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Public hearing 31 - Vision for an inclusive Australia - Day 2

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CHAIR:  Good morning everybody, both within the hearing room in Brisbane and everybody who is following these proceedings on the live stream. Today is the second day of Public hearing 31 of the Royal Commission into Violence, Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation of People with Disability, and the topic for this week is ‘A Vision for an Inclusive Australia’. I shall ask Commissioner Mason today to make the Acknowledgement of Country.

COMMISSIONER MASON:  Thank you. We acknowledge Meanjin, Brisbane. We recognise the Country north and south of the Brisbane River as the home of both Turrbal and Jagera Nations. We acknowledge the Turrbal and Jagera nations as the traditional custodians of the land on which this Royal Commission is sitting. We acknowledge and pay our deep respect for Elders past and present, and we acknowledge First Nations young people who one day will take their place as Elders. We extend that respect to all First Nations people and acknowledge their enduring connection to the land, sky, seas, the waterways. We pay our deep respect to First Nations people here today and who are following this Public hearing online on the mainland and on islands, including Tasmania and the Torres Strait, especially Elders, parents and young people with disability. Thank you, Chair.

CHAIR:  Thank you very much, Commissioner Mason. Yes, Ms Eastman.

MS EASTMAN:  Good morning, Commissioners, and good morning to everybody following the Royal Commission proceedings in this room and also online. Commissioners, our first witness this morning is joining us online, and you'll shortly see Dylan Alcott AO. I'll just wait until he comes on the screen. There he is. Good morning, Dylan.

CHAIR:  He might be on your screen. There he is. He's on delay. You're on screen now. In that case ‑

MR ALCOTT:  G'day everyone.

MS EASTMAN:  Mr Alcott has given an affirmation before joining us this morning.


CHAIR:  Mr Alcott, thank you very much for joining us and for being prepared to give evidence today to the Royal Commission. We very much appreciate your attendance. We did take the opportunity to congratulate you on your well-deserved appointment earlier this year, but since we're now in public, let us again congratulate you and also commend you for the work that you have been done. It is slightly belated because you are probably coming towards the end of your term, but it is something that is a matter for very great commendation and we're very grateful for you being prepared to come to us today. So, thank you very much.

MR ALCOTT:  Thank, Royal Commissioners.

CHAIR:  I'll ask Ms Eastman now to ask you some questions.


MS EASTMAN:  Thank you, Chair. I'll start with some formalities. So, I will confirm that we have Dylan Alcott AO. And I want to introduce Dylan. Many Australians know him as the Australian of the Year for 2022, but many Australians also know Mr Alcott as an elite athlete. He's achieved success in wheelchair basketball with a gold medal at the Paralympic Games. He's achieved great success on the tennis court with 23 quad wheelchair Grand Slam titles. In 2021, Mr Alcott achieved the Golden Slam. That's no mean feat. It involves winning four major tournaments and winning a Paralympic gold medal all in the same year. He's the first man to do that.

But he also has founded the Dylan Alcott Foundation to provide scholarships and grants to fund marginal Australian communities for people with disability. He's the author of a bestselling autobiography entitled Able. He has co‑founded Get Skilled Access (GSA) and, Commissioners, you may recall hearing evidence from GSA at Public hearing 9 around this time last year. He's established Ability Fest, which is Australia's only ‑ well, perhaps now not only but first inclusive fully accessible music festival.

And, Commissioners, you might recall Oliver Hunter gave some evidence at Public hearing 9 about his involvement with the music festival. And Mr Alcott holds several high-profile media roles in television, in radio, in podcasting, and he's a man who's in very great demand. So, we're delighted that Mr Alcott could join us this morning. You might ask why have we asked Mr Alcott to appear at this Public hearing. Well, one, it is important that people with disability have the opportunity to participate in leadership at the highest levels, and being Australian of the Year for 2022 certainly fits that category.

But, Commissioners, as I said in opening yesterday, your Terms of Reference include giving consideration to creating inclusive society in Australia, so that people with disability can live free from violence, abuse, neglect and exploitation. And it's on that topic that we've asked Mr Alcott to appear at this hearing and to share his experiences in relation to building inclusive societies.

So, Mr Alcott, can I start perhaps by asking you your reflections on the year as the Australian of the Year. We know that you've got still a few weeks to go and we know that that has been a role that has had great demand on your time, a lot of travelling, a lot of media and a lot of engagement with Australians around the community. And we know that there have been particular topics of interest that I want to ask you about in a moment - campaigning for free RAT tests for Australians with disability, employment and some of the work on the NDIS.

But can I start just by asking you to share any reflections that you've had as the Australian of the Year and particularly what surprised you? What's been different or unexpected in terms of the work that you've done this year?

MR ALCOTT:  Yeah, g'day everyone, thanks for having me. Firstly, please call me Dylan. Mr Alcott, I can't handle. I'm a big Dylan man. I'd say, my name's Dylan, I'm a white male in a wheelchair. I'm wearing a grey turtleneck and I just cut my first ever mullet into my hair, for anybody that can't see, so as my image description. I also want to start by thanking you for having me here but also sending a big love to everybody that's presented before, especially over the topics of violence, abuse, neglect.

I've lived a pretty lucky, privileged life in this sense that I haven't personally ‑ obviously faced discrimination and exclusion and things like that, but nothing to that level, and there's been some harrowing stuff that people have been brave enough to get up here and talk about. So, big love to them, and also there's some people who still want that opportunity to be able to present what their story is. And I hope they do get the opportunity to do so.

Also, I'm definitely no expert in disability. I just know what I know, you know what I mean? And I don't speak for everybody, I just speak for myself and my own experience and my lived experience. So, to be able to come and talk about that today, I appreciate the opportunity. Australian of the Year has been pretty awesome. It's been very, very busy and probably busier than I thought it was going to be, to be honest. We're getting something like a couple of hundred requests every day for appearances and speaking and things like that, and how cool's that?

You know, that people want to talk about disability. We've been able to get into rooms and opportunities that we thought we probably would never get and we're very appreciative of it. Hope we've made everybody proud. I've got no idea how to be Australian of the Year, to be honest. All I know is how to be myself. And we're just trying my best to do it. What I will say, my observation is, you know, I'm getting to hospitals, talking to kids with disabilities and young people and all different communities.

You know, people with disability don't need my advice on how to get out there with their life. They know what to do. It's probably everybody else, the able bodied community. And there has been a real thirst, I would say, to listen and learn to do better. I feel it's genuine, but that thirst is nothing without action. So, it's probably a good starting spot but it's time for corporate Australia, government, education departments, big employers, health, whatever, to really commit and invest in getting better in this space and providing opportunities.

But I think ‑ well, I know the time to do it is now and everybody is ready to do it. It's about how we go about it, and obviously this Royal Commission plays a role in that with the report that's going to come out and hopeful that the words, the writing that comes out of it, gets executed for sure. But I am a washed-up tennis player these days, and I am very close to being a washed-up Australian of the Year, because I've only got about a month to go. So, yeah, it's been a hectic year and full on, but I'm very grateful for the opportunity.

MS EASTMAN:  Can I ask you about one of the areas which you've spoken about with some passion, and that is about the employment opportunities for people with disability? The Royal Commission has heard over the course of its work that rate of employment for people with disability seems to be stuck at the same level for about 25 years. And while there's been lots of initiatives and plans, nothing seems to be cutting through at the level of increasing employment participation for people with disability perhaps as quickly as some people might like and, indeed, expect.

So, I understand you're not an employment expert, but this is a topic that you've felt very strongly about. Reflecting on the year, what can you tell the Royal Commission about what will achieve better outcomes in employment for people with disability?

MR ALCOTT:  Yeah, look, first and foremost, not every person with disability can work. And that's okay, because your worth as a person is not tied to your job, right, and for those people that can't work, they need the funding and the support so they can be themselves and make choice and control over their lives. But for the people that can work or want to work, they deserve the choice to work. Not saying you have to get a job, but they deserve the choice like everybody else to get out there and find employment. And it can be a pretty brutal landscape sometimes for a lot of people to get out there and get those opportunities that they deserve to have the choice and control over their life if they want to work.

Obviously, if you do have a job, that comes with financial security, right, but it also comes with the social aspect, the networking, the purpose or whatever it is, and people, all people, disability or not, deserve that choice to get out there and do that if they want to do. You nailed it. We all know this, but there are 4.5 million people in this country with a physical, non-physical, visible or invisible disability, and only 54 percent of them are involved in the workforce. That placement rate has not changed in 28 years.

I'm 31 years old. So, my whole life, that pretty much has not changed. But I thought we were getting better with inclusion, things like that. Isn't there a work shortage at the moment, a worker shortage at the moment, right? Yet that number isn't really changing and it's always like, well, why is that? And there are multiple reasons for that. Obviously there's an unconscious bias that people with disability, the lack of expectation of what we can do. People think we can't do the role.

Not all workplaces, job sites, whatever are accessible and inclusive to people with disability, which eliminates our opportunity to get out there and make the choice and control over what we're doing. But also we need ‑ we need market leaders to show the way and provide those opportunities, you know. The public sector is a perfect example. They have some of the lowest rates of people with disability employed. Yet when we go out to corporate Australia and go, "You need to employ more people with disability" ‑ if the public sector aren't doing it, well, then it's pretty hard to influence private sector to do it as well.

