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Public hearing 29 - The experience of violence against, abuse, neglect and exploitation of people with disability from culturally and linguistically diverse communities - Day 4

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CHAIR:  Good morning, everybody.  This is the fourth day of the hearing of the Royal Commission into violence, abuse, neglect, and exploitation of people with disability, from culturally and linguistically diverse communities.  We begin with an Acknowledgment of Country.  This hearing is being held on the lands of the Wurundjeri people of the Kulin Nation, and we wish to acknowledge them as traditional owners and to pay our respects to their elders past, present and emerging.  We would also like to pay our respects to elders past, present and emerging of other communities who may be here today or who are following the hearing via the live webcast.

I mentioned that Commissioner Galbally will not be joining us today.  She is unable to be present; however, she will of course follow the proceedings through the transcript and the video recording of the proceedings today.  Yes, Ms Eastman.

MS EASTMAN:  Good morning, Commissioners, and good morning, everyone in the room and those following the live broadcast.  I'm very pleased, Commissioners, to tell you that our next witness is the Australian Race Discrimination Commissioner, Mr Chin Tan.  And he's in the witness box now.  He's taken his oath or affirmation, and if the Commissioners are ready we can proceed.

CHAIR:  Yes, please do.



MS EASTMAN:  Your name is Chin Tan?


ME EASTMAN:  And you are the Australian Race Discrimination Commissioner?

COMMISSIONER TAN:  That's what I'm known as, yes.

MS EASTMAN:  And we have your professional address at the Human Rights Commission.  You have provided that to us.  And you have also made a statement; is that right?

COMMISSIONER TAN:  That's correct.

MS EASTMAN:  And the Commissioners have a copy of the Commissioner's statement dated 30 September 2022.

CHAIR:  Yes, we have that and we have had the opportunity to read it.  Thank you very much.


MS EASTMAN:  And are there any changes that you wish to make to that statement?

COMMISSIONER TAN:  Not that I'm aware of at this stage.

MS EASTMAN:  And its contents are true and correct?

COMMISSIONER TAN:  Yes, as far as I'm aware, yes.

MS EASTMAN:  Now, can I introduce you a little more formally.  You commenced your role as the Race Discrimination Commissioner on 8 October 2018.

COMMISSIONER TAN:  That's correct.

MS EASTMAN:  And prior to joining the Australian Human Rights Commission, you spent three years as the Director for Multicultural Engagement at Swinburne University of Technology here in Melbourne?

COMMISSIONER TAN:  That's correct.

MS EASTMAN:  And your focus at Swinburne University as head of its Cultural Diversity Strategy was to work collaboratively across the university and the wider community to ensure that Swinburne succeeded as an institution of cultural diversity excellence?

COMMISSIONER TAN:  That's right.

MS EASTMAN:  And you have also been the Chairperson and Statutory Head of the Victorian Multicultural Commission?


MS BENNETT:  And the Commissioners had the opportunity to hear from the current Chair of the Commission, Vivienne Nguyen, yesterday.  You held that role between 2011 and 2015; that's right?


MS EASTMAN:  And before that you've had a successful career of more than 24 years practising as a lawyer?


MS EASTMAN:  Including holding partnership roles in a number of Melbourne firms.

COMMISSIONER TAN:  I practised, but as to whether the practice was successful, I will leave to someone else to decide   

MS EASTMAN:  Well, I'm very happy to report that the Human Rights Commission describes it as a successful career.

CHAIR:  That is a very becoming piece of modesty.  Unusual, I know.

MS EASTMAN:  So, the Australian Human Rights Commission and particularly the work that you've done as Race Discrimination Commissioner has focused on a number of important initiatives.  The Anti Racism Framework that's soon to be released, I think, in full.


MS EASTMAN:  But also the relaunch of the Racism Stops with Me campaign. So, in the statement, which I think you are going to read to us now, you cover some of those important topics and I might ask you a few questions about those matters and other matters at the end.


MS EASTMAN:  So thank you, Commissioner, over to you.  And I invite you to read your statement.

COMMISSIONER TAN:  The pleasure is mine. And thank you, Royal Commissioners.  I have never had the chance, your Honour, to appear before you in my 24 years of successful legal practice.  But it is a privilege, obviously, to appear before the Commissioners today, particularly a    as yourself and, obviously, Commissioner Alastair is known to me and he served as a colleague of mine a few years ago before he embarked on this illustrious role as the Royal Commissioner.

And to you, Commissioner Bennett, I read your background, really distinguished career in serving the community, particularly in the area of disability. So, thank you for that opportunity to appear before you all.  But very quickly, I know you have had the opportunity to read the statement, but I thought I will perhaps re emphasise the issues in there by going to the document again today for the benefit of those here with us today. 

So, thank you for the opportunity to appear today and provide this statement.  I acknowledge the traditional custodians of the land we gather on, the Boon Wurrung and Wurundjeri Woi Wurrung peoples of the Eastern Kulin Nation.  I pay my respects to their elders past and present, and acknowledge their connection to land, waters and community.  I extend that respect to the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people present today.  And, as requested, I will focus on specific matters relating to people with disability of culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds.

The Racial Discrimination Act of 1975, the RDA gives effects to obligations under the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination.  The legislation makes it unlawful to discriminate against a person because of race, colour, descent, national, ethnic origin or immigrant status.  A legal protection from racial discrimination extends across many areas of public life, including employment, education, getting or using services, renting or buying a house or unit and accessing public places.

The RDA also makes racial hatred unlawful.  Section 20 of the legislation establishing the statutory role of the Race Discrimination Commissioner and its functions within the Australian Human Rights Commission.  These functions include the promotion of and understanding and acceptance of and compliance with the RDA, as well as the development and conduct of research and educational programs for the purpose of combatting racial discrimination and prejudices that lead to racial discrimination and promoting understanding, tolerance and friendship among racial and ethnic groups.

In undertaking these functions, I work with governments   with governments, with business, community partners, education providers, the media and workplaces to help individuals and organisations understand their rights and meet their legal obligations and responsibilities.  My current strategic priorities include leading a national anti racism framework project and the "Racism.  It Stops With Me" national public awareness education campaign.

The racism is a significant social, economic and national security threat to Australia and to our community as a whole.  The Human Rights Commission called for a national anti racism framework in March 2021 in response to heightened racism in Australia and across the globe in recent years, including racism among and arising within the context of the COVID 19 pandemic.  A Concept Paper proposed guiding principles, outcomes and strategies to start a national conversation about division and scope of a framework.

A national anti racism framework is intended to be a collective project steered by a human rights based approach.  The guiding principles for a human rights based approach are participation, accountability, non discrimination and equality, empowerment and legality.  A framework will be long term, central reference point to guide actions on anti racism across four sectors and aims to develop to national discussions about anti racism and anti racist strategies, a coordinated shared vision to tackle racism, promote racial equality, ensure access to rights and foster a cohesive sense of belonging for all Australians.

From March 2021 to April 2022 the Human Rights Commission undertook initial scoping consultations with peak and community organisations, experts, service providers, human rights agencies and all levels of government to guide the vision and scope of a framework.  From October 2021 to February 2022, the Human Rights Commission received submissions on a framework from individuals, organisations, peak bodies, experts and researchers.  And across the consultations and submissions, several things were consistently identified as key priorities including First Nations, sovereignty and truth telling, definitions of racism and anti racism, intersectionality.  The importance of prevalence, severity and impact data. Education and awareness raising.  Cultural safety in workplaces and service provision.  Enhanced access to rights and awareness raising around legislative protections and complaints mechanisms. Independent oversight mechanisms.  Media standards and regulation.  Community engagement and accountability, including via valuation and measured indicator.  The Human Rights Commission will release the scoping findings in late 2022.

In keeping with human rights based approach, the Human Rights Commission intends the next stages or the next stage of developing a framework to become one that is community centric through nation wide consultations ensuring anti racism efforts reflect community priorities and draw on communities' strengths, knowledge and expertise.

Since 2012, the Racism It Stops With Me campaign has helped people and organisations learn about the nature and impact of racism, providing tools to stand against it and to act for positive change.  In early 2021, the Human Rights Commission initiated a fresh   a refresh of a campaign to provide supporters with the tools to engage in current conversations and challenge racism in their workplaces, communities and schools.

This involved designing and developing a new public awareness campaign and accompanying educational resources, website, workplace cultural diversity tool.  Launched in July 2022, the new iteration of the campaign urges Australians to reflect on racism and act against it.  It aims to support Australians, particularly those without lived experience of racism, to understand how racism shapes society and the need to act for action to address that.

The new website provides resources to support education about   and against racism.  Featuring in depth information about racism and a range of settings referenced in the advertising campaign, including institutional and systemic racism.  The workplace cultural diversity tool is a free, confidential self assessment tool for organisations seeking to strengthen their structural approach to diversity and anti racism in the workplace.

Community and stakeholder views were an important part of the refresh and consultation strategy implemented by the Commission.  Two expert advisory groups advised on the development of the public awareness campaign and the workplace cultural diversity tool, made up of experienced academics, practitioners and advocates from a range of industries and cultural backgrounds, each with expertise in anti racism and a promotion of cultural diversity and inclusion.  Across the framework project and a campaign refreshed, a common theme was how there is a lack of broad public awareness of how experiences of living with disability can intersect with and compound experiences of racism.

In consultations, the Human Rights Commission also heard about the need for stronger representation of people from culturally and linguistically diverse communities with disabilities in public anti racism campaigns.  Human Rights Commission heard from people with disability of culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds about the challenges they face in accessing and engaging with support services in Australia.  From the outset, inequalities compromised access to support services, operating at a structural level where interlocking historically entrenched systems of power work to limit access to and create culturally unsafe service delivery.

Intersectionality does not merely involve the confluence of race and disability, but also other social categories such as sexuality, religion, and migrant refugee and asylum seekers backgrounds.  These categories when combined create novel challenges for inequitable access of support for disability.

Evidence already presented to this Royal Commission and outlined in its Issues Papers acknowledges and demonstrates this.  While migrants and refugees, for example, encounter a range of difficulties in accessing support services such as inadequate culturally specific communication, resulting in a lack of awareness of available government support, economic difficulties and a lack of safe transport options, these take on new forms when encountered by culturally and linguistically diverse people with disability.

In the context of the pandemic where many services pivoted to online delivery, these barriers are amplified, dovetailing with a lack of digital equipment, internet, and tech literacy.  Inclusion in support services requires an intersectional approach, even when people with disability of culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds can access support services, a lack of intersectional understanding pervades service delivery.

During the framework consultations, those from migrant refugee and faith based communities described to the Commission how the disability sector is very European and how they experience dissonance and discrimination because of a lack of cultural safety in service delivery.  Ensuring cultural safety, respect and inclusion for culturally and linguistically diverse people with disability is paramount.  Cultural, safe service provision recognises how practitioners' cultural, professional and institutional positionality informs interactions and service provision.

When service providers are culturally safe they create environments that are accessible, respond to needs of communities and draw on their strengths.  Developing culturally safe service requires support for community controlled service provision, community empowerment and trauma informed and healing approaches the service delivery and anti racist competencies to underpin a service delivery.

A culturally safe approach also requires accountability.  Sustaining culturally safe services is an ongoing process built upon continuous reflection in meaningful relationships.  It must always be aimed at the empowerment, healing and self determination of communities, responding meaningfully to the experiences and priorities of those from migrant, refugee and faith based communities requires an intersectional approach.  Foregrounding intersectional experiences of race and racism as they manifest interpersonally, institutionally and systemically is a guiding theme from my work on a national anti racism framework and the campaign.

In its initial report about framework   about the framework that we are initiating, the Human Rights Commission will emphasise intersectionality as a guiding principle of an effective and anti racism approach to policy making.  Consultations and submissions reflected an array of intersectional experiences across personal, social, cultural, economic and political contexts.

The principle of intersectionality will guide the progress of the project.  As a framework promotes a national coordinated vision of anti racism, an intersectional approach will seek to address how racism presents itself in individual and context specific ways.  Taking an intersectional approach will be crucial to progressing anti racism in the areas of cultural safety and improve legal protections against racism.  In a similar way, intersectionality was identified as key to public   raising public awareness in the Racism Stops with Me campaign, which sought to represent and articulate intersectionality and experiences of intersectional   of nature for negatively racialised people.

For this reason the campaign prioritised ambassadors and talents with diverse experiences of racism and discrimination, including ambassadors with disability from culturally and linguistically diverse communities.  These ambassadors spoke to their experience of multiple forms of discrimination and the strength drawn from their communities to overcome structural barriers.

The campaign acknowledges that active anti racism will work   will look to and cooperate differently in different circumstances, providing tools and different resources that can be adapted to individuals and organisations in their own lives and contexts.  An understanding of intersectionality supported a campaign to shift from a focus on interpersonal racism to institutional and systemic racism, where entrenched patterns and structures of power overlap and interlock to perpetuate intersectional harms.

And those who participated in the framework project identified the inadequacy of legal remedies to meaningfully address discrimination and barriers to accessing the legal protections to the Human Rights Commission.  A need for timely and meaningful remedies was highlighted and lack of adequate redress through current legal mechanisms for the issue of systemic racism was raised.

Project participants shared that most people who encounter racism do not report it and highlighted barriers to accessing existing legal protections.  The key barriers to reporting racism can be broadly categorised into external and internal barriers.  External barriers include fear of consequences of reporting, such as retaliation by the offender or exacerbating an already vulnerable situation or relationship.  Lack of trust in official agencies such as possible discrimination by the police or likelihood of having their cases dismissed or ignored and accessibility issues.

External barriers are interlinked with internal barriers which include internalising negative experiences of reporting of racist incidents into hopelessness, or normalising of hate and lack of awareness to one's rights and reporting avenues.  The importance of increasing the safety and accessibility of reporting mechanisms was stressed in consultations.  Third party community initiatives were highlighted as examples of safe accessible and independent platforms where individuals and communities feel comfortable sharing and documenting experiences even where a resolution was not possible.

Participants emphasised a need for any reporting mechanisms to be anonymous and independent from any institutions so individuals are offered protection from potential retaliation.  Beyond reporting mechanisms, communities raised further solutions to address reporting barriers, particularly the lack of awareness of rights in those who make and respond to incident reports. They include creating awareness of campaigns against relevant rights and reporting avenues, providing response teams of training about specific communities' needs, improving operational responses to reports of discrimination and hate, conducting genuine community engagement, centring community input and participation, and ensuring the mechanism is community led, culturally safe and trauma informed.

Across the framework project the commission, the Human Rights Commission, heard about the need for effective legal protections and complaint handling mechanisms and systems that acknowledge intersectionality and address intersectional concerns embedded within the formal structures.

With respect to people with disability of culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds using Australian discrimination laws to make complaints and seek remedies from the Human Rights Commissions, the Free and Equal:  An Australian conversation on human rights reform agenda led by the Chair of the Human Rights Commission, Emeritus Professor Croucher, as an effective means to provide valuable guidance or protection of people from disability.

The Free and Equal project has found a that current discrimination laws are outmoded, do not provide effective remediation for discrimination, are inaccessible and need significant reform to support 21st century Australia's needs.  It proposed four reform areas:  Building a preventative culture, modernising the regulatory framework, enhancing access to justice, and improving practical operational laws.

The reform agenda includes the principal that federal discrimination law should be intersectional.  This principle asserts protections for different attributes must be able to work together easily, recognising, for example, that having different tests for different attributes creates complexity and having to litigate discrimination in relation to each attribute separately is burdensome and less effective.

This complexity creates challenges for the community to understand their rights and responsibilities under discrimination laws.  Part 3 of the discrimination   Disability Discrimination Act permits a   permits public authorities, employers, educational institutions, and providers of goods, services, and facilities to develop action plans concerning ways in which they will act to achieve the objects of the legislation.

In its reform agenda, the Human Rights Commission notes that action plans should be a measure available across all discrimination laws as part of a suite of voluntary measures and a strategy in addressing issues of intersectionality where inequalities may raise issues across more than one of the Federal discrimination Acts.  When considering improving the practical operations of laws, the Human Rights Commission outlines reforms for managing intersectionality in law and practice and posits further reform options.

This work will be a touchstone in the human rights approach to reshaping human rights and their promotion and protection in Australia.  It will guide my work in particular on the framework, including as it relates to the making of complaint and available remedies.  Thank you very much for this opportunity.

MS EASTMAN:  Thank you very much, Commissioner.  Now, do you mind if I ask you a few questions arising from   


MS EASTMAN:    the very comprehensive overview of the work the Human Rights Commission is doing and your leadership.  One of the issues arising in this hearing has been the importance of culturally safe practices and whether such safe practices can operate as a safeguard against violence, abuse, neglect and exploitation.  In the work that the Commission has done and your work on the national anti racism framework, do you have a view about culturally safe practices operating as a safeguard against violence, abuse, neglect and exploitation?

COMMISSIONER TAN:  Well, we have a   thank you for that question.  We have a very creative view arising from particularly the latest consultations from the framework that culturally safe workplaces and culturally safe services are the essential building blocks for eradicating violence, abuse, neglect and exploitation of people with disability.  In the framework scoping project, the Commission has heard extensively from the communities that a culturally safe workplace provides the necessary groundwork for culturally safe service delivery.

And they described to us how racism affects the capacity of some to obtain work, for example, and how racial discrimination faced within the workplace impacts the employer's   sorry, the employee's career progression and retention, as well as their wellbeing.  And we have heard the highlighting that these experiences were exacerbated when racial discrimination intersected with other forms of discrimination, including in relation to disability as well as gender, age, visa status and discrimination based on English language proficiency and accent. 

