you. I'll ask my colleagues whether they have any questions to put to you, Ms Mitchell. Commissioner Galbally. 

COMMISSIONER GALBALLY: Yes. My question is do you think that this issue of, you know, abuse and vilification in public places, do you think it is a Commonwealth issue or do you think it's more properly dealt with at a state and local level? 

MS MITCHELL: Commissioner, I think it's - I think it's everyone's issue. As the Deputy Secretary for Disabilities and Carers for the Commonwealth, as the Disability Champion for my organisation and also as a mother of a child who has significant disability, I'm outraged that we continue to hear what we've heard in the Commission this week. So, the way that the Commonwealth has tried to address this, bringing all of these organisations together, is through the National Disability - sorry, through Australia's Disability Strategy, but under that we have - sorry, I'm just reaching for ply documents - we have the Safety Targeted Action Plan and accompanying other plans. We have the Emergency Management Targeted Action Plan and there are others. 

And as part of those plans is that all of the states and territories have signed up and identified areas where they think that they need to support people with disabilities. And I think that, given the evidence that's come today, there may be some areas of service delivery in the states and territories that it might be opportune to go back and have a look at to make sure that they're - that they're working together under these particular targeted action plans. 

COMMISSIONER GALBALLY: And that public safety would become explicit? 



CHAIR: Commissioner Ryan. 

COMMISSIONER RYAN: I was only going to ask, since you said that there was some restructure of this use of this line, does decommissioning it all together given the very limited use it has - is that a likely possibility? 

MS MITCHELL:  I haven't - we haven't made that determination yet. I'm not in a position to say whether we would decommission -

COMMISSIONER RYAN: Is it a possibility?

CHAIR: Anything it's possible? 

MS MITCHELL: Everything is possible, Commissioner, but I do need to. 

COMMISSIONER RYAN: Is it being considered?

MS MITCHELL: Commissioner, I need to look at the evidence to make sure that we have continuity of service for those people who are using it. As this year we have over 460 people use it, I wouldn't want them to not have that opportunity. So, I need to make sure that if we decommission it or move it, that there's continuity of service for people. 

COMMISSIONER RYAN: Thank you, Mr Chair.

CHAIR: Paragraph 186 indicates that in 2021/2022 of the 400 total number of contacts, the number that included a report of abuse and neglect was 310. Given what we've heard this week, and, indeed, what we've heard throughout the Royal Commission, would you agree that whatever the intention might have been, the hotline isn't really working very effectively as a mechanism for people with disability to report cases of abuse, and in particular of the kind we've heard this week? 

MS MITCHELL: I would agree that we - there could be better use of it, and there - there could be better promotion, but where the Disability Gateway is - has been heavily promoted on television, on - in newspapers, in - out in the public on social media, and I think if we were to look at what would be the best place for that to sit, it may well be in that area because it's heavily promoted and it's one door into disability services.

CHAIR: To take up the point that Commissioner Galbally made, in effect, there's not a lot of point, is there, to having a standalone Commonwealth service unless it's integrated within all the other services that we've heard about? We've heard about the police and the responses the police can make. We've heard about other agencies that can assist with behaviour that may not meet the criminal threshold or which the police may not be very well equipped to deal with. We need to have a variety of organisations to which complaints can be made and can respond appropriately. Wouldn't the Commonwealth role have to be integrated and coordinated in the way in which we've heard today, rather than stand alone? 

MS MITCHELL: The Commonwealth has a number of integrated complaints mechanisms. This is a very specific referral service, Commissioner, and has had a very specific purpose to refer about alleged abuse and neglect. It's not about integrating to the police services. But I agree with you, we should all be integrated across all states and territories.

CHAIR: I'm just wondering what the point of it is at the moment. What does it actually do for people with disability? Does it make a material difference? 

MS MITCHELL: Well, I haven't - I can't answer that question. I haven't spoken to the individuals, but there have been 467 people contact -

CHAIR: That was in 2020/2021. 

MS MITCHELL: I apologise. 400.

CHAIR: 2021/2022, according to your statement, was - 


CHAIR: - 400, and then, of those, 310 of them were cases of alleged abuse or neglect. I's just not apparent to me what the point of this is. 

MS MITCHELL: Well, it's certainly something we will consider as part of the review of the hotline.

CHAIR: And the complaints that involved member of the public, which is what we've been concerned about this week, that is to say, abuse of various kinds committed by strangers to people with disability in public places, that was a total of 12 that were reported in 2021/2022. Alright. Well, these are things that might be looked at. 

MS MITCHELL: Yes. Absolutely.

CHAIR: Yes. Alright. Thank you. Well, Mr Fraser, there's nothing further from you? 

MR FRASER: No. Thank you, Chair.

CHAIR: Alright. Thank you, Ms Mitchell, for giving evidence today again and the assistance that you've provided to the Royal Commission. Thank you. 

MS MITCHELL:  Thank you. 


MR FRASER: Chair, I seek a five-minute adjournment to organise the room for the next witnesses.

CHAIR: Yes. We're going to hear from Mr Fitzgerald and Ms McKenzie, I understand. 


CHAIR: Alright. So we will adjourn for a few minutes in order to allow reconfiguration to the extent required. 



CHAIR: Yes, Ms Bennett. 

MS BENNETT: Chair, the next witnesses are Commissioner Fitzgerald and Ms McKenzie, who appear.

CHAIR: Mr Fitzgerald, thank you very much for returning to the Commission to give evidence again. Ms McKenzie, thank you too for coming to the Commission today to give evidence. We appreciate very much the assistance you have provided throughout the life of the Commission actually, and at the - this hearing. If you would be good enough to follow the instructions of my Associate, who is sitting in front of me, she will administer the affirmation to each of you. 

ASSOCIATE: Commissioner Fitzgerald, I will read you the oath. At the end -

CHAIR: Sorry, The oath or affirmation, as the case may be. 

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 which you shall give will be the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth?


ASSOCIATE: Ms McKenzie, I will read you the affirmation. At the end, please say, "Yes" or, "I do."  Do you solemnly and sincerely 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. I'll ask Ms Bennett now to ask you some questions. 


MS BENNETT: Commissioner Fitzgerald, could you tell the Commissioners and those watching about your organisation, the Ageing and Disability Commission? 

MR FITZGERALD: Thanks, Counsel. The Ageing and Disability Commission was established by the New South Wales Government in July 2019, and the office of Ageing and Disability Commissioner which I hold is defined in a special Act of Parliament called the Ageing and Disability Commissioner Act. It has a number of functions, but in broad terms, the objects and principles of the organisation and the legislation is to protect and promote the rights of adults with disability. 

MS BENNETT: Sorry, Commissioner, can I pause you there. Our interpreters might need you to slow down just a -

MR FITZGERALD: So it's to protect and promote the rights of adults with disability - that's anybody over the age of 18 with any form of disability - and older adults, older persons, who they are over the age of 50, if they're Indigenous, and 65 if they're non-Indigenous. The other aspect is actually to prevent and respond to the abuse, neglect and exploitation in relation to both those groups, those two cohorts. 

Just a couple of things that I think are important. The first is older people include people with disability. Indeed, a very high percentage of older people do, in fact, have increasing levels of disability. But in general terms, when we talk about adults with disability, they're people that have acquired disability at an early stage, had disability for much of their life or have acquired it through accidents such as motor vehicle or workers' injuries. So, whilst the cohorts are separated, in fact, there is a cross over. And we will talk about it a little later. 

The second thing, I think, just to understand, it's a will and preference jurisdiction. By law, I'm required to take into account the views of older people and people with disabilities in relation to all of the matters that we deal with. And to be very clear about that, in relation to our investigative function, we're required to obtain the consent of the persons affected, that is, the older person or the people with disability. 

And thirdly, I might just say, in exercising my functions, there are a number of principles that I'm required to follow, but one of those, I think, is worth reading and that is:

"Adults with disability and older adults have the right to respect for their worth and dignity as individuals and to live free from abuse, neglect and exploitation."

And then there are other aspects. 

MS BENNETT: In the context of this hearing, why is it that that's the principle that struck you? 

MR FITZGERALD: Because at the end of the day, one of the things in relation to people with disabilities is they experience all forms of abuse in all forms of settings, both in terms of public space, within the family and community settings, but also in institutional environments. So, it's extremely important that the starting point is the dignity of people with disability. People who are abused, whether they're children or spouses or people with disability or older people, are only abused if they're not respected in our community, where the dignity of those persons is not protected and respected. So, the starting point for us is the dignity of the person with disability or the older person and from all else, you know, our work follows. 

MS BENNETT: Your work has both a responsive and a proactive aspect; is that right? 


MS BENNETT: Can you tell the Commissioners about the proactive element and the extent to which it incorporates education and community change in attitudes. 

MR FITZGERALD: So you're absolutely correct. The Commission has a number of functions. One in relation to the prevention side, so we have an active requirement to engage in community awareness, community engagement. And that includes the support of the 17 collaboratives, or 18 collaboratives I think it is now, throughout New South Wales. 17 of those are in relation to elder abuse, but that includes older people with disability, and one is specifically in relation to abuse of people with disability. 

We conduct an enormous amount of training in relation to service providers frontline workers, the community. We liaise with all parts of the disability sector, both service providers and advocacy groups. And to support our work, we have an expert panel that guides us. We have a disability round table. We have an older persons round table and we have a statutory board headed by Professor Eileen Baldry at the University of New South Wales. So, we have a range of preventative measures that we engage with. 

MS BENNETT: And of those, are any of them directed to the board kind of cultural change that responds to the kind of issues we've been hearing about this week? 

MR FITZGERALD: Because we've focused in relation to abuse, neglect and exploitation, most of our work in engagement is in relation to those people that are dealing with people with disability or older people. And so there's not yet now the resources nor, in fact, the strategy in place in New South Wales and many other states to deal with a broader educational campaign. So, what we've had to do is to target where we think you'll get maximum value, and that is working with service providers, particularly their frontline workers. 

And the reason for that is they are a significant portion of the reporters of issues of concern. In relation to people with disabilities, by far the largest group of people that have contacted our helpline are frontline workers. In relation to older people, it is, in fact, other family members who want to raise concerns about other family members and their care of older people. So, in the space of people with disabilities, it's all about service providers. But through the collaboratives, what we're trying to do is to get out into a large range of regions and areas at a very local level, and we think that's an extremely important strategy. 

Lastly, we also launched a strategy which will see us enter into an arrangement with each and every local government area in New South Wales over time so that the local government is being used as a catalyst and a facilitator for both prevention and responding to abuse in their local area. And if we were successful, if we're able to engage every local government area in New South Wales over time and the collaboratives operating and the service providers, we think we'd have enormous outreach in relation particularly to the preventative side. 

MS BENNETT: Let's turn for a moment to the responsive side, and we'll tie this together shortly, but what are the responsive functions? 

MR FITZGERALD: So the Commission has a large number of functions and powers, but, in short, we run the Ageing and Disability Abuse Helpline. 

MS BENNETT: Sorry, Commissioner. I'm - 

MR FITZGERALD: Slow it down. 

MS BENNETT: Thank you.

MR FITZGERALD: Which is about 13,000 calls per annum. We have a Community Support and Investigations Unit which deals with statutory reports, and other matters. And those two areas are the most significant areas of response that we actually have. 

MS BENNETT: So does your office responds to things like violence and abuse in public places along the lines we've heard of this week? 

MR FITZGERALD: So the vast majority of abuse, neglect and exploitation that we deal with is within the family and community settings, and the vast majority of that abuse is alleged to have occurred by family members. In relation to people with disability, it is a very substantially parents of adults with disability and other family members of adults with disability. Nevertheless, about seven percent of our matters are dealing with abuse by strangers or neighbours in relation to this space. So, we do deal with it but it's a small percentage of the overall group of matters that we deal with.

MS BENNETT: And understanding that you're a young Commission, is it fair that it hasn't been an area of particular focus to date? 

MR FITZGERALD: In relation to elder abuse, if I can use that, the New South Wales government funded an Elder Abuse Helpline for a number of years, about seven years before the operation of the Commission. That was contracted to Catholic Healthcare, and that operated. Through that, they would have picked up older people with disability, but there was nothing specifically for people with disability other than the work that the Ombudsman Office was doing in New South Wales. 

So, the Commission is a unique model around Australia where it combines two vulnerable adult groups into one agency, but, very importantly, not only with a helpline function but an absolute commitment to seeking to resolve issues where we can but also to hold people to account. And there is a difference between the jurisdictions in relation to that. In New South Wales, people with disability, their advocacy bodies were very clear that whilst, ultimately, we needed to resolve the position so that people with disability would be safe - and that's our ultimate aim - they also wanted a Commission that could, in fact, ultimately hold people to account. 

So, one of the statutory obligations that we have is even though it's a will and preference jurisdiction, I am required to refer matters to the police where I believe there is evidence of the commission of a crime, and that is without any consultation or consent by the person affected. And similarly but in a different way, if there's a matter that would otherwise be dealt with by another regulatory agency, like the NDIS Quality and Safeguards Commission or the Health Care Complaints Commission or the Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission, we are required to refer matters to them, again without consent of the affected party. So, it's an unusual model. But the - but there was, in fact, work in New South Wales in relation to these areas. 