But, you know, I ‑ you know, I've really said this publicly but I remember I went to a job interview when I was like 19, 20. It was like a brand ambassador for this company, at a university. I got to the interview, and it was ‑ I didn't tell them I was in a wheelchair, because if I did, I wasn't getting an interview. Turned up, it was upstairs. They came downstairs, and they said you didn't say you were in a wheelchair. I said I must have forgotten it.

And then there was an office downstairs. I said can you come downstairs and do the interview. And they said, no, we're just going to cancel the job interview now, right. That happens every day still to so many people with disability, and that sucks, first and foremost, right. And there is obviously laws and laws around that so it doesn't happen. But the reason that there should be greater employment of people with disability is, you know, there are 4.5 million people in this country with disability and what are we? Consumers, just like you; who wants that choice and control, just like you; who wants to make the same decisions over your life, just like you.

And your workforce should represent your consumer base, should it not? Like any other business. Yet we always get left out of that economic conversation because people think we can't do anything. People think we aren't consumers. People think we can't work, right. You mentioned it before. I've got a consulting firm called Get Skilled Access, GSA. You know, I have over 50 consultants and associates and the vast majority of those people have disability. The reason we are a successful business is not because our team are disabled. It's because our team are good. It's because they're good.

MS EASTMAN:  So, what I ‑ can I ask you about this in employment? One thing might be that the physical premises and the way people work needs to be accessible. So, the example that you gave, if you're required to go to the second floor for an interview and you use the wheelchair and there's no lift and there's no what have you, there's an accessibility issue. That's one thing. But you see accessibility and inclusion as slightly different concepts. Can I ask you to talk to that?

MR ALCOTT:  Yes, well, they are. I mean, you can have the most accessible workplace ever. Ramps, screen readers, a sensory room for people who are neurodiverse, whatever. Yet, if that person goes out to their desk and no‑one talks to them or doesn't give them a promotion or sidelines them because of their unconscious bias about their disability, what's the point of having the accessibility features, you know what I mean? So, accessibility and inclusion go hand in hand.

We describe it as the hardware, so the hardware accessibility and the software, which is the lifting expectation, lack of negative stigmas, the unconscious bias getting left at the door, right, and that comes down to education and training. And what is the best way to do that is to listen to lived experience of people with disability. Right. You cannot ‑ you cannot speak about somebody at a table unless they have a seat at that table, right?

And you said it before, like some people with disability just want a job, fair enough, just like some able bodied person might just want a job. Other people might want a career. They might want a leadership position. They might want to progress through industry and that. But if we as a society do not provide those opportunities, well, then they're not going to get the opportunities to get out there and be themselves. Right?

And one thing I always get asked around employment as well, it's up to people with disability, especially invisible disabilities, to tell us about their disability and disclose. A person with an invisible disability has absolutely no pressure to tell anything ‑ anybody anything about themselves, right, absolutely none. It's up to society and workplaces to do the work, to create inclusive cultures so people with invisible disabilities, all disabilities, can be their authentic self when they go to work, if that makes sense. Right?

And I think it's up to ‑ it often always falls on the people with disability to go, what do you need, why didn't you tell us. I say, no, no, you do the work, you make yourself accessible and inclusive by educating yourself, investing in it so you've got a better understanding so then people with disability can then get there and be the people that they want to be authentically at work every day and contribute. And, look, we're just always trying to find way to innovate and help.

We created a jobs platform called The Field a few weeks ago where we launched ‑ it's just like any jobs platform where people with disability can chat with inclusive employers and get involved in the employment exchange. The only big difference is accessibility and inclusion is at the core because it's made by people with disability for people with disability to get out there and get involved in the workplace, if they want to do it. And, yeah, you know, as I said, we're always listening and learning as well, and we love getting advice from anybody with disability about what's going on in their lives to try and support any way that we can so people get those opportunities. But I just want that participation rate to change. I just want that ‑ more people with disability to get the opportunities to get out there and be the people that they want to be.

MS EASTMAN:  So, one issue the Commissioners looked at last year where we asked large Australian businesses to give us an overview of the percentage of people with disability, or people who identify as living with disability in their workforces, and I think in some of the large businesses it was less than one percent. And then we looked at some of the governments ‑ not all of the governments ‑ and we looked at numbers around seven percent, four percent. So, that sort of raised the question then, do you need to fast track by having quotas and holding business in private sectors or governments to quotas for employing people with disability? Have you got a view on that?

MR ALCOTT:  Well, it's got to be quantified so we know if we're getting better or not. What I will say with quotas and token ‑ when they're tokenistic, we don't want that either, and the same with gender, race, whatever it is. But I think if you can quantify what is going on and track it, it holds people responsible, doesn't it? If they're doing the right thing or not. And then we can actually figure out how to go about it.

But what I will say with that is, there are definitely, definitely, definitely higher numbers of people with disability working within those big corporations but they just don't want to tell them. Why don't they want to tell them?  Because they'll get treated differently, because they won't get a promotion, because they might lose their job, and that sucks, right? You see how it's important for us to have a societal shift around it so they understand the impact of it and can better allow people to be their authentic self to get there.

Having a barbecue on International Day of People with Disability where we all high five each other and the next day going back to work and forgetting about it is not it. Right? Full actual inclusion is every day. Accessibility and inclusion of people with disability is every day. And it's going to enrich the organisation as a whole because people will perform better if they can be themselves when they're going to work, where there is a mental health struggle, invisible disability, physical disability, whatever it is.

You know, the reason that big corporates and government should employ more people with disability, one, obviously it's socially responsible; two, it's just good business as well. Right? It's changing that narrative around something that, "I have to do that" to, "I want to and need to do that". And I think that is coming, and it is changing and things like that. But the onus isn't on people with disability to always advocate for that. It has to be co‑designed together, right? So we can all get out there an have an impact.

MS EASTMAN:  I want to move to a different topic which is another area that you identified in your year as Australian of the Year as really important and that is the NDIS. And you're a big supporter of the NDIS, but you look at it to say how can it work better but also how as a community do we support the NDIS. And so I think you've been involved in doing some research in looking at improving the NDIS; is that right?

MR ALCOTT:  Yeah, we commissioned a report through GSA and The Field, and whereby we spoke to thousands of participants and people involved and stakeholders just about ways to improve it. It's not broken. It's bloody great. And I went a little bit viral a few weeks ago. I did a press conference and I got asked four questions in a row, negative questions about the NDIS. And I was like, if I hear one more negative thing about the NDIS. It is a bloody awesome scheme, first and foremost, right?

The first whole half of that report is the benefits of the NDIS. If you're watching this and you've got no idea what the NDIS does, just have a read, right, just educate why it's so important. One of my ‑ I think ‑ I mean there's lots of stats in there, one of my favourite ones, the kids under six who have been on the NDIS for four years compared to kids who weren't on the NDIS, they have double the amount of friends. Did you know that? Like, do we hear about that? Of course not. We just hear about the cost and how it's a pain in the arse for everybody. But it's not.

MS EASTMAN:  Why is it important to talk about the NDIS as something that is a positive and beneficial measure to support inclusion for people with disability rather than what seems to be part of the discussion is often in the mainstream media that it costs a lot of money, it's a burden, it's a blow‑out. Is it dangerous for those conversations to continue?

MR ALCOTT:  Yeah. Well, do you know why we should talk about those good things? Because it's the truth, first and foremost.  I know it sounds basic, but that is the majority of what's going on, is good stuff. But obviously there's some negative aspects. Too much stuff caught up in the red tape. Too many people with disability having to go to court to prove their disability. Too many dodgy people coming in and taking money away from a neurodiverse family so their kids can get care, or whatever it is, right.

And the NDIS is ‑ I read stories about, you know, NDIS, people with disability benefitting. It's not so we can drive nice cars. It's so people with disability, high‑level disability, can have a shower, can get out of aged care facilities and get the care they need. Get the support in their home so they can get out and do whatever they want to do and start working, whatever it is. Right? But you hear the stories ‑ we believe the stories we read, don't we, as people.

And if we as a society constantly read the negative things about it, it becomes a negative scheme, and it is not. And it can be very, very, very dangerous, because it paints us, as people with disability on the NDIS ‑ I personally am not on the NDIS ‑ but people on the NDIS as bludgers, handout, taking money, it's expensive. So, when people in the street, see disability, what do they think? Bludgers, getting handouts, you know, whatever it is, and it's just not true.

It is an investment in our economy to increase the productivity of this country. That's why the NDIS was created, right. And, like, just having ‑ one of the big things about ‑ in our report is ensuring, one, disability leadership at the core of NDIS. How bloody awesome was it when Kurt Fearnley and the other board members were appointed as the leadership for the NDIA? Like, I almost got up and started walking. I was pumped, right. And Kurt, legend. And, like, it's so important to have lived experience at the core, but also ensure that that choice and control is given to people with disability to make their own choices over their own life via their funding packages.

Right? That's the whole point of it. And if that gets taken away, or whatever it is, because of red tape and bureaucracy, whatever, it defeats the purpose of the scheme. Like, you know. I remember when I was young, I got care in the home and we were just at the mercy of whoever turned up at the door. That's scary, you know what I mean? Like, at least now, as it should be, you have that choice and control over where you spend your money, what mobility aids you get, who comes in your house, whatever it is, and that's so important, and we've got to make sure we protect that for sure.

MS EASTMAN:  Can I turn now to the topic of changing or shifting attitudes or perceptions about people with disability, and this is something which, in the work that you've done, you've changed attitudes, not only for able bodied people, but also, as you know, for young people with disability. So, it's not uncommon in the Royal Commission to hear young people look up to you and say, "He's a pretty fantastic guy. We've seen Dylan do this. We would like to be having the opportunities Dylan's had."