So, cultural safety was identified by many project participants and from our own research and the work that we have done previously as a best practice approach to addressing race based barriers and harms experienced in relation to job seeking and especially within the workplace.

The Commission have also heard that cultural safety must be embedded at the institutional level as well.  That's including in terms of implementational and operational mechanisms procedures such as anti racist recruitment and hiring practices, the mentoring and retention practices, cultural accommodation that can support staff with lived experiences of racism, ongoing mandatory training that spans cultural awareness and competency and anti racism and foster racial literacy.

This is indeed needed right through from the institutions to the executive level.  Employees and workplace executives must be accountable and to be able to show leadership to the above requirements via professional development or KPIs, for example, and safe and transparent reporting mechanisms are needed for staff who experience racial discrimination within their workplace.  Enforcement mechanisms are also needed. 

So, cultural safety is for us a threshold issue that is a starting point and its principles can be applied to a broader application for the safety of staff in the workplace, including for people with disability and particularly with people from the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and from other negatively racialised community.

MS EASTMAN:  Okay.  One issue you touched on in your speech was about redress and remediation and remedies for people who may experience discrimination in an intersectional way.  And you've said that there are some limitations in the current Australian discrimination laws.  How do complainants currently seek redress if they have intersectional experiences of discrimination?

COMMISSIONER TAN:  The process and procedures that apply in the Australian Human Rights Commission is pretty well worn and tried.  Even though there are limitations to what currently applies.  Complainants would take the complaints to the Commission and they will be guided on where they can place those complaints, and if it's a matter which relates to a possible intersectionality of a number of complaints, then they will be dealt through the process of having these individual complaints channelled to the various operative acts, and, in my case, the Race Discrimination Act.

And this is where the complainants will have their remedies sought and addressed through each of the separate channels.  So first this becomes a very complex unwieldy and difficult and burdensome responsibility on a complainant to have to navigate to different legislations, to find a complaint mechanism that is responsive and capable of looking into their intersectional needs as a person who could be looking at dealing with complaint based on disability, race, and perhaps even gender.

MS EASTMAN:  The definition of race discrimination in the Racial Discrimination Act is different to the definitions of discrimination in the Disability Discrimination Act.  And I know the Chair in his former life has looked at that definition of race discrimination in the RDA in some detail.  Is the problem around how discrimination is dealt with in the legislation being different and having different protections for people?

COMMISSIONER TAN:  One of the key themes that's arisen from the consultations we have conducted on the framework or which the   one of the top six issues that have arisen was the need for a definition of racism, and I extend it to discrimination as well.  Even in the area of racism there is wide consensus that we don't always know what we mean on the level, particularly in a legislative approach about where protections can be provided to people and what levels.

And so this underscores what you have said about the differing definitions of discrimination and different Acts and portends for me exactly the kind of issues we are talking about, that people run through different tests to navigate the complaints mechanism to get the kind of remedy that they seek.  And it is part of that Free and Equal Project agenda that we are seeking to find ways to alleviate that issue. 

So, it is   it is an issue of concern to us that we are possibly looking more in depth with greater clarity about what we need to do to provide for protection and for better services delivery in terms of the legislative framework for people with multiple attributes of complaints.

MS EASTMAN:  My last question   and the Commissioners may have some comments or questions   is a theme we heard yesterday from one panel was the importance of leadership within community.  And I wanted to ask you about leadership in the context of intersectionality and what is the importance of having leaders and campaign ambassadors who have experience of discrimination in that intersectional way?

COMMISSIONER TAN:  One of the big issues that have actually arisen considerably in terms of tackling racism, whether in fact we are looking at the workplace, or in fact in schools or the community generally is about the need for authentic leadership. So, there is a mechanism that we use in the work that we do that you can't be what you can't see.  And that means in terms of an organisation or a community setting having the right sort of structures that embody a capacity for senior people, particularly organisations to be able to lead and advocate and to be able to entrench clear values and principles about the issues that we are confronting with, and particularly about discrimination. 

So   and we are taking that out further and that the work that we have done in particularly with the Racism It Stops With Me campaign to in fact import and utilised many from the communities who have different attributes of needs in the hope that this will, in fact, project to the community a very clear sense of empathy about issues that confront people in a very real and lived experience way. 

So, it is an issue that, for us, is terribly important to build design mechanisms and systems that provide for leaders, that are authentic in the work that they do in supporting and understanding the crucial issues about discrimination.  But more about having systems in place that will, in fact, reinforce accountability as well.

MS EASTMAN:  Thank you.  Thank you, Commissioner.  Our Royal Commissioners may have some questions.

CHAIR:  Thank you very much for your evidence. I will ask my colleagues whether they have any questions for you.  First, Commissioner McEwin.

COMMISSIONER McEWIN:  I don't have any questions, but I do want to thank you for your time today.

COMMISSIONER TAN:  Thank you very much.

CHAIR:  Commissioner Bennett?

COMMISSIONER TAN:  And, Mr Chair, if I could just, perhaps before I leave, just perhaps just to I suppose in a very neat way summarise   it's not a summation, but it is   it's a kind of take home message, if you were, I thought it will be important to re emphasise for all the things that we have said today.  Number one, there is a lack of broad public awareness of how experience of living with disability can intersect with and compound the experiences of racism.

Secondly, there's a need to focus on the importance of taking an intersectional approach to discrimination as a guiding principle in solutions to address abuse, violence, neglect and exploitation of peoples with disability.  And, thirdly   and this is not in my material but something I thought that was important that I share   that while discrimination of people with disability from the culturally and linguistically diverse community is real and remains a serious concern and challenge and that needs to be addressed, the better approach in ensuring that people with disability from the CaLD community are better cared for and protected is to approach the issue from the lens of providing and applying a more comprehensive, responsive and intersectional approach to disability care and protection. So, that's all I want to say.  Thank you.

CHAIR:  Thank you very much. I did have one question, if you don't mind.


CHAIR:  In paragraph 53 of your statement, you indicate that those who participated in the project identified the inadequacy of legal remedies to meaningfully address discrimination and barriers accessing legal protections to the Australian Human Rights Commission.  Did you have any particular proposals or suggestions that might address that deficiency?

COMMISSIONER TAN:  Yes, Chair.  Much of the work has been taken up in the leadership through the Free and Equal Project because they are looking at a big picture legislative framework protection issues.  From my end, coming through the racism spectrum, I'm keen to ensure that we, number one, provide for a protection that is capable of addressing lived experience to people in a very tangible and clear way.  But more so to provide inadequacy of remedies that currently there are obviously some limitations to our system.

It is, after all, a mediation consultation process, and people are, if they are unhappy or aren't able to obtain the remedies that they seek, are forced to go to the court systems, and most of the people we are talking about don't have the means or the capacity or the knowledge or the ability to do so. So, it's about access to the system and the responsiveness of the system to provide and cater for the specific needs of people with different and   needs and different background or wants.

Now, this is about cultural diversity.  I've spent the last 10 odd years and more in cultural diversity.  Diversity provides for a difference for which there will be a different set of needs and requirements, and the question is how adequate is our system in providing for that.

CHAIR:  Yes. Well, we have heard before and Commissioners are familiar with the consequences of the Brandy decision in the High Court which limits the powers of the Commission.  These are just the Constitutional facts of life, whether which no doubt and you and others have to live with.

COMMISSIONER TAN:  Yes. And the question is how do we keep enlarging those protections to our legal system.  And the question is how adequate.

CHAIR:  Yes.  Well, thank you very much for your statement today and for coming to the Royal Commission to give evidence.  We very much appreciate your assistance.  Thank you very much.


MS EASTMAN:  Thank you, Commissioners.

CHAIR:  Ms Eastman, what do we do now?

MS EASTMAN:  Well, I would, if it's convenient, just ask you to receive the Commissioner's statement into evidence.

CHAIR:  Yes.

MS EASTMAN:  And mark it Exhibit 29.03.

CHAIR:  Yes, that statement will be admitted into evidence and given the marking of Exhibit 29 03.


MS EASTMAN:  And then if we just have a very short adjournment. It's not morning tea yet but we need to reconstitute the hearing room for our next witness.

CHAIR:  Thank you very much.

MS EASTMAN:  So five or so minutes.  Thank you. 

CHAIR:  Yes.  Thank you again, Commissioner.  And we will have a short adjournment.

COMMISSIONER TAN:  Thank you for having me.




CHAIR:  Yes, Ms Eastman.

MS EASTMAN:  Thank you, Commissioners.  Our next witness will be identified by the name Mr Rahman.  Before I introduce him, we just need to take some appearances from his legal representative.

CHAIR:  Yes, by all means.

MR BHATTACHARYA:  Mr Bhattacharya, appearing for Mr Rahman.

CHAIR:  Thank you very much.  Mr Rahman, thank you very much for coming to the Royal Commission.  Thank you too for the statement that you have provided, which we have and which we have read.  So, we appreciate your assistance and being prepared to give evidence.  I will ask   

MS EASTMAN:  We have done the affirmations.

CHAIR:  Yes, no, I was going to say I will ask Ms Eastman now ask you some questions.

MS EASTMAN:  Thank you.



MS EASTMAN:  If I can explain those following Mr Rahman's evidence.  He has given his affirmation.  He's accompanied by an interpreter, who has also given his affirmation.  Commissioners, you have a written statement.  What we propose to do is I'm going to read parts of the statement. I will pause at the end of each paragraph, and then the interpreter will ensure that Mr Rahman knows what I have said.  He will let me know if there is anything that he wants to say in response to a particular paragraph, and there are a few issues that we will expand on as we go through. So, that's the   

CHAIR:  I take it the translation will be from English into Bengali and Bengali into English.

MS EASTMAN:  Yes.  Mr Rahman does speak some English and he will let us know if there are any concerns that he has as we go along. So, may I start?



"This statement is made by me accurately, sets out the evidence that I am prepared to give to Royal Commission into Violence, Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation of People with Disability.  This statement is true and correct to the best of my knowledge and belief."


MS EASTMAN:  Commissioners, I'm about to start the statement, and some of the matters that I will read out today people may find very distressing and confronting.  And so I give those following the broadcast a warning and, Commissioners, as you've said, there are the counselling numbers and the information available on the Royal Commission's website, if anyone requires assistance.

CHAIR:  Thank you.



"My background.  I am a refugee.  I am a 36 year old man.  I was born in Bangladesh and my first language is Bengali."

MR RAHMAN:  Yes.  Yes.


"I was born with a severe spinal condition, congenital short stature, severe kyphoscoliosis which is a chest deformity and restricts my lungs." 



"My physical health is very bad and includes hypertension and chronic back pain.  I find it very hard to sleep during the night and will often sleep during the day.  I am unable to stand for longer than about 20 minutes.  I also cannot sit for long periods and I need to alternate between standing up and sitting down.  I spend a lot of time lying down."

MR RAHMAN:  Yes, correct.


"I live with depression and anxiety.  My doctor told me that I probably have post traumatic stress disorder, and I have provided to the Royal Commission a letter from my doctor outlining my disability and physical and mental health conditions."



"I have no hope for the future.  I feel very stressed.  Sometime I wonder why did God give me this life?  I don't see any light.  I can only see darkness. I just want a life, nothing else."



"My experience in detention.  I came to Australia as an asylum seeker in 2013.  I was taken to Christmas Island detention centre by Australian Border Force.  I was in Christmas Island for about three months, after which I was transferred to the mainland Australia for medical treatment.  After receiving treatment on the mainland, I was handcuffed and returned to Christmas Island against my doctor's medical advice, where I stayed for about one year.  It was humiliating to be handcuffed and treated like a criminal."


MS EASTMAN:  Did you want to say something more about your experience of being handcuffed?

MR RAHMAN:  My feeling was like that   that I was humiliated by the authority, because my doctor recommended me that I was a disabled person, and as if I made a criminal activity as being a disabled person.  And that's why I was humiliated.  I felt like that at the time, that I could have died rather than being humiliated.


"After this I was transferred to Nauru where I stayed until 2019.  During this time, I was found to be a refugee.  I suffered terribly on Nauru, and I'm not the same person that I was.  As far as I'm concerned I feel that I experienced psychological torture on Nauru.  I lived in a plastic tent with 25 to 30 other people.  I had a small bed and no fan, despite the heat and humidity in Nauru.

I found it very hard to sleep, and there were very limited toilet and shower facilities.  It was hard to access clean drinking water, and often we were provided water that had not been properly purified.  I had to line up for food for hours.  Because of my disability I could not always stand in line and would often go without food.  Whilst on Nauru, I spent a lot of time in the medical centre."



"I made several complaints about my treatment while I was in Nauru.  I also went on hunger strikes and tried to kill myself.  I provided to the Royal Commission a copy of some of the complaint letters I wrote to the Australian Government about my treatment on Nauru.  I have kept some of the letters I received from the International Health and Medical Services, IHMS.  IHMS works with the Australian Government and related agencies to provide healthcare services to refugees and asylum seekers on Nauru while I was there, and I've provided copies of the letters and responses to the Royal Commission."

Now, is there something you wanted to say, something additional?


MS EASTMAN:  What would you like to say?

INTERPRETER:  He would just to add here something. 

MR RAHMAN: I wanted to lead a life, I wanted to live a life.  I wanted to save my life and that's why I came in Australia.  However, once I arrived to Australia the way I was treated was terrible.  It was a terrible experience for me.  I just would like to tell that it is unbearable or it was beyond imagination, the way I was treated once I was in Australia.


"I was transferred from Nauru to Australia in 2019 through the Medevac process which allows people in offshore detention to be transferred to Australia for urgent medical treatment or further assessment.  I was transferred to Australia for medical treatment after I was attacked by locals on Nauru and I sustained a broken leg.  I understand that I was on the last Medevac flight out of Nauru."



"Prior to being evacuated to Australia for medical treatment, I spent six months on Nauru unable to walk properly and using a walking stick.  I was offered medical treatment in Taiwan, but I had heard negative feedback from other refugees about the medical treatment they had received there so I didn't go.  In Nauru, I was only given Panadol and occasional massages."



"After I arrived in mainland Australia, I was initially sent to the Melbourne Immigration Transit Accommodation, MITA, which is a detention centre.  I stayed at MITA for approximately one month, after which I was transferred to a mental health hotel.  I was in the mental health hotel for about seven or eight months.  I was then transferred to the Park Hotel in Melbourne.  In total, I was in hotel detention for about 20 months."

MR RAHMAN:  Okay. Yes.


"While I was in hotel detention, I received Panadol.  There was a doctor and nurse there, and towards the end of my stay a physiotherapist would come about once a month, and that was the only disability support I received while I was in hotel detention."


MS EASTMAN:  Now I want to turn to the topic of housing and homelessness:

"I was released from hotel detention and into the community in early 2021.  I was provided with free accommodation for the first six months and during this time I was able to ..."


" this time, I applied for and was able to access Centrelink.  I received a payment of approximately $550 a fortnight."



"After around six months, I moved into a share house in south eastern Melbourne which is run by a community organisation that helps asylum seekers and refugees.  I only stayed here for approximately two weeks."



"Around this time, I experienced some medical problems, including high blood pressure and an abnormal heartbeat.  I was transferred by ambulance to hospital for treatment.  I was in hospital for about two days."



"Around this time, my Centrelink payments stopped.  When I was released from hospital, I had no money and I could not afford accommodation or food.  Although my visa gives me work rights, I can't work because of my disability." 



"I was homeless for approximately two months during the COVID 19 lockdowns in Melbourne.  Sometimes I would just lie down in the park or in the train to sleep.  I had no money for food, so I found food in bins.  Sometimes the police would question me and ask me to move on.  I tried to avoid the police."



"One day I was eating food out of a rubbish bin at a train station and there was an Indian cleaner who saw me and started talking to me because he felt sorry for me.  He then helped me find a house with some Indian and Pakistani people in far western Melbourne, and I've been living with them for about eight months." 


MS EASTMAN:  Did you want to add anything about these matters?

MR RAHMAN:  Well, I would like to tell you something here.  If I tell my story, it will take long, long, long months or years.  My   so many bitter experiences I had.  I would like to keep all these things short.  My experience is that the word humanity is absent in Australia.  I was better in the jungle in many other countries.  My only fault was that I was   I arrived in Australia by boat.  That was my   that's the only criminal activities I did, and what the experience I had because of that   that fault is such as that there is no word in   named humanity in Australia.

What I feel like in Australia is that when people look at me, being a disabled person, as if I'm an animal, they look at me in a   in a way like that.  And I curse my life because I was born as a disabled person.  My feeling is like that the detention centre was run in a way as if people are kept in a zoo, suppose people get enjoyment or entertainment seeing animals in the zoo, like me. We people are kept in the detention centre so that many other Australians, they get entertainment seeing our   our bad experience.  My feeling was like that.

MS EASTMAN:  Can I   can I continue?

MR RAHMAN:  Yes, can, please.


"I did not have any contact with the homelessness service or get free food from any organisation whilst I was homeless.  I did see a doctor and received a COVID 19 vaccination so that I could go into shopping centres and other public places.  And I also started seeing a mental health nurse around this time."



"My visa status.  I am currently on a bridging E visa, class WE, bridging E general subclass 050, which gives me work rights in Australia.  I am not allowed to study.  I have provided the Royal Commission with a letter from the Department of Home Affairs dated 11 July 2022, notifying me of the granting of my bridging visa.  I received some assistance from a lawyer when I applied for this visa."



"Some other people from Nauru have applied to be resettled in the United States and have had their applications accepted by the United States.  I have applied to the United States, but I think I have to provide them with more information.  I'm not sure about the status of my application to the United States, and I don't have any lawyer helping me with it.  I have no idea what will happen when my bridging visa expires in January 2023."