MS BENNETT: There was some evidence earlier from a police panel - I believe you were present in the room - about some of the conduct that might not reach the criminal threshold that might be assisted by an organisation that was able to receive reports and identify one or potentially a number of appropriate pathways. Is that the kind of model that you're operating or are capable of operating? 

MR FITZGERALD: So, very unusually, there's two things in our legislation. The first is there's no definition of what is abuse, neglect or exploitation. Indeed, we would be guided by the normal principles of the reasonable person test. What would a reasonable person believe. The second thing is very unusual is that, particularly in relation to elder abuse, there's a common definition in relation to what elder abuse is, but it's often constrained by saying that abuse within a relationship where there is an expectation of trust. 

Our legislation does not have that. So, effectively, we're able to is it deal with all matters that a reasonable person would regard as abuse, neglect and exploitation. So as a consequence of that, some of the matters that you've heard through the week could be reported to us. We would then have to make a determination as to whether or not there was a criminal - there was evidence of a criminal action and refer it to the police, or alternatively, to deal with it in different ways. 

And I just might make the point here. The difficulty in this space is expectations. If a - if abuse, vilification, harassment has occurred, then the question is, what is the expectation of the person coming to anybody, including ourselves. So, that's a very significant issue. Because there - there's unlikely to be any direct follow-up in relation to the actual incident, particularly if it was a stranger and they're not aware who that could be. Nevertheless, that can be referred to the police. 

So, I think the issue for those that come to us where they want to report abuse by a stranger in a public place is what would be the expectation of that person coming to us and what would we then deal with that. 

MS BENNETT: And what are the -

CHAIR: Can I just - I'd just like to break down some of the figures. I understand - 


CHAIR: - what you're saying, but based on your annual report for 2020/2021, which I think is the latest one, isn't it, that's available? 

MR FITZGERALD: There's data available. We release data every quarter. So, the annual report is to 30 June 2022, but I think you have - sorry, 2021. The next annual report is not due to Parliament until the end of November. But I think you may have updated figures.

CHAIR: Alright. But in the 2021 year, you apparently received 789 reports about adults with disability during that period, and that - I'm looking at page 40 of the annual report and it's DRC.1000.0022.0001. And from that document at page 40, we see that 60 percent of the reports were from paid workers? 


CHAIR: Which would suggest that the majority of complaints related to the treatment of people with disability who were supported by carers in one way or another, presumably in accommodation? 

MR FITZGERALD: Not necessarily. That would pick up - that would pick up home care workers, disability support workers, local government workers, health care workers. It's basically frontline service providers and their workers, both paid and volunteers, that would work with a person with a disability, so it's a broad range of workers. What is very clear in relation to adults with disability is the vast majority of matters that come to us don't come from the individual. Only 13 percent actually come from the individual. And it is related -

CHAIR: That's actually 86 out of the 789. 

MR FITZGERALD: Yes, it's quite - 


MR FITZGERALD: It's very small. That's true for people with disability. People with physical disabilities with higher level of cognition are likely to report matters directly. People with cognitive and intellectual disabilities are almost certainly not likely to report directly. And people with psychosocial disabilities, a much more complex group, sometimes they're able to report directly and other times they won't. But it's quite - if you were looking at a systemic approach to this or a systemic approach to this, the assumption you would have to make is most people with disability will use an intermediary in order for an issue to be raised, or a third party would raise it on their behalf.

CHAIR: Yes. When you look at that page 42, I'm just trying to get a sense of the matters we've dealt with this week and whether they would come to your attention. You've said seven percent of the 789 involved complaints about conduct with strangers and I take it that's a reference to the Other category in figure 12 which is 53 out of the 789. 

MS McKENZIE: We actually would pick up Other as well as other Community Members, so within the scope of community members, that would -

CHAIR: There are 16 of those. 

MS McKENZIE: And as well as neighbours, we - so that's 7 percent.

CHAIR: The point I'm getting at is that for the reasons I think you've just articulated, there seem to be relatively few complaints of the kind of - 

MS McKENZIE: Correct.

CHAIR: - incidents that we've been hearing about this week. 

MR FITZGERALD: So if you look at the way the Commission was established and much of the community information, it's very much targeted at abuse that takes place within the family and community settings, not necessarily the public space. So, the legislation would permit it. We do receive it, but if you look at our materials and the way the Commission was established by the New South Wales Parliaments, its focus was to pick up abuse largely within those family and tightly held community settings. I think what you've been exploring this week and the discussions we've had your staff previously says that the Commission is able to actually pick up some of those matters, but it hasn't been promoted in that way to this point.

CHAIR: Yes, I wasn't being in any way -

MR FITZGERALD: No, we understand.

CHAIR:  - critical. I understand. And you can see from that figure 12 on page 42 that relatives were the subject of allegations in 52 percent of the reports. So, a lot of the reports deal with relatives or other perpetrators known to the person with disability? 

MR FITZGERALD: Yes, that's true, and in relation to people with disabilities, it's only - about 10 to 12 percent are actually in relation to partners and spouses, which brings you into the domestic violence area or family violence area in a very direct way, but the vast majority of abuse - generally, the vast majority of abuse in Australia in relation to just about everything is related to families. 

MS BENNETT: Commissioner Galbally, I think, had a question. 

COMMISSIONER GALBALLY: I think you've answered my question. I was also a bit bewildered because the service provider focus, they also - we've heard examples in other hearings about service provider problems too. So, I was curious about that, and also the place of advocates and also the place of people with disabilities themselves. 

MR FITZGERALD: Can I just break that down into a couple of areas. The first thing is service providers are a cause of a problem, but they're also part of the solution. One of the things we're very clear about going forward is we have to educate all frontline service workers in relation to the issue of abuse generally, because they are the one that see and identify and hopefully, in time, would respond when they see it. You're absolutely correct that service providers are - particularly some of the larger institutional residential services - are also part of the difficulty. 

COMMISSIONER GALBALLY: We heard from Ms Butler, Julie Butler, yesterday that support workers can often say, "Just move on and don't bother" about, you know - it was like - she repeated that a number of times, and really diverting people away from proper reporting. 

MR FITZGERALD: So I think that's a really excellent observation, and our training, we've now got two modules specifically targeted to frontline workers. My aspiration is that every aged care provider, every disability provider and every retirement village provider in New South Wales will have as part of its induction an element in relation to abuse of people with disability. We're providing material for that, or they may provide their own. Now, that's the aspiration and it's directly to deal with the issue you raise. 

The second point I just make is there's also a complexity in relation to carers. Carers are, in fact, part of the solution to support and protect and enhance the wellbeing of people with disability. They're also the largest group of people who are alleged to have abused. And so we deal a lot with carers, but it's a complex relationship because we need them. We need them to be supported. And if they're not well supported, intentionally or unintentionally, they will become part of the problem. 

On the other hand there are some carers where the abuse is clear and very significant and very dangerous. So, we are dealing in a - in a complex landscape, but the long and the short of it is in relation to protecting people with disability in, say, the public space, the more people that are aware of abuse generally, the more chance we have of when somebody comes forward and identifies that they have suffered some form of abuse, harassment or that, action will be taken. 

The last point is this: there is an incumbency on all of us to try to empower people with disability to be able to be their own advocates, but you're absolutely right, Commissioner, advocacy in the disability space is critical. Upon my appointment as Commissioner, I was required under the statute to do a review of advocacy in New South Wales. I'm pleased to say the New South Wales government accepted most of those recommendations. 

A permanent source of funding and a new structure for advocacy has been implemented in New South Wales, and that has given stability to the advocacy sector in this State. So, I'm very pleased that, from our point of view, advocates are an essential part of the network and fabric of protecting and supporting people, including self-advocacy. 

MS BENNETT: The police panel earlier frankly accepted that there was an underreporting of the kinds of violence and abuse in public places from people with a disability, in part related to historic trust deficits with police forces. Is that something that the ADC is in a position to assist with addressing in terms of providing a safe pathway for reporting? 

MS McKENZIE: Yes, I mean, that's a key part of our role. As the Commissioner mentioned before, it's, in fact, built into our legislation that if we receive a report that may provide evidence of the commission of a criminal offence, we must report it to police. There's actually no discretion there for us, so we do provide a direct pathway to get relevant matters across to police. Yes, it's a - it's a fair proportion of our work. 

MS BENNETT: Is that a cause for concern, the lack of - the person might not want to report to police. Is that something that needs to be examined? 

MR FITZGERALD: Yes, but understand - I think the issue here is complex, but you understand, and I think well through this Commission. The over-representation of people with disability as both victims and perpetrators in the criminal justice system is a shocking position. For years and years, researchers including our Chair, Professor Eileen Baldry, have been engaged in trying to understand, identify and seek action in relation to the over-representation of people with disability as victims and as alleged perpetrators. 

My own view is the police forces generally have made great improvements, but what hasn't happened is an understanding that disability is core business to policing. The figures are extraordinary. You heard today in relation to South Australia and Queensland, it is a huge percentage of the work that police are dealing with, people with disability. And yet I don't think we have a systemic understanding of that. We certainly don't have a systemic response to that. 

So, whilst we're seeing good initiatives, I think that in relation to law enforcement generally, we're still not a long way along where we need to be in trying to deal with people with disability in a much more holistic way. And your Royal Commission will shine a spotlight on that, but so too have many others, including the Child Sexual Abuse Royal Commission, which looked at a number of institutions which provided services to children with disabilities. So, I think what we are seeing is good initiatives but I'm not quite sure there's that pure understanding that, really, the core business of police is around people with disability, and particularly for those with cognitive and intellectual disabilities and those with psychosocial disabilities. 

MS BENNETT: There was a mention by the Acting Deputy Commissioner about ageing - officers with particular responsibility for ageing and disability. What's your observations about that initiative? 

MR FITZGERALD: So the initiative of appointing Aged Crime Prevention Officers was an essential part of the architecture. So, there was the establishment of the Ageing and Disability Commission in 2019 but in November of 2018, the government of New South Wales made a very significant commitment. As part of providing 1500 additional police officers in New South Wales, over a four-year period, 56 were meant to be allocated as Aged Crime Prevention Officers, which deal with crimes against older people, people with disabilities and people experiencing homelessness. 

It was an essential commitment, but it wasn't just an announcement; it was actually bodies. There would actually be this number of bodies that would come in as part of that 1500 additional police. 12 were appointed in the first 18 months, and that was terrific. They are an essential part. And then suddenly no further appointments have been made in the last 18 months. You heard from - we've met with Police Commissioner Webb, recently appointed, and with Assistant Commissioner Cooke, recently appointed to that position, and as you have heard, there is now a review in relation to those appointments. 

But there has been no consultation in relation to why those additional 44 positions were never filled. And there's been no consultation as to whether or not there is a different approach about to be taken. So, we hope the review will be one that will engage both the Commission but also the sector in the review, because the Aged Crime Prevention Officers, whilst they're only a part of the solution, they've become an integral part of spreading and disseminating information about people with disability and older people and people experiencing homelessness right throughout the police force. 

They're part of the collaboratives that we support. They've become an extraordinarily important point of contact for community members. But they are not the investigators. The investigations are done by the normal traditional police officers. But they're a source of expertise. So, we've encouraged the government to maintain their commitment, but as you've heard today, that - those particular positions and their functions are under review. 

MS BENNETT: You've mentioned the collaboratives a number of times. Are you able to explain to the Commissioners where they fit into your overall structure - or Ms McKenzie, perhaps? 

MS McKENZIE: The collaborates are a really important part of the work we do and a really important part of the safeguards for people with disability and older people, our two main cohorts. 

MS BENNETT: Can I ask you in your response to focus on people with disabilities. 

MS McKENZIE: Sure. So, as the Commissioner mentioned earlier, we've got one specific Disability Abuse Prevention Collaborative, and I understand you will hear from them later this afternoon but they're a really important part of the prevention arm. So, the - they bring together council members, health, police representatives and community support agencies, NGOs together with a specific focus around better understanding and promoting abuse - prevention of abuse of people with disability. 

Importantly for us, they are really important way of not just kind of raising awareness about abuse of people with disability but also about where to report those matters. So, mechanisms, processes that can be followed through to report. They're really critical in getting this information out about the ADC agency's better understanding, the work of the ADC and the matters to be encouraged to report to us in relevant cases. 

But we also - we attend each of the collaborative meetings. We do a lot of work to help stand up those collaboratives initially, provide guidance - written but also direct guidance to collaboratives in their formation and then we continue to attend their meetings. We don't run those meetings. We attend. We provide data to inform the initiatives that they undertake. So, we provide data around a number of reports in their LGA, a number of reports relating to people with disability, the types of abuse being reported, with the change in the number of reports and provide information that can help to guide them as to the initiatives that they take in their local area, again to help to drive prevention of abuse and greater awareness of those matters. 

MS BENNETT: And can I just - what's the role, or how prominent is the role of people with disability in those collaboratives that are directed to that point? 