So, you've given people that opportunity of seeing what you can be. So, you've had that role in changing attitudes within disability but also in the broader community. And I take it that you've just sort of been yourself to do that, rather than going to how do I change attitudes course 101. You haven't done the Harvard business model of changing attitudes; is that right?

MR ALCOTT:  No. Look, I get a bit weird when people call me an advocate or a role model, because I don't wake up on this Tuesday morning and go how am I going to advocate today, you know what I mean? I just try and be myself. For any person with disability watching, it took me 28 years to fully feel worthy of my disability and worthy of love. I'm 31. So, you might think I've had it together for a while, but I haven't, and I still have big insecurities around that and things like that.

But what I will say is I'm a proud person with disability, through and through, and I want more people to feel the same way, really. And that comes with opportunities so they can be themselves in their ‑ in education, in employment, in their social lives or whatever it is. Just little things like I just can't put into words how much I used to hate myself, hated my disability, got bullied about my disability at school. And do you know how many minutes of disability education I did at school? Zero.

Do you know how many minutes of disability education is still done at school? Zero. If we had just done one hour once a year about disability so we could explain to my mates why I go to the bathroom a bit longer, why I need this or why I'm in a wheelchair or whatever, it would have changed my life. It really would have. But we don't really do that enough and I think we need to. I would love it if we do, you know what I mean.

And there are so many ‑ you know, our foundation, a not for profit, it's called the Dylan Alcott Foundation. I know what you're thinking. Shit name. We were in a rush. But that's fine, we live with it. And it ‑ look, we are set up to build capacity in young people with disability, invest in them so they can be the people they want to be through education, through equipment to become Paralympians, employment for people that can't find work.

And the same stories comes out of them just saying they just want to be themselves and they want people to support them being themselves. And, look, I'm buoyant about it. This Royal Commission, for example, wasn't happening five, 10 years ago. Representation was a lot lower. Whatever it is, it is getting better, but it's got to get better quicker, you know. And how do we do that? We've got to all do it together. And we as a community are ready to go.

It's everybody else. You know, as you said ‑ everybody else out there, government, corporate Australia, education institutions, venues, festivals, airlines. Everybody's got to come to the party here and understand the huge opportunity that's in front of us but also the good in what it can do. And, you know, I get asked this a bit, and we were talking about it before, you know, five, 10, 50 years, where do you see disability?

I mean, I want it to happen yesterday to be honest. But if we can look back in a few years and just go, shit, disability is normal because you are seeing it everywhere, right. It absolutely sucks that you only see a handful of people with disability whether it's me ‑ you know, Chloe Hayden's killing it. I know she was on the Royal Commission yesterday. Kurt, whoever it is. I just 100 per cent to be redundant, and there are so many other voices of people with disability that deserve to get heard.

They really do, right. And I was even uncomfortable coming here talking to you because I want other people's voices to be heard. And we are getting there, but that ‑ and the way to get there is through mainstream representation in our mainstream schools, in our workplaces, in our leadership positions within our workplaces, on our boards, in our parliaments, on our screens because you can't be what you can't see. And, you know, there are thousands ‑ hundreds of thousands of people with disability who are ready to take up that opportunity, but if those doors aren't open to do it, you're not going to get there.

And I am one of the fortunate few who had those doors opened, you know what I mean, and I want more people to get those opportunities so they can live their life and be normal and make their own decisions like anybody else. But, yeah, that disability ‑ look, I think being authentically yourself and working your arse off but also being really vulnerable can be really hard when you have a disability because you open yourself up. And when you open yourself up, you often don't get support, right, and that can be scary.

But I luckily had support from family, from friends, from industry, and that's why I can be myself every day and be vulnerable. And I think that's why we were able to have some cut through, and ‑ but you can't expect all people with disability to win Paralympic gold medals and be able to go on TV and talk about whatever. Right? But they also, even if you can't, deserve the exact same opportunity that someone like myself have been able to get. You shouldn't just be a gold medal Paralympian as the only reason why you can get out there and be what you want to be.

MS EASTMAN:  What is the key for creating safe and inclusive environments for people with disability to feel proud of who they are? You used the word normal. Can I suggest ‑ I might put it as part of the broader human diversity, that normal is a bit of a troubling word for us. But how do you make people feel safe and included in places?

MR ALCOTT:  Sorry, I meant to say, I think I said this, but if I didn't, not be normal but live normal lives, just live ordinary lives. Alright? That's what some people ‑ most people with disability want to do. Like, just live a life like anybody else. And I think the number one thing is to listen to lived experience. That lived experience is ‑ so often in the past was sidelined, you know what I mean. And very well intentioned, able bodied people spoke to other able bodied people about what we need.

It's like, listen and talk to that lived experience. If you want to speak about somebody at a table, they need a seat at that table. And if that lived experience is better in your organisation or your business or society, that person with a disability needs to be paid for it, just like everybody else.

MS EASTMAN:  So, let me ask you this challenge. What about for people with disability who are still invisible? They are in closed environments. They're in segregated living settings. We've heard about people living in group homes who have no involvement with the community. How do you get the voices into those invisible places?

MR ALCOTT:  We've got to go to them and ask them and get involvement. Like, you know, I've travelled all across the country and tried to listen to them as much as I could, because you've got to invest in that as well, right. You can't just see a select few people on TV and go, "That's just going to make my way when I'm thinking about disability", right?  Because my experience is only my experience, and I definitely don't speak on behalf of anybody.

But they need their voices heard, right, through whatever means is necessary, whether it is something like this, whether it is people in local councils, state communities, federal communities, going and talking to them about what they need, but, again, it's not about just listening. It's about listening and actioning what they say. Because we as a community are a bit sick and tired of the constant round and round you go where we are just talking and talking and talking without action. Right?

I'll even talk about this Royal Commission. It's awesome. It's great that people there listen. But they are meaningless words on a page unless we actually do something with them as a society. Unless government, corporate, society, all of us action it, what's the point of listening to all these stories unless we do something about it? Because I do not want to have to ‑ any of us want to go through this again, right? Not only just stop the abuse, neglect, lack of opportunity, exactly right, but even having to relive constantly what is going on in our lives.

Because we have all done this before, you know what I mean?  And, you know, obviously there's still some evidence to get given and the stories are very worthy, and for anybody who still wants to put your story forward, I don't know the process but please keep going and chucking them in there because everybody needs to be heard. But what I will say is we also need to get it going and action it, so we can start having meaningful change so these horrible instances don't happen again, but also the next generation of young people with disability can get any opportunity they want in life. Just like anybody else has that same opportunity. And especially for people who are in segregated communities where they don't feel that they are listened to.

MS EASTMAN:  So, I'm going to pin you down about how you action, because ‑ and I think you've frozen just at this critical time. I don't know if you can still hear me, Dylan, but if you can, I'll ask the question. If not, we'll get you back in.

CHAIR:  It's not sounding promising.

MS EASTMAN:  No. Sorry, everyone.

CHAIR:  Good shot.

MS EASTMAN:  It's stopped. Okay. He did say that he hasn't got the best connection, but he'll dial back in, so bear with us.

CHAIR:  Does someone have the telephone number?

MS EASTMAN:  We have lots of numbers and contacts and we'll use all of them.

CHAIR:  Piece of paper we can hold up? Still all quiet on the southern front?

MS EASTMAN:  It is. If the Commissioners would prefer to wait outside, then happy to have a short adjournment, but I am keen to keep ‑

CHAIR:  No. We're very happy to ‑

MS EASTMAN:  ‑ evidence going. Thank you, Dylan.

MR ALCOTT:  I'm back. Can you see me and hear me?

MS EASTMAN:  We can see you and hear. I thought you were trying to avoid my difficult question.

MR ALCOTT:  I am so sorry. I've got construction out the front of my house and they're drilling, and my internet just went very weird, so I'm on my phone. I'm very sorry about that.

MS EASTMAN:  No problem. So, what I was going to ask you is we talked a lot this morning about accessibility, inclusion and it just needing to happen. I suppose the big challenge is how do you achieve and actually make things happen? What actually needs to happen? What's concrete? And what would be your sort of key, you know, action items to actually make things inclusive, not just talk about it as an aspiration? Now you're on mute. So, I'm going to have to get you unmuted.

MR ALCOTT:  I'm having a shocker.

MS EASTMAN:  You're good to go.

MR ALCOTT:  This is my first time, right, I'm sorry, everyone.  First and foremost is to listen to that lived experience.  It's so important and paramount. We need society to lift expectations of what we think people with disability can do, and you'd be surprised. It even happens to me still. I tell this story a bit, but last year I was at a coffee shop. I finished a shift on radio and I ordered a almond piccolo latte, which is my coffee order, very Melbourne. And this lovely woman came up ‑

MS EASTMAN:  I could say that is very Melbourne.

MR ALCOTT:  Very Melbourne.

MS EASTMAN:  An almond piccolo latte.

MR ALCOTT:  I know. And this lovely woman came up and she told me it was so inspirational to see me there by myself get my own coffee. And I said it's inspirational to see you get your own coffee too. But what if she's an HR manager or a recruiter or a Royal Commissioner or a politician or a schoolteacher or a little girl with cerebral palsy? See how that makes it hard, you know what I mean. And that happens not so much to me but to people with disability all the time.

How do we increase that expectation? Greater representation to change that perception is so important. And the third one, right, and I talked about this before my internet went off, you know, this Royal Commission report, as I said, are just words on a page unless people invest in it, right, both financially, effort and time to make it actually become a reality, right. There's no point talking about it anymore and then say, hey, we've done our bit.