"Current supports and access to services.  I have no one here.  I have no family, no friends.  I feel very alone.  The people at Foundation House are providing me with support.  I also have a case manager from a service provider, but I'm not really sure how they are meant to be helping me.  I have to provide them with lots of information about my Centrelink payments, and I find this very stressful."



"I see a counsellor at Foundation House each week and talk to them about my problems.  I often feel suicidal.  I take anti depressant medication or Lexapro, as well as medicine to help me sleep."



"I've been told I should see a mental health specialist, but as far as I know, I haven't seen one.  I see a mental health nurse most weeks."



"I was seeing an occupational therapist, an OT, earlier this year, who trialled a shower chair for me.  The OT also taught me how to get in and out of bed and the best way to walk to relieve some of my back pain.  I was exited from the service in May 2022."



"I have been provided with access to Medicare so I can see doctors for free.  However, I have to pay for the medicine myself.  I also have to pay for massages, which help to relieve some of my back pain.  I have to renew my Medicare card every time my bridging visa expires, which is every three to six months."



"I get $550 from Centrelink each fortnight.  After I pay for food, rent, and massages for my back, I have nothing left.  My rent is around $600 a month, and I pay approximately $150 a month towards bills.  I share a room with three other people about an hour's drive from Melbourne centre."



“I have some contact with other people who were in Nauru through Facebook.  They are on the similar visa to me, which also allows them to work.  They are all working in the community doing factory or retail jobs.  They are living a relatively normal life, saving money, and some have even bought a car."



"Because of my disability, I am unable to work.  I can't do anything to improve my situation.  I find this very depressing.  I'm also required to have a review of my Centrelink payment every three months, which I find stressful and depressing.  It feels very suffocating."



"I do not sleep at night.  I usually sleep in the morning and wake up at about 2 pm.  After I wake up, I pray and have some food.  I usually go to the medical or any other appointments in the afternoon."



"I see a physiotherapist, a massage therapist and a mental health nurse once a week. I also have my appointment at Foundation House once a week for counselling.  And I go to the mosque to pray each Friday."



"I'm very worried about my future.  I hope that I can find a permanent place to live.  I just want to live a life without harassment and to be treated with respect and dignity."


MS EASTMAN:  Mr Rahman, thank you for sharing only a small part of your story with the Royal Commission.

MR RAHMAN:  Thank you everyone for listening my history.  You know, my history very big.  That's 10 years.  I have experienced this detention.  This is a very hard for me.  I can experience for you everybody.  This is no   this Australia detention, this is in the hanging.  This Australia detention centre not have humanity.  Humanity.  Australia have also and I intended everybody listening, news, the humanity country, humanity people, same like this   this mother and one sister like that, our family, like   that's   this government, 10 years, my life killing, is hanging. 

So, many times I requesting please    I am tired.  This is   I am no   other people, these, they're strong men.  I am on the disability, can please help for me.  Can I live in there, hanging in the detention centre for me.  Also I suicide most of the time.  I   this time, the security – security, migration, this is not listening anybody.  This is our voice in there    in the toilet, same language    that ask me.  Thus, I asking everybody, I need come out my life in the   keeping the future.

I didn't know in the future, dark.  I also applied to US.  I lived in the Australia, leave Australia not have humanity.  Killing in the life.  That's   I need to your helping, everybody, please can do that for me.  I pray everyone this is for me, that is life I need.  That's better.  Also my meeting, I can my mind come in and my breathing is stop.  I come in the detention centre.  In the community, I am feeling that I can   no community.  I am same   it's a detention centre.

But my breathing now   no can come out, or beaten   my breathing in there is stopped.  Sometimes I go in there Foundation House sometime I go doctor, never see in there, my breathing come off.  I need you guys   everybody that's help for me, I can need into my breathing is stopped.  Needs to come out, the feeling better life.  That is my request.  I request everybody.  I need these other government   government.  I need to see my history in the government, was my fault?  Why   I not criminal.  Why my 10 years, my life killing can feed back in my answer I need to Australia government.  Thank you, everybody.

MS EASTMAN:  Thank you, Mr Rahman.

CHAIR:  Thank you very much, Mr Rahman.  I will ask my colleagues if they have any questions for you.  Commissioner McEwin?

COMMISSIONER McEWIN:  I don't have any questions.

CHAIR:  Thank you.

CHAIR:  But I do want to say a tremendous thank you for your bravery to come and share your stories with us and your experiences.  Thank you very much.

MR RAHMAN:  Thank you.  Okay.  Thank you.

CHAIR:  Commissioner Bennett?

COMMISSIONER BENNETT:  No, but I also share Commissioner McEwin's words.

CHAIR:  Yes.  Thank you very much, Mr Rahman.  I too thank you for sharing your experiences with us in your written statement and in your evidence today.  We are very grateful to you for being prepared to tell us of your experiences. So, thank you very much.

MR RAHMAN:  Thank you very much to all for hearing my stories.  I would like to tell you guys, as you have heard about my journey, my story, if possible, you just let the government know about my experiences.  And I believe that the previous government and present government will make the deferrals actually, making a secure place for me so that I can lead a   a decent normal human life in Australia in future.

CHAIR:  Yes.

MR RAHMAN:  I seek your advices and supporting that, please.

CHAIR:  Thank you.  I think we understand your position, Mr Rahman, and we thank you again for the evidence you have given.  Thank you.


MS EASTMAN:  Commissioners, can we take a morning tea adjournment for 15 to 20 minutes?  Thank you.

CHAIR:  Yes, thank you.



CHAIR:  Yes, Ms Eastman.

MS EASTMAN:  Thank you, Commissioners.  Our next witness is Kylie Scoullar from Foundation House, and you will see she's here in the hearing room with us.

CHAIR:  I hope you're not too cold.  It's freezing in here.

MS EASTMAN:  Let us know.

MS SCOULLAR:  It's fine, thank you.

CHAIR:  Thank you very much for coming to the Commission.  Thank you for the statement which we also have.  We also have the documents prepared by the foundation, and those of us who have not read them yet will read them.  Some have. So, thank you for assisting us, and I shall now ask you, please, to take the oath, and if you would be good enough to follow the instructions of my associate, who is located in the corner over there, she will give you the instructions.

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?



CHAIR:  Thank you very much.  I will now ask Ms Eastman to ask you some questions.


MS EASTMAN:  Just to confirm, you are Kylie Scoullar?


MS EASTMAN:  And you are the General Manager, Direct Services at the Victorian Foundation for Survivors of Torture, known as Foundation House?

MS SCOULLAR:  Correct.

MS EASTMAN:  You have prepared a statement for the Royal Commission dated 24 October 2022.


MS EASTMAN:  And we have got one typographical error to address.  Commissioners, will you find this at paragraph 68 on page 19. The last line of that paragraph, in the   last line of that paragraph, the word "by" should be "my". 

CHAIR:  Thank you very much for that important correction.

MS EASTMAN:  With that amendment, is the statement true and correct?


MS EASTMAN:  And thank you very much for providing the statement.  What I thought we might do is start by just asking a little bit about yourself, and then I want to ask you about Foundation House.  And then from there, I am keen to ask you about how Foundation House approaches trauma focused and trauma informed practices, and then we will turn to some of the specific issues and examples that have you provided in your statement. So, you have also, I think, provided to us a copy of your CV, and your qualifications tell us that you are a qualified psychologist, and your background indicates that your particular area of expertise has been in relation to children and adolescents.  Is that right?

MS SCOULLAR:  Yes, that's correct 

MS EASTMAN:  And in terms of your current role as the General Manager of Direct Services, you have set that out at paragraph 4 and also 14 and 15 of your statement.  But what you can tell us about your role at Foundation House?

MS SCOULLAR:  Sure. So my role is   as General Manager, Direct Services is to really oversee the delivery of quality services across the client services stream of Foundation House which includes the metropolitan areas.

MS EASTMAN:  I will have to ask you to slow down.

MS SCOULLAR:  Of course.

MS EASTMAN:  And maybe I will just check that the volume is fine with the team in the room, that everybody can hear you.  Okay.  Yes. Thank you.

MS SCOULLAR:  All good? So that includes quality service delivery across the metropolitan areas and also in partnership with some services across rural and regional Victoria as well 

MS EASTMAN:  Now, Foundation House, it's a not for profit organisation?


MS EASTMAN:  It's based in Melbourne and it was founded in 1987?

MS SCOULLAR:  That's correct.

MS EASTMAN:  And its vision is a world without torture, where communities respect, embrace and empower people from refugee backgrounds to thrive. So, Foundation House, though, operates across Victoria.  Is that right?

MS SCOULLAR:  Yes, that's correct.  Foundation House operates predominantly across metropolitan Melbourne, but we are responsible for clients across Victoria in partnerships   in partnership with organisations across rural and regional Victoria. So, we subcontract those services to them, but we provide them with professional development, supervision and training and so on.

MS EASTMAN:  So you have about 200 staff; is that right?

MS SCOULLAR:  Yes, over 200 staff.

MS EASTMAN:  And I just want to ask you about the five locations where you predominantly work:  Brunswick, Dallas, Dandenong, Ringwood and Sunshine.

MS SCOULLAR:  Correct.

MS EASTMAN:  For some of us, particularly those in Victoria, they will know those areas but others may not.  Is there any particular about those locations and why Foundation House operates in these particular areas?

MS SCOULLAR:  Yes. So we have   those are our regional offices, and they are located really in those areas because they are closest to the   communities that we support.  So those areas have high refugee settlement or at least as close as we can practically get to communities of high refugee settlement, which is why we are located in those areas.

MS EASTMAN:  And there are approximately 4000 refugees who have settled in   who settle in Victoria each year through the humanitarian program.


MS EASTMAN:  Again, for people who may not be familiar with the pathways to be recognised as a refugee and settling in Australia, when you are talking about the humanitarian program, what are you speaking to there?

MS SCOULLAR:  So the humanitarian program primarily refers to people who are granted refugee visas offshore with a humanitarian program.  So they are identified offshore and they are brought into Australia as part of what's called the humanitarian intake of refugees. 

MS EASTMAN:  And the humanitarian program is a program fixed by government that might identify a particular number for intake on the humanitarian program on an annual basis?

MS SCOULLAR:  Correct.

MS BENNETT:  I don't want to oversimplify that, but is that a fair description?

MS SCOULLAR:  Yes, there's a cap on those places, and that's how many people, you know, the government kind of allows into the country on that basis.

MS EASTMAN:  And in terms of the 4000 refugees who settle in Victoria each year, is there any particular characteristics in terms of a cohort, coming from a particular part of the world or from particular conflict zones?  Is there anything about the nature of the 4000 refugees who settle in Victoria under that program?

MS SCOULLAR:  Look, that really   that really varies over time. So, over the years, that really varies according to what's happening in the world.  It really varies according to global conflicts and issues that are arising.  And so over the decades, that has changed markedly.  That's all outlined in our annual report.  We keep track of the communities we serve.  You know, at present there's a high number, for example, from Afghanistan.  We're seeing new arrivals from Ukraine.  We often have high numbers from Iraq, from Syria, from Afghanistan, from Burma, Myanmar   there's a number of places.  And it's very diverse.  We see   we see clients from well over 40   40 nations across the world.

MS EASTMAN:  In addition to the refugees who come through the humanitarian program, there are also about 10,000 asylum seekers who are living in Victoria as they await a decision on their protection visa applications. So, in terms of that cohort of 10,000, what can you tell us about the nature of the asylum seekers?  And when you are talking about their protection visas, what are the circumstances for that group?

MS SCOULLAR:  So the circumstances of that group was really touchingly and compellingly highlighted by Mr Rahman, who spoke earlier. So, many of them arrived, you know, 2012, 2013, or prior to that time, and many have been in limbo ever since in terms of their status. So, often they arrived by boat in very traumatic circumstances.  They have often spent years in detention centres, and it has taken a very, very long time for their refugee status to be determined.  And even when it has been determined, that Australia does, you know, has got responsibilities towards them in terms of their refugee status, and that's been determined, there is significant difficulties with them   them being resettled, and Mr Rahman really, you know, touched on that.

MS EASTMAN:  And I think   

MS SCOULLAR:  So there's a high degree of uncertainty in terms of their lives and rebuilding those lives and also high degree of complexity in terms of the rights that they have and that they don't have. That's really not understood by most of the community.

MS EASTMAN:  So against that background of the refugees and asylum seekers who Foundation House works with and supports, there are sort of three areas in terms of Foundation House's work.  Is that right?

MS SCOULLAR:  Yes, that's correct 

MS EASTMAN:  Client services, community capacity building, and practice and sector development.  Can I ask you just to briefly outline with respect to each of those areas what Foundation House does?  So, could we start with client surfaces?

MS SCOULLAR:  Yes. Sure. So, client services include counselling at the individual, group and family levels; client advocacy and community based psycho education; as well as group therapeutic interventions; and we also host a bulk billing mental health clinic on our premises with bulk billing psychiatry, predominantly.  Community capacity building is really around working with communities at a grassroots level to build their capacity to identify and respond to the needs of vulnerable persons in their community and support their recovery, and also to work with services to try and understand the barriers that people experience as well.

And then practice and sector development, we are committed to supporting the health, education, employment and community sectors to understand the impacts of trauma and provide responsive services to the needs of people whom we serve.  And so to that end, we provide organisational consultancy, we provide training, we provide professional development and supervision to really try to build the capacity of the service system to respond in ways that are more effective.

MS EASTMAN:  And how is Foundation House funded to deliver these services and undertake all of this work?

MS SCOULLAR:  So we are funded from both Commonwealth and State Government, with a small amount of philanthropic funding as well.  And some private donations.

MS EASTMAN:  And just tell us a little bit about the profile of people who work at Foundation House.  Do you have a mixture of clinicians, social workers?

MS SCOULLAR:  Yes, so in terms of the client services, our model is we have a counsellor advocate model. So, they might be people of many different backgrounds   social work, psychology, counselling, those kind of backgrounds   who are trained and skilled in therapeutic interventions, and we call it a counsellor advocate role because what's also required is that advocacy work across the sector to enable those barriers to access to all sorts of services to help with those things.

And also because we recognise that providing just   we can have a highly skilled therapeutic intervention that's highly evidence based, and if someone is living in their car or with absolute uncertainty in their lives, that's going to be completely ineffective.  That we need to assist with those elements as well, otherwise the service is basically useless.

MS EASTMAN:  Just   and I do want to get to the trauma issues, but just on this issue of advocacy, over the last few days, the Royal Commission has heard about the importance of advocacy, both in terms of self advocacy and community advocacy, and then the more systemic advocacy in terms of perhaps lobbying for change.  In terms of self advocacy for the cohort of refugees and asylum seekers, do you have any observations about how self advocacy can be supported in the model that Foundation House uses with the clients?

MS SCOULLAR:  Yes. So, there are a number of, I guess, assumptions made when we think about self advocacy, that people are able to self advocate, and it is certainly an excellent ideal.  But in practice it's often not feasible for people from refugee backgrounds when there's overlays of being culturally and linguistically diverse, plus trauma, plus dislocation, plus language and cultural briefs.  And so often it is, which is fantastic, but systemically, it often is not.

And so one thing that we do is work with communities, so we have a whole system of community advisory groups that we use and a really well developed system for recruiting people to those groups and seeking their advice and input, providing training and support. So, that's very genuinely input from community, and there's documents that we have provided that highlight some of that approach and some of the information that's able to be, you know, garnered through that approach.

MS EASTMAN:  I want to turn to the issue of trauma.  And it's not uncommon these days to hear people talk about a trauma informed approach.  There is also a trauma focused approach.  It's right, isn't it, that these approaches to understanding trauma very much arose by looking at the experience of people who have been survivors of conflict, survivors of torture and survivors of very extreme violence.  And services like Foundation House and other services supporting refugees were developing trauma focused practice 30 years ago.  Is that a fair assumption?

MS SCOULLAR:  Correct. Yes.

MS EASTMAN:  And for a long time, the discussion around trauma informed approaches was very much focused on supporting people who were victims of torture or very significant human rights abuses.


MS EASTMAN:  In more contemporary times, we are using trauma informed approaches to describe a much larger cohort of people who may have experienced violence, abuse, neglect or exploitation.  Is that right?


MS EASTMAN:  So let's go back to the sort of foundations of a trauma informed approach and trauma practice.  I think the starting point is to understand that trauma is not just an isolated single critical incident. That can be an incident of trauma.  But the trauma we are focusing on is much more complex forms of trauma.  Is that right?

MS SCOULLAR:  Yes. So   so in terms of the way that we understand the traumatic events that we would refer to at Foundation House, they are really events that pose a serious and major threat to a person's life or self.  They include exposure to actual threatened death, serious injury, losses in violent circumstances, or witnessing such events. So   so in terms of our client cohort and the community to have this background, the pre arrival experiences really are characterised by exposure to   to very severe violence and loss.  Perpetration of human rights violations, forced displacement, and also usually extreme hardship over many years that is cumulative.

And what we   what we   and the impacts of those are enormous and I can go into those in a minute, but there is emerging literature around that being complex trauma. So, there's single incident trauma, which is   all trauma is, of course, by its nature very significant.  And complex trauma is   is recognised as really being very profound in its impact.  Refugee related trauma is repeated, it's prolonged, it's severe, it's interpersonal in nature and usually many domains of functioning are affected. 

So, attachment issues, relationships, our sense of ability to modulate our emotions, our social skills, cognitive skills, identity formation.  And it is really recognised that that has enormous fragmenting impact on our lives without protective factors in play and without capacity for recovery.

MS EASTMAN:  Does some of this link in with diagnostic approach?  So if we look at the DSM IV, or DSM 5 now, and look diagnostic criteria for post traumatic stress disorder, some of the characteristics that would allow a diagnosis of PTSD reflect the matters that you have referred to?