MS McKENZIE: Yes, they're primarily made up of providers, so representatives of agencies. Within that, there may direct people with disability, but they are mainly an interagency type of focus. 

MR FITZGERALD: That includes advocacy service that is operate in those particular areas, and in the disability area, one of the most important features is disability advocacy organisations that deal in multicultural communities and so, for example, Canterbury-Bankstown is an exceptionally multicultural community and if you look at that collaborative, it's made up of very significantly ethic groups, ethnic service providers and advocacy groups, which is a specific area of our concern going forward. 

MS BENNETT: You said, Ms McKenzie, that you give data to the collectives, the collaboratives. Do you get data back? Are they data collection? 

MS McKENZIE: We don't necessarily get data back. What we do get, though, is really valuable information from them about what they're seeing in their local community, what they're hearing, what they're - in their specific roles, what they're seeing in relation to abuse, neglect and exploitation of adults with disability that helps to inform our work. So, it is - it is a really useful and important information-sharing mechanism that helps to drive our work but also helps to inform the local initiatives that they develop. 

MS BENNETT: And do you collect data, Commissioner, to - or perhaps Ms McKenzie, Commissioner, do you collect data to help inform the work that you're doing? 

MR FITZGERALD: Absolutely. One of the things - there's a couple of things I just mention. The first thing is we produce data on a quarterly basis. The view that I have, the view that we have, is if I know it, the community should know it. And so it's a very clear policy that we of. So, we update our data quarterly. 

The second thing is we've expanded our database to try to look up incomes and outcomes, and Kathryn can talk about that, if you're interested, in a moment. The third thing is that we provide data to government on an ongoing basis in relation to all of the areas of activities that we're involved in. So, we are data rich. And the reason for doing that is that we want to make sure that we are both making recommendations based on evidence, but also evolving our practices and our responses based on the evidence that we see. 

Obviously, the most important part of that is impact and outcomes, which are difficult to measure in this particular space. So, that the second thing is we're about to launch through the public internet a knowledge hub which we've been developing internally for the last 12 months which will be the most up-to-date research hub in Australia. So, it's not our research, but it's bringing together the knowledge and information from around Australia. 

Now, it's specifically around abuse, neglect and exploitation but that knowledge hub will become available to the community shortly. So, we're very - we're very conscious of good quality data information and knowledge, and then disseminating that to particularly the disability and ageing communities. 

MS BENNETT: And one of the sources for your data is the police, as we heard from the Acting Deputy Commissioner. And you seem to generate your own data. You actually seek out information yourselves in addition to receiving from police and other organisations; is that right? 

MS McKENZIE: So we - so where our data comes from is from inquiries and reports. So, the data that we capture and that we report on primarily is related to our handling of reports. So, the data provided by police, police - what the Acting Deputy Commissioner was referring to is we obviously make a range of reports to police, but police also refer matters directly to us, so those matters are captured within our data. But, yes, our data relates to the reports that we've received. 

MS BENNETT: Let me return now to some of the evidence that we've heard this week. So, people report harassment on the street by reason of their disability, and they've told their stories to this Commission. Some of the police officers who've given evidence have said, well, some of this hasn't been traditionally recognised as meeting the criminal threshold, and perhaps it ought to be something that is reported through another way so that it is still taken into account and can feed a response that responds to culture and attitudes as well as other causal factors. Are you able to comment, Commissioner, on whether or not that's a model that is reflective of what your organisation does or - 

MR FITZGERALD: Listening to the evidence this morning from the police and reflecting on conversations that officers of your Commission have had with us previously, the starting point for me is what is the purpose for seeking that information? What is the purpose by which we would encourage a people with disability or an advocate on their behalf to come to us or, frankly, anybody else? And I want to be honest with you, at first I wasn't sure there was a clear purpose because the chances of anything meaningful happening could be minimal in relation to matters that you've been talking about. 

Then it became very clear to us, I think there are three or four things that can happen. Firstly is we may be an aid for them to go to the police or have the matter referred to police where that is appropriate. And we do that, as Kathryn has indicated, as part of our core business every day. The second thing is we may be able to identify underlying issues beyond the actual harassment or vilification that's taken place. People with disabilities and older people with disabilities suffer a complex set of arrangements in their lives and circumstances. And so it may be a way by which that initial reporting of a particular matter actually leads to dealing with other matters. 

The second thing - the third thing is it may actually be a way by which we can provide support, emotional or other support, either directly or through alternative agencies because vilification and harassment and abuse has a traumatic effect and trauma is not well dealt with in the disability space. In fact, for so long, it was the view that people with disability somehow or another didn't suffer trauma. Everybody else would but a person with a disability or a child would, in fact, not suffer that and now we know from a lot of work that's not true. 

And the last point I suppose is important is perhaps it does provide information, informal information, as to what's happening in our common and public spaces in a way that isn't currently being collected. And I suppose the underlying point about that is, I'm not at all sure that most people with disability would go to the police as their first point of contact in relation to these matters. And we've heard very encouraging comments from the police today, and I accept that at face value. 

Nevertheless, my experience of people with disability, it is less likely they would go directly to the police if there was an alternative way of responding to those issues. Our view, of course, is that people with disability should be able to access the police, you know, in a very safe and secure way, but I'm not sure that's the view of people with disability. It may be changing, but certainly historically, that's not been our first port of call for many people with disability. But we could be a way by which that occurs. 

MS BENNETT: And is there a risk that that would create a side door, the people with disability are expected to go there, as opposed to a genuine choice? 

MR FITZGERALD: One of the dangers in all public policy is when you talk about people with special needs and special circumstances, a very good sense that it is an articulation and recognition of the characteristic and conditions within which people live their lives, and they are different. One of the dangers, however, is that also it marginalises those groups. And so what you've got to deal with when we're looking at creating an environment is that the front door, that is, to police remain open and that they do everything in their power to make sure that a people with disability and/or their advocate can come to the police and be treated respectfully, safely and be dealt with as any other citizen would be. 

MS BENNETT: I think Commissioner Galbally has a question. 

COMMISSIONER GALBALLY: Yes. I was just struck by the fact that this whole hearing emerged in some ways from peer support groups, from the SSPA, and their absence in the collaboration, you know, the peer support groups of people with disabilities themselves, you know, that are very well organised, enough to raise this issue to the Commission, that they're somehow missing and that they're a really important point. Because even yesterday, you know, intellectual disability was represented as a peer support group as well as other disabilities. 

MR FITZGERALD: We welcome their participation. So, when we look at a collaborative in a particular area, we and others - and generally these come from the local areas and the local government - try to identify those that have a particular interest in this area, and absolutely advocacy groups, self-advocacy groups, peer support can and should be part of that collaborative. But often where these collaboratives come from are actually the local government itself, and so there's a new collaborative being looked at in North Sydney which is being initiated by the North Sydney Council. There's a new collaborative being looked at -

CHAIR: Remember the slowing down part. 

MR FITZGERALD: In south-west Sydney and there - that, again, is an initiative that's local. But to take your point, peer support groups, advocacy groups are more than welcome into those collaboratives. 

MS BENNETT: The final question I have for you, Commissioner, concerns the scaleability of the model that you have in New South Wales. Is it something that - is it a model that can operate in the smaller states and those larger states?

MR FITZGERALD: We've developed a community of practice which is convened by Kathryn in relation to the states that have similar bodies. So, the Adult Safeguarding Unit in South Australia, which is part of their Ministry of Health. The Adult Safeguarding Unit which is attached to the Human Rights Commission in ACT. Here, it's in relation to the Public Guardian in Queensland and ourselves. 

There's no reason at all why a model similar to ours couldn't be established in each jurisdiction. The question is whether or not it would be co-located or integrated into other bodies that is already exist, which is a model, or whether or not you need a stand alone. So, I don't think - I don't think I'm at all sure about what models would apply in all of the states. What I think we've demonstrated is the function, the objectives, and the general way in which we operate so far appears to be an effective model. 

But as to how it will operate - no, the point that I would make is, within five years we - the big public policy issue for Australia will be the safeguarding of adults, and we're already starting to see that, within which people with disability, older people, people experiencing homelessness and other groups, will be part of those strategies. So, that work is already emerging. 

MS BENNETT: Commissioners, those are the questions I had for Commissioner Fitzgerald and Ms McKenzie.

CHAIR: Thank you. I'll ask my colleagues if they have any questions for you. Commissioner Galbally. 

COMMISSIONER GALBALLY: Well, I've sort of asked my questions, but the LGA, your vision that you'd have one of these in every LGA, that's really harnessing the LGA energy, isn't it, at the local level, which is sort of - sounds really very interesting. 

MR FITZGERALD: There's two reasons for that, I think, Commissioner. One is, in New South Wales, the - each local government area is required to have a Disability Inclusion Action Plan which is the main way by which New South Wales meets its obligations under the now Australian Disability Strategy. I should just make a comment. We have a statutory function which is to monitor the implementation of the New South Wales government's commitments under the NDS and ADS, a function that actually has no resources, but nevertheless we're doing it. 

The second thing is that what we're convinced about is that these issues are local, and both prevention and response requires local solutions. If we just look at the way in which people with disabilities live their lives, with whom they connect, who supports them, it is absolutely clear that it is local. And so as a consequence, any strategy in relation to older people or people with disability has to have its - I think, its essence in local. 

And local governments are very important in this space. So, we think it's a very ambitious strategy, but, nevertheless, the fact that they do have, in fact, Disability Inclusion Action Plans and they are - have an interest in this space gives me some confidence that we can engage with most of them over time. 

COMMISSIONER GALBALLY: And we heard yesterday about the Glenorchy, you know, action at local government level, which I thought was, again, very practical.

CHAIR: Commissioner Ryan. 

COMMISSIONER RYAN: Thanks, Mr Chair. Commissioner Fitzgerald, I take you back to a comment you made during your remarks earlier. You said:

"I don't think we have..."

And I think you meant states generally:

"I don't think we have a systematic understanding of the over-representation of people with disabilities as victims and as alleged perpetrators."

And then you went on to say:

"The core business of police is around people with disabilities, particularly those with cognitive and psychosocial disabilities."

It struck me this morning, when I was reading material from the New South Wales Police Service that the bulk of the people with the knowledge about disability are people that are not even in the SES ranks of a very hierarchical organisation. Do you think that there's a gap in their governance to make sure that these incredibly critical things are discussed by their SES and at the higher levels of the policing service? 

MR FITZGERALD: Commissioner, I'm not in a position to comment specifically on the governance structure but what is critical is if the issues in relation to people with disability aren't - have a specific, clear and overt place at the most senior levels of discussion in any institution, including police forces, then they will become marginalised. They will become overwhelmed by every other issue. The discussion around terrorism and hate crimes is a classic illustration of that. 

There is no possibility of issues of people with disability being adequately dealt with that model. That is simply not possible because we know the way in which institutions work. So, what is important is that at the most high level of institutions, including our police forces and law enforcement generally, the issues around people with disabilities or other vulnerable adults has a place, and a place that is not just one of every, you know, so often. It's a permanent place. 

As to what the best governance arrangements to achieve that are, I'm not in a position to comment. But these issues will become marginalised and overwhelmed by other issues. So, the point that I was trying to make before is if you look at domestic violence, if you look at sexual abuse, if you look at all these areas, again, what we find is people with disabilities are a core group of people on either side of the equation and so, therefore, my view is it is core business, you know. And I don't think that that's been adequately recognised yet. 

Notwithstanding that, in New South Wales, you know, we do have this particular corporate sponsorship model and you've heard from Assistant Commissioner Cooke in relation to that. And I've now dealt with three Assistant Commissioners in that role in three years and all have been sincere in their, you know, attempts to make sure this issue does get raised. 


CHAIR: Thank you. Commissioner Fitzgerald, you indicated, I think, that you'd changed your view somewhat on obtaining information from people with disability about their experiences of the kind we've heard this week, and you gave a number of examples, which are very telling, about the benefits to people with disability. Might there not be something else as well? We rely very heavily on criminal law, but there are other mechanisms for bringing home to perpetrators that what they're doing is wrong and it needs to change. Would this not be a mechanism that would enable some of those people to be identified and to be provided either with the opportunity, maybe even compelled, to undertake education programs, change their behaviour? That would be another mechanism for doing that, wouldn't it? 

MR FITZGERALD: Chair, assuming that you can identify - let me just use the term, the wrongdoer, you know, the person that's actually undertaking it, that play be possible. I suspect in a lot of these matters, that may not necessarily be the case. In the matters that we deal with, there are - where the allegations are about family members or others, part of our work is to, in fact, work with the person the subject of the allegation, the alleged perpetrator. 

Because what's unique in this space is, most often, the person with the disability or the older person will continue to live with or want a relationship with the person that's abusing them. After all, it's their son or daughter, brother or sister, or, in the case of young adults with disability, their parents. So, part of our work is by nature trying to re-establish relationships that are safe for those individuals. To do that, you have to work with the person that is the subject of the allegation. 