It's not about that. We really need to make sure corporate, government, educational institutions, schools, sporting, whatever invests in this to make sure it is, because it is a benefit to our whole country if that investment is done. But if you don't, you're not going to get anything done because you rely on the goodwill of people just, you know, constantly saying they're going to do something and putting a few hours here or there. It's not just the way it's going to go about.  Invest in, like, actual physical environments to be accessible as well but also invest in the education and understanding and things like that.

But I think we know what needs to be done as people with disability, and I think amplifying the voices of more and more people with disability and listening and actually executing what they have to say has to happen, right, has to happen now. And sorry, you go.

MS EASTMAN:  I was just going to ask you if I could sort of bring this back to something practical that you've done and thinking about music festivals. So, it's now summer and many young Australians are really looking at the opportunity, post‑COVID, to get back to music festivals. There's lots on. And for the most part large music festivals have not been accessible to people with disability. But you've said, right, I want to make a music festival accessible. What did you actually do to achieve that, looking at these three areas of lived experience, expectation and investment? How did you actually go about that, because ‑‑ the Commissioners an idea of actually doing this in practice, which you have done.


MS EASTMAN:  So that you're not just talking the talk. You've actually delivered.


MS EASTMAN:  How did you actually go about turning that around?

MR ALCOTT:  Yeah, look, we first and foremost ‑ it's a music festival just like any other festival just like anything else in life. It's just an awesome festival, like Splendour, like Coachella. We just have some added accessibility features so people with disability can come and have a good time with their friends, right. We have pathways, platforms, elevated platforms. We have Auslan interpreters. We have a sensory room for those who are neurodiverse. We just really tried to think of everything.

And, guess what, I didn't know all that stuff, but the way that we learnt it is we talked to our team and the community to try and be as accessible and inclusive as we can. We also get things wrong, and that's okay, right. We're just trying to do our best. We don't nail it every time, but we're just trying to do our best. And we took the time to listen to that lived experience, to be inquisitive, ask questions, but, most importantly, we actually did what we were going to say that we were going to do, right.

And, you know, just an example of if you go out there ‑ I don't know how to run a music festival. Like, I have no idea but it was something we wanted to do and we wanted to do.  Every single dollar raised at the festival goes to the foundations that support young people with disability, but I went to Coachella ‑ you know what Coachella is? The biggest music festival in the world.

MS EASTMAN:  I do know what Coachella is. The Commissioners may not.

MR ALCOTT:  Yes. Commissioners, you should all go. It's a good time. Anyway, I went there.

MS EASTMAN:  As long as you don't send them to Burning Man.

CHAIR:  I can't go. I've got to watch Heartbreak High.

MR ALCOTT:  Yeah, good. We went to Coachella and I just went there to see a friend DJ, and they hit me up and said we loved what you were doing at Ability Fest, right. And they implemented some accessibility features into their own festival because of that, right. Now, it was really cool to see that kind of stuff. And, you know, as I said, the reason that we did it is just because we wanted to just have a good time like anybody else, right.

But what that day represents is pretty special. We had a young guy come ‑ and I probably won't mention his name because I haven't asked permission to say it today, but I had a mate who was a doctor and here was this doctor and he told me mate, my mate, "Did you go to Ability Fest?" Because he had a wrist band on. And this guy had a pretty hectic disability, and he was put on life support. And, anyway, he got a bit better. He could start talking. And my mate said, "Did you go to Ability Fest?" He said yeah. And he said, "I went as well. I went to school with Dylan."

And this young people with disability said, "Can you do me a favour and tell Dylan and the team that that was the best day of my life". And the reason that it was, he'd never been anywhere, not the footy, not the cricket, not a workplace, not a music festival. In an environment that was fully accessible for him but, more importantly, fully inclusive for him as well, and just had fun. Right? And the reason I tell you that story is not to be like, how good are we.

Do you know what it took to organise? Literally asking questions, a little bit of effort and actually doing what you'll say. And you, anybody watching this, anyone in Australia could potentially change someone's life. It's that big of a thing, right. If you take the time to listen and learn from lived experience and actually execute and do what you say, you'll change people's lives, and you'll probably never, ever, ever even know about it, you know what I mean.

But that young guy just wanted to come and have a good time just like anybody else, and he deserves that, just like anybody else deserves choice and control where they want to work, where they go eat food, if they go on a date, if they even go on a date, what app they use, where they travel, what plane they go on. And the time to do that is now, and it's up to all of us to work together to provide those opportunities and codesign so we can do it.

MS EASTMAN:  Is there any reason why music festivals across Australia can't adapt what you've done to make all music festivals accessible?

MR ALCOTT:  They already are, which is cool. You know, so on the back of that, we work with Live Nation and Entitled Group and a few other people, and I just get a big fat old smile on my face when I see people with disability just there killing it, just with their friends having fun, just like anybody else, you know what I mean. Yeah, in terms of the question, there is no reason, but also, you know, if you're an able bodied person watching this and you feel bad that you haven't been doing enough, it's okay.

You don't know what you don't know. And that's alright as well. Like, I'm not always complaining and things like that, because I understand you don't know what you don't know, and that's alright. But there are many resources, not just our ones of where people can listen and learn and educate how to be a better ally but also how to fast track, being able to support in accessibility, inclusion, disability whatever it is.

But a really good way to do that is as I said through mainstream representation. And not just saying this because you mentioned it before, but I was so ‑ almost swore then ‑ bloody pumped just to see Chloe on Heartbreak High being herself, just killing it. Right? And that's powerful for her community and her disability and whatever it is, our community as a whole, whatever it is.

But as I said, I think Chloe will attest it's not just about us getting up here and always being that opportunity. It's about across all industry and all levels of everything that is done, having people with disability in leadership positions to be able to influence that and that's probably the best way to get people to care about it, because through that lived experience, you get that connection to it, and that's the best way to get that change.

MS EASTMAN:  So, I've got two more questions to ask you. One is about the importance of disability advocacy, not only for self‑advocacy at an individual level but also collective advocacy as a movement for change. And what, in your travels as Australian of the Year, have you really noticed about the importance of disability advocacy, either at an individual level but the work that the disability advocacy groups do?

MR ALCOTT:  Yeah, look, firstly I don't want to downplay being Australian of the Year because it's obviously a big honour, but the day before and the day after I won Australian of the Year, I'm the same Dylan. I didn't really need to win an award to be able to do what my purpose is, which is to change perceptions so all people with disability can live the lives they deserve to live. That's the reason I get out of bed.

It's not to win Wimbledon, it's not to win gold medals and it's definitely not to win Australians of the Year. In saying that, obviously it's a huge honour and I'm very grateful for it, but, you know, January 25 when it gets passed over, I'm not going to just shut up shop and go a live on a beach somewhere. This is the reason that I do everything. There are ‑ the reason I am Australian of the Year is not because of me. It's because of we, because of people that have changed their own perception of disability, shared anything, but most importantly because of the people with disability that came before me and that are here right now.

And you just said how important it is, advocacy groups right across Australia, they are bloody pivotal and they've been doing it a lot longer than I have, and they know a lot more than I do. And they have been fighting an incredible fight for so long, you know, to make sure that I can do what I'm doing now, you know what I mean, and I know all of us have one big common goal which is to leave our society in a better spot for other people with disability that are about to come, right, or are here right now.

And, you know, often ‑ often people are sidelined with their opinions of what they have to say, especially people with disability, because they might not have the profile of someone like myself, and that sucks, right. They deserve to be heard just as much as anybody else and things like that. And ‑ and, you know, how cool is it ‑ I bloody go on, like ‑ I'm old now.  I was 32 last week so I'm washed-up, but I'm going on like Instagram and TikTok and just seeing these incredible disability advocates doing some of the coolest shit that I've seen. Right?

Like, if I had seen that, that would have been unbelievable for me as a young person. I love that. It also comes with a double‑edged sword is you read some of the comments and they are heartbreaking as well. So, if you are somebody who is able bodied who's watching this who is trolling or whatever, just think about the consequences that it comes with, you know. I get it quite a fair bit, but I'm used to it, you know what I mean, and that's okay.

But for young people who are trying to be themselves online showing their disability, you know, if you are a people with disability watching this and you want to be your authentic self, do it. And if there is someone that gives you a hard time or bullies you about your disability, stuff them, because they aren't worth your time, you know what I mean. But the uprise of people who are proud of their disability and are advocating it, things like that, it's pretty special.

It's really cool to see. It really is. And yeah, I want to be redundant. I feel like I am getting redundant, and I am loving that, especially from some of my young ‑ my mates at the ‑ at the Paralympics. Like, watching the Paralympics and hearing what they all said afterwards, like Maddie de Rozario and Jaryd Clifford and that, I was like, jeez, I am not needed anymore because they are much better than me and they are going to kill it definitely in the years going forward.

MS EASTMAN:  Right. So, last question really is anything you would like to say to our Commissioners about a vision for a future and the extent to which the Royal Commission's work is informed by a collective vision of an inclusive Australia in the future. So, over to you for the last words.

MR ALCOTT:  Look, firstly, thanks for having me. I know we were going to go for 30, 40 minutes but I've cracked on a bit, and also the dodgy internet, so thank you for bearing with me. I just want to reiterate what I said before, and, obviously, this is a long process, and the thousands of people that have put in some pretty hectic, harrowing evidence, you know, thank you from our community from me, from anybody, because that is going to really hopefully influence some big changes, but the time to do it is now.