MS EASTMAN:  So it's got   on one level, it can be seen as a psychiatric illness or condition, but you're looking at a response to trauma not through a clinical or psychiatric lens, but as the experience of the person coming to Australia.

MS SCOULLAR:  Yes.  I guess we can think of traumatic events   you know, and those are the events that occur.  And then we can think about how people respond to those things.  And then what the impact is of   of that response that happens.  And not always, but often that can lead to significant challenges, then, with mental health.  It may lead to diagnosis of PTSD, depression, pretty disabling anxiety and so on.  But there are   there are huge opportunities for recovery with the right supports and things in place.

MS EASTMAN:  And for children and young people who may experience trauma themselves, but also be quite young when their parents have been in circumstances of experience of trauma, what is the impact on children and young people in the course of their life?

MS SCOULLAR:  So, for children and young people, it's complex because there's   there's the impact on the family, there's the impact on their parents, which has a huge impact, then, on the parents trying to protect them.  That's if   there's usually family dislocation, there's usually family loss as well.  And so the impact for children is on their development, on their sense of identity.  And, of course, if they come to Australia, they need to learn the language.  And trauma manifests in all sorts of ways intergenerationally as well, as parents, families, communities do their best to protect one another and protect their children.

But the impact of those traumatic events is enormous, and issues like shame and guilt and feeling responsible really can get in the way of some of those protective factors that parents offer their children as well.

MS EASTMAN:  And do you see that sort of manifest in intergenerational trauma across families over a long period of time?

MS SCOULLAR:  It can, yes.

MS EASTMAN:  I want to ask you about trauma informed care and you have said in the statement that relates to the systems and services understanding the nature, severity, psycho social consequences generated by the trauma history of asylum seekers and refugees.  And part of this is using that knowledge to then in turn determine the best support for individuals, families and the community where the impact occurs.  Can you explain that in a little more detail for us, please?

MS SCOULLAR:  Sure.  Sure. So, the concept of an   and I have heard it in these hearings, today and yesterday, and across other places, and it was certainly a big feature of the Victorian Mental Health Royal Commission as well. This concept of trauma informed care.  Being trauma informed is very easy to put on paper.  It's just like two words with a dash.  And it's   it really makes an enormous difference if a service is generally trauma informed, and it actually take as a lot of work to do that. So, it needs to be much more than words on page.

The principles are around really trying to understand a person. So, not thinking what's wrong with you, but thinking what are the things that have happened in your life that are impacting you now.  It involves services really looking at increasing and enhancing the physical safety and the emotional and psychological safety which they offer people who are accessing those services.  Really focusing on increasing trust.  Without trust, you are going to get nowhere with any of the services, They are completely ineffective without that trust.  And traumatic   exposure to traumatic events acts to really destroy trust. So, trust is key.

Increasing choice and control. So, that impacts on all sorts of what people might think are little things that are really not little, like gender of interpreter.  Like having the appropriate interpreter that's preferred where someone feels safe. So, enhancing choice, agency and control is critical.  Being collaborative with people is critical.  And enhancing dignity and respect. So, all of those principles are part of being genuinely trauma informed, and if you think about what's required in a service system, you need to put those into all the procedures and policies.  And it means that services need to make decisions with those things in mind. So, it's   it really takes an organisational wide very conscious approach to do that in practice, but it's absolutely possible.

MS EASTMAN:  In practice, does that mean that any person who may engage   and I know our focus is asylum seekers and refugees for present purposes   needs to understand not just saying "a trauma informed approach", but actually practising an approach?

MS SCOULLAR:  Yes, it's critical.

MS EASTMAN:  How do you do that?  So some people might be on the front counter or on the end of a phone, how do we   how do we actually develop those practices?

MS SCOULLAR:  Yes. So we do it by providing training to every single person in the organisation   not just frontline clinical, social work, counsellor advocate roles   around being trauma informed and around our trauma recovery framework and the impact. So, it's as   it's as simple and as complex, if you like, if someone comes into the Foundation House to main reception and they are incredibly distressed or agitated, the first response won't be a fear response or a controlling response, or an annoyed response. 

It will be a supportive response, assuming something is happening to this person.  This has come from somewhere. They might be being triggered.  They might be having a really distressing episode.  They might be having flashbacks right there and then.  And so the approach right then is one of listening, it's one of respect, it's one of treating that person with dignity and kind of making that assumption in the moment.  There is a reason for this person to behave the way that they are behaving.  And in all likelihood that is coming out of some kind of difficulty or some kind of trauma response.

And if services are set up like this and really prioritise this, it's not only the refugee and asylum seeker cohort that are going to benefit. There   I mean throughout Australian life, there will be people with disabilities who have experienced trauma and if we get this right, we can get it right for refugees and asylum seekers, but we can also massively improve it for everyone else who's experienced really difficult traumatic events in their life. So, by doing this, it's not   it's not this one little cohort, I guess, that we will be assisting, but it will be all people with disability.

MS EASTMAN:  You mentioned the framework and you referred in the statement   and I think the Commissioners have a copy of the integrated trauma recovery service model or the framework.  There's four recovery goals in that.  Can I ask you to explain briefly to the Commissioner how that   how   Commissioners how that model works and what the four recovery goals mean and how   and I will stop there.  Then we might talk about some examples of it applying in practice.

MS SCOULLAR:  Sure.  And I'm happy   I realise that the actual framework that we use is certainly embedded in that   in that document, but I'm happy to provide as a separate one, because it makes it a bit simpler as well. So, our four recovery goals come out of really understanding the work and the experience that clients and communities have told us over the   over the last 30 years or so.  And so, for example, if someone has experienced, you know, killings, serious injury, threats to self and other, forced disappearances, that may well lead to chronic fear, to helplessness, to loss of agency and control.  To anxiety, to avoidance, to hypersensitivity to threat and injustice.  And that's where one of our key recovery goals around restoring safety and enhancing agency and control comes from.

You know, another common thing that can happen in terms of the experiences of our clients and communities in terms of per cent accuse and human rights violations are death or separation from loved ones, imposed isolation, forced displacement, and so that creates bond and attachments within families and communities.  And so that's where our second recovery goal around restoring secure attachments, connections to other people and sense of belonging, that's why it's rooted there. 

You know, thirdly, people have often experienced human rights violations on a mass, mass scale.  And it really can destroy one's core beliefs about just human nature and what the world should be like and what the universe offers. And it really brings a loss of trust and a questioning of meaning and identity and that's where our third recovery goal comes from.  Which is around restoring trust, meaning, purpose to life, identity, and justice. So, our services are not   are not just, like, focused on, you know, the therapeutic kind of thing in the moment, it's a much   it's much bigger than that.

Fourthly, what is really common in situations that our clients have come from in terms of refugee related trauma is transgression of sacrosanct boundaries.  Impossible choices.  You know, rape as a weapon of war, for example.  And so the guilt and the shame and the blame that comes from that, they are really very extreme, and that's where our fourth recovery goal, which is around the restoring dignity and value, reducing excessive shame and guilt comes from.

MS EASTMAN:  And in term of that framework, would it be fair to say that that's not a framework that we commonly see in government agencies or in service providers?  And does that result in a lack of understanding, perhaps, in those systems about the long term impact of trauma and how it manifests in people's lives if left unacknowledged or untreated?

MS SCOULLAR:  Yes, I think it can be massively understated.  And people, I guess, assume that a traumatic event happens, someone experiences trauma and then there's a reaction straightaway.  And this can   this can stay under the surface for years and years and years.  It might be that they need acute services right now, it might be that this bubbles up in a decade or in   you know, two decades or even three decades.  Once they are out of survival mode.

MS EASTMAN:  Trauma survivors are very susceptible to how they may be treated and how another person or a government agency reacts or responds to them.  Is that right?

MS SCOULLAR:  Yes, that's true. 

MS EASTMAN:  What is important for trauma survivors in terms of how they are treated?

MS SCOULLAR:  So it's incredibly important for trauma survivors that they are treated with respect and with dignity.  And that there's an understanding of what may have occurred in these scenarios.  We have some case studies there, if you would like me to go to those.

MS EASTMAN:  Yes, I will.  And you also, I think, mentioned the importance of being believed.


MS EASTMAN:  And that sense for a trauma survivor, if they engage with a service provider, a government and they have a sense that they are not being believed, that goes to the trust issue, doesn't it? 

MS SCOULLAR:  It goes   yes, it really goes to trust issue and also they are not going to disclose if they are not going to be believed.  And I listened to some of the testimony from yesterday, for example, where I think someone was saying that a kind of a standard psychology or counselling kind of approach was not useful, and I'm not surprised, because many people would not even have in their minds the kinds of trauma that might have been experienced.

And the person on the other side of the seat might   they can't disclose all of that.  They don't think the person who is listening to them can handle it.  That they are not going to handle the kind of extreme thing   nature of things that have happened to them.  And so trust needs to be built, and also that sense of emotional safety, like, someone really gets to understand whether the person who is supposedly listening to them and assisting them can really handle what they have to say or not.

MS EASTMAN:  Now, there are some examples, and I will just give everybody listening a warning that some people may find some of these examples confronting.  But we did ask Foundation House to share some examples so that we have a better understanding about the impact of trauma for people from CaLD backgrounds, particularly refugees and asylum seekers, in accessing what we might call the mainstream service systems. So, do you   I think I'm   Commissioners, we're up to paragraph 30, if that helps to follow along.


MS EASTMAN:  Over to you.

MS SCOULLAR:  So we can give an example of a trauma survivor who was admitted to a public mental health facility and treated for an eating disorder.  She refused to eat to the level that she was close to dying.  And it became evident through our work she didn't have a eating disorder; she was a torture survivor who had been forced to eat truly horrific things as part of her torture in her country of origin.

And so without that understanding, the impact of the mental health treatment was actually making   I would say, would be making things worse not better because that wasn't understood.  People may or may not know that the classic evidence based treatment for eating disorders, for example, is that one must make the person eat.  Now, if we think about a trauma survivor who been forced to eat impossible things, that's going to be the opposite of what's needed. So, without that understanding and that gentle, sensitive inquiry, the treatment can be completely ineffective and counter productive and do harm. 

Another example was a student who was referred to mental health services by a school because he was showing depressive symptoms.  The history wasn't initially taken, and he was treated for depression.  And it was later discovered that he had lost both parents and witnessed his mother   when I say lost, they died   and witnessed his mother killed by a bomb.  And as a result, he developed post traumatic stress disorder among other problems.  Now, without really diligent work to identify that history and assess it using that trauma informed lens, those issues would have been   would have been missed, and there was no way this young   this young adolescent boy could recover from his depression without acknowledgment that his parents had died, and he had witnessed that.

So, a third example will be someone who presented with severe postnatal depression and was being treated in the mental health system but without significant progress. And when she became a client of Foundation House, it was learned that the woman experienced her baby dying in her arms during a bomb blast.  And because of our involvement and, again, the trauma focused treatment and trauma informed lens she was then well supported through her next pregnancy and birth, and there was a focus on the attachment and the connection with her children as well as her own trauma.

And so that attention not only helped her recover from that trauma, but also helped her attachment and her connection with her young children, potentially, you know, you know, decreasing the risk of them also then having mental health issues and development and attachment issues later in their lives. 

MS EASTMAN:  So Foundation House has undertaken a study in relation to young people from refugee backgrounds using mental health services.  And a number of issues, I think, have arisen in the course of that study to highlight those issues around the impact of trauma on young people.  Do you want to speak to that?

MS SCOULLAR:  Yes. So, some of the things that those young people identified was that, for example, they found it difficult to implement advice, sometimes, by practitioners   good, evidence based advice such as relaxation if they are worried about the safety of their family members overseas who couldn't eat and were in hiding.  That unless the practitioners were aware of what was happening in their issues   in their countries of origin and inquired about that, that their advice and their treatment was not effective. 

Yes, and we would also say that services need to be really respectful and understandings of the cultural responsiveness required and the cultural safety, and that's been spoken to really well so far already in these hearings.  And being really conscious of the explanatory models that we use and that we are open to and that really any of those encounters can be cross cultural and that we need to bring kind of cultural humility to those. 

MS EASTMAN:  I think we asked you, based on the clients who you have supported and the research that Foundation House has undertaken, to assist the Royal Commission in understanding the barriers to accessing and seeking treatment for mental health issues.  Because it might be suggested that trauma recovery requires support, and a person has to be prepared to access the support.


MS BENNETT:  So, it may be this sense of, well, a support's here.  You can approach these services and way we go, and we will be able to fix you.  But the barriers are quite significant, aren't they?

MS SCOULLAR:  Yes.  They are significant barriers.

MS EASTMAN:  The first barrier is stigma, isn't it?  So, what can you tell us about that?

MS SCOULLAR:  Yes. So stigma is a very significant barrier.  It's a barrier across the   across, you know, Australian community anyway, but it's certainly significantly more, I would say, in cultural and linguistically diverse communities, in particular from refugee backgrounds.  Our research and the community consultation showed us that people from refugee backgrounds were often reluctant to approach services if they use mental health in their title, or in the way that they described their work.

Similarly, families often didn't want children to use mental health services because of that sense of stigma, because of a sense of shame, because the parents assumed it must be their fault, what was happening for their children.  And, in fact, one of the studies showed that, based on parent surveys, that children with non English speaking background parents were less likely   the children were least likely to access mental health services, for instance. 

For humanitarian entrants arriving in Australia with permanent residency, they are often reluctant to disclose their mental health issues for fear that immigration authorities will use those against them.  And so that's a very significant barrier for them.  And, similarly, often asylum seekers are very unwilling and very hesitant to identify and disclose that because they are worried that it will put their visa status and applications at risk.

MS EASTMAN:  And some people have a great fear of health professionals because it may well have been that health professionals had been part of the reason why torture or persecution has occurred. How do we navigate that difficult situation?

MS SCOULLAR:  It's really hard.  Sometimes professionals including doctors, mental health professionals, others in government have been part of the torture and trauma experience.  And so significant time is needed to build up the trust, and at Foundation House we have made quite a significant effort in our   just in our environment. It's a very non clinical   it's a very non clinical space.

MS EASTMAN:  Can I ask you now about the barriers for refugees and asylum seekers accessing disability services?  So, for a refugee or asylum seeker who may be a person with lived experience of disability, they may have an intellectual disability, acquired brain injury, developmental disorder, or quite significant physical or mobility disability, what are the barriers for them to access disability services in Australia?

MS SCOULLAR:  Yes. So, in terms of accessing disability services, often   or the co occurring diagnosis and so on can be missed. So, even where   and this is where that intersectional lens that has been raised before in these hearings is really important. So, that even where a presentation might be recognised, for example, as coming out of trauma, that doesn't mean that trauma is the only thing going on here.  That doesn't mean there might not be other things also at play, and then they are often missed. So, we have an example there.  Shall I explain that?


MS SCOULLAR:  So you know, we have got an example that we can talk to, a mum   I will call her Maria   and her adult children arrived in Australia after living in a refugee camp for many years, and one of the children had experienced a traumatic sexual assault in the refugee camp.  And he presented with significant   I will call him John   significant mental health issues, including nightmares which made him fearful.  He would leave the house, wander in the neighbourhood, and he was angry and aggressive towards other family members, and everyone found it very stressful.

They weren't getting the adequate support for this, and this close family really was fragmenting.  He was assessed by various health services.  He was diagnosed with PTSD. He was prescribed medication.  Family moved to Melbourne, and his behaviour deteriorated even further.  He wasn't able to be left alone at this stage.  When they came to Foundation House, we   we inquired much more than other people had in terms of his development and his developmental history.

And so it became   it became clear from Maria's   from her history that, for example, he walked and he spoke much later than the other children in the family, and much later than was generally the case for the other kids in the families around him.  And so it seemed to us that there were other things at play as well. We referred him to a clinical psychologist who we knew, who we knew understood refugee trauma and then there was a diagnosis of intellectual disability and autism.

But that happened much, much later. So, there was four and a half years of settlement there where those opportunities for earlier support diagnosis were missed, you know, and that close   and the close family really fragmented under that   under the stress of that.  He was not understood in the school system. He was not provided with the supports that would have been if he had been appropriately kind of diagnosed at the start.

MS EASTMAN:  I want to ask you about some work done   and the Commissioners have got a copy of the "We need to raise our voices."  Advice from people of refugee backgrounds living with disability and their carers. So, the Commissioners have the report.  The report is the result of a particular form of community consultation and advice.  That was involving the Victorian Refugee Health Network.  What can you tell the Royal Commission about that process of engaging with newly arrived refugees from Iraq and Syria, and what were the findings of that work?

MS SCOULLAR:  Yes. So that work arose out of these recommendations from the Victorian Refugee Health Network, and it was a community advisory group between about May 2018 and March 2019, with newly arrived people from Iraq and Syria who were living with a disability or caring for a person with a disability.  And it really sought to understand and better understand and document the experiences of those people, to build the capacity of community advisors.

We've talked about leadership in these hearings as well and how important it is. So, to build up their capacity to speak and to understand the issues and to speak into that and also then to build the capacity of the health and settlement and disability services to understand their needs better.  In terms of   the other thing I would like to say is that we provided with you what we call the ITRSM, the Integrated Trauma Recovery Service Model. We also have a community capacity building framework which really outlines our approach to community capacity building and much more detail.

MS EASTMAN:  Can you provide that for us. Thank you.

MS SCOULLAR:  I'm happy to provide that as well. It didn't occur to us to provide that beforehand, but we can do that.  So in terms of the major issues that the community advisory group identified, it was lack of knowledge of available services, and the capacity to navigate the health settlement disability service system.  Experiences of trauma affected their ability to self advocate with service providers or to make complaints and provide feedback.  The experience of frustrations with inconsistent and contradictory information from some services was an issue.