We don't have a lot of mechanisms to do that. In the elder abuse space, there is funding by the Commonwealth and state governments in relation to mediation through Relationships Australia. But that is strictly in relation to people - older people that have suffered abuse. There's no such funding for people with - that have been affected by disability. But in the space we're in, this is all about relationships that have gone bad. In the areas you've been talking about this week, or that seven percent that we're dealing with, that's a very different type of abuse, very different circumstances. But your point, Chair, is if we don't deal with perpetrators, we won't solve the problem.

CHAIR: Exactly. 

MR FITZGERALD: That is true in all forms of abuse. One of the great lessons out of many Royal Commissions that have now been held is that - well, I will just say this. When I became Commissioner on the Royal Commission into Child Sexual Abuse, a person said to me, you can talk to a thousand victims but if you don't talk to the perpetrators, you'll know nothing. And as a consequence of that, we did, in fact, talk to many perpetrators. 

And one of the lessons for me was the person that said that was absolutely right. But, more importantly, if we're trying to create safe environments, particularly where people, older people or people with disability, want to maintain a relationship - and they often do - then we are going to have to work with people that are otherwise offenders. Having said that, there's a group that that simply doesn't apply to. They are - they are not in that space. And that's particularly in relation to what we might call exploitation. Australia is - Australians are reluctant to embrace that concept, however.

CHAIR: Which concept is that? 

MR FITZGERALD: The concept of working with perpetrators or people that might offend. And what we have to do is come to the view that, in fact, you have to do work in that space as well. By tangent to - the Australian Human Rights Commission has just released a video in relation to elder abuse, and it's specifically targeted at perpetrators, and it is specifically targeted to that, and that's a very good initiative. But - and, again, when I - elder abuse includes older people with disability.

CHAIR: But it also has been attempted in areas of domestic violence abuse. 

MR FITZGERALD: Yes, it is, increasingly so. Increasingly so. 

CHAIR: I understand that we're talking about different, if you like, spaces, when one area is that of abuse perpetrated by relatives, those within - with regular contact with the person with disability, and in the public space it's different. But that doesn't mean that you can't identify some of the perpetrators in the public space. There may be that you need some additional resources to do that, and it may be that the police have some involvement in it, but it's by no means - I'm not sure we should be approaching this on the basis that if abuse is perpetrated by a stranger, there's no point in trying to find out who the stranger is. 

MR FITZGERALD: Evidence given this morning that indicated that there are a whole range of techniques that could be used, CCTVs, and that - I listened to that with interest. And, of course, in our jurisdiction, should we become aware, if there's sufficient evidence - sorry, if we come to the belief that there's evidence in relation to commission of a crime, we would refer that to the police, absolutely. No question about that. The caution here is the relation to vilification, harassment, it may be that there are often no identifiable perpetrators.

CHAIR: Sure, that's often a possibility. 

MR FITZGERALD: You get both. Both those possibilities are real. 

MS McKENZIE: I was going to add, sorry, I guess it depends on the nature of the matter. So, there's a range of matters, for example, where concerns have been raised with us about harassment, for example, by other social housing tenants or they may not know who they are, and there's a lot of work that we have done and will continue to do in that space to seek to address the issue that may not result in referral to police or may not involve police, but is about working directly with the person with disability and looking - and Housing to look at what options are available to resolve that situation. 

MR FITZGERALD: And I think I just should be very clear, that - not related to the issues you've been looking at this week but the issues you've been looking at throughout the Royal Commission. Many of the people that end up abusing people with disabilities start off by actually trying to do the right thing. It's a caring relationship. It's a relationship where they're trying to do the right thing. And over time, that changes. 

It may well be that the carer themselves is suffering a number of conditions and stresses. For example, I'll give you one, and that is gambling. Gambling is a huge problem in our society and a massive problem for carers. It can be that, in fact, they're incapable of actually caring and there's inadequate supports or services being provided. It could be that the family members' expectation is that that person with care for the person, but they actually provide no support other than to tell him or her how to do the job. 

So, quite often we're dealing with relationships that have changed over time. And so it's the difference between the exploiter - the person that is physically violent to somebody, the person that's going out to do harm is a group of abusers. But there's another group where that has changed over time. And so a lot of the matters we try to resolve very quickly, very early and we have a very high level of success rate if we can deal with that early, because it's actually a circumstance where the abuser did not intend for that abuse to occur. Nevertheless, it does exist, and we find this particularly in relation to neglect. 

So, it's a complex area. And all different - the forms of abuse we deal with have different drivers and different characteristics. So, psychological abuse, financial abuse, physical abuse, neglect, sexual abuse and exploitation have different drivers. And - and to understand that is why we're so keen to make sure that our data and our actions are informed by evidence.

CHAIR: Thank you very much again, Commissioner Fitzgerald, for coming to the Commission and giving evidence. It has been very helpful today. And thank you also, Ms McKenzie, for your contribution. We very much appreciate your insights and the work that you've been doing, and of which we've learned a great deal during the life of the Commission. So, thank you very much. 


MS BENNETT: Commissioners, if we might now adjourn for lunch until 2.15 and -

CHAIR: Yes. Alright. We shall adjourn until 2.15. 



CHAIR: Yes, Ms Bennett, I see it's 2.18 so you get an extra three minutes. 

MS BENNETT: May it please the Commission. The next witness is Ms Cassie Mason, who appears. 

CHAIR: Ms Mason, thank you for coming to our Brisbane hearing room in order to give evidence today. We are grateful for your assistance. I understand you will take an affirmation, so if you would be good enough to follow the instructions of my Associate, who is sitting just in front of me, she will read the affirmation to you. 

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

MS MASON: I do. 



MS BENNETT: Ms Mason, can you tell the Commissioners your current job title? 

MS MASON: So, I'm the Acting Executive Director of the Office for Ageing Well which also makes me the Director of the Office for Ageing Well as a statutory role under the Ageing Adults and Safeguarding ACT, which also makes me, then, the Director of the Adult Safeguarding Unit. 

CHAIR: I think I can use your services. 

MS BENNETT: Ms Mason, you have made a statement in response to a notice. Have you read the statement recently? 


MS BENNETT: Are the contents of that statement true and correct? 

MS MASON: Yes, they are. 

MS BENNETT: Chair, I tend their statement and ask that it be marked Exhibit 28 26, noting that I will return to tender the police material a little later in the day. 

CHAIR: Yes. Ms Mason's statement can be admitted into evidence and will be given the marking of Exhibit 28 26. 


MS BENNETT: Thank you. Ms Mason, focusing for a moment on the Adult Safeguarding Unit, can you tell the Commissioners about what that office is, what that unit is? 

MS MASON: Sure. So, this unit was established by an Amendment Bill that was an election commitment of the previous incoming government. It was in response to some significant reports, particularly in relation to the complex issue of elder abuse. The unit is established under the Ageing and Adult Safeguarding Act, as it is now known. It first came into operation in sort of the   in its actual operationality from 1 October 2019. It has a remit to   among other things - to respond to reports of abuse or neglect of adults who may be vulnerable. That definition of vulnerability is quite broad, but   

MS BENNETT: I am just going to pause you there. So, you said it was established in response to the issue of elder abuse. 

MS MASON: Correct.

MS BENNETT: When did the issue of disability, quite a separate issue, become part of your remit or that office's remit? 

MS MASON: So I guess a vulnerability   the definition of a "vulnerable adult" always included vulnerability by way of a disability, as well as ageing and a number of other issues. For the first three years of operation, it was intended that the unit would only respond to elder abuse. There was a transitional provision. But in response to some recommendations for the Safeguarding Taskforce which was established by the then government in response to the tragic case of Ms Ann Marie Smith, one of recommendations   one of the recommendations was that the remit of the unit expand to include people with a disability ahead of schedule. So, that expansion occurred at the beginning of October 2020. 

MS BENNETT: So, I'm going to direct these questions to people with disabilities. So, to the extent that I understand your office does other things, let's focus on that aspect of its functions. So, when did that expansion take place to encompass people with disability? 

MS MASON: 1 October 2020. 

MS BENNETT: 2020 okay. And have you now scaled up, if you like, to that role in full? Are you now at full capacity on that role? 

MS MASON: Yes. So, we further expanded to include the full definition of vulnerability from 1 October 2022. So, we have been working with people with disability for now two years, but our actual expansion and our remit has further expanded at the beginning of last week. 

MS BENNETT: And what's the nature of that expansion? 

MS MASON: So, that can include any adult who may be vulnerable by way of age, disability, ill health, social isolation, any other disadvantage. So, it's very, very broad. 

MS BENNETT: I see. So, how many staff do you have to respond in the unit? 

MS MASON: Currently, including myself, we have got 23. The majority of those are adult safeguarding practitioners. So, predominantly social workers. We have also a small sort of policy/community education project officer component of that unit as well. 

MS BENNETT: And is it the case that one of your   the tasks of your unit is to respond to abuse? 

MS MASON: Correct. 

MS BENNETT: You have quite a broad definition of abuse in your Act, at section 4. 


MS BENNETT: Which you extract from your statement at paragraph 14. Have you been watching or been briefed on the evidence this week? 

MS MASON: Yes, I have certainly been briefed on the evidence. I haven't been able to watch much of it, given our recent expansion and that work, but certainly been briefed on those issues, yes.

MS BENNETT: So you will have heard some of the accounts of some of the lived experience witnesses of the types of harassment and abuse to which they have been subject? 

MS MASON: Yes, absolutely.

MS BENNETT: Does that fall within your definition of abuse or within this definition of abuse as you understand it? 

MS MASON: Yes   yes, it would. Interestingly, the Australian Law Reform Commission, which is one of those reports that I note, they specifically noted in that that safeguarding legislation and, indeed, safeguarding units should exclude that type of abuse and instead focus on the abuse within that relationship of trust which the previous Commissioner Fitzgerald mentioned. But our, I guess, definition as it stands could encompass that. 

MS BENNETT: Is it fair to say though that with the 23 staff you presently have, an extension of that might be a strain for you? 

MS MASON: It   I guess it depends, because at the minute, people who experience that type of abuse, they could call our unit for advice or support, or if it was an ongoing risk of abuse they were experiencing, they could make a report. We haven't had that experience. They haven't called. So, I don't, know, I guess, what the   what the service demand would be for that. Because we haven't experienced that at this time. 

MS BENNETT: So is it the case that your office   the unit could respond but at   so far, it hasn't sought to engage in this area? 

MS MASON: So, we haven't specifically. So, our collateral, our promotional material doesn't specifically focus on it. But, likewise, we just haven't received any of those calls or reports that would then, I guess, facilitate a response from us. 

MS BENNETT: What sort of response would a person have if they reported the kind of harassment and abuse that has been the subject of evidence this week? 

MS MASON: Yes, I think that's really interesting because I guess there's a couple of components. So, our Adult Safeguarding Unit, one of our functions and, indeed, probably half the calls we receive are people seeking advice or information. The other half are people who are then making reports of abuse. In order to make a report of abuse, the risk of abuse needs to be ongoing. Now, that, I guess, could be interpreted in some of the instances that have been described this week that the abuse   it could be ongoing if it's a   I guess if it's the same sort of people who are doing the abuse. But I guess if its different people perpetrating the abuse in different contexts, then in terms of creating a report it would be difficult to say that that was ongoing. So, more likely it would be advice and support that we were giving. 

MS BENNETT: I'm remembering the evidence of a lived experience witness this week who said, "It feels like I am subjected to a campaign of harassment that is so effective because it is so decentralised."


MS BENNETT: I'm not sure if you have heard about that. But why does it matter if it's different people perpetrating the abuse? The experience of the person with disability is that they are constantly subject to abuse and are not safe in consequence. 

MS MASON: And I agree with that. I think   I think the issue from a service   our service model perspective is what we would actually then do in response. So, the way that we are currently set up   and I come back to the point that we were set up in response to the issue of elder abuse and that relationship of   or even with people with disability, that relationship of trust or familial relationships or caring relationships   is we provide safeguarding support for a person in line with their wants and wishes that help to preserve those important relationships. 

And so it would be thinking about   and so we do things like assist them engage in more formal or indeed informal supports to be able to do things, engage with other services. Refer to legal services to assist with   you know, changing documents or assist people with moving houses. Those sorts of things. It would be   what response would   I guess, the person would expect from us, I think is difficult when their perpetrator is unknown. Because what would we actually   what would we do? 

And I guess that's the   that's the real question. If you don't   because as was previously in the evidence before me today, we do   we work with family members and perpetrators around those complex family issues to support a person in safeguarding against abuse. If there's no perpetrator per se to work with, it would be difficult. 

MS BENNETT: Can I suggest   can I ask this hypothetical? What if the   what if the environment, the cultural attitudes, what if they are part of the perpetrator? Is that part of your remit or is it simply something that's outside your scope. 

MS MASON: Look, I think in terms creating community awareness, that would be something that we   that we could participate in. Certainly in relation to a slightly different aspect, we have a campaign against tackling ageism, so similarly, it's not unforeseeable we could have a similar campaign tackling this type of abuse or creating community awareness in respect of it. 