The time to get on the show on the road and to really get cracking is now, and the Commissioners, anybody in government, anybody in a high‑up position watching over this, you're in a position of power to actually influence change, right. It's not about handing in a report and then saying job's done, onto the next thing. We all need to make sure via co‑design with people with disability and people in industry, whatever it is, to get this stuff done. To make sure our society and community is a safer place for people with disability first and foremost. Number one. That's what this is about, yeah, the number one priority.

And secondly is to create and build capacity so people with disability cannot just survive but thrive in their lives and do whatever they want to do. And there are so many people who are willing to support them do that, but as I said, I really ‑ we really don't want to just see these as a really good looking report that goes in the top drawer of the desk and nothing happens out of it, you know what I mean. We really need to implement these changes, and the way to do that is to do that together and, you know, I only speak on behalf of myself, but any way that we can support to make that dream a reality is why we've been put here to do what we're doing and, you know, we'll keep doing it every day to try and support in any way we can.

MS EASTMAN:  Thank you, Dylan, for sharing your views and experiences with the Royal Commission today, and I think we wish you well in the last few weeks as Australian of the Year and look forward to seeing what you take on beyond into 2023 and up to when, you know, you're a man in his 80. We look forward to seeing what you're doing then. Thank you. Thanks, Commissioners.

MR ALCOTT:  Appreciate it. Thank you.

CHAIR:  Yes, thank you, Counsel, for mentioning someone approaching 80s. Dylan, as one washed‑up tennis player to another, thank you very much indeed. I think that anything that I say, to use your word, will be redundant. So, I'll just leave it at thank you very much for everything that you've said today and the way forward that you pointed for us.

MR ALCOTT:  Thanks, everyone. Good luck for the rest of the hearings and I appreciate the opportunity.

CHAIR:  Thank you.

MS EASTMAN:  Thank you, Commissioners. So, could we adjourn now for morning tea and resume at 11 am Brisbane time.

CHAIR:  11 am Brisbane time. Thank you.




CHAIR:  Yes, Ms Fraser.

MS FRASER:  Thank you, Chair. I would like to start with a content warning. I understand that this is now on the screen. This evidence will include evidence that may be distressing to some people. It will include accounts of violence, abuse, neglect and exploitation of young people and may include references to suicide and self‑harming behaviour. If you would like support for any concerns raised, please contact the National Counselling and Referral Service on 1800 421 468 or Lifeline on 13 11 14 or Beyond Blue on 1300 224 636.

Commissioners, we are now joined by Breanna Rae and Evie Atkins. Breanna and Evie would like to be referred to as Breanna and Evie today. Breanna and Evie are student of Bus Stop Films' Accessible Film Studies program. They will give evidence together today. By way of brief introduction ‑

CHAIR:  Just before you start let me thank Breanna and Evie for coming to the Royal Commission today in person at our Brisbane hearing room. We very much appreciate your coming here and being willing to share your experiences with us. I'll just now ask Ms Fraser, but she'll probably have some introductory remarks before she does that.




MS FRASER:  Thank you, Chair, I can indicate that Breanna has taken an oath before joining us today and Evie has taken an affirmation. By way of introduction, Breanna has always been interested in pursuing a career in film. From a young age, she was interested in story‑telling and animation. In the future, Breanna would like to work as a director or script editor in animation. As I mentioned, Breanna is a Bus Stop Films student. She has recently completed her first year at Bus Stop Films. Her class was the first in Bus Stop Films' history to create an entirely animated film. Breanna is also a Bus Stop Films ambassador. Breanna lives with Autism, ADHD and anxiety.

Evie is in their second year at Bus Stop Films. They work casually as a voice actor for a start‑up company that creates physical books and audio books. Evie heard about this job through Bus Stop Films. In the future, Evie would like to continue work as a voice actor and in the animation industry as well. Evie is currently enrolled at the University of Sydney through Uni to Beyond, a program which allows people with disabilities to attend university and experience university life without formally enrolling. Evie lives with Autism.

Breanna and Evie, could I echo the Chair's thank you to both of you for joining us today. If it's okay with you, I'm going to now ask each of you some questions. If at any time during the questions that I'm asking you, you feel you would like a break or you need simply to take a rest, please just let me know. I understand, Breanna and Evie, that you both study at Bus Stop Films in different locations; is that correct?


EVIE:  Yes.

MS FRASER:  Breanna, you study here in Brisbane?


MS FRASER:  And, Evie, you study in Sydney.

EVIE:  Yes.

MS FRASER:  Breanna, can I ask you to explain to the Royal Commission what drew you to study at Bus Stop Films?

BREANNA:  Well, I've always been interested in media and story‑telling, but I felt that the current film education industry wasn't inclusive. A lot of schools, they say they're inclusive, but it's usually we'll accept you despite your disability and they won't actually help you through the education process. But Bus Stop Films, they say they are inclusive and they actually act on that promise. We have support workers in class. The entire structure of learning is different to the mainstream classes of other universities, and that's what drew me to Bus Stop.

MS FRASER:  Can I ask you to tell me a little bit about your love of story‑telling, which I understand you had from a young age.

BREANNA:  Yeah, I loved story‑telling from an young age and I loved animation, and it wasn't till I was about 11 that it really clicked that that's what I wanted to do when I grew up. But after I was diagnosed ‑ I was diagnosed with Autism at 14 and I started having a lot more learning difficulties in school, I realised that I felt like that was slipping away, that dream, in a way, yeah.

MS FRASER:  And do you see film making as the vehicle for your storytelling?

BREANNA:  Yeah, it's the biggest vehicle. That's what I want to do.

MS FRASER:  Do you have a particular film genre or animation genre that's of interest to you?

BREANNA:  I love animation. I especially love Japanese animation, which is anime. I only, like, started watching anime around 13, so originally it was ‑ it was ‑ I like western animation as well, but Japanese animation was also very creative and they had different structure from western animation which I fell in love with.

MS FRASER:  Can you tell me a little bit more about that? What is it about anime that you love?

BREANNA:  It's hard to say. I would say colourful and ‑ the story structures are different to western. They have hybrid genres. There's so much going on with a lot of them which I love. In Japan, animation is seen as a medium for adult and children, so you have such a wide variety of children animation shows and adult anime, whereas in the west, there's still a lot of disrespect towards animation saying it's just a kids' thing. And, I mean, like, children is ‑ that's how we ‑ they're very impressionable and so animation should be looked at as more important, because that's the first thing that children usually watch. So, that's why I'm very drawn to anime on the side, because it's taken very seriously in Japan.

MS FRASER:  Evie, can I ask you, I understand that in addition to your study at Bus Stop Films, you also have a part‑time job. Would you be able to tell me about that job?

EVIE:  Well, so basically I have a casual job at this like group called Wonder Charms, which they basically, like, create these different characters who all have different strengths or super powers and so that kids and, like, everyone can feel empowered to be themselves and ‑ and I ‑ we're working towards creating my character that I'll end up voicing, and I ‑ and help create the story for my character too, yeah.

MS FRASER:  So, it's very much something that's designed with you as well.

EVIE:  Yeah.

MS FRASER:  It's not just that you're providing the voice. You're providing input into the content as well.

EVIE:  Yes.

MS FRASER:  And how did you come across that particular job?

EVIE:  It was an email from Bus Stop Films. They ‑ like, they send out auditions and stuff which is really cool and ‑ and ‑ and then ‑ and I was, like oh, there's voice acting, I really want to do voice acting, and so I ‑ so then I did some recordings and ‑ yeah.

MS FRASER:  How does it make you feel, to be involved in something like that?

EVIE:  Just great, like, I ‑ because ‑ like, cartoons have been a huge part of my life. So, I was diagnosed as autistic when I was four but I didn't know until I was 12. So, pretty much my whole life I felt like I was, like, a burden or a pawn to society, like I wasn't allowed to talk or, like, speak up and, like, make my own decisions, that I have to follow, like, adults and people older than me. And I kind of felt alone, but then when I ‑ like, when I was watching like ABC Kids and stuff and I saw, like, cartoons and, like, live action shows like Play School and Sesame Street, I felt less alone.

I felt like I had friends in another, like, universe that I really wanted to connect to so badly. And when I went through puberty, some of these feelings became romantic and I started having crushes and seriously romantic feelings towards certain cartoon characters. I've had six of them, and I want to ‑ I want to spread the message of, like, how there isn't just, like, our world. There's, like, other worlds that we create, kind of like gods and that everyone can have a friend, even if, you know, they're not human, and yeah.

MS FRASER:  Can I ask each of you in terms of ‑ I understand that you're both in your second year at Bus Stop Films. Can I ask you, starting with you, Evie, can you tell me about the learning experience for you at Bus Stop Films? What does that look like for you?

EVIE:  Well, for me ‑ so, for me the ‑ like, the education is, like, really, like ‑ it's really good. Like, some of it is, like, hands‑on and we get, like, first experience and first‑hand experience of, like, certain parts of film making, and we hear from other people from the industry and, like, they talk about what they do and it ‑ and it's really interesting hearing from other people who are in that industry and, like, what inspired them and how they got there and why they love doing what they do. And ‑ and the information is ‑ is easy for me to take in.

MS FRASER:  So, it creates something that feels very inclusive for you. You feel included in the industry as part of Bus Stop Films?

EVIE:  Yeah.

MS FRASER:  Breanna, can I ask you your experience of learning at Bus Stop Films?