Language barriers significantly impacted access to and understanding of services and systems, and I had hoped that in 2022, we wouldn't need to talk about just the basic right of being   having an interpreter.  But that is still an issue at a very basic level.  Prolonged wait times for processing of applications was really significant for them.  The NDIS system was confusing, it was unclear.  There was a perception of unfairness between different NDIS plans, and the model doesn't consider the additional needs of the whole family and also those people who are newly arrived and their absolute need to engage in settlement. 

So, in some places, it meant that they weren't able to access English classes because they needed to have caring responsibilities for their children which then, of course, is going to impact on the settlement and the success of that family over time.  The emotional and support needs of the carers were really unmet and not considered, which is really crucial as well.

MS EASTMAN:  Now, someone made a comment yesterday afternoon that once somebody arrives at the airport in Australia, that's the end of the support for them.  That's not quite right, is it?

MS SCOULLAR:  That's not quite right, no.

MS EASTMAN:  Right.  Can I ask you about the experiences with the NDIS.  Accepting that the NDIS is not a service for every person with disability, the NDIS was raised in that work with the community.  And one of the barriers for the NDIS was the reliance on self advocacy in a system, that that creates some difficulty for people from refugee backgrounds who have unique experiences of trauma and language barriers.  Can you tell us a little more about the nature the nature of that barrier?  And we might ask the NDIS about that   the NDIA about this tomorrow.

MS SCOULLAR:  Yes.  Look, it does create additional kind of unique distinct barriers, we would say. So, NDIS participants from refugee backgrounds can often feel confused or conflicted.  On the one hand, feeling really grateful to Australia for being offered safety, and fearing that they might be seen as ungrateful or as troublemakers if they complain or self advocate about the quality of services and supports.

Many clients and people have come from a situation where not even their basic needs are being met, and so they may not realise the inadequacy of the supports that they are receiving or that that support is maybe very different to a support that somebody else might be receiving who is more able to self advocate. They may feel uncomfortable asking for more.

The risks of violence, abuse, neglect and exploitation may be increased because people from refugee backgrounds are less likely to be aware of their right to safe and ethical supports, they are less likely to insist on those rights, and it also   they're also particularly vulnerable then and they may miss out on crucial supports all together.

We have also   we have also been told how sometimes when people have spoken up and self advocated and gotten over all of those barriers, that some have been met with a racist paternalistic or patronising response, along the lines of   and my apologies here; I just feel uncomfortable even saying out the words, but, you know, "We have saved you from your country, you know, what more do you want" that kind of approach. So, you can imagine if someone has taken the courage to actually self advocate and to ask for more, when they get met with paternalistic and racist responses it's really detrimental.

MS EASTMAN:  And Foundation House had been working with a teenage girl, and you have given her story here.  She had a diagnosis of a complex genetic disorder and intellectual disability.  What was that family's experience like with accessing the NDIS?

MS SCOULLAR:  Yes. So, what happened with that is that, yes, the family were recognised refugees with permanent residency, and she was accepted on to the NDIS.  But the NDIS   you know, what they have explained to us is that there was no interpreter present at that initial meeting.  The plan created after that meeting   not surprisingly, I would say   was   didn't then meet their needs.  It wasn't explained to the family.

The family were unaware that they were responsible to provide support documentation and additional information from specialists.  The family didn't know that they needed to and furthermore the NDIS did not do that themselves either.  And so, as a result, the plan only referred to one of the child's disabilities, and not the other disability.  And so it was   it was just manifestly insufficient to address the complex support needs that she had.

We provided   you know, we did that advocacy, that is part of the counsellor advocate role, and, you know, we will continue to do so, so that it's accurately reflected on her plan. And   but the other thing is that there is supposedly support coordination provided as part of that, but despite that, the family really do not understand the plan.  They do not understand the services, and we see little evidence of really appropriate services being involved.

MS EASTMAN:  I think we have touched on the situation of asylum seekers and that uncertainty as they await news about their visa and the visa applications.  Can I turn now to the advice that you have provided about removing barriers and supporting best practice models?  And I will just ask you to explain some of that   those elements, and then I will turn to the Commissioners and ask them if they have any questions.

MS SCOULLAR:  Yes. So, one of the most important things really is   is co designing with people from lived experience. So, with training and support, people drawn from refugee and CaLD communities can effectively bridge that gap between communities and the service providers.  They uniquely are kind of placed as members of their own community to increase the knowledge and understanding within that community of the services and supports, available and similarly to then build the capacity of the service system to provide that in a way that's actually accessible.

Foundation House is another example.  Provides, for example, psycho education groups or classes to people who are newly arrived in accessible locations, not just in a clinic based location, but in TAFEs, in education classes, in outreach kind of ways that really, in culturally appropriate ways, usually with some people from within their community, a community liaison worker or someone within their community explains the potential impacts of the traumatic events they may have experienced and strategies that may assist and helps people understand that that is often a shared experience, and so it decreases the stigma, and we hope makes it more likely that whether it's straightaway whether it's down the track if they need services, they are more able to access them. 

Shall I give   yes, there is some more examples here as well. So, the other thing that we do is we work closely with some mental health services, so, for example, we have close relationships with some of the child and adolescent mental health services in Victoria, and because of that close relationship, we are able to   we are able to discuss referral pathways and, for example, we might have   they might come to our offices to provide some of that mental health support, or we might accompany the client to their offices so that it's trusted and it's safe.

One of the other things that can be really useful is assisting clients to develop a document, so in the kind of disability or other service system, to develop a development which outlines the important information about their lives, about their needs, about their preferences, so a practical way to share information across the system and empowers the client, then, to be able to show that to people when they are first engaging.  And it gets around that feedback that we hear constantly, so often, about having to repeat your story, having to explain and re explain and re explain things.  And it's a very simple intervention that can make a big difference.

In relationship specifically to the NDIS, what we have observed is that, in terms of the NDIS specifically, that skilled and knowledgeable support coordination is really pretty essential as part of a plan for anyone from a refugee background.  And, of course, that   that relies on that support coordination being trauma informed and culturally responsive and not   not paternalistic.  Without that, really, people are going to struggle to navigate the NDIS system.

Most importantly   and we have heard about this in these hearings too   is the government needs to establish ways of ensuring that the voices of people most in need are included in the design, in the delivery, in the evaluation of disability services.  That was a key theme of the Victorian Mental Health Royal Commission, which called for mental health information and awareness campaigns, for example, and called for the mental health service system to be much more co designed with people from lived experience, and we would say the same for disability services.  And the lived experience needs to be diverse and it needs to have an intersectional lens.

MS EASTMAN:  Thank you. I will check if the Commissioners have got any questions.

CHAIR:  Yes.  Thank you very much. I will commence with Commissioner McEwin.

COMMISSIONER McEWIN:  Thank you very much for your evidence today.  Thank you for your evidence and thank you, Chair.  It's been a very informative session.  I do have one question.  Paragraph 36 of your statement, when you give the example of the family who didn't have access to the NDIS and four and a half years later they did get support and a diagnosis for their child, I'm wondering if   it might be too early to say, but how is that family going now?  I'm wondering if you could update us on their situation?

MS SCOULLAR:  Look, I'm not sure right at the moment how they are going.  But certainly, that, you know, having treatment and support that took into account the whole was really incredibly important.


COMMISSIONER BENNETT:  I have a few questions, actually.  Firstly, we have talked a bit about the NDIS.  Foundation House is an advocacy service as well   well, it advocates to government and it provides advice to government.  Has the NDIS or NDIA, have you been approached or been engaged with them on the development of their CaLD strategy?

MS SCOULLAR:  Not that I'm aware of.  There has been   as I said, you know, we have identified, we had that community advisory group.  I don't believe that we have approached   like, I can check because there's another area of Foundation House that may have been approached but not that I   not that I know of.  I feel sure that someone would mention that to me if we had.

COMMISSIONER BENNETT:  And so the voice, the paper that we have just been referring to and which we have read, you don't know if that's been provided to the NDIA?

MS SCOULLAR:  I'm not 100 per cent sure.

COMMISSIONER BENNETT:  Have you   has Foundation House had any input into the Disability Strategy, Australian Disability Strategy?

MS SCOULLAR:  Not that I know of.

COMMISSIONER BENNETT:  Can I also ask you some questions about, in your submission, paragraphs 52, 53 and 54, which is about the lack of access to services for people on bridging visas.  In other material that's been presented by CaLD groups and submissions, there is a suggestion that many asylum seekers do, after a long time, get granted permanent status in Australia. A reasonably high percentage.  The   do you have a view on the long term impact by not providing early services to these people? 

While some of them are singles, some are also couples with children, and their children are denied those services while the status is unknown.  I'm trying to get a sense of harm by doing nothing for people who end up staying where if a service had been provided earlier might have reduced the burden.  Do you have a sense of that?

MS SCOULLAR:  Yes, look, we would certainly say that providing services as early as possible makes an enormous difference. So, early intervention is much more cost effective.  It can really assist to support families and then, if there are children involved, support the developmental trajectory of those children. So, if those children do stay in Australia, if they are granted refugee status, for example, then they   we would hope, will have been much more successful in school, in their education pathways and the whole family supported would have given those children a much more successful trajectory. 

So, yes, we would say that early support and early intervention would make a significant difference. And in terms of the overlay of trauma, that someone's recovery from experiencing, you know, really traumatic events, is going to be enhanced if they have safety and if they have support and if they have agency and control rather than   rather than uncertainty and lack of access as well.

COMMISSIONER BENNETT:  So is it taking a bit of   yes, I suppose a bit of a balancing act to   some people will not be given permanency.

MS SCOULLAR:  Correct.

COMMISSIONER BENNETT:  But those in the end that might be given permanency after a long period are behind.  More harm is being done by lack of an intervention to their long term success in the community.

MS SCOULLAR:  Yes.  That would be true.  Yes.


CHAIR:  Thank you very much for your evidence, which is very powerful, and thank you for the work that Foundation does and your role in it.  I'm just wondering how you would see the issues you raised today as fitting within our Terms of Reference?  The key provision in our Terms of Reference requires us to inquire into what governments, institutions and the community should do to prevent and better protect people with disability from experiencing violence, abuse, neglect and exploitation, having regard to the extent of violence, abuse, neglect and exploitation, experienced by all   by people with disability in all settings and contexts.

I don't for one moment doubt the importance of the work that is done or the issues you have raised.  But as far as I can tell, the only reference to violence, abuse, neglect and exploitation in your statement is at paragraph 46 where you refer to certain risks arising.  But I would be interested in your perception as to how the issues you have raised fit within those Terms of Reference.

MS SCOULLAR:  Look, we   thank you for that question, Chair.  We would say that, you know, some of your protections, I guess, against   the protections that protect people from violence, abuse, neglect are the feedback mechanisms, the complaint mechanisms, the tracking and the monitoring mechanisms.  And we would think it's   they are unlikely to work effectively for people from refugee backgrounds.  That unless the system is trauma informed, people from refugee backgrounds are unlikely to access those services, which means, in a sense, there's systemic neglect.

And so   so   that the risks of neglect are greater because people are theoretically entitled to certain services, they can't access those services, and, furthermore, when they do access those services, those services may be a lot less effective than they are for other cohorts because of the   all of the lenses that we have talked about. So, the neglect in there, I think is quite significant.  And there's greater risks of exploitation because of that lack of being able to   the additional barriers, I should say, to be being able to self advocate and to understand one's entitlements and one's right, and so the risks of exploitation are much greater.

CHAIR:  Perhaps another aspect of it is you have talked about the response of a trauma informed approach and explained what that involves.  I infer from the examples you have given that one of the benefits of a trauma informed approach is that it avoids neglect by, for example, improving the chances of a correct diagnosis  

MS SCOULLAR:  Correct.

CHAIR:    in the health system or improves the chances of people being able to get to the services that they need and, as you say, are entitled to.  I thought that might be another way of addressing.

MS SCOULLAR:  Yes.  Yes.

CHAIR:  Alright.  Well, thank you very much for your statement, which is very interesting and very helpful, and we very much appreciate the oral evidence you have given today to supplement it. So, thank very much for your assistance.

MS SCOULLAR:  Pleasure.

MS EASTMAN:  Thank you, Commissioners. Can we adjourn now until 2 pm.

CHAIR:  Yes, it's just after 1.  We shall adjourn.




CHAIR:  Yes, Ms Eastman.

MS EASTMAN:  Thank you, Chair and Commissioners.  Our next witness is using the pseudonym ZA, and she will not appear on the screen, but she's here with us in the hearing room with her son.  And you will also see that we have madam interpreter assisting as well. So, everybody has taken their respective oaths and affirmation.  And after consultation with ZA, we have agreed that I'm going to read her statement, but I will pause at particular points, just to ask ZA if there is anything else that you want to add. So, are you happy with that?

ZA:  Yes.



CHAIR:  Thank you very much, ZA, for coming to the Royal Commission to give evidence, and thank you for your statement which Ms Eastman will read, and thank you, ZA Jr, for accompanying your mother.  I will ask Ms Eastman to read the statement. 

MS EASTMAN:  Thank you. I can say, Commissioners, that we have confirmed that the contents of the statement are true and correct.  Ready?

"I was born in Iraq and migrated to Australia on a marriage visa 15 years ago.  We live in Shepparton.  My husband is also from Iraq.  He came to Australia when he was about 10 years of age.  He was part of the first big group of Iraqis who moved to the Goulburn Valley in the 1990s value in the 19190s.  He speaks both Arabic and English well.  I had no English when I first arrived in Australia.  I began my English language classes at TAFE in level 1. 

I have three children, who were all born in Australia.  My eldest daughter is 14, my second son is 10, and my youngest son is 3.  My daughter was born with DiGeorge syndrome, which causes heart problems and learning difficulties. She has had lots of operations on her heart and other parts of her body.  She can't talk, hear, eat or drink properly.  She's very active and loves to smile and interact with people.

Life in Iraq.  I grew up in a large city in Iraq with my parents and brothers.  I am very close to my family, and I had a happy childhood growing up.  My dad ran a small business and my mum was a housewife.  I completed the equivalent to year 12 in Iraq when I was 18 years old.  Prior to coming to Australia, I had been on holiday to Syria and Iran.  My husband and I got married in Iraq prior to me moving to Australia.  It was a big decision to move to Australia.  I was very scared, and I did not know what it would be like.

Early life in Australia.  When I arrived, I found everything very different here.  I didn't like it for the first two to three months.  I moved straight to Cobram, a small town in the Goulburn Valley, which was very quiet, and there were lots of old people.  I moved in with my husband and his family.  It was very difficult, because I had to adjust to living with new people, and I missed my family and friends.  However, my husband's family were supportive of me, and I am close to them.

Occasionally, we would buy an international phone card so that I could call my family.  However, it was expensive, and the call would only last for a few minutes and that was it.  I couldn't text or video call my family in those years.  I became pregnant very shortly after arriving in Australia and experienced morning sickness.  At 20 weeks, the doctors told me that there was a problem with my baby and that she had major heart problems.  They told me I would have to move to Melbourne and stay there for the rest of my pregnancy. So, my husband and I moved to accommodation provided by the hospital and stayed there for the next 20 weeks.  I had to have an ultrasound every week to check on my daughter."

I will just pause there and check is there anything that you want to say or add at this point?

ZA:  No.

MS EASTMAN:  Keep going?

ZA:  Keep going.


“Birth of my daughter.  My daughter was born in 2008 with serious heart problems and blockages in her nose.  There were lots of problems with her lungs and airways, so the doctors performed a tracheostomy to help her breathe.  Our daughter required 24 hour constant care.  I had to stay up with my daughter several nights each week to ensure she was breathing.  My husband would also do some nights but less than me.

We had a support worker who would come one or two nights per week and a few hours during the day.  I felt lonely and isolated.  We had to stay in Melbourne for a further 11 months after the birth of my daughter.  The first year in Australia was a very difficult time for me.  After 11 months, my daughter moved to the Shepparton Hospital.  We found this experience very different to how we were treated at the hospital in Melbourne and expressed concern about our daughter's treatment in Shepparton.

The doctors and nurses from the Melbourne Hospital came to Shepparton to talk to the hospital staff here about caring for our daughter and supporting us.  The nurses were told that they needed to monitor my daughter closely so that we could have a rest.  Things improved a bit after this.

I had very limited English, and so my husband was my interpreter and translator during my first few years in Australia.  He speaks good English and was able to help explain things to me.  The staff at both hospitals used interpreters for medical appointments and to explain my daughter's condition.  I'm not sure how we would have coped if my husband didn't have good English.  It would have been even more difficult.

I had support from social workers at the hospitals.  They were always with us, along with an interpreter.  I wasn't connected with any Arabic speaking support people in Melbourne or Shepparton.  It would have been good to be able to express my thoughts and feelings without needing an interpreter sometimes.

My daughter had the tracheostomy until she was 4 years old.  Fortunately, they removed it and she was able to breathe without it.  She is unable to swallow, so the doctors inserted a peg into her stomach when she was little so she can be fed through a tube.  There were multiple operations during the first four years of her life, and she had a big heart operation when she was 4.  Since that time, she has only required check ups.

My daughter can't speak or hear.  We have difficulty communicating with her and use a kind of sign language.  My daughter needs a lot of help with daily activities like eating, drinking, toileting and showering.  Prior to the NDIS, I did all of these things for my daughter.  I didn't get any help with any of these tasks, and I don't get a break from my caring role."

I will just pause there.  How are we going?  Anything?  Keep going?

ZA:  Keep going.