But the other thing that I was thinking about in relation to what response we might provide if a person were to call us about this abuse, on the one hand we could work with them around engaging more supports in their own life so that they weren't to become more vulnerable to abuse   or other sorts of abuse because they were more socially isolated. Obviously we heard that because sometimes people are being subject to abuse when they go out, they stop going out and then become more socially isolated. So, we could work with them around, you know, having more supports in their life, coping strategies, mechanisms for that sort of thing which, I guess, focuses on the person rather than the problem, which isn't ideal. 

The other thing, I suppose, is our legislation does have quite significant powers which we haven't used in this context before, but, for example, if it was a known unknown perpetrator, for example, we could, you know, work with the person to compel them to give us their name, date of birth, other information which we could then work with the person to   well, work to refer to SAPOL for example, or we could apply to the Magistrates Court for a court order, foreseeably, to stop them from doing a certain thing or other in relation to that person. But that then means that we have to know who the perpetrators were. If it was completely unknown perpetrators then it would be more about community education awareness.

CHAIR: I'm not sure why you are assuming, if you are, that the perpetrator of violence, abuse, in a public place will necessarily be unknown and unknowable. I mean, there would be circumstances where the identity of the perpetrator can be ascertained by a number of means, but as I understand the current practice in your agency, you wouldn't seek to identify the perpetrator for the purposes of your work. It would only be, if you did anything at all, working with the person with disability who had been the victim of the abuse or whatever. 

MS MASON: I wouldn't rule out finding out who the perpetrator was. As I mentioned, we haven't had cause to do this because we haven't received the report. Our role is to work   

CHAIR: I imagine you won't receive them unless you make it clear that you are prepared to receive them. 

MS MASON: Yes. I think in our information, it doesn't preclude people from making those reports, but we certainly haven't focused on that because it hasn't been, I guess, the policy context that our unit was set up with. But not to say we couldn't. But we could find out who the perpetrator was. But, again, it's a question, I think, of what would we do? What would the expected response be? Noting we do have a range of powers, but what would be the end result is   if we did find out who the person was, what would we do with that information? Because that's the bit, I guess, that there is nothing in our legislation which then leads us to the what next. 

CHAIR: You might want to contact the police and give them that information. You might, having ascertained the identity of the perpetrator, determine that that person was part of an organisation   a school, for example. You might want to contact the school and say, "Look what your students are doing. Do something about it." There are all sorts of things, I imagine, that could be done, depending upon who the perpetrator was. 

MS MASON: Yes, I agree. And if   if we have   if we receive those reports, there is, I think, the way that our unit works is to create a bespoke approach to safeguard the person in line with their wants and particular circumstances. So, there's no reason we couldn't do those things, should we receive those kind of reports. 

MS BENNETT: It's not   that's not something that you're presently publicly suggesting that people should be doing, though? 

MS MASON: Correct. Because it was specifically outside of the scope of the Australian Law Reform Commission recommendations about what safeguarding units should do. So, we   our policy context behind how we were formed and what we do and how our service model is developed is based on the ALSC recommendations which specifically preclude responding to that type of abuse. 

MS BENNETT: There is nothing in your legislation that precludes you from doing that? 

MS MASON: Correct. Unless the report   unless the   I guess, the only issue is that ongoing nature of the abuse. 

MS BENNETT:  Well, is there any doubt in your mind that abuse of this kind is ongoing for people with a disability? 

MS MASON: No. I agree it is ongoing. The difficulty being if it's different people   so our service model is currently   because of the policy context that we were created is to deal with a known   a perpetrator that is an ongoing perpetrator and put in place strategies around people in line with their wishes to respond to that abuse and working with that perpetrator. If it's many different perpetrators, that becomes, I guess, more difficult from a service perspective. 

MS BENNETT: Is it fair to say your unit isn't really set up to respond to the issue that's been explored this week? Is that right? 

MS MASON: No. Correct. That's absolutely fair to say 

MS BENNETT: So, it might be it could do so on the face of its legislation. 

MS MASON: Legislation.

MS BENNETT: But have you oriented it in a way that reflects the Law Reform Commission report that led to its establishment. Is that right? 

MS MASON: Absolutely correct, yes. 

CHAIR: I don't have your   the complete Act in front of me and I'm just looking at the sections that are reproduced in your statement. The section 4 defines abuse as: 

"... physical, sexual, emotional or psychological abuse of the vulnerable adult."

Well, that's, I imagine, what you are relying on to say that abuse of the kind we have heard about this week in public places would be within that definition. 


CHAIR: And then under the heading Remit, you explain that: 

"A vulnerable adult is defined as any adult person who by reason of age, ill health, disability, social isolation, dependence on others or other disadvantages is vulnerable to abuse." 

So, it's not required   for most provisions there may be something else, but those provisions don't require a continuing relationship between perpetrator and victim. 

MS MASON: That's correct, they don't. 

CHAIR: And there is nothing else that they will   

MS MASON: There is a provision in the legislation   I think it's section 22, from memory   that does talk about when a call to our unit will be taken as a report. And one of the   one of the factors of   it will not be taken to be a report if the risk is not ongoing   an ongoing risk of abuse, and the example used in the legislation is that, for example, the person has moved to a different   a different residential address. 

CHAIR: I see. Thank you. 

MS BENNETT: Do you   you collect data about the reports that you do receive? 

MS MASON: Correct, yes 

MS BENNETT: And do you have the kind of community relationship model that Commissioner Fitzgerald was talking about that assists you in doing that? 

MS MASON: So, the data that we collect is on the basis of calls to our phone line or reports to our unit by either our phone line or email address. So, we collect our own data based on that. 

MS BENNETT: And do you feed that data to South Australia Police? 

MS MASON: Not specifically. We do share a lot of information with South Australia Police and they   that data is available in our annual report. But we don't specifically provide the   the breakdown of data to SAPOL, no. 

MS BENNETT: Right. And what sort of information do you receive from South Australia Police that might identify people with a disability, the kinds of risks that we are talking about? Is that the kind of information that gets exchanged? 

MS MASON: The majority of information we get from SAPOL is referrals about cases of abuse that they become aware of. But it's   it's, in every case that we have received so far, somebody known to the person. So, not the similar cases of abuse that have been described this week. 

MS BENNETT: How are people with disability involved in guiding the approach of your organisation? 

MS MASON: So, when we were developing our code of practice, which is something that we needed to do under our legislation, we had consultation with both older people, people with disability, a range of other people and their carers, who   other people who may be vulnerable and also the carers and supporters as well when developing our code of practice. We have also engaged an organisation called Think Human, who   to do some work with people with lived experience, specifically people with disabilities about our collateral and information messaging to ensure that our unit is accessible to people with disabilities and that they would feel comfortable reporting. 

Again, it is really framed in the context of people who are known to   to the person and perpetrating the abuse because it is framed around, as the previous Commissioner mentioned in New South Wales, preserving relationships that are important to people while putting in place strategies to mitigate abuse. So, it is a different context to what we have been talking about this week, but we have certainly involved a number of disability advocacy and other organisations in our work and to engage a range of people from the disability community and organisations that support people with a disability to ensure that they know about us and that they have been involved in our messaging and ensuring that the way that our service is set up is appropriate for them. 

MS BENNETT: What about at senior management levels, though, and ongoing guidance? Do you have any formal consultations with the people with disability about how you carry out your role? 

MS MASON: Not specifically with people with disability. We do have an advisory committee or an advisory group that does meet a number of times a year to provide advice on originally the establishment but also the operation of the   the Adult Safeguarding Unit. That does include a range of government and non-government organisations that represent people with disability, but not with lived experience themselves on the operations. We have done   our recent consultation that Think Human worked with us on was around engaging people with lived experience about how we do our work and how we make an accessible service. 

MS BENNETT: But no people with disability? 

MS MASON: They were people with a disability. 

MS BENNETT: I'm sorry, on your advisory board. 

MS MASON: So it's an organisational group, so it's not a   it doesn't include people with lived experience specifically, no. 

MS BENNETT: Yes. And Think Human is an organisation that   I withdraw that. Those are the questions I have for this witness. 

CHAIR: Thank you. Just before I ask my colleagues if they have questions, I'm looking at section 22 of your Act. I don't think it has the effect that you suggested. The reason is that section 22, subsection (3) says: 

"A report will not be taken to be a report under this Act if (a) it relates only to alleged abuse that occurred before the commencement of the section and there is no ongoing risk of abuse."

It's an anti retrospectivity provision. There is nothing in section 22 as I read it that requires any report relating to conduct   after the Act has been amended, that there is no requirement that there be an ongoing risk. That's the way I read it, but no doubt in due course you can get your own advice. I will ask Commissioner Galbally if she has any questions. 

COMMISSIONER GALBALLY: Thank you. I'm interested in the abuse prevention hubs, and I notice that you have Purple Orange represented on that. And so that must include people with disabilities. So, they are operating in partnership with community centres? 

MS MASON: So the abuse prevention hubs is a project that we have been undertaking to, I guess, increase community capacity around the signs and awareness of abuse, particularly in community centres where   which are trusted places in the community. As part of that piece of work, we engage with a range of organisations, including Purple Orange, around developing a toolkit to inform the education that would be provided to community centres around abuse awareness, how to engage in conversations to, I guess, delve out some of the issues that   if they suspect abuse and then also act as, I guess, pathways to people reporting to our unit. So, yes, we engage with a range of organisations, including with people with lived experience as developing that toolkit. 

COMMISSIONER GALBALLY: Are they a little bit like the collaboration that the Commissioner referred to this morning? 

MS MASON: I guess a little bit. The intent is to   I get   you know, because we are a small unit, and we are   you know, in a government department, we want to increase the accessibility and the awareness and places in the community that people feel comfortable talking about some of these issues, noting that they are   our focus has been on abuse that is in the context of those family or care   trusted relationships where people often feel quite a deep shame around it. And so increasing that capacity of a   of a friendly face in the community to actually raise those conversations and then referring to our unit. So, that's the intent. 

CHAIR: Commissioner Ryan. 

COMMISSIONER RYAN: I have no questions but thank you for coming to give your evidence. Thank you. 

CHAIR: Yes. Thank you very much for your evidence today and for the written statement that we   we have. We appreciate your assistance. Thank you.


MS BENNETT: Commissioners, we might have just five minutes to reorder the room for the next witnesses. 

CHAIR: Yes. We will stand down for a few minutes and then we have a panel. 

MS BENNETT:  Yes. Thank you. 



CHAIR: Yes, Ms Dowsett. 

MS DOWSETT: Thank you, Chair. Next up we have a panel comprising Renee Traynor, from the Canterbury Bankstown Disability Abuse Prevention Collaborative   we heard much about collaboratives this morning   and Mariam Veiszadeh, who is here to talk to us about the Islamophobia Register. I ask that the witnesses be respectively sworn and affirmed. 

CHAIR: Yes. Thank you very much. And thank you very much for coming Royal Commission to give evidence this afternoon. We appreciate your attendance at our Brisbane hearing room. We look forward to the evidence you are going to give, and we thank you for the material you have provided. If you would be good enough to follow the instructions of my Associate, who is sitting just in front of me, Ms Traynor, first she will administer the affirmation to you. And then, Ms Veiszadeh, she will administer the oath to you. 

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



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



CHAIR: Thank you, Ms Traynor. Thank you, Ms Veiszadeh. I will now ask Ms Dowsett to ask you some questions. 


MS DOWSETT: Ms Traynor, I will begin with you. You are here to talk about the Canterbury Bankstown Disability Abuse Prevention Collaborative. But you are a Team Leader from the Diversity and Inclusion team at the Canterbury Bankstown City Council? 

MS TRAYNOR: Correct. 

MS DOWSETT: And the Council performs the role of Chair and Convener of the Collaborative, if I can refer to it shorthand? 

MS TRAYNOR: Yes, correct. 

MS DOWSETT: Would you please tell the Royal Commission briefly about your Collaborative and what it does?

MS TRAYNOR: Yes, so the Canterbury Bankstown Disability Abuse Prevention Collaborative   as we will refer to as the Collaborative, because it is a long one   it has kind of been mentioned a bit today, but basically, it was established out of the New South Wales Ageing and Disability Commission after they were formed. Previously, there was already elder abuse collaboratives established through the Elder Abuse Helpline and Resource Unit, and once the Ageing and Disability Commission was established, we kind of   I guess they absorbed the elders abuse collaborative that were already existing, and we were then encouraged by the ADC to establish a Disability Abuse Prevention Collaborative.

So, we were the first to establish one and we were provided guidance by the ABC to do that. So we sent out expressions of interest to local community stakeholder, for example, non government organisations such as NDIS providers, as well as government organisations, including New South Wales Police, so we do have the Aged Crime Prevention Officer on the Collaborative as well. 

MS DOWSETT: Okay. I might pause you there. I feel like I could let you keep going and you would use up all of our time talking about it. But just to come to that support that the   excuse me, the New South Wales Commission provided you to establish, to what extent do they direct or control what it is that the Collaborative does? 

MS TRAYNOR: Yes. I should also just mention that   so my role in relation to the Collaborative   it was a team member, a former team member of mine that established the Collaborative. So, it is still kind of relatively new to me as well. So, in terms of the guidance that they provided, I wasn't involved at those initial stages. But I do understand that they had a set of guidelines to kind of, I guess, assist collaboratives in getting started. 