BREANNA:  From day one, my tutor, Veronica Wayne was very ‑ it was very important to her to teach us about film but also getting group of the class, which is seven classmates in my class, to bond and socialise because a big part in film is the relationships that you build. That's going to help you creatively. Films can fail if the relationships between directors and all of that isn't gelled. So, that was something that she really put a focus on at the start.

So, when we got into the more serious stuff like script writing and production design, we were working together and building those friendships because for a lot of disabled people Bus Stop might be their first time in an education environment after high school. And a lot of disabled people come from high school with bad memories, with trauma from that.

I'm 25 and I was terrified to step into an education environment because of how bad my experience was through primary. So, it was like the first environment where it went at my pace, and I was repeatedly reassured that, yeah, you can have a say and you can step out the classroom and no one was ‑ no question was considered stupid. It was like every question was important. That's how you learn.

MS FRASER:  And you were actually supported at Bus Stop Films by a neurodivergent worker within Bus Stop Films; is that correct?

BREANNA:  Yeah, we do have a support worker who's neuro‑divergent. A lot of our support workers ‑ what Bus Stop Films does, they make sure that every support worker has some sort of job or studies in the film industry. They have to be either in the arts studying film or be working in film themselves, and we do have neuro‑divergent support workers, at least in the Brisbane classroom, who are in the arts as well, so that's really nice to have an older adult that can take on that mentorship, yeah.

MS FRASER:  And how does that make you feel in terms of that? Do you see that person as a role model?

BREANNA:  Yeah, it's like you feel, seeing ‑ because a lot of older autistic person that I've met, they've only been recently diagnosed themselves in the last few years, especially women. We are so underdiagnosed, so people are finding out in their 40s, and for them that's an experience as well. So, we have people who are coming in as allies and it turns out they were part of the community all along and they didn't know it. So, that's actually an important ‑ and I think that's important for them to also be part of Bus Stop as a support because they're, like, seeing the next generation and helping with their experience and what they've been through.

MS FRASER:  And can I ask each of you how it makes you feel to be able to interact with other film students, perhaps from universities and things like that? Breanna, how does that make you feel?

BREANNA:  It's really fun. A lot of the Griffith Film ‑ so at Brisbane class, we work out of the Griffith Film School, like, the South Bank campus, and a lot of the Griffith film students that I worked with this year, it was their first time experiencing working with disabled students. There was one student who was also on the spectrum. That was really cool. But I think it also highlighted that there is still a big divide because some students who are on the spectrum can't get access to the NDIS, and they probably would have flourished in Bus Stop. And instead they’ve gone mainstream because they don’t have access to the NDIS, because the NDIS uses high functioning as a gaslighting term. And so they use that to, you know, I know so many autistic people who would love to learn film and stuff, but they can’t get on the NDIS to help fund that.

MS FRASER:  But from your own experience you have a positive –


MS FRASER:  - experience of interacting with those.

BREANNA:  Yeah.  Yeah.

MS FRASER:  Evie, I understand that the Sydney campus is actually located in close proximity to Fox Studios.  How does that make you feel in terms of going in and learning your film studies at somewhere that is a place of such amazing productions?

EVIE:  It's very cool. I feel kind of professional. I feel like I'm part of the industry sometimes.

MS FRASER:  That's fantastic. Breanna, I understand that you're also a Bus Stop Films ambassador. We'll be speaking with Tracey Corbin‑Matchett from Bus Stop Films in a little while and we'll talk about the ambassador program. But can you tell me, from your perspective, what does that program involve?

BREANNA:  For me, it's advocacy and educating within and outside the classroom, doing public speaking and stuff like that is important. I was appointed as an ambassador at the end of September this year, and I did a workshop in October. So, I'm still quite new to it. Going into 2023, there's a lot of things that will probably be happening. So, I'm one of seven so, yeah.

MS FRASER:  I understand you gave a very good speech just last week at the Bus Stop Films event here in Brisbane.


MS FRASER:  How did that feel to give that speech to a group like that?

BREANNA:  It was really exciting because I got to write the speech and I sent it on back for feedback and everybody at the Bus Stop Films at the headquarters were like, no, that's great, we don't want to edit it. You say that. You speak from the heart. And I had five paragraphs to do in three minutes, and that was kind of scary. I did it in front of 100 people.  A lot of people that I knew came along. So, it was enjoyable, and it is nerve‑wracking, but I'm really glad that I've been encouraging to do that.

I've had experiences in the past where I've had even friends, they've discourage me from public speaking because I'm autistic. Like, "Oh, no, you're anxious. We left you out of this event because we didn't" ‑ and that wasn't to do with Bus Stop. That was something different. But Bus Stop is like, no, you can do public speaking and you can take your time with that, and with that encouragement that just boosts my confidence very much.

MS FRASER:  Evie, I could see that you were a little bit distressed by Breanna, by her response to that, when she said she had friends who had excluded her from speaking opportunities and things like that in the past. How important do you think it is for someone with Autism or another disability to be given those sorts of opportunities?

EVIE:  Okay. Very, very, very, very, very important, because I ‑ because at school ‑ it's weird, because at school I felt I didn't ‑ I was scared to talk in front of people because of a weird incident in year 5 where I didn't crop an image and then the teacher pointed it out and I was so embarrassed, I didn't want to speak again. And, like ‑ and I had ‑ like, for me, I have so much to say, and for my whole life I've had so much to say, but there were times when I tried saying something but then I got turned down or got in trouble, and I'm always now terrified of speaking.

But then when I do speak and say what I want to say, I feel like I matter. I feel like people would hopefully listen to me and I ‑ I just want to be heard. I ‑ I just want to be heard. I want to be taken seriously. I don't want to ‑ I don't want to be a pawn in some game. I want to ‑ I want to be an equal ‑ I want to be, like, a queen of the chess piece, a chess set.

MS FRASER:  I like that analogy. I understand that you are both, I think it would be fair to say, fans of Chloe Hayden, and she gave some evidence yesterday about the importance of people without disability listening, and I know Dylan Alcott gave the same evidence this morning. The importance of listening to people with disabilities and that's effectively what you're saying, Evie. Breanna, do you have the same sense?

BREANNA:  Yes, with most things ‑ when it comes to marginalised groups, it's important that people not only listen but they leave the conversation and process what that person has said and what that means, and what that means to that person, and how they can help and contribute. It's one thing to listen, I find. I listen. I have ADHD. Things can go in one ear, out the other, but it's important, how do we retain that information and meditate on it in the after fact.

MS FRASER:  Yes. And then effect positive change.


MS FRASER:  Can I ask you, Breanna, how do you perceive that disability is currently portrayed in the media?

BREANNA:  Not enough. Look, when it comes to disability, there are so many different types of autistic people. I have trans autistic friends. I have First Nations autistic friends. Disability affects every group of human across the world in any group. And we are sitting on top of a gold mine of enriching stories that can change perspectives, and we're scraping away at it with a tooth pick, and there's so much to are done.

And I'm at the very start of my career but I like ‑ look, I would hope that I can look back in 40 years' time and hope that change, that dramatic change happened in my life time, that I can help toward that. I want that to have meaning. I want my friends ‑ I want to be represented, but I also want my other autistic friends from different intersections and how that works for them and I want them to feel represented as well. So, that's something that's very important to me, that different types of disabilities from all walks of life can be seen on screen and also behind the scenes, directing, and writing.

MS FRASER:  And, Evie, what do you feel is the power of media to change people's perceptions or understanding of disability?

EVIE:  I get ‑ I guess ‑ so ‑

MS FRASER:  Does media give the opportunity to put on the screen role models for people with disability, for example?

EVIE:  Yes. So, like ‑ so, growing up I didn't ‑ I didn't have ‑ I didn't have any, like, role models and ‑ oh, so one example, I really ‑ so basic ‑ so one example is Sesame Street. A couple of years ago, they introduced Julia, who is the first autistic Muppet. And I looked at her and I was like, I wish I had her when I was young so I ‑ because ‑ because I literally learnt everything through, like, shows, like how to act, like how to just follow the rules, how to do certain things.

But then when I did those things, I didn't feel good, and it was because I wasn't thinking about my own needs and my own wellbeing and that these sorts of, like, morals did not really like align with how my brain worked, those things. So seeing someone like Julia on screen, like, other, like, autistic kids and everyone is really good. So ‑ and, like, people don't have to feel alone and they go, oh, if she can be herself, then so can I.

MS FRASER:  And you would say that for a character like Julia, it was important that she was authentic ‑

EVIE:  Yes.

MS FRASER:  ‑ in her representation?

EVIE:  Yes.

MS FRASER:  Breanna and Evie, I feel as though I could talk to you all day about these topics, but I just had one further question that I wanted to ask each of you. Can you share with the Commission ‑ I'm going to start with you, Breanna, and then I'm going to finish with you, Evie ‑ on what your vision, your personal vision for an inclusive Australia looks like?

BREANNA:  My vision for inclusive Australia is disabled people being represented and learning more. For example, Auslan interpreters, it would be so, so handy if they ‑ they are on, in the corner of every single news bulletin, that they're not just there for natural disasters or really major press conferences. They should be there in Australian homes in the corner for every news bulletin, because once it's in the line of sight, it's going to get people thinking, and it should also ‑ Auslan should be taught in the school curriculum. Foreign languages are great, but we should start at home first because that's going to really help people. And I think that's going to be a very enriching experience across ‑ like, having that in media and also learning about each other's different lives. I think that's very important.