"Prior to the NDIS.  My daughter started school when she was 5 years old at the local special school.  Prior to the NDIS her school would arrange appointment, for example, with a speech therapist.  The therapist would only meet with my daughter at school.  My husband and I didn't meet with the therapist.  Up until she turned 7 years of age, my daughter got some allied health support, physio, OT, speech and behaviour support.  Some of those therapists would come to our house.  I can't remember what government program that was, though it stopped when she was 7.

Engaging with the NDIS."

And the first topic is access:

"The NDIS became available to people in Shepparton in early 2019.  I first heard about the NDIS through an Iraqi woman who sent me a message.  She told me that there was a service provider who was providing services to children in Shepparton.  She then came to my house and explained that the government would pay for services and supports for my daughter because of her disability.  We then called the NDIS together to register.  I had lots of reports about my daughter from the hospital, so I provided these to the NDIS.

The first planning meeting with the NDIS was over the phone.  It was me, the planner and the woman who worked for the service provider.  I can't remember her role in the organisation, but they started providing support coordination as part of my daughter's first plan."

The next topic is support coordination:

"When my daughter joined the NDIS, we really didn't know much about how it..."

It might be a typo there:

"...we did not know much about it.  And now we realise the manager of the service provider did not explain all the things that we were eligible for.  It was as though he was only interested in funding for support coordination and support workers.  We never actually met the support coordinator who worked for the service provider, just the manager.

For the first two years we didn't know that our daughter's nappies and special formula could be paid for by the NDIS or that we could access certain allied health services and supports.  I had a friend who was using the same support coordinator, and she realised that he was basically stealing from her son's package by taking the funds and not providing the service.  I confronted the manager and he said he would give us some money, which is probably illegal.  He said he would fix our bathroom and organise an OT to try and keep us happy.  However, he also said, 'Even if your daughter has access to services and supports for 100 years, she will not learn.'

I spent days feeling anxious and worried after he said that.  It really stuck with me.  Following that, I spent approximately one hour on the phone to the NDIS with an interpreter.  I explained what had happened and made a complaint about this support coordinator.  I have not heard anything since."

Can I stop there.  When you say in the statement that you were on the phone to the NDIS and you made a complaint, do you   do you know which organisation you were on the phone to and who you made a complaint to?

ZA:  No.

MS EASTMAN:  No.  Has anyone explained to you the difference between the NDIA, the National Disability Insurance Agency, and the NDIA Quality and Safeguards Commission? 

ZA:  No.

MS EASTMAN:  Do you know the difference between those organisations?

ZA:  No.

MS EASTMAN:  Have you heard of the Quality and Safeguards Commission?

ZA:  No.

MS EASTMAN:  Do you know anything about the Quality and Safeguards Commission?

ZA:  No.

MS EASTMAN:  So when you made your complaint to the NDIS, did you believe that you were making the complaint to the right body? 

ZA:  When I called over the phone, I was transferred to many people, and the last person I spoke to was meant to be the person to do with complaints in the NDIS, and I don't know exactly who they were.

MS EASTMAN:  And you have not heard anything about that complaint since.  Is that right?

ZA:  I completed my complaint that the staff on the phone said that all the information we have now, we will get back to you in about a week or two.  A person who deals with the complaint will follow up with you, and until now I've not heard from anybody.

MS EASTMAN:  Alright.  Thank you. I will continue:

"I then changed to a support coordinator who is based in Melbourne.  All our appointments are over the phone.  I have found it very hard to speak with her.  The support coordinator also tells me that she finds it hard to find specialists such as OTs or behaviour support specialists in Shepparton, or to get an appointment with them.  She says it is easier to get appointments with specialists in Melbourne, but these appointments are still by phone, not face to face.  I don't think there are many supports and services here in Shepparton.

I've recently heard about a new support coordinator who is meant to be very good.  I'm in the process of trying to change over to her.  She is based in a town about an hour away, which means some of our appointments will be face to face."

Next heading is Therapists:

"My daughter has funding for specialists and therapists but I'm not sure how often she is meant to see them.  I'm also not sure if she sees some of them at her school.  The school gives me some updates on how she's going at school, but I don't get updates about how she is going in terms of NDIS supports and services.  I feel like all the therapists do is write reports.  There have been times when I have asked for specific things to help, but they tell me it's not something the NDIS can support.

For example, my daughter always wants to go out of the house.  She often opens the door and runs out onto the street and we have to go and find her.  It is hard to keep the doors locked all the time because our other children want to go out and play in the backyard.  We thought it would be a good idea to put a fence across the front yard which can be locked.  An OT said, no, it's very expensive, it's not supported by the NDIS and that it's not that important. This really surprised me.  We are paying a mortgage on our house."

Can I stop there and ask you a question?  Do you remember getting a quote, an estimate of the cost of how much a fence would cost to put in the front yard?

ZA:  Yes, I   we got two quotes, two different people came and measured the front of the house.  One gave us a quote of approximately $5000 and the other a little bit over $6000.  That amount is very large and we can't afford it on our own.

MS EASTMAN:  Did you give that quote to the NDIS?

ZA:  No.

MS EASTMAN:  Have you heard of something called a restrictive practice?  You are shaking your head.  I assume that means no.  Okay.  Has anyone explained to you that a fence in your front yard might be a restrictive practice?

ZA:  No.

MS EASTMAN:  Have you ever heard of that?

ZA:  No.

MS EASTMAN:  Have any of the therapists who support your daughter told you about having a fence being a restrictive practice?

ZA:  The   we were told that the NDIS will not cover large amounts in the thousands for people with special needs.  We have spoken about three times and we received the same answer from the OT, which is the NDIS will not fund such large amounts.

MS EASTMAN:  Is your daughter able to play in the front or the back garden of your house?

ZA:  My daughter doesn't like to play much in the backyard.  She feels restricted.  Like, she's still in the house.  She likes to   she likes open places.  She likes to see people and cars and feel like she's left the house somehow.  She doesn't like enclosed spaces.  And our idea was to provide for her the front fence so she feels like she's left the house and not do a fence where it's all completely blocked, but more like a picket fence where she can see outside and can see still the cars and people coming and going. Without   well, constructing the fence in the front yard, you know, will give her that opportunity to feel like she's left the house without endangering her life.

MS EASTMAN:  Thank you. I will continue:

"The door on my daughter's wardrobe is broken because she kicks it which is part of her behaviour related to her disability.  I asked an OT if we could put a different door on the wardrobe so she can't break it.  The OT said I should just hang a blanket on the front of her wardrobe.  The slats on my daughter's bed are also broken but the OT said we should just put her mattress on the floor so she can sleep there.

My daughter really likes spending time in an egg chair, which hangs from the ceiling.  We visited relatives who had one, and she really enjoyed swinging gently in the chair.  I asked the OT to get her one, because she is calm and happy when she is swinging.  However, the OT said it was too dangerous for her, even though it sits only about 30cm above the ground.  I ended up going to the market and buying one for her, and she really likes it.

Sometimes I feel I don't know how to communicate with my daughter and understand what she wants or needs.  She often rips her clothes and my clothes, especially in the morning when we are asleep.  It's not that she's angry.  I think she's bored.  I have asked Centrelink if they can increase payments for my daughter because it costs more to look after her, particularly buying new clothes when she rips them, but to no avail.  I sew clothes and I make and decorate cakes to sell to the community to make some extra money, but I earn very little and I feel very tired. I have told  " 

ZA:  Can I add something?

MS EASTMAN:  Yes, of course.

ZA:  I just want to add something to this paragraph, is that I feel that kids with special needs need   in terms of Centrelink payments need different kinds of payments, and they don't have that.  They are treated like other children, but they are not like other children.  For example, like, when my daughter rips her clothes, sometimes she rips like four pieces of clothing, and that costs a lot of money in a day   sorry, pardon   four pieces of clothing a day, and I feel like I need to go every week and buy these clothes.  And sometimes she rips also the curtains and I also need to buy those.  There is a need that those children with special needs need to have different payments to really cater for their needs in comparison to other children. 

I understand that the government has allocated large amounts of money to NDIS, but I see that these amounts are going to the specialists   really, the specialists that are writing reports.  I don't really see help, tangible help, and I don't see   the only   pardon   the only help my daughter gets is having the support worker of three to four hours a day.  But that's really not covering her needs, and I don't see her benefitting much.  Yes, my daughter does need specialists, but we don't see the outcome from specialists.  Those large amounts are going into writing reports.

MS EASTMAN:  I will continue:

"I have told a behaviour support specialist about my daughter's behaviours.  The specialist told me she would arrange posters to be put up in our home to show my daughter how to do things.  However, I've been waiting since last year to get the posters.  Since my daughter joined the NDIS, no one has come to the house to observe my daughter's behaviours and to support or educate us about how we can respond to her behaviours or support her to develop new skills."

I now turn to daily support:

"My daughter often wakes up in the middle of the night wanting to go out or play.  She doesn't care what time it is.  This means I often have disrupted sleep because I get up to her and try to help her get back to sleep.  I feel very tired a lot of the time.  I get up at around 7 am most mornings.  I change her nappy and give her a wash.  Then I dress her and brush her hair.  She doesn't like having things near her mouth so it can be hard to brush her teeth.  I then prepare her liquid food which goes through her peg.  My 10 year old son is able to get himself ready for school, and my daughter is picked up by the school bus at approximately 8 am.

My daughter is very active around the home and wants to play with everything when she's not at school.  Someone needs to watch her all the time because otherwise it might be dangerous for her.  My daughter now has a support worker who comes approximately three hours per day, seven days per week.  Sometimes it is more or less depending on what our needs are.  She is an Iraqi woman too and speaks Arabic.  I found her through community networks, and she is employed by a local service provider.

The support worker comes after school and often takes my daughter out because she really likes to socialise.  She doesn't like staying at home.  They will go to a park or Fun City.  She can walk well enough, but someone needs to hold her hand.  I don't know if there are any other Arabic speaking support workers locally.  I wouldn't mind if a support worker couldn't speak Arabic; that would be okay.  In my view, three hours per day is not enough, because my daughter needs a lot of care and support each day and night."

I will now move to the topic of My Needs as a Carer:

"I have recently returned to TAFE to finish my level 3 English course. I leave my youngest son with his dad and go to class from 9 am to 1 pm three days per week.  I have also studied an online education support traineeship through a local employment provider, which was quite difficult.  I'm doing the 120 hours of placement training at my son's school so that I get my certificate.  I would like to get a job in the education sector.

I have been back to Iraq three times in the last 15 years.  However, it has been six years since my last trip.  When I went back, my husband cared for our children, so I could only go for two weeks each time.  It is very expensive to get to Iraq and a very long way to go for only two weeks.  Most people go for at least four to six weeks when they go back to visit from Australia."

ZA:  Can I add something here?  I would like to add something.  A few months back, I applied for a visa for my brother to come and visit me, because my kids haven't seen my family and my family haven't seen my kids.  And   and that visa was rejected.  Also a few years back, I also applied for a visa for my mother to come and stay with me.  Again, that visa was also rejected.  I feel like I need my family to at least come and stay with us for three weeks or a month.

MS EASTMAN:  I will continue:

"It is hard now because my daughter is no longer little.  She has reached puberty, which means it is not appropriate for my husband to care for her.  However, I really miss my family and friends in Iraq, and it has been very difficult not to go home for such a long time.  I would really like to go home to visit them for two to three weeks.

When I spoke about this issue with the teachers at my daughter's school, they mentioned the option of respite.  They said that they think I have to pay for it, and it's really expensive because it would be full time care if I was overseas.  Just recently a social worker from the school called me and said it can cost thousands of dollars per week and the NDIS doesn't pay for it.  I'm not sure if she was talking about my case specifically or that the NDIS doesn't pay for respite generally.

I don't think my support coordinator or anyone connected with the NDIS like a planner has ever spoken to me about the possibility of respite so that I can have a break and visit my family in Iraq.  I don't remember anyone ever telling me that I can ask for respite to be funded in my daughter's package, particularly now that she has reached puberty. It would make a big difference to our family's wellbeing if my husband and I could have an occasional break from caring for our daughter and for me to be able to visit my family for a few weeks in Iraq.  I recently asked the support coordinator to ask the NDIS about respite because we are due for an appointment in October to discuss my daughter's new plan.  I think this will be my daughter's third plan.

The community understands that my daughter has a disability and is very accepting of her.  Some of the other children are a bit scared of her or think that she is trying to hurt them.  My daughter really loves to play with other children, but she doesn't know how to do it.  She might grab their T shirts or push them down.  She is being friendly, but the other children don't understand, so it is very hard.

The future.  Going forward I really need support from the allied health specialist to teach my daughter how to do some things by herself and to be more independent.  For example, she can't brush her own teeth.  I also think the government should provide an extra allowance for people like my daughter.  All the money goes to the workers, but I don't feel like my daughter is getting what she needs.  I hope that my daughter will get the support and services she needs to live a happy life where she is part of the community and can learn and experience new things." 

Thank you for your statement.  Is there anything else that you wanted to tell the Commissioners?

ZA:  My hope is for the specialist to do their work to their best of their ability to help those children that need it most.  That's my only hope.

MS EASTMAN:  Thank you. I will check if the Commissioners have got any questions that they want to ask you.

CHAIR:  Yes, Commissioner McEwin?

COMMISSIONER McEWIN:  Thank you.  I don't have any questions, but I do want to say thank you for telling us your story and being here today.

ZA:  Thank you.

COMMISSIONER BENNETT:  The new support coordinator that you want, are they independent from a service provider?  Or would it also be a new service provider and the support coordinator is working for that service provider?

ZA:  Yes, she is an independent support coordinator, but we haven't officially engaged with her because of the recent rain and flooding in Shepparton.

COMMISSIONER BENNETT:  Do you think the previous coordinator that worked for the service provider, one of the reasons that you did not get to know everything your daughter was entitled to was because they worked together and all they told you about is what that service provider could give you?

ZA:  I think so, yes.


CHAIR:  I see from your statement that your daughter goes to school.  I don't want to know the name of the school, but is that a general school or a school for children with disabilities?

ZA:  A specialist school for kids with disability.

CHAIR:  Right.  And your daughter is usually picked up by the school bus at 8 o'clock in the morning.  What time does she normally home?

ZA:  Around the 3   3.15 or 3.  Yes.

CHAIR:  Right.  And the support worker then comes to your home when your daughter gets home from school?

ZA:  Yes.

CHAIR:  Is that right?

ZA:  Yes.

CHAIR:  You've said that three hours a day is not enough because your daughter needs a lot of care and support each day and night.  You say that at paragraph 46. What additional support would you like to see for your daughter?

ZA:  Just to note that my daughter doesn't go every day to school.  Some days she's not well, some days she has not slept through the night and she needs that morning sleep, and I obviously can't take her to school.

CHAIR:  Thank you.  In paragraph 37, you say you asked Centrelink if they could increase payments for your daughter because of the costs of looking at her.  Did someone advise you to go to Centrelink to do that?

ZA:  No.

CHAIR:  You decided that yourself.

ZA:  Yes, I decided that.

CHAIR:  And what did Centrelink tell you when you went there?

ZA:  They advised that there's no such service or payment, and at the moment my   my husband, my daughter's father, is her carer and I asked Centrelink if maybe I could be a carer for my daughter because I'm also required to work.  I asked about two or three times, and they said that there is no such thing like this payment.  The child has an independent payment with they reach 16 years of age, and it's not possible for a child to have two carers.

CHAIR:  I see.  Thank you very much.  Thank you.  Ms Eastman, does that conclude this part of the evidence?

MS EASTMAN:  That concludes ZA's evidence, and we thank her very much for coming today and also her son, who has sat very patiently. So, thank you very much.

ZA:  Thank you. 

MS EASTMAN:  And if we can adjourn for 10 minutes so we can reconstitute the hearing room for our final witnesses today.

CHAIR:  Again, thank you very much for your statement and for giving evidence   

ZA:  Thank you.

CHAIR:    this afternoon.  We appreciate you coming to the Commission and explaining the experiences that you have had and speaking on behalf of your daughter. So, thank you very much.

ZA:  Thank you.

CHAIR:  And thank you to Mr ZA, who did an excellent job.

ZA:  Thank you. 








CHAIR:  Yes, Ms Eastman.

MS EASTMAN:  Thank you, Commissioners. So, our final three witnesses are here, and I want to tell you a little bit about the work that they do before I ask each of them to introduce themselves. So, our witnesses this afternoon represent Wise Well Women Community Health Educators.  The   and I will call them for shorthand the community health educators.  They help community   they help with health and community services.  They communicate with parents, with children, and young people from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds.

They assist their community by providing information to connect people to services and to understand what services are available.  They provide emotional support of people from time to time.  They are able to provide informal interpreting, but they have cultural knowledge, they have cultural understanding, and they understand the experiences of their community. 

So, our three witnesses this afternoon all completed the training to become community health educators in April 2021, along with some other women.  They each have stories of coming to Australia, some as refugees, and some through other forms of migration.  We have had the chance to engage with them as we have prepared for this hearing, and I know they feel a little bit nervous this afternoon, but you will recall yesterday that we heard about the importance of community and community leaders.

And you will recall, I think, that Dominic, who might   who’s not here this afternoon, said that he was going to take a risk and talk about the importance of women leaders and women as strong advocates.  And I hope that you will find our panel this afternoon to be women of that character.  Eman, may I start with you.

CHAIR:  Just before you start, may I welcome you to the Royal Commission.  Thank you very much for coming today and giving evidence.  And let me reassure you there is no need to be nervous.  We are all exceptionally friendly.  Usually.

EMAN:  Thank you. You know how they country people when they come to the city, they will be nervous.

MS EASTMAN:  So I have asked each of them to start by introducing themselves in the way they would like to and to tell the Commissioners about their story. So, Eman, are you happy to go first?