MS DOWSETT: In terms of its day to day work, though, do those guidelines govern what you have to do or does the Collaborative have freedom to do what it wants to do within a certain structure? 

MS TRAYNOR: My understanding is it is a set of guidelines to establish it, and then from then on the Collaborative work together to identify what needs to be done in their local community. 

MS DOWSETT: The Collaborative has provided two documents for the Royal Commission. Firstly, there was a report dated 2021. And that was prepared by one of your team members, as I understand? 

MS TRAYNOR: Correct yes. 

MS DOWSETT: But you have had an opportunity to read that? 

MS TRAYNOR: Correct. 

MS DOWSETT: And then there was also a submission dated 2022. 


MS DOWSETT:  And you were involved in the preparation of that submission by your team? 

MS TRAYNOR: I was, yes. 

MS DOWSETT: Chair, I tender those documents. The 2021 report, I ask that it be marked Exhibit 28 30. 

CHAIR: Yes, the report can be admitted into evidence and given that, marking, yes. 


MS DOWSETT: And the 2022 submission, I ask be marked 28 31. 

CHAIR: That's a submission to us, that is, to the Royal Commission?

MS DOWSETT: Yes, it is, Commissioner. 

CHAIR: Do we normally tender submissions? And do we need to do so? 

MS DOWSETT: It was a submission prepared in response to questions asked by the Royal Commission, much in the form of what might also have been a statement. 

CHAIR: What, was the answer to a notice, was it?

MS DOWSETT: Voluntarily provided, not in response to a notice. 

CHAIR: I think we will just defer that for the moment. I just think it should be treated in the same way as other submissions. That's not to minimise its significance. It's just that we don't normally admit into evidence submissions unless there is a particular evidentiary reason for doing so. 

MS DOWSETT: Thank you, Chair. If I could turn to you now, Ms Veiszadeh. You are the CEO of Media Diversity Australia but you are also a lawyer, an author, a social commentator and you have come here today to provide the Royal Commission with some information in relation to the Islamophobia Register of Australia. And is it okay with you if I refer to that simply as the register? Can I ask you to speak up a little? 


MS DOWSETT: Thank you. So, the Islamophobia Register of Australia, the Register, is something you established in order to fill what you saw as an information gap around certain occurrences. 

MS VEISZADEH: That's right. I established the Register because amongst my circle of friends, to begin with, I was noticing an increase sort of anecdotally in incidents of Islamophobia. In that initial phase, it was more real-world incidents. So, now we classify it as sort of offline and online incidents. But I was noticing my friends were facing abuse on the streets, particularly those that were visibly Muslim, and it's also something I personally experienced as a Muslim woman who used to wear a hijab, and so it was based on all of those. 

MS DOWSETT: And you   sorry, the Royal Commission this week has heard evidence from witnesses who described barriers to reporting abuse they experienced as people with disabilities, so abuse and violence in public places. And they said that those barriers included not knowing who to report it to, experience from previously having made reports not being believed or no action being taken   the "what's the point" response. Fear of retribution and shame and embarrassment, and also retraumatising going through reporting. Were those similar to the barriers that you were   you heard about in relation to Islamophobia? 

MS VEISZADEH: Yes, I would say that there definitely are similarities. Amongst the group   and I was heavily involved in the community at the time and still am   there was a lot of hesitation to come forward with incidents. There was assumptions made about whether something, for example, constituted assault or not. And it was   because of my legal background, I found myself just educating my circle of friends but the community more broadly as to what constituted an assault. 

So, for example, a real, specific incident was a woman walking through Central Station in Sydney, which is near a university, and being spat on by just a random person who hurled anti Muslim abuse at them. There was a lot of attitudes around, well, what do I do with that? I'm not going to go forward to the police. What is the point. Is that actually an offence? Where do I go? And so it   I found myself advising my friends at the time that actually this is what it constitutes, and you should go forward but there is a distrust of authorities among the minority community, particularly the Australian Muslim community, and that has evolved over time. And so I found there was a need, given all of that, to establish a register of some kind, to track those incidents initially.

MS DOWSETT: And are you able to tell us whether you observed any significance being a community based   a local level reporting mechanism? 

MS VEISZADEH: Yes, I believe the reason the Register was successful in having incidents reported to us over a period of time, is that it was established by someone that was in the community. So, I was involved fairly heavily at the time in a lot of community advocacy, and whilst I never wanted the Register to be associated with one individual, per se, it did, I think, help build the trust and the rapport, because people knew that I had lived experience, so to speak, and that   that there was an element of trust. I wasn't necessarily going to do anything with that information. 

And they knew what the interests was and the long-term vision for the Register. So, I think the grassroots aspect was actually vital, but it also is a bit of a double-edged sword, if I can describe it as that, because the association with me personally also made the Register and myself the target of a lot of online, in particular, Islamophobia over the course of many years. 

MS DOWSETT: And the Register has evolved over time, but if I can just ask you to think back to the very beginning, what kind of resources did you need and did you have to set it up? How did you get it off ground? 

MS VEISZADEH: Yes. I have described the register as a side hustle. I established it whilst I was on parental leave with my first child, because I thought I had a lot of spare time. And, again, it came   it was born out of a place of frustration and desperation and need. And so it really just started as a Facebook page. I even designed the logo myself. It was terrible. But it really didn't start with much.

Over time, we were able to establish a website and reporting functions, so, really, it was a series of questions and a submission. But it started fairly   as I mentioned via Facebook page and evolved over time. The questions that we now ask as part of the incident reporting has evolved because over the course of the eight years we have taken a look at   and the key thing about the register is that it's an opportunity to report an incident. It's an opportunity for us to then analyse that data. 

And in the analysis of the data, we have then evolved the questions that we have asked over the course of the years to gather more information. And the idea with the reports that   we have had three reports published over the course of the eight or so years, and those reports again bring to life an issue that would otherwise not   not be documented. And the other thing I might also add, in a lot of the community advocacy that I did on behalf of the Australian Muslim community, I would often say to authorities, particularly New South Wales Police who I engaged a lot and also Victorian Police, that we were noticing a rise of incidents of Islamophobia.

And I was often given the response that, "We are not seeing it and if we are not seeing it then there is no evidence to support what you are saying." And so that in itself actually also was a reason as to why the Register's work was so important to provide that "evidence" so that authorities could actually develop policy reform in response. 

MS DOWSETT: Thank you. Now, back to you Ms Traynor, just   and to the Collaborative. You tell us in your submission about the membership of the Collaborative and we see that that includes the Ageing and Disability Commission, the Council, disability advocacy services, disability employment providers, disability legal services, domestic violence services, and a range of others, including New South Wales Police Force. And were you listening to the evidence this morning? Did you hear the New South Wales Acting Deputy Commissioner talking about ACPOS this morning? 

MS TRAYNOR: Yes, I did, yes. 

MS DOWSETT: For the benefit of the transcript, that's Aged Crime Prevention Officers. 

MS TRAYNOR: Yes, yes. 

MS DOWSETT: But you refer to them by the shorthand? 

MS TRAYNOR: Yes, I just   yes, Aged Crime Prevention Officer, yes. 

MS DOWSETT: And the Collaborative is not intended to receive reports of violence and abuse. That's correct? 

MS TRAYNOR: Correct. 

MS DOWSETT: But you sometimes do? 

MS TRAYNOR: I think it's not so much that necessarily the reports are made to the Collaborative, but the members might come along to, say, a meeting and say, "I've heard this." It's not necessarily meeting the threshold for a report, but we would kind of support each other to guiding where else they could go for support. 

MS DOWSETT: When you say not meeting a threshold for a report, what do you mean by that? 

MS TRAYNOR: I think   one example was   and I'm not entirely clear on this example, but they did say that something came about and it was more an advocacy need rather than an abuse instance. So, then one of the advocacy services   so that's something that we can assist with. Yes, so when reports   when anything that comes to the Collaborative that would be needed to be reported, it's directly referred to the Ageing and Disability Abuse Helpline. 

MS DOWSETT: So if something comes in, it's really the informal networks that deal with it. You talk about it amongst yourself, find the right member to deal with that and they take it on? 

MS TRAYNOR: Correct, yes. But anything that's   that is a form of abuse is referred straight to the Ageing and Disability Helpline   Abuse Helpline. 

MS DOWSETT: And what about things that might be criminal? Are they referred to New South Wales Police? 

MS TRAYNOR: Anything that would be in need of a report. So, with the Ageing and Crime Prevention Officer present at the meeting, that would be something where they would say, yes that's something that we can assist with. That's something that we would be dealing with those criminal reports. However, yes, anything that's abuse-related would all   like, I guess the purpose of the Collaborative is always to be referring to the Ageing and Disability Abuse Helpline 

MS DOWSETT: So it's really that single track out? 

MS TRAYNOR: Correct, yes 

MS DOWSETT: Returning back to you, Ms Veiszadeh, the purpose of the reporting, you said you wanted to fill   if I can paraphrase, fill an information gap? 

MS VEISZADEH: That's right. 

MS DOWSETT: And to show the level of the problem and to try generate some institutional responses? 

MS VEISZADEH: That's right. 

MS DOWSETT: But you also mentioned that there was a degree of personal support and advocacy that you provide to people who made reports. Can you talk about the kinds of things that individuals sought your help with?

MS VEISZADEH: In those initial days when we established the Register, it was only a few of us that was providing the support. The number that was provided was my own mobile, and so when someone was submitting an incident report, I would get in contact with them, or receive a phone call and provide immediate support. So, sometimes that support included psychological support, listening to them, hearing them out. Sometimes that   that support was legal support, giving them some preliminary advice, although it wasn't necessarily my area of expertise as a lawyer at the time. 

And sometimes it was advocacy. Sometimes it was explaining that   running them through the processes of have you contacted the authorities, have you contacted the police, what is   you know, did you receive an event number. These are the questions that you should ask. Would you like me to contact them on your behalf. There were many instances where, with consent, I would contact the relevant police station and try to ensure that as sort of as an advocate they were taking the matter seriously and just providing support in that way. 

MS DOWSETT: Ms Traynor, are you aware of any members of the Collaborative who do that kind of warm referral and advocacy on behalf of people who might bring their reports to the Collaborative? 

MS TRAYNOR: Personally, I'm not aware. However, in the community sector, this is something that most service providers would be doing on a very regular basis when they are working with their clients. 

MS DOWSETT: Is it something that perhaps the Collaborative could take a more active role in, with appropriate resources and training? 

MS TRAYNOR: In terms of providing the advocacy for them?

MS DOWSETT: And the support? 

MS TRAYNOR: And the support. I think, yes, it's something that, as community workers, we are doing all the time anyway, so I don't think it would be anything in addition in regards to just providing the support. 

MS DOWSETT: Is the very notion of capturing the data   of receiving reports something that, as presently constructed, the Collaborative could do? 

MS TRAYNOR: At present, it's not the purpose of the Collaborative to be doing that. So, it's purely set up to be guiding people to be reporting through the Ageing and Disability Abuse Helpline. However, I know we have spoken or heard today that some people are not comfortable in reporting to police and they are not comfortable in possibly reporting through the Ageing and Disability Abuse Helpline. 

So, it could be warranted that they might already have an established rapport with local service providers and they might feel more comfortable in kind of disclosing that information to them. But the purpose at the moment of the Collaborative is more if there is any kind of comments relating to abuse, that they direct them straight to the Ageing and Disability Abuse Helpline. 

MS DOWSETT:  And you   although you do receive some reports and refer them on, you don't gather any data about how many of those reports or what kind you receive? 

MS TRAYNOR: Not presently, no. 

MS DOWSETT:  There would be nothing to prevent you from doing that if that was something the Collaborative wanted to do? 

MS TRAYNOR: I think it would   nothing to prevent us, but I think a solid structure would need to be created. We would need to be really mindful of duty of care and how we   the purpose of taking that data and what we would be doing with it. I think that I heard you say earlier today, Chair, that anything is possible, and I think that that's something that the collaboratives could look into. But the model itself would need to adapted, and I think some strong and clear policies around   around taking those reports. 

MS DOWSETT: If I could come back to you, Ms Veiszadeh. Is there anything   sorry, you have spoken already about the change in the register over time and the work that's been done on the questions for the data harvesting. Can you talk about the work that you've done with academics in formulating the questions? I don't want to you tell us the precise questions but why that change in the questions has occurred? What were you trying to achieve? 

MS VEISZADEH: The questions were formulated by Dr Derya Iner, who is involved in the register and an academic at Charles Sturt University. And so she's really responsible for the evolving of the questions. What we note is every time we analysed the reports and data is that, as incidents would come through, it would prompt us to evolve the questions. So, for example, initially we did not   one of the questions did not involve asking whether a proxy was submitting the report. 

MS DOWSETT:  I just pause you there. Can you explain what a proxy is? 