MS FRASER:  And you from a film and TV perspective would like to see more presence of people with disability both in front and behind?

BREANNA:  Yes, in animation, in live action. When I was diagnosed with ‑ when I was 14 and I was diagnosed with Autism, I was given a sheet of paper to ‑ this is a franchise that will interest you, this is your ‑ I was given ‑ this piece of paper was given to me as, "This is your representation in media." And I was 14. I didn't know what X‑Men was. And I looked up X‑Men and it's Hugh Jackman going round killing people and there's these characters that are locked in labs and experimented on.

And when you're 14 and that's ‑that's the piece of paper, I was horrified because these characters are treated like freaks and monsters. And, look, as an adult, I can understand the nuance of that story‑telling, but when you're 14 and you're given as that's your one comparison in media, that really triggered a lot of internal ableism in me. That really made me go in myself and it was very scary, and I want one day when my friends have children, whether they are disabled or not, I can give my friend a list of a dozen shows, all different disabled people from all walks of life. And I don't want another child to be like me when I was 14 and being made to feel like that.

MS FRASER:  Thank you so much for that. And, Evie, your vision for an inclusive Australia?

EVIE: Yeah, so I ‑ I came out ‑ I came up with this ‑ I randomly came up with this analogy a few weeks ago. So, despite that fact I'm 20, I feel like ‑ I still feel like a kid. So, I thought, for my ‑ my vision for an inclusive Australia would be basically like a kid in a ‑ at a carnival where there's, like, so many options to choose from, like rides and, like, food and stuff, and just simply just going up there, like, doing a simple little process by, like, giving out a ticket and simple, and then ‑ and then getting the experience.

And also, like, just everyone being able to get what they want and get what they need and not feeling alone, and, like, especially with, like, mental health problems. I ‑ I hope that, like, gets talked about more because, like, for me, I recently, especially after I ‑ I graduated from school, I've been struggling a lot with, like, showing my emotions because I get afraid of what ‑ how people will perceive me and I just want more ‑ like, I want more positive, like, views on showing, like, all types of emotions, showing all the different types of people, and, like, just everyone getting what they want and getting what they need with nothing getting in the way.

MS FRASER:  No barriers.

EVIE:  No barriers.

MS FRASER:  Yes. Well, Breanna and Evie, I would like to say a tremendous thank you to both of you for coming here today. You both look incredible, can I just say, absolutely amazing. And the openness and honesty with which you have given your evidence today is incredible. Thank you so much.

BREANNA:  Thank you.

EVIE:  Thank you.

CHAIR:  Yes, Breanna and Evie, on behalf of all of the six Commissioners, thank you so much for coming today, telling us about your experiences, and we all wish you every success in your chosen careers, and I'm sure you'll do really really well. And you certainly, by the way, have expressed your voices and we have listened very carefully. Thank you.

EVIE:  Thank you.

BREANNA:  Thank you.

MS FRASER:  Chair, we may now take just a five minute adjournment.

CHAIR:  Thank you very much.




CHAIR:  Yes, Ms Fraser.

MS FRASER:  Thank you, Chair. Commissioners, the next witness is Tracey Corbin‑Matchett, the CEO of Bus Stop Films. Ms Corbin‑Matchett has provided a written statement to the Commission dated 23 November 2022. Ms Corbin‑Matchett has sworn an oath before joining us today.


CHAIR:  Yes. Ms Corbin‑Matchett, thank you very much for coming today to give evidence in our Brisbane hearing room. Thank you too for the statement that you have provided. We all have that statement and we've all read it. So, we thank you very much for that. If you would be good enough to follow Ms Fraser, she's going to ask you some questions. Thank you very much.


MS FRASER:  Thank you. Ms Corbin‑Matchett, your full name is Tracey Corbin‑Matchett, and you've sworn a statement for this Commission.


MS FRASER:  Dated 23 November 2022.


MS FRASER:  You're familiar with the contents of that statement?


MS FRASER:  And you confirm that it's true and correct?


MS FRASER:  Bus Stop Films, by way of background, Commissioners, is an award winning, disability‑led not for profit operation which has been in operation since 2009. The primary focus of Bus Stop Films is supporting people with disability and others from marginalised communities through film making and the film industry. Through its work, Bus Stop Films aims to build inclusion and change community attitudes about people with disability. The two previous witnesses, as you would be aware, were students of Bus Stop Films, and Ms Corbin‑Matchett is the CEO of Bus Stop Films.

Thank you for joining us today, Ms Corbin‑Matchett. Can I start with a discussion around the fact that you identify in your statement as a proud hard of hearing woman. Is there anything that you would like to share with the Commission about your disability and the perspective that it brings to your work at Bus Stop Films?

MS CORBIN‑MATCHETT:  Well, I ‑ I am proudly disabled and part of ‑ an active part of the Deaf community and my Deaf identity is as important to me as my Italian heritage, although it comes with less guilt and less carbs. It's really part of the sum total of who I am. I started to lose my hearing later in life, though it's likely something I had from birth, and as a parent of a hard of hearing child, I have been part of the Deaf community for coming on to 20 years now. So, it was a community I had always been part of and had that relationship with.

To come into the position of being CEO of Bus Stop Films and seeing the amazing work that we do to contribute to the lives of people with disabilities brings together things that I love:  Advocacy, creativity and the rights of underrepresented groups. And as someone who never saw themselves or ever envisaged that I would be identifying as disabled, to work for an organisation now that encourages, supports and gives opportunity to people with disability has allowed me to come into my own and to create a safe and culturally safe place for my staff to proudly identify as disabled.

And me coming into the organisation, the culture that we have, has created an environment where people with disability do want to work with us because it is a culturally safe place and an organisation that really supports and drives inclusion at all levels from the CEO ‑ from the boards down to up, amazing participants that we just saw before.

MS FRASER:  Bus Stop Films is an interesting name for the organisation. Can you tell me where that name came from?

MS CORBIN‑MATCHETT:  The name originated from the first film that was created by Genevieve Clay‑Smith and Eleanor Winkler, who established Bus Stop Films in 2009. The first film that they created together, Be My Brother, was set at a bus stop, it starred the amazing actor Gerard O'Dwyer. And it won Tropfest and Gerard won Best Actor. And that was just a pinnacle moment for the organisation and for film making and birthed the name.

But a bus stop is also a place where we all see people from all walks of life. It is really a snapshot of diversity. You will see people from different ages, cultural backgrounds, ethnicities, genders, sexuality, education all coming together for the sole purpose of going on a journey and that, to us, is about inclusive film making, coming together, intersectionality, and taking people on a journey.

MS FRASER:  And that reason for being for Bus Stop Films, was that sort of the catalyst for Bus Stop Films' creation? What was the reason that Bus Stop Films was first created?

MS CORBIN‑MATCHETT:  It was first created by Genevieve Clay‑Smith and Eleanor Winkler together, and Genevieve as a baby film‑maker making a project for Down Syndrome New South Wales met Gerard O'Dwyer who identified as a person with disability wanting to become an actor. So, there wasn't really a pathway for him. And making that film together and making it inclusively ‑ and they literally started in their friend's lounge room.

They realised that there was a real gap in the industry for pathways for disability to be actively engaged on both sides of the camera. And from that burst the concept of our Accessible Film Studies curriculum and the program, and it's grown from one group of people in a lounge room to now being in almost every state in Australia and really having a global impact through film making in changing lives and minds.

MS FRASER:  And we've just heard first hand of the impact that the program has had on two of your students, Breanna and Evie. As the CEO, I understand that you were in the back of the room while Breanna and Evie were giving evidence. Appreciating where Bus Stop Films has come from, or where it first began, how does it make you feel to hear students like Breanna and Evie give their evidence.

MS CORBIN‑MATCHETT:  I felt overwhelmed with pride. I'll try not to cry now, but I do. I love what we do and what we do really just change lives and minds, and when you see these exceptional young people who have felt marginalised and excluded in other areas of their life coming into our program, finding their tribe, feeling welcome and being able to pursue something they want to do, often people with disability are just placed into programs to fill time.

Here, we are enacting great change in them personally and professionally, and we're changing the screen industry not only here in Australia but around the world. It is the most impactful medium for social change in the modern world ‑ content, media, film ‑ and if we don't include people with disability in the development of those stories and in the production of that content, we're really excluding a really huge, huge part of our community globally. And I just feel so much sense of pride and relevance and importance when I see firsthand the impact it's making on the lives of our participants.

And that's just two ‑ it's really just a slice of what we're doing. And there's the ripple effect not only for them, their families, their friends and the people that watch our content.  That really enacts such great change. And I do get teary, just out of a sense of joy and purpose. It's lovely to do a job that creates such change in lives of other people and just, human‑to‑human, to see people thriving, it's such a brilliant, brilliant thing.

MS FRASER:  And if we look at the work of Bus Stop Films, am I correct to divide it into sort of almost three categories:  education, being the Accessible Film Studies program; creation, being the creation of the films themselves; and then the advocacy component. Is that a fair representation of what Bus Stop Films does?

MS CORBIN‑MATCHETT:  Absolutely. Our core program is our Accessible Film Studies program, and through that we make amazing film even work with amazing talent. We've just worked with Chloe Hayden, Dylan Alcott. Dylan's film with premiere tonight in Canberra for a great audience, and Chloe made two films with us. We work with amazing talent to make beautiful films. We always make them inclusively, which to us means people with disability are involved in 90 percent of the process. And that 10 per cent leeway is for sometimes with ‑ people who might have sensory needs need to do, be able to take themselves out of that process for a little bit.