EMAN:  Yes.  Good afternoon, everyone.  Thank you for giving us the opportunity to share our stories and experience.  My name is Eman.  I'm from Iraq.  I have been in Australia for almost 20 years.  I would like to speak about significant effect of mental health and post traumatic stress disorder on my community and also myself.  In our culture, we have different definition for mental health.  It is always surrounding with a very negative stigma.

We even don't know   we don't use the same translation of this term.  That's how we hide it and try to avoid talking about or seeing a counsellor or a specialist, even though it is a crucial and important to deal with the issue that   with the issue in a logical way.  It is clear that mental health disability leads to physical disability.  For someone who escaped his or her country home, came by boat looking for a safety to start a better life, and because of no support ending his life with drugs.

Another mature adult couldn't cope with being unable to stay   to easily learn English or work in their expert and developed severe mental health.  This person consequently moved between Australia and Iraq, unable to settle in one or other country.  Another example is a new arrival, a young student, who couldn't get support in his learning journey and ended up lost with a drug habit.  The organisational support was intimidating and never consistently, leaving the young person without a genuine support.  Sometimes this makes me wonder if being treated like   you know, like a discrimination or different culture or just overworked system.

This   the three things I mentioned is like   not scenarios, it's like a real story from my community and from myself.  That's why I get so emotional.

MS EASTMAN:  Eman, you came to Australia by boat about 20 years or so ago?

EMAN:  Yes.

MS EASTMAN:  And when you arrived in Australia, you spent some time in immigration detention?

EMAN:  I spent like six months in Woomera Detention Centre.

MS EASTMAN:  And when you arrived, were your children quite small at that time?

EMAN:  Yes, my youngest one was like 3 years old.  My oldest one was 6 years old.

MS EASTMAN:  And you left Iraq.  And before you left Iraq, you had completed a Bachelor of Biological Science at Baghdad University?  And you had been a teacher in Iraq?

EMAN:  Yes.  I finished my degree in Iraq as a biology teacher and I worked there for three years and after that, you know, when the war start and the conditions were become worse and worse, so we escaped from Iraq. 

MS EASTMAN:  When you first came to Australia after you were released from immigration detention, you settled in a small town in Victoria?

EMAN:  Yes.

MS EASTMAN:  For the first few years, even first five or 10 years, what was the experience for the family?

EMAN:  I was a happy person who escaped the country and looking for a safer life, you know, leaving everything, you know, I look and positive view and then I'm   in the first five to 10 years, we were moving from house to house, from town to town.  I went to South Australia and then back to Cobram and then to Shepparton. So, I wasn't care much about you know, moving and not settling very well, but I was concentrated on and focused on my children, on their teaching, on their study.  And on myself to, you know, improve my English to get work and to help as well for my community.

MS EASTMAN:  And the scenarios that you have described just now, and saying that they are not scenarios, they are true stories from your community and your own family, is   you have shared this for the first time with the Royal Commission to help understand about mental health as a disability and how the trauma   

EMAN:  Yes.

MS EASTMAN:    of coming to Australia from a war country can come up at times that perhaps are not even expected in the families.  Is that right?

EMAN:  That's right. That's right. Because I   I witness, I saw many other families separate from mental health, from stress.  No support.  Their children with learning journey, even some of them, they didn't finish their learning, their education because   they are here in Australia and somewhere in Shepparton or Melbourne rural areas.  They didn't finish their education.  I wasn't, you know, thinking   I wasn't, you know, taking this in serious or considering this is because or mental health illness or post traumatic stress disorder or stress. 

I always thought, you know, this is hardship of life.  But yes, that's how we struggle.  We didn't get, you know, some sort of support to cope with this in your life because changing life is not easy.  Starting a new life with a new culture, a new language is not the things is easy.  This is what it comes now and affected us.

MS EASTMAN:  Alright. So, I'm going to ask your colleagues on the panel to introduce themselves and then we will come back and talk about some of the topics. 

EMAN:  Thank you. 

MS EASTMAN:  I'm just checking.  Muzhgan, would you like to be the next person?  So you came to Australia directly from Kabul in 2009.  You were 15 years old then.  And can you take the Commissioners on the story since then, including what happened to your father?

MUZHGAN:  First of all hi, to everyone in the room and hearing this and the information that we actually giving.  Dad left Afghanistan in 2001, and that was the   the night that he left when they actually   the war started.

MS EASTMAN:  I'm going to ask you to slow down.

MUZHGAN:  Okay. Yes.

MS EASTMAN:  There's nothing to be worried about but just slow down a little bit and we can all follow.

MUZHGAN:  Yes. So, dad left Afghanistan, which is Kabul, in 2001.  And that was the time when we actually grew up, like, not having a man in our home due to Taliban. So, I was kind of like, through my childhood I have seen   I have grown up as a female seeing females on the street has been punished by the Taliban.  As my childhood, I have been presenting being a boy outside and pretending that being a boy to save   to stand next to women on the street to save their life and represent myself, pretending that I'm actually their   the man of the house.  However, I was a female, because they didn't notice whether I am a male or a female due to my age.

Since dad left Afghanistan, so he was in Nauru Detention Centre for five years.  The first four years, we wasn't sure whether he was alive or not because the Taliban came and our home after dad left.  And then since then that it was keep regularly checking and then grandpa say that dad passed away.  Until one of our relatives come and say, look, your dad is at a detention centre. So, dad got mental health issue from being a detention centre for five years.

And that is   this is the story that most of the Afghani community, the place where I live is and all of the CaLD community is, the male usually have   like, most of them has been through the detention centre and got mental health from there.  Then we come to Australia in 2009.  And then through coming   coming to Australia in 2009, since then I did went through a lot of   faced a lot of challenges.

I feel like I have gone into a new country.  The only thing I knew is how to feed myself inside my home but anything outside, it was everything was new for me.  The language, culture, the transport and everything.  People, the voice I was hearing was different.  Having been to language centre, due to the explanation that I actually receives and we actually end up   got lost and then they state if you get lost just call 000 if you are in trouble.  We end up actually going   the police took us back to our home.

Then since that, dad decided to not go to language centre. Instead, he put us to school and then through that we struggle and with no English we tried actually cope our   with our education and no   didn't have anyone at home to help us with our education either.  The only hope we had was homework club. Since then I actually decide to actually access the CaLD community, as I have been educated in my home country, and continue in my first language and graduated in 2013 from high school.

Through that, I did some certificates and also could work as well. So, the place that I have been working is trying to actually assist the young generation   like, the generation that are CaLD, and they are supposed to actually apply for NDIS.  And these are big challenges, the way we went.  And Eman has been mentioned, it is about   anything that's called disability, the community back up, and we have to encourage them, tell them and twist their arm and kind of tell them, no, this is not   this is not something like that you think.  It is kind of like trying to help and understand and it's alright, actually, apply for NDIS.

We applied for this a month of the generation that have the disability disorder, and all needing difficulty on June.  We applied this obligation to NDIS the same time with the people that has been born in here and this is their home country.  Their qualification and the form went through within two months.  The latest ones.  Some of them got a reply back in over a month.  We have been waiting since   so since June until now that they keep the CaLD   applications keep rejecting.

We   I'm not a qualified interpreter and I know this is illegal when you are not a qualified interpreter to do interpreting for the community.  Unfortunately, the community don't have interpreters, face to face interpreters.  Especially when you have   people from the community have mental health issue over the phone.  They took back to trauma, it took them back to, like, re-traumaise them. So, I step in and the community always ask us to do the interpreting and translating for them with    translated or    messages.

MS EASTMAN:  Muzhgan, can I jump in there because I want to come back and ask you all about that role that you play connecting the community members.  But can I introduce Zara first.

MUZHGAN:  Yes.  Yes.

MS EASTMAN:  Okay, Zara. You are also from Afghanistan.  And you completed your primary school in Afghanistan but you then spent 10 years in Syria where you finished secondary school, and you have also spent time in Iran.  Tell us how you came to Australia.

ZARA:  I born in Afghanistan, and when I was 8 years old, we moved to Iran for   I stayed there for   to Iran four years and then I came to   to Syria.  I went to school in Syria and then I   we been as a refugee and we just start in UNHCR, but I came here in Australia by sponsor visa.  My husband was here and then I came here.  I studied at TAFE for a few years, and then I start working in the organisation that supporting new arrival families.

MS EASTMAN:  So all three of you have your own experience of coming to Australia, sometimes with family, sometimes without family.  And all three have decided that you want to work with your communities and help connect the community to services. So, first question I wanted to ask you is about the shame and the stigma of disability.  You have told us that from the communities, sometimes people feel shame that a family member has disability.  It might be physical disability, intellectual disability or mental health issues.  Do you want to tell the Royal Commissioners about what happens when people have that shame, to be able to ask for help?

ZARA:  You know, many people coming to Australia, in the beginning, they are very excited.  They are coming to a new places, new future, new, like, opportunities, and when they come here they are very happy.  And then after a few times when they see the barriers, they see different culture, different   different language, they couldn't find a job, they couldn't, you know, communicate, they will feel down.  They will feel down and then after a few times when they start learning in English, they start finding a job, they start finding friends, they feel okay.  Not that much excited, not that much down.

But people with a disability, they   it's hard for them to go back to the normal because they   they   there is lots of barriers for them, and they don't know the service.  And some of the families, like, in the culture, they feel shamed, they don't want to talk about their disability.  They don't want to talk about, you know, the   the   something that they are missing in them.  They don't want to talk about that.  Just because they don't want to have people feel sorry for them, or if it's a girl, they don't like their   it's they think that in future they will not find a partner or that people will feel sorry or they feel down.

They are   so they are not   they don't want to talk about   about the disability.  We know in the community there is many   many people that have a disability, but we don't know.  No one is talking about that, or they don't want to   some of   sometimes families they don't want to believe that their child has a disability or that person has a disability.

MS EASTMAN:  Eman, in your experience over 20 years, you have worked with families in the community where somebody acquires   so gets a disability, but sometimes children are born with disability.  Have you seen that experience of people feeling shamed or sad?

EMAN:  Yes.  Especially when I was, like, a multicultural aide with the school, with the new arrival children.  They have, like, some of them learning difficulty or English learning difficulty as well as   so, I say, like, 80 per cent of them, they have that you know, sort of learning or English learning difficulty. So, I haven't seen any support from any other program to support them with their, you know, starting to be learn   settled here in Australia.  And that's happen with me as well with my own son.

He was central   because he arrived, like, 3 years old, and he was, you know, having this difficulty, but I don't know, I was thinking he is like my other children.  He got this difficulty and no one give him a support.  He was treating like other children but that affected   affected him in later in his life.  He was one of many, many others I saw.

MS EASTMAN:  Muzhgan, you mentioned earlier that for the men who have spent time in immigration detention, that it is not uncommon to see the mental health issues for the men.  And in your work with young people at school, you have seen the family violence, and this is a shameful topic to talk about, of the violence in the family and the support for the men with the mental health problems.  You've seen the children at school, and to be able to talk about this issue is very hard.  What can you tell the Royal Commissioners about that experience?

MUZHGAN:  First of all, for us, like mental health, the translation word for mental health is crazy. So, we actually   our community, like, the original area that I live, we completely changed the meaning of mental health.  We translated into different meaning with a   the community understand and try to actually assist the community to reach for help.

With accessing to mental health, problem is less help is available not for only men, as well as women in the community.  Because when you have someone who at home have mental health, what we have noticed is, the past two years now, that a lot of women is suffering from mental health, but they don't know that they have mental health.  Again, accessing to services that it has been just recently arrived to regional area for CaLD community, they need interpreters.  When we say interpreters, we want face to face interpreters. Unfortunately, there is no face to face interpreters in regional area.  We   sometimes the community ask us to do the interpreting for them.

MS EASTMAN:  Is that difficult, if you have to be the interpreter?

MUZHGAN:  We   we have   it is difficult, but to   our only main goal is to assist the community and help the community.  As I mentioned it before, I know it's illegal to do interpreting when you're not a qualified interpreter, but there is no other options that's been left for us.  The same with COVID.  We did the translating in audio messages.  The same with the flood that recently has been just happened. So, we was the one who actually have to stay in and do that.

We got the trust too, sorry to say that.  Interpreters over the phone as I say, as I mentioned it, if you are suffering from trauma or mental health problem, due to the connection or like you can hardly hear what the interpreter is saying, and it is retraumatising and making   giving them mental health.  To solve this problem is   we tried it to actually be a qualified interpretive service with doing the studying the course, and to be a qualified interpreter they ask us to come to Melbourne.

But the problem is, if I go to Melbourne I'm a female, single female, my whole family is going to come to Melbourne.  There is no chance for me to come back to Shepp and assist the CaLD community with interpreting.  Yes, I will get it, but   the qualifications, so what's the point of me when I have the experience as everything I have been doing since 2014, but, unfortunately, if I leave, then this community, as all the other CaLD community leaders that has been done, they never come back.

So, this   the region area that I'm living in is pretty much we always getting new arrival.  They settle in the community.  Once they get used to the culture, later when they learn you English, then they move to another state. So, to help this problem, use the people that trying to actually, the community leaders trying to actually assist the community and make them to be qualified and that is stop actually retraumatising and increasing the mental health of the regional area.

And this is not only in about interpreting.  It's anything that with filling out the forms, NDIS.  It's hard because as soon as you ask for an invoice for an interpreter, the time limit will go   will be double or triple.  And that's the problems that the regional areas are facing.

MS EASTMAN:  Can I turn to a different topic.  And from your experience, the local school can often be the first place where a child is identified as having a learning disability.  And I think, both Muzhgan and Eman, you have seen that it is the teachers who might pick up, who identify that a child who's newly arrived to Australia, has a disability.  What happens in that circumstance if the teacher identifies the disability?  How does that affect the family?

EMAN:  Yes.  For me, obviously, the family, you know, something is new for them.  They not accept it.  And also for the child.  I haven't seen yet from my own experience, and others, I haven't seen any, you know, serious support from the school.  Rather than, you know, having   it could be teacher aide or other, you know, like multicultural aide, which is not like the   the right support.  Like, a counsellor or what is for psychology or, you know, other sort of support.

MS EASTMAN:  If a family who has a young child starting school and the teacher or the teacher's aide thinks that child might have learning difficulties, does the school have a responsibility of working with the family to get supports?  And, Muzhgan, I know you have a role as assisting students from newly arrived backgrounds.  How does the school work with the families to provide support?

MUZHGAN:  I work at different job titles and one of the jobs I work is a multicultural youth officer. So, what happens is, we go to class and assist the new arrivals, the EAL students, English as additional language or languages.  What happened is, unfortunately a lot of the EAL students are   it's hard   I do understand it's hard for the teachers to actually recognise whether they have learning difficulties or not due to the lack of English. 

So, when we go over there, like, we can   for us, it depends how many   each person is different. So, I have been working since 2014 with the Department of Education.  I found it really easy. If I attend two classes regularly with the students, I can quickly pick up whether it's English or learning disability.

MS EASTMAN:  Just stopping there. So, the question might be is the learning difficulty the language, being able to speak in English, or is the learning difficulty maybe a disability?

MUZHGAN:  Yes.  That's the part that it's really hard for a teacher, especially for EAL students, to be recognised whether they have language variance, English or they actually have learning difficulties. So, we actually report it, and we fill out the form and says, look, we are assuming that this child has learning difficulty, and that's the time that we need to actually let the family know.  And that's a big challenge.  Sometimes the family refuses, so we have to keep encourage them. But we also the obligation, again.

If   unfortunately if the student's in year 10 and apply for learning disability, it will take the whole year to approve.  By the time we actually reach, if it does, they will be in year 11.  And then sometimes the school says, "Oh, it's too late.  Let the child actually   it's nearly the child will be graduated or the students will be graduated from school."  Unfortunately, those students are missing to be recognised how they have learning difficulties.


MUZHGAN:  I hope this answered the question 

MS EASTMAN:  It does.  Thank you.  Zara, can I ask you, you have worked as a multicultural officer, and part of your job has been helping newly arrived migrants to understand service systems.  And you have also had a short time working as an NDIS support coordinator.

ZARA:  Yes.

MS EASTMAN:  Can I ask you to share with the Royal Commissioners what your experience has been for people in the community to even know about the NDIS or what their attitudes towards the NDIS might be?

ZARA:  From my experience, I find out that the community, they have a very low education about the NDIS or about the disability service providers or any service that is available for the disability people.  Like, they don't know.  Even if they know, like, for the disability   for the NDIS, they don't know how to find the report, provide the report or explain the needs they want.  Like, they don't know what to ask. So, in that case they   you know, for the planner, they   the amounts that they are eligible become low, and they don't know what to ask for from NDIS.

But I know someone that she   she's disabled, and she don't know that she is eligible to have a chair, like, a   to sit.  She's   she's sitting in normal chair, and putting a cardboard underneath her and putting her leg on the table, and then when I ask from her support   like, provider to provide her a chair, and she said, "No, I don't want that chair because I don't have the money to pay for that chair." And I explained to the disabled person, individual, that you are not paying anything, that NDIS will pay that for you. 

So, they don't know what's their right.  Maybe they are coming from their country that they   you know, war and they have a very lots of patience but what to ask from the provider.

MS EASTMAN:  Eman, how do people in the community learn about the NDIS and their eligibility?  How do they learn about that?

EMAN:  They don't know about it, definitely.  For me I just   when I joined the group, I heard about the NDIS.  So, there is not much people know about it. So, even though when we had the   the session for   to meet with the Disability Royal Commission people from Melbourne, the people who invite them to come, they don't have much information. So, we talk about that. So, we have a bit of, you know, knowledge about that. So, otherwise, if they hear from us or from the committee or   no one can   they have their, you know, English or their language to do them some research or to find out.  Yes.  And maybe, you know, through the   I don't think so the GP will refer for that.