MS VEISZADEH: So, a proxy is   perhaps the reporting   in the most simple case was when a parent was reporting an incident on behalf of a child, and so they would be submitting the incident, but it related to an incident that, say, their 16-year-old had experienced during, for example, a soccer game. So, we evolved the questions over time in response to the incidents that were coming through. Obviously, when you start an organisation like this, that   we looked at some international   there was an international organisation set up doing something similar. We looked at what they were doing. But, of course, the nature of how it evolved in Australia is different and so we evolved our questions based on the reporting that we were seeing, including later on us, you know, having special categories for incident reports from witnesses. 

There were times where people were not directly involved in the incident in any way, had no interaction with the victims or the perpetrator but simply witnessed an incident, say, on a train and then would submit the details but, of course, didn't have the details of the victims at all. But we would need to introduce categories to accommodate those different incidents that would come through. 

MS DOWSETT: What proportion of reports come from witnesses, not people who are, like, victims or proxies? 

MS VEISZADEH: You're testing my memory now, but I think there was   it evolved over time. I think the figure was somewhere around 30 per cent. But I have to double check that. And what we noticed   what I do recall from the last report that came out is that the witness incidents dropped. So, from the second report to the third report, the number of witnesses that were submitting incidents dropped. 

And so we are utilising   and this is the where the advocacy component comes in through the research. We are utilising that as a means to engage in what we are calling an Activating Bystanders project, where we are recognising that bystanders play an important role in stepping in, where it's safe to do so, when an incident is happening live, particularly, obviously, a physical incident. And so the research helps us develop policy advocacy, and, in this case, seeing a drop off rate helped us determine that we need to do more. 

MS DOWSETT: We have heard from a number of witnesses this week that they weren't aware of certain reporting mechanisms, in particular a hotline that the Commonwealth Government runs. How did you   what steps did you take to make people aware of your reporting mechanism, the register? 

MS VEISZADEH: In those initial days and less so now, but in the first couple of years of the register's existence, I personally fronted the media quite a lot, and as part of the advocacy, what we would do is with the consent of the victims, there were certain incidents that were quite horrific and fairly high   high profile. So, we would actually issue a press release, and the press release was really me just putting it out on my Twitter page. 

And the press release, we would get some journalists interested in that and they would run news pieces on particular incidents. We would give them access to speak, with the consent of the victims, to the victims, to interview the victims. And it was the media attention that raised the profile of the existence of the Islamophobia Register, which in turn meant people knew we existed. Initially it was very community-based and it was amongst the community, and as the news kind of spread over time, it was media attention. 

And what I found is in order to get the media attention, there needed to be a personal angle. And so I would, you know, in the drafting of a press release there was that personal   it's telling a human story and then making media interested in that. And it was over time that   I know when I first started in this space, I don't think people understood the term Islamophobia at all. It was very rarely used. And I'm   I think, over the course of time, the advocacy of many, many people, many organisations, were at a point where the   you know, the media attention about the incidents is also an education process around Islamophobia and how it manifests. 

CHAIR: Did you use community organisations to create awareness among members of the Muslim community about the availability of this, whether through mosques or Islamic organisations? 

MS VEISZADEH: Yes, we did. We   it would be an issue that would come up in many talks that I gave publicly and also Dr Derya Iner. So, it was something that would come up. What we've realised, of course, is that it takes a a lot of concerted effort to do that, and it's never been my day job and is something I tried to do on the side. So, I do think that over time as we have been able to employ a staff member and have, like, proper resourcing, that   we intend to run educational workshops. We already do to some extent. 

And it's also not just talking about Islamophobia kind of saying just report these incidents, there is also the educational component to it and the implications. We have then   Dr Derya Iner has done additional research into the impact of children witnessing incidents of Islamophobia, and she's also   we hope to do more research in terms of bystander intervention. So there a lot of broader implications. 

CHAIR: The third report covers 2018/2019. 


CHAIR: Is there a fourth report in the works? 

MS VEISZADEH: There is. And one of the things that we   so we hope to launch that March 15, which marks the anniversary of the Christchurch terrorist attacks, but also marks the UN declared Day to Combat Islamophobia, which, again, was not again a day that existed. So, the fourth report will be analysing everything back from the very beginning. And we find that when we don't have resourcing allocation at the moment   we didn't have funding for a really long time. We have only in the last two years had funding. And so without the funding, we can't do the awareness and then people forget that the register exists. So   but, yes, the fourth report will be examining all of that and    

CHAIR: The third report was supported partly by Charles Sturt University and the   it's the Centre for Islamic studies and Civilisation. 


CHAIR: The fourth report is being supported by which organisation? 

MS VEISZADEH: To be confirmed. We are currently in discussions with a university but also other potential organisations that can support it. It really is about the   so in terms of the academics involved, it will be Dr Derya Iner from Charles Sturt University, but in terms of the funding of the research itself and the funding of the launch, that is   we are still settling on those. 

CHAIR: I'm asking in part because I would have thought it is something that the major Islamic community organisations should be involved in. Are they being asked to fund it? 

MS VEISZADEH: To some extent, yes. Unfortunately, like many minority communities, there is lots of different projects on the go. But we certainly will be approaching all of the usual organisations to get their support. But what I've   yes, unfortunately   

CHAIR: What does ISRA stand for? 


CHAIR: ISRA? What's that? It's an organisation that gets a   

MS VEISZADEH: ISRA. It's the Islamic Sciences Research Academy. And they have   they Dr Derya Iner is employed by them and also works as an academic at Charles Sturt. And so ISRA, that organisation, has been involved from very early on and provides a lot of in kind financial support. 

CHAIR: I see. Thank you. 

MS DOWSETT: Thank you, Chair. Ms Traynor so back to you and the Collaborative. And I   you have already indicated that your involvement in the Collaborative is quite new, but what you can tell us about what the Collaborative did to get its identity, its brand out there in the way that Ms Veiszadeh was describing for the register? How did the Collaborative become a known entity? 

MS TRAYNOR: Yes, I think, as you said, it's still in its infancy, and so the first meeting was in February 2021. And then we did have COVID during that time as well. So, we did launch the Disability Abuse Prevention video, during   last year. And we are looking at relaunching that to try and get that branding out there a bit more. But the Collaborative did engage a person with disability to develop their logo, which they have put on some of the resources that have been   that are available on the website. 

The resources are provided by the ADC and so Ageing and Disability Commission, and then we tailor them with our local logo and with our local contacts as well for support. And   but in terms of getting our branding and name out there, probably the establishment of the   or the launch of the video is probably the biggest thing, but we are looking at relaunching it, as well as launching the video which has been translated into three community languages. So, that will be our   I guess our next big way of getting out and about into the community and getting the brand known. 

MS DOWSETT: So just stepping through some of that, you said that the resources are provided by the ADC. Does that mean they give you the information and you develop it into a product to put out? Or the product is already developed and you put your logo on it and put it out? 

MS TRAYNOR: Both. So, the ADC provided some of their resources, and we have put them up on our webpage, which housed on Council's website. However, they also have a template where we could add on our logo as well as our local key   like local services that we can   so I think it's just called a resource card. So then we put in the local Canterbury Bankstown support services and put our logo on to that, which was their template that they provided. 

MS DOWSETT: And that's the card with the phone numbers? 

MS TRAYNOR: Correct. 

MS DOWSETT: So you can report various things? 

MS TRAYNOR: Correct, yes. 

MS DOWSETT: In your submission it describes the objective of the Collaborative as being: 

"To increase awareness of abuse and neglect and exploitation and encourage earlier reporting to relevant organisations, along with improving referral pathways among local organisations."

You have already spoken about the video and the resource card. And the video, is it fair to describe it as an educative tool to support victims and members of the community to detect and call out abuse? 

MS TRAYNOR: Correct. And it's really identifying the different types of abuse and educating the community on your rights and the different types of abuse and then where to go for support, which is directed through to the ADC Abuse Helpline. 

MS DOWSETT: And the types of abuse that are identified in the video are focused on abuse being perpetrated by someone you know. 

MS TRAYNOR: Correct, yes. 

MS DOWSETT: Is there a plan   does the Collaborative have a plan to put together some other similar education video or some other resource about abuse by someone you don't know? By a perpetrator who’s a stranger, who is unidentifiable? 

MS TRAYNOR: Yes. I think that this came about in preparation of this public hearing, that kind of was brought to tour attention a bit more that we need to widen the scope of how we are getting the education material out into the community. Because you are right, the video does say "someone you might know might do this" or "someone you might know might do this." So, I think, moving forward in our next lot of, you know, campaign material, that's definitely something that we could be looking into. 

MS DOWSETT: Where does the Collaborative get its funding to do this education? 

MS TRAYNOR: So, we are, I guess, quite lucky. We are quite well resourced at Canterbury Bankstown Council. So, the council has provided most of the funding to establish what has been done with the Collaborative, so that involves establishing the logo and also the video. However, we did receive a grant from the ADC which we used to translate that video into the community languages. 

MS DOWSETT: Yes. We heard earlier today that it's quite a multicultural local council area? 

MS TRAYNOR: We are very culturally diverse community. We speak over nearly 130 languages. 

MS DOWSETT: Has the video been translated into 130 languages? 

MS TRAYNOR: No, no, no, no, sorry. So, we have translated video into three community languages, so Chinese, Vietnamese and Arabic. And I think part of the future projects that they are looking to do is to translate it into additional community languages. 

MS DOWSETT: In the 2021 report   and this is on page 4, Commissioners, if you wanted to go there, but you don't need to   the Collaborative identified four target groups for its information campaign. And it noted that those groups would require different information. The target groups were residents with disability, and I assume that means residents in the local council area. 

MS TRAYNOR: Correct. 

MS DOWSETT: Carers and family, service providers, and the general public. 

MS TRAYNOR: Correct. 

MS DOWSETT: In respect of the general public, the report says: 

"General public mostly require information about signs to look for and where to report if they notice an adult with disability is being abused."

So this comes back to the start of the campaign, that it's only   I'm sorry, I will put that differently. Is this the first step about education? There could be another step about changing the attitudes of the kinds of things we have heard about this week? 

MS TRAYNOR: Yes. Absolutely. So, yes, as I said, it's still very much in its infancy, and we want to launch the video and the campaign again and relaunch the English video as well. And when we do launch that, we are looking at doing a specific launch in those community groups that we have translated the video into, as well as launch for the general community and service providers as well. So, that's one way we are kind of targeting our approach in that campaign, but we do need to focus on how we educate the different target groups on how   the key messages of the Collaborative. 

COMMISSIONER GALBALLY: Do you mind if I just ask you a question. Have you tested the video with people with disabilities themselves? 

MS TRAYNOR: Yes. We did do some testing through one of the organisations or one of the members of the Collaborative, and it was tested with people who had intellectual disabilities. 

COMMISSIONER GALBALLY: And other disabilities? Have you been to other   

MS TRAYNOR: From my understanding, it was just through that organisation that helped us with getting the testing with people with intellectual disabilities. 


MS DOWSETT: Ms Veiszadeh, you mentioned that you're looking to a campaign about activating bystanders. Have you   are you able to share with the Royal Commission anything that   any work that you've done on how that might be achieved? We have heard evidence this week about the need to turn bystanders into upstanders and to motivate people to get involved where it's safe. Have you started work on that? Is there anything you would like to share? 

MS VEISZADEH: Yes. It's still in its in infancy to some extent, but it is a conversation we are having with some social media platforms, including interest from Meta in particular, who are keen to assist us in, once the content is developed, to amplify that across Instagram and Facebook in particular to   to ensure that it reaches the people that it needs to reach. But the campaign is   is going to be drawing on the findings from the three reports, the Islamophobia in Australia Reports, and specifically, as I alluded to earlier, the specific statistic around the drop in sort of bystander supports, so to speak, by the witness reporting. 

And we want it to be a series of digital campaigns. It just depends on how much budget we get and how much funding we get, but I think, having done this work for a period of time now, it is about bringing awareness to the issue and also it   and there is a sense of empowerment that goes to victims, whether it's victims of Islamophobia or more broadly, when they know that there awareness about this, that it is being called out, that it's not being ignored or suggested that because someone doesn't have some sort of physical manifestation of abuse that it didn't happen. 

And so the activating bystanders’ campaign, we hope, will be digital campaign that really educates the public more broadly about this is how   in the case of Islamophobia, this is how it manifests, and these are situations that happen, that are real life incidents that have taken place, and this is is an example of how to respond, where it is safe to do so. And so it is empowering people. We have seen successful campaigns across other   whether it's across domestic or family violence, or sexual harassment. We have seen successful campaigns. Provided there is proper resourcing, I think it has the capacity to be really effective. 

But what we are envisaging is some videos that show incidents playing out based on incidents that have been reported through to the register. And then sort of through showing ways in which you can respond that are safe to do so. And also what we want to include in that is, based on the research, what are the implications of Islamophobia when it's not challenged. So, the mental health implications is huge, and to talk through the impact it has on young children in particular. There is a whole host of incidents reports across all three reports that actually identify when the incident happened in the presence of young children. And so we find that that will be really compelling to include in a campaign like this. 

MS DOWSETT: On a different topic, you're aware that the Islamophobia Register model has been picked up to be used in other groups, or by other communities. Can you tell the Royal Commission what you know about that? 