MS EASTMAN:  Would the community use the internet to look at information online to find out about the NDIS?

EMAN:  It depends if they have the language in English.  They might use it.  You know. 

MS EASTMAN:  Muzhgan, you're shaking your head?

MUZHGAN:  For my community, to be honest, is only 15   10 to 15 per cent of the community can read and write in the first language.  However, using the technology and using the phone, the only thing they know is really, really good at Viber and WhatsApp because that's the way they can actually call home and for   to speak with their families in their home country.  No, they can't access to any information.  The only information that they can actually get is the audio messages translated in their first language.


ZARA:  Sometimes people, they don't know if they have a disability or not.  Like, I know a lady.  She has a child and that child had a, like, skin problem and that skin problem, she   you know, she had been here for a few years and the child went to kinder, maternity childcare, school, and no one told her that that child has a disability.  And, like, I have been with her as well and for a few years.  I know her for a few years.  Suddenly by accidentally, I ask her that, you know, your child has, you know, allergic, skin allergy and that skin allergy, why it's not become better.  Do you use any product?

And then see said no, it's not the skin allergy, it is like disease.  And then when I went and I searched for   she told me the name, and then when I went and I searched and I found that this is a disability.  And no one talked to her about disability.  And she don't know   not maternity child care, not kinder and not even school told her about disability. So, how can she go and search for the support if she don't know that this is a disability?

MS EASTMAN:  What information do you think the community need to help them understand about disability or understand about what support might be available for disability?  Who wants to   Eman do you want to answer that one?

EMAN:  Especially for mental health, we have a   you know, a big gap to understand the mental health and the support.  That's   in turn to give them, you know, a support in this   you know, issue. So, this mental health, it lead to disability help, as I mentioned. So, if they understand the problem from the beginning, so they   then they will understand what's their right. So, it's   I guess, it's through the organisations there, or sessions or informations, so to know about the services.

MS EASTMAN:  How   I will put it this way   what is the best way to get the information to the community who need to know?

EMAN:  Either by   for the people who is not working, by the Centrelink or by the school.  It's the best to start with the families and with the children.

ZARA:  I think maternity childcare, kinder, and, you know, community leaders, we can   we can provide the information in the first language.  So, we feel like the   educate the leaders and then they will find out then they will educate the others.  But, you know, now when the people know that I'm the community health educator, they come and ask me, and this is a good opportunity that I know, you know, more information and I give   I provide that information to them.

MS EASTMAN:  That puts a lot of responsibility on you as the community health educators.

ZARA:  So, yes, we are part of that community. We have    other you know, community leaders.  We have like mosque, imam in mosque.  We have lots of other people who are responsible, you know, who are part of active in the community.  We can educate those people so those people can, like, pass that information to the members   other community members. 

MS EASTMAN:  Do you all feel a heavy responsibility, having to be community leaders?

ZARA:  Yes, sometimes.  It's   it's, like, very heavy, responsible and sometimes you feel that you are not   you are not doing the right job.  Like you   it's not enough information that you pass back, it's not enough, and sometimes you feel that, oh, maybe it's not right.  Maybe you pass   by accident you pass the wrong information to them.  Maybe you hurt them by that information.  Maybe   so there is many possibilities that meeting, that it makes us feeling very heavy responsible.


EMAN:  The last few years, I have been through lots.  That's what make me to come and to talk, because my son, one of my family, has been through lots of problem.  When he first arrived, no one diagnosed him with the learning difficulty or English difficulty.  I don't know what it is.  And in the middle of his learning journey, he lost the way.  And I realised what's   what's going on.  I'd been focusing on them to support them, to you know   to teach them and educate them, to have a better future here, and I don't know what's happened to him.  Like  

MS EASTMAN:  That's very   you feel very heartbroken.  I know you have told us about this.  It's difficult to talk about.

EMAN:  Yes.  Because   yes. I feel like I couldn't finish my mission here with my children.  And then because no support, he turn to drug habits.  Yes.  And later, I know there is many, many in my community   oh, my God, I need to talk.  Even though I feel shame, even though I feel shy. So, I need to give the message to the people, that it's okay.  I will give if there is a problem, so I will get the support.  I went through all the organisations in my town, but I didn't get any support.  Serious support.

Like, I went in many, many others people to ask.  I didn't get any support   serious support for him to get over this habit.  Lately, I have been controlling him with my own, you know, my own experience to get over that things. I just want him   to support him gradually to start a course, you know, studying course with him, being   advising him, you know, doing this from my own experience, my own search.

I did the mental health first aid with the girls, the training.  I did it so I just want to understand him and understand the situation. So, I will be able to deal with him. So, this is   this comes to me as a person and came to Australia, I'm sure there is many, many others affected by this.  And lately I saw there is many, many other families that they don't have the support, they don't have the knowledge.  They don't have the language.  How are they going to cope with that?

MS EASTMAN:  You   Eman, you support a lot of families and you also have this very close to home in your own family.  The three of you do so much work for the community.  How can you build greater community involvement and support so the burden is just not on a very few small number of people?  How do you do that?

EMAN:  Being caring for others, being helping others and encouraging others and understanding others as well.  We live and care in Australia, for me I almost 20 years.  My other children, they are brilliant, contributing their, you know, life and working in the hospital and doing a great job.  This is what we give to our community and our society. So, I decided to share that.  And be, you know, together to help others to get over what they have from issue, either mental health or other disabilities.  Yes, that's   that's   I think that this is the good idea or a great idea too. 

MS EASTMAN:  Zara, did you want to say something?  And then I will ask Muzhgan.

ZARA:  I think we all need to try hard to make a better community.  Like, we try our best, but I think it's not enough.  We need the other support for the   you know, from different organisations and different communities for new arrival family or CaLD community to   to, you know, receive a better supports from the   from the service that is available for them.  Like, I think we can ask from the child, the language, the English language centres that provides   you know, working with new arrivals we   you know, those people can, you know, provide information, educate the people, new arrivals, that support is available or those information are available. So, all of us need to work hard to have a better community.

MS EASTMAN:  Muzhgan.

MUZHGAN:  For me, to be honest, since when I arrived in Australia and I promise something to myself, and I say, like, this country give me a new bed, a bed   a place where I can live in peace and have all my right.  And in return, I said to myself, I need to do something at least to give it back this country. So, my goal is   to be honest, is to assist, doesn't matter whether they are from my culture or not, to assist and try to actually tell the new generation, the community, to actually follow the right step and also pause whoever actually help them, pause that and pay that back by helping and assisting the other people.

It doesn't matter, regardless, the colour, the skin of colour, religion, culture, the language they speak.  That is how the nature of life works, to be honest.  To educate the community is   the best thing is to actually assist them and give them the right information without regards to if they can't speak English, give them the information in the first language.  Everything, even when you build a house, if you actually build it strong and the construction, the structure, if it's strong at the start, it will last for long.

If you are quick and hurry, it will   not last for a long time and it will damage. So, it will be good if this information actually be given to the communities at the first   in as early as possible, then it will not impact   will not having people with lots of mental health problem, trauma or retrauma.  For example, the people who has been in detention centre.  However, they   the children haven't but the children will experience trauma from the story they hear from the parents.

MS EASTMAN:  Can I   before I ask the Commissioners   they might have some questions.  For each of you, what is the most important support that you think your community needs now to assist those members of the community who live with disability?  Eman, do you want to go first?  I didn't give you prior notice of that question. 

EMAN:  Yes.

MS EASTMAN:  So if you want time to think about it, that's fine. What's the most important thing?

EMAN:  I think to get, you know, the right service and the right responsibility.  From   because when someone turns to the NDIS, they don't know their rights or their responsibilities. So, they need to be upfront of what the service, they   you know, the worker, they need to explain their role, what the service they provide for them.  They don't assume the person who understands or knows what they expect from the organisation or whatever.  You know. So, they need to know in the beginning.  Because, for me, if I go to them, I don't know what is my right and what I get from them. So, they need to know the system up front.


ZARA:  I think it's similar to what Eman said, that, you know, when   it's important that when the person goes to one service, that service provider put in his mind that this person is from different culture and may   they don't   they have lots of values, they have a trauma from previous you know, experience, they have a language barrier, they don't   there have a low knowledge.  Maybe they don't   they don't have education in the first language. 

So, they put in their mind that there is lots of things happening in one person, so, you know, be careful and provide   you know, give more information and explain about the service that provide for that person. So, in that case, that person know what's their right. So, they will get that, you know, the right service and they will not, you know, disappoint.  Because I hear many, many stories and many experiences from different people that they said that, "We tried, we tried.  We went to different places but it's   there's just wasting time."  And they don't receive any service.

Maybe because they went in the wrong service, they don't know the right service provider and they then difference.  And then in the end they will   disappoint and they will give up. So, if they know the right, and they know where to go, the right place, so in the beginning they will put   they will access the right service and not disappoint and not give up and   yes.

MS EASTMAN:  And, Muzhgan, you talked about the importance of building the house slowly and not a rush. So, what would be the important matters now to help the community?

MUZHGAN:  To be honest, the main issue with my community is the first issues to solve the interpreting problem first, to be honest.  There is no point of having different organisation in the community while the community does not understand how to get that information in the first language.  That's the first state, being able to give the   like, the person who give the information into the first language.  For example, if I actually explain   if I run a class and I explain it in my first language, no one in here will understand.

I might say the same information, the information that everyone   all the people know in the room. There is no point of me running that class when there is no one in the room will understand.  That's what happens when you give a person an information or running a session regards to what information it is, there is no point of running it when you don't   that person's know what is going on the room.

The last part is   regards to also NDIS is for CaLD communities, it's hard.  It's hard for us to grab   to use the documentation, to prove that the child have learning difficulties.  First of all, as I mentioned it, through the Department of Education, it takes years to approve by the time you did the test with the students, whether they are   have learning difficulties or not.  The second problem is, again, interpreting which will double the time.

The forms that I   we just start with the CaLD community regards to the NDIS, and, to be honest, I have experienced a lot of challenges from the community, which we always do.  Anything that relates to disability, we face the challenges.  When a few people step in from the community, then the rest of the community follow the same path.  At the moment, the forms that I say that we have applied for, this amount of people since June, these people has been lost hope.

If this stayed back, God knows how these children   if the families said no, then we can't do anything.  I'm not sure about the legal side, how they are going to go legally to encourage the families to do the NDIS form.  I hope this is   this is what I'm scared of.  If these families' spirit   like, send the word, like, tell the rest of the community this is what happened to us and this is how long we have been through, and you got   this is, like, how we are going around the circle, there is no way that we can   everyone will be   other  community leaders will be able to help the CaLD community to apply for NDIS, because once we lost the trust, that's it.

MS EASTMAN:  Okay. I will check with the Commissioners now if the Commissioners have any questions they want to ask you.

CHAIR:  Yes, thank you very much. I will first ask Commissioner McEwin if he has any questions.

COMMISSIONER McEWIN:  Thank you, Chair.  Thank you to each of you for coming today and providing your evidence and your experiences.  I just have one question.  You were explaining about the shame of families when they have a disabled child or a disabled member of the family.  Other witnesses today and yesterday have described that similar type of thing.  I'm just wondering what type of support do the families need to make sure that that child with a disability can grow up and develop a positive identity and confidence within themselves so that they are ready to go out into society?  How can we make sure that that child builds that confidence for their ongoing life?

EMAN:  Learning support is important, especially for the new arrival.  And this is, you know, what has made many, many, many example, so they turn for the   they lost.  Drugs habit or they are not working. So, from the beginning, to diagnose the learning or learning difficulty, learning English, that's important, from my experience.  I don't know others   you have any other?

MUZHGAN:  From my experience, the forms   when I actually apply for NDIS, to be honest, stop making people going around the circle.  If the information that you need   they refer them to GP.  GP doesn't help them.  They say it's taking a lot of time.  We are unable to help. So, there will be   there needs to be a clear instruction.  What are the steps you need to be taking and how long it will take. So, that way people doesn't feel that they have been excluded and has been going around the circle.

ZARA:  And the other thing is that, you know, the school is very important, teacher, like child teacher is very important because the child   you know, teacher being the helper   they   with the child and realise the child's, you know, difficulties and what is    so, the teacher can explain that to the   that   can explain that to parents and say that the child has that disability, and, if you like, there is steps to support and service   available for that child so we can   you know, that's become better for her, for her future and this is the outcome of accessing that service. 

So, maybe the parents feel that okay, it's okay, it's benefit for other children to be better.  But many parents, they think that if the child has a disability, it's mean   they will say that, that there is no improvement and they will   they will have no future. So, that's why they are hiding that   you know, issues. So, when   if the teacher explained that to the parents it will affect a lot I think.

MUZHGAN:  Sorry, I might just actually didn't explain the question properly.  The way that actually was   I said stop going around the circle, because the more time it takes instead of actually   if there is a short waiting list, then that way, once   what happens with the CaLD community, if this   they need someone from the community to stand up and go through that process.  Once it's achieved, then the rest of the community will say, yes, it's working.  It worked for that child; it will work for my child as well.

COMMISSIONER McEWIN:  Thank you.  And, Zara, thank you for that explanation.  And maybe this relates to peer support?  Having peer support for that child and that family is important.  Is that, in a nutshell, what you were getting at?

ZARA:  I think so.


COMMISSIONER BENNETT:  Thank you for today.  You have given some strong messages about the NDIS and your experience.  But many services for people with disability are not provided by the NDIS.  Only a small proportion of the community with people with disability uses the NDIS.  Is your message also to state governments on the services they provide, such as support for drug addiction or mental health?  Is it the same message that you would like to give to those other health service providers that you have given today about the NDIS?

EMAN:  Definitely, yes, for mental health, about the drugs as well.  We   we definitely need to send this message.


EMAN:  Yes.

COMMISSIONER BENNETT:  Early childhood care, yes.

EMAN:  Yes. Family care. There is lots of other organisations.  They   either they, you know, over worked or they not doing their job probably with the CaLD community.


ZARA:  And I think, you know, in   you know, there is a few organisations that is not working with the NDIS, but I think we are one community, and each of us, like, affect the other person, and we have, like   have someone   we need to support them, even if we are not   like, I'm not working for the NDIS but I   I   it is   part of my work is, like, support that person.  It's like every organisation has a little bit of information about the other support service. So, they can provide that information to the individuals, and it's   it will, you know, that makes that person have their right support.


CHAIR:  We have heard evidence from people from regional communities before.  Our very first hearing, in fact, was in Townsville in Queensland.  But I would be very interested to know what you feel about the support that you have received from people within the local community who are not part of the culture and linguistically diverse community.  Do you feel that you have received support, that you are assisted in the work that you seek to do and to address the problems that you have identified?

EMAN:  You mean for the drugs and alcohol problem or other problems?

CHAIR:  I'm not talking about the drugs, no, no.  I'm talking about the kinds of problems that you have each spoken about, of people understanding their entitlements, of being directed to the correct agencies to receive the supports that they need.  I'm just wondering whether you feel that there is support from the broader community of which you are part?

EMAN:  Yes, we got support.  Like, for me, I got support from my Australian friends.  And the first person, Chris, my friend, she's here.  She's the first one to support me and to direct me to the right services.  Also my other friend, Lorna, she's   when she   when I first arrived, she's supporting me to get the right, you know, things or right support from other organisations.  From my community, as we talk the mental health or other problem, it's been heading   you know, no one talk about it to get the support from other.  The problem is ongoing, either for the drugs or for the mental health.  It's a big, big issue there in our community.  It has not been something we talk about it.

ZARA:  I think there is a support available from the broader communities, but the problem is that the community need to find out.  And from the   my community, like, the suburb that I'm living is very multicultural, but the problem is that many families, many, you know, members of families they are not connected, they are not engaging with their other community and they think they are separate.

Like, even like, you know, the children they are in same house, they are going to the school and the mums are uneducated as, you know, like, parents staying home.  There is not communicating, there is not engaging between the parents and children.  They are having   you know, the children are having Australian culture.  They are behaving as Australian culture.  The parents is in Afghan culture or you know, home culture, and they have a big gap.  And that   that parents they don't have that engagement with the broader community.  You know, they are only with their community friends from the same community, some same culture. They don't have that engagement, you know.

CHAIR:  Yes.

MUZHGAN:  The support is available, but as I mentioned, the support is available in to English, but not in first language. So, there's no point of having support around you when you don't understand.

CHAIR:  Of course.  Yes.  Well, thank you very much.  I know that things have not been easy in the Goulburn Valley of late, so that it must have been very difficult for you to come here to Melbourne to give evidence.  We are very grateful for you being prepared to make that very considerable effort to come to the Royal Commission today in Melbourne.  Thank you very much for that.

And we also know that it's not easy to talk about personal experiences, and we appreciate that you have been prepared to do that and to share your own experiences and your own stories with us.  And we also want to thank you for the work that you are doing, which is really very, very important.  And the people within your community should be   and I'm sure they are, extremely grateful to you for the contributions that you have made. So, thank you very much for assisting us today.  We have each learned a lot.  Thank you.

EMAN:  Thank you.

ZARA:  And I want to thank you and everyone here that give us that opportunity to be in our    you know, talking about our culture and our   you know, these issues that we have, we're facing and, you know, talk about it and, you know, maybe change for our community.

CHAIR:  It's actually a privilege for us to be able to hear. So, thank you.

ZARA:  Yes.  Thank you.

EMAN:  Thank you.

CHAIR:  Ms Eastman.  We have finished 

MS EASTMAN:  That concludes the evidence for today.  And we will resume tomorrow at 10 am.

CHAIR:  10 am.  Thank you very much. We will now adjourn.