MS VEISZADEH: Yes. So, the Jumbunna Institute and the National Justice Project did approach myself a little while ago, expressing interest in wanting to, I guess, duplicate, replicate the register. And look, I take that as a source of great pride. You know, this work may have started from my lived experience and the lived experience of others involved, but it is an issue that's across the board. So, I was involved in supporting them in those early days. Dr Derya and I met with them, gave them as much insight and access to as much information as possible to support them in the set  up and was involved in the   and provided you know, something for their press release. 

The point I make is that I think it's both a good thing but also a negative thing that victims or people with lived experience have to take it upon themselves to start organisations like this. And often it does come on a voluntary basis, and I think, yes, it does speak to a broader issue that sometimes is very little support in place, and victims take it upon themselves to establish organisations. But I am really pleased that it is a model that others are considering it   considering in terms of other areas. 

MS DOWSETT: Do you have any suggestions on how we might lift the reporting burden off the individuals, off victims, and where it might be able to be better placed? 

MS VEISZADEH: I think lived experience definitely needs to be part of any framework that is   you know, that is set up. But, yes, I agree that the burden needs to be lifted off victims. And I think this is where there might not be an immediate answer, but authorities and   that have the resourcing and the capacity perhaps need to work in partnership with impacted communities and those with lived experience to develop a framework that is well resourced from the outset, doesn't rely on someone like myself having to design their own logo and start an organisation on Facebook. I think it's as simple as that. It's recognising that what is currently in place isn't good enough, the status quo isn't working with respect to minority groups in particular, and so, therefore, more needs to be done in terms of funding, resourcing, support in collaboration with community. 

MS DOWSETT:  Thank you. Back to you, Ms Traynor. I understand that you have been able to follow some but not all of the evidence this week. Is that correct? 

MS TRAYNOR: Correct, yes. 

MS DOWSETT: Did you hear the evidence of Ms Butler who was talking in particular about an issue at the Glenorchy Bus Mall? 

MS TRAYNOR: No, sorry, I didn't.

MS DOWSETT: To very briefly summarise, Ms Butler described a series of incidents around a particular area in the local government, Glenorchy City Council, and the action that was taken by a peer support group to   to self advocate, engage with the council and address that issue. What I was wanting to know, though, is from your perspective, from the Collaborative's perspective, are there particular hotspots within your city council and have you had that kind of direct involvement with people with disability in your community to identify and respond to that kind of hotspot issue? 

MS TRAYNOR: I'm not aware of any hotspots being identified in discussions with the Collaborative. Going back to when what I said before, how possibly we could be doing some data collection there, that would be one benefit of that. If we had data collection at a local level we would be able to identify those hotspots and, you know, target campaigns for those hotspot locations or whatever might be targeted in that area. But at this point in time, I'm not aware of any discussions within the Collaborative about hotspots in Canterbury Bankstown. 

MS DOWSETT: You have almost already answered my last question, but I will ask it anyway. Do you think the Collaborative model could be adapted to become an entity that can drive or contribute to the prevention of violence and abuse in public places in your local council area? 

MS TRAYNOR: I think that that's what we are currently already doing but you can repeat the question for me. Was it in relation to actual data?

MS DOWSETT: So, responding to violence and abuse in public places in your local council area. 

MS TRAYNOR: I think that that could be done through the campaigns that we are doing. We could be targeting a little bit more   like, the messaging of our campaign messages could be a bit more targeted towards that public spaces component, because I think that's something at the moment we are not really focusing on. It's just a bit more broadly identifying what other types of abuse and what are your rights, but I think that we do have a role to play in   in being a bit more targeted towards educating the community as well so that they can be active bystanders to put a   you know, prevent what is happening in public spaces and the abuse there. 

MS DOWSETT: And also to respond when it is happening? 

MS TRAYNOR: For individuals to respond or for the Collaborative to respond?

MS DOWSETT: For the Collaborative to respond when individuals suffer violence and abuse? 

MS TRAYNOR: I think that that then comes back to that duty of care as well, what the role is of the Collaborative. If the model itself was to change, and everyone had a clear understanding of what the purpose and if that was part of the model, then, yes, I definitely think that is something that could be done. 

MS DOWSETT: Chair, those are my questions for the panel. I now hand them over to you. 

CHAIR: Thank you very much. I will inquire of my colleagues as to whether they have any questions to put to you. First, Commissioner Galbally. 

COMMISSIONER GALBALLY: Thank you very much. Ms Traynor, do you have people with disabilities come and present to the Collaborative, so they really interact and meet people with disabilities, you know, the police and all the different members of the Collaborative? Do you have a regular presence of people with disabilities? 

MS TRAYNOR: At present, that hasn't been something that has happened to my knowledge. However, I do understand that there has been discussions of having peer support groups and organisations involved to be on the Collaborative. And I think, yes, having presentations and having those lived experiences shared with the Collaborative would be really beneficial. However, having someone on the Collaborative would be   would be fantastic as we. I think in its infancy when it was first getting set up, there was discussions about having members on the Collaborative who were people with disability; however, they felt that at that present time, because it was in its infancy, they didn't want to underutilise their expertise and their intellectual property, so I'm looking at setting it up and now further developing that and having those peer support groups and members of people with disability as well. 

COMMISSIONER GALBALLY: Yes, I'm just extending it across to the register and thinking that while, you know, you put the point that you would like to be in partnership but still people with lived experience should lead the register. And I just wondered, in the data you collect, do you collect data on the intersection between disability and being a member of the Muslim community in experiencing Islamophobia? 

MS VEISZADEH: In fact, it was a conversation I was just having today, but, unfortunately, that is not something that we do at present. But certainly my involvement here today has meant that we will ensure that we refine our questions even further and ensure those intersectional questions in terms of intersectional identity is captured going forward. Yes, we haven't done that until now. 

COMMISSIONER GALBALLY: Have you picked up any hint of that? That if you are disabled and a member of the Muslim community you are more likely to be targeted   

MS VEISZADEH: Yes, I did actually go through the reports just to kind of see whether there was something like that that had come through. Not that I could identify. I think if we did some more comprehensive analysis of the data that there could be. Certainly in the incidents that I'm aware of, that hasn't come through. I think that doesn't   that doesn't imply, of course, that it doesn't exist. Australian Muslims are not homogenous. They have multiple identities and, yes, may identify very much so with several diversity dimensions. 

And so going forward, we certainly will ask that question, and just in the context of the register being approached by you know, Jumbunna institute and now through this particular mechanism, it has made me think about the register, its work and whether it needs to expand to ensure it covers other diversity dimensions 

COMMISSIONER GALBALLY: Thank you. Thank you, both. 

CHAIR: Commissioner Ryan. 

COMMISSIONER RYAN: Ms Veiszadeh, because I think we have sort of focused, I think, as a result of the council's presence today on Bankstown and Canterbury, your organisation, of course, takes complaints right across the country, doesn't it? 

MS VEISZADEH: It does; that's right. 

COMMISSIONER RYAN: And so how is it able to do that? Because I imagine for   it to be applied to disability, once of the features of disability is it is ubiquitous. It is everywhere. I notice that it is possible to take complaints or to register complains online. Do many people do that? 

MS VEISZADEH: Yes. Yes. So, we do take incidents online and as part of the, I suppose, reports, some of the questions is where the victim is located. So we   as the analysis, we have kind of identified "hotspots" of Islamophobia during the reports, and so what it tends to do is correlate with where the vast majority of Australian Muslims live, which happens to be New South Wales, Victoria, and then followed by Queensland. And the incident reports follows that   that sort of pattern. 

But, yes, it   it is national, it does happen everywhere and the reports that we produced, we have kind of consistently said that it is the tip of the iceberg. And we have also noticed a correlation with when   particularly in the early years when I did a lot of media around this, that when there was media coverage or I was publicising it across my social media platforms, we would see a spike in incidents that would come through. 

It's not to say that it would happen that day. It was people would be reminded of our existence. And sometimes they would be reporting incidents that took place a year ago or several months ago. And so I guess what we have refined over the years is there are some pitfalls that come with people reporting, and there is a verification process. But allowing online submissions is very important. In fact, we are evolving that even further because we are conscious that sometimes language is a barrier to reporting. 

And so what we want to introduce is services where there is translation available, that people can submit oral incidents by WhatsApp for example, and then we can contact them and verify details. So we are trying to make it as easy and as accessible as possible to communities so that they can report. 

COMMISSIONER RYAN: This might be a hard question to answer, but, by your estimate, within the Islamic communities in Australia, is there   would the   would your reporting line have a high profile? 

MS VEISZADEH: I would say yes, so to speak, depending on the states. I think in New South Wales, there is a greater level of awareness of Islamophobia Register's existence and then that tends to drop in, say, Victoria and Queensland, simply because a lot of our advocacy and I'm physically present in New South Wales. But we are trying to grow that, and we are doing that by partnering with the Islamic Councils in each state. 

And one thing that we are doing right now is having partnerships with all the Muslim women's associations across the different states, and we are in the process of appointing an Executive Director, so that I don't have to do it in my non existence spare time. And we are also appointing a board with our first board meeting later next week. 

COMMISSIONER RYAN: Thanks, Mr Chair. Thank you for coming and   both of you, for giving evidence today. 

CHAIR: Something that I think that non Muslim Australians don't understand is the diversity of the Islamic communities. There tends to be an assumption, I think, that it is homogenous, monolithic. Have you been able to reach, in terms of people reporting to you, all of the or many of the different communities that constitute the Australian Islamic community? 

MS VEISZADEH: Yes, I believe so. I believe we are very conscious of that. In fact, you know, assumptions are often made, and so I'm very conscious of ensuring we reach everybody across the Australian Muslim community, which is incredibly broad and have very unique and different challenges. So, yes, we're trying to be very inclusive in that. The other thing of note it is not always Australian Muslims that are the victim. We have had several incidents of Sikh Australians have who have been mistaken to be Islamic and have had anti Islamic abuse hurled at them. 

So, we have made the point this is a social cohesion issue. There is a broader racism issue there and we also recognise that sexism comes into play quite significantly, because the vast majority of victims are women and the vast majority of perpetrators are men. So, there are multi layered issues that we have recognised as part of the work that we have been doing. 

CHAIR: In public areas, for someone who has a tendency to be a perpetrator, it's probably easier to recognise women, depending upon their dress? 

MS VEISZADEH: That's right. And there are many occasions where men become the targets because, for example, they have a beard or dress in a particular way. And, of course, in an online   in the online world it's your name or the avatar. And my personal experience is that that is also the case. And I faced a sort of trolling that reached international sort of   an international phase. 

So, I think it's the identity and that   and the only other point I would make is that we have also noticed a correlation with media reports of Muslims more broadly and reports globally about Muslims, that that directly correlates to an increase in incidents of Islamophobia, and hence the work I now do as part of Media Diversity Australia is very important. I think across all diversity dimensions, be it disability or one's faith, background or sexuality or any diversity dimension, the media and those in power play such a significant role in perpetuating stereotypes about those communities or, on the other hand, perhaps challenging those stereotypes. And I think, yes, more work needs to be done in that space. 

CHAIR: Thank you. I just was interested, Ms Traynor, why do you think the Canterbury Bankstown Council has been responsive to the issues that have led to the creation of the Collaborative? 

MS TRAYNOR: I think that we have a really active sector in our local community. But that's not to say that that's not the case in other areas as well. And just having a lot of passionate workers as well and former team members as well who have wanted to   

CHAIR: I'm sorry, when you say "we" have   there is a passion there, who are "we"? 

MS TRAYNOR: Canterbury Bankstown as a community. 

CHAIR: Everybody in Canterbury Bankstown is passionate? 

MS TRAYNOR: Well   no, I think it's more the service providers that we have and the community workers in Canterbury Bankstown and the team members that we have had working at council been really passionate about this. I think also it came about because of the link with the elder abuse collaboratives, and Canterbury Bankstown is on two elder abuse collaboratives, so we understood the model. So, because we understood the model within our team, we were more inclined, I think, to start up the Collaborative for the Disability Abuse Prevention as well. 

CHAIR: I join with my colleagues in thanking both of you very much for coming to the Commission, giving your evidence and the benefit of your experiences, and thank you for the work that you are doing. It's very important, each of you. So, thank you very much for your contributions to the Commission, which we appreciate greatly. Thank you. 

MS TRAYNOR: Thank you 

MS VEISZADEH: Thank you. 


CHAIR: Ms Dowsett, does that mean that we now adjourn until 10 am tomorrow?

MS DOWSETT: That is correct, Chair. We will resume tomorrow at 10 am with Ms Carly Findlay. 

CHAIR: Right. And can you give those who will no doubt be eagerly following the work of the Royal Commission and planning their day accordingly what time we are likely to finish?

MS DOWSETT: I am instructed that we are aiming for a   we are aiming to conclude at lunchtime. 

CHAIR: Yes. I've heard that before. That's a   that's a concept of indeterminate content. What   would you care   perhaps you could discuss with Ms Bennett the definition of lunchtime. 

MS DOWSETT:  We are aiming for 1 pm, Chair. 

CHAIR: Thank you very much. That makes it a little more precise. Thank you. We will adjourn until 10.