And those films win awards. Every week somewhere around the world, a Bus Stop Films film is screening. Just last week we screened in Napoli in Italy with a film we made with athletes who'd overcome adversity. And we really have a strong focus that final pillar is on advocacy. Advocacy around global change around the rights of people with disability, but also with a strong focus on employment and really focusing on supporting people with disability to gain work in the screen industry.

Our industry, the screen industry, is very exclusive. We want to make it inclusive, and it employs thousands of people across our country, and those jobs should and can be held by people with disability. We've had great success in that and just this year alone have placed 100 people with disability into paid work in the screen industry.

MS FRASER:  That leads beautifully into the next question that I was going to ask you, which was around the work of Bus Stop Films in that employment space. Can you tell me how Bus Stop Films actually undertakes work in the employment space for people with disability?

MS CORBIN-MATCHETT:  Through our great relationships ‑ I'm a big believer that success in the screen industry comes by being kind and making friends. I love making friends. I'm always up for a chat. And through our great relationships that we have with broadcasters and production companies, we connect through the industry to deliver our training, our inclusion and action training which is about building confidence in employers to employ, creatively collaborate or work alongside a person in a film production and enact opportunities to place our participants into those roles.

And we approach it in a bespoke way to match a person to a role and a role to a person, and that could be in camera, sound, hair and make‑up, post‑production and editing. We've had great success with our participants who are on the Autism spectrum who are really well suited to roles to post‑production and editing, to place someone in shows like MasterChef, Survivor, up to working ‑ our amazing participant Nathan Basha got to work on Marvel's Shang‑Chi and then again on Thor: Love and Thunder, you know, working alongside Chris Hemsworth and Taika on major productions.

And it's really about fostering the relationships. The screen industry works quite differently to other industries. It's an industry that's based around networking, presence, visibility, and relationship‑building. So we send our participants to walk the red carpet to ‑

MS FRASER:  I'll stop you there.


MS FRASER:  We are going to come to that in just a moment. So, are there particular barriers in terms of the employment work that you do, are there particular barriers that you've identified in terms of facilitating employment for people with disabilities in the film and TV industry?

MS CORBIN‑MATCHETT:  Absolutely. One, first and foremost, is around attitudinal change and we're working on that, and I have seen a great shift since I've started at Bus Stop. Production companies would come to me like they'd been sent to the principal's office being made to hire a people with disability. That's really changed and now we're getting a number of requests.

The other aspect is the piecemeal or project‑based big economy freelance aspect of film production, that jobs aren't your Monday to Friday 9 to 5 full‑time role in jobs. They might be a couple of days, a couple of weeks, couple of months. And the process or the nature of work in the screen industry is mismatched to the way that disability wage subsidies are allocated through, say, JobAccess, which means they don't hit that magic 13 week full‑time benchmark.

So, for a producer ‑ and most productions in Australia are made by small to medium businesses. They're not all made by the top end of town and Marvel, Disney. For those small businesses who might want to employ a people with disability in their production, they can't unlock a wage subsidy in the same way they might do if they were in manufacture or retail and hospitality for a job that is full‑time ongoing, because of the nature of the work.

So, that creates a further barrier or disincentive for production companies to hire people with disability. And that's a huge barrier, because film making is expensive, and for a producer who's managing budgets that might stop them thinking, "I can afford to hire a person with disability" or, "It's going to add a cost to my budget that I just don't have." We're working around that in terms of wanting to lobby government to look at how the screen industry is connected into disability employment support.

And, for us, we've been doing what we've been doing in absence of any government funding for our employment work. We do it because it's really important and each job is building blocks to the next opportunity. And given the way that the industry crews up for productions, if you're not there in the first place, you're never going to get the job on the next production. So, each job, even if it is for a couple of days or a couple of weeks, is really important for making those connections and being asked to work on the next production.

So, that's really one of the most critical barriers to people with disability getting jobs in the screen industry. Aside from the steady ‑‑ exclusion in attitudes, that critical mismatch between how the screen industry operates and how wage subsidies around disability employment is ‑ the policy position, there's a disconnect there and I would really love to see that overcome so that we can see greater representation of people with disability employed in the screen industry.

MS FRASER:  So, just to recap on everything that you've just said, one of the barriers you will identify and something that could be improved in terms of inclusion is to address that disconnect between disability employment funding or subsidies, and the short‑term contract‑based nature of the film and TV industry.

MS CORBIN‑MATCHETT:  Absolutely. I think if that was addressed, we would see more people with disability employed on both sides of the camera.

MS FRASER:  And you woo say that that's a particular important issue to address, given the what I'm going to call referral‑based nature of the industry. So, as you say, if you don't get that first job, you don't ‑ whether it's two days, four days, a week, a month, you don't then get the next one.

MS CORBIN‑MATCHETT:  Absolutely. Jobs in the industry aren't advertised on SEEK. It's who you know. People work with who they know. It's an industry based on relationships. That is not going to change. So, what needs to change is the policy around disability employment and wage subsidies for the screen industry.

CHAIR:  You mentioned a 13‑week subsidy. Could you explain what that is?

MS CORBIN‑MATCHETT:  With Job Access and other provisions around wage subsidy and disability supports, the jobs need to meet a sort of a line of going for at least 13 weeks to unlock a wage subsidy for an employer to receive a financial benefit for employing that person. So, in the screen industry where jobs might only go for a couple of days, they don't meet the benchmark so they don't attract that subsidy which gives further rise to people not either realistically or perceiving that they can't afford to include a person with disability in their production budget.

MS FRASER:  We heard from Breanna and Evie earlier about some of the approaches taken by Bus Stop Films in terms of inclusive and a supportive learning environment for them. Can you tell me, does Bus Stop Films have any additional measures or supports available for First Nations people with disability?

MS CORBIN‑MATCHETT:  We do. One of the things that I implemented when I started at Bus Stop Films was our Indigenous engagement strategy based on a conversation I had with my two beautiful nephews, who are proud Wiradjuri boys who also live with disability, about what we were doing in this space.

And we worked with First Peoples Disability Network as well as First Nations teams at both the Australian Film, Television and Radio School and Screen Australia to develop that, which looked at our employment, which looked at our programs, which looked at our staff training and little things we can do in terms of a step towards making it a more culturally safe space for people with a disability who are First Nation.

We now have three percent of our participants are First Nations students. We've made some great films with First Nations actor Meyne Wyatt this year, which is a beautiful film which our Indigenous students got to work with him, which is just lovely. We now have a rider at the end of all of our productions which recognises an Acknowledgement of Country. We have Indigenous people that have worked with us teams.

We've still got a while to go, absolutely, but I love the direction that we're going from zero to three percent. It's going in the right direction but we've still got a bit of a while to go on that. And it's just been brilliant for Indigenous students to work with someone who is a brilliant advocate for Indigenous young people like Meyne Wyatt earlier this year on our film Fences.

MS FRASER:  Ms Corbin‑Matchett, you mentioned earlier that the film and TV industry is quite a visible industry, and I think everybody would agree with you in that respect. How important is it in your mind that Bus Stop Films' students are visible within the industry?

MS CORBIN‑MATCHETT:  It is so important. If we can see it, we can be it. And it is an industry that's based on visibility and networking. So, when our participants are walking the red carpet, when they are on industry panels alongside leaders in the sector talking about the process of film making and how they contributed to that, when they are speaking of ‑ you know, on the ABC on the weekend when I had one of our Brisbane students Olivia speaking about her film Sunshine that she made, that is such an impactful way to convey a message about advocacy.

The industry is about visibility, and it's not just about looking good. It's about visibility of networking. It's about being at those industry events, being at conferences, being at the lunch, being at the awards ceremony. It was just such a brilliant moment to see the red carpet for when Thor premiered in Sydney to seeing Nathan Basha, a young man with Down syndrome, on that red carpet as a legitimate member of the crew that brought that blockbuster to life. That is why it's important.

This industry really recognises what we can see, but it also is about recognising the crews that bring those productions to the floor and that's where we want to play a role in seeing more people with disability not only in front of the screens, because that's sometimes down to good casting.  But also behind the scenes. Because we know who's behind the camera really impacts the story that we see on screen.

So, if it's only ‑ I know Chloe spoke yesterday about the older white guy, but if it is only the older white guy and not the intersectional diverse community, that's the only story and your lens through which you see the world. So, for us, that's a full circle as well, as a film maker coming up with that idea, bringing that idea to life in a production and then walking the red corporate as your film premieres.

MS FRASER:  This hearing is a vision for inclusive Australia. It's addressing that issue. How exactly does the representation or what can the media do in terms of changing attitudes about people with disabilities in the community or increasing inclusion?

MS CORBIN‑MATCHETT:  It can do so much. It is such a powerful medium. And a good story with connect to our hearts and our minds, and a good story can really change your perception. For many of us, the only time we see people different to ourselves or see ourselves is on screen. And if that perception is not real or valid, it warps our perspective of that community group, but when it's from a process or a place of authenticity and where people with disability can be in charge of telling their own story their way, that is such a powerful way to demonstrate our right, our capacity and our contribution.

Film and TV is something that all of us connect to. We all have a TV in our pocket. It goes with us everywhere. We're always on our phones, watching, viewing, social media, binging on shows, and for the industry to enact change and be a leader in change, it really is about bringing the contributions of people with disability and creating a more inclusive Australia but a more inclusive world.

We want to see people with disability as writers, directors, producers, camera, lighting, sound and on our screens in lead roles, but also just being and doing. We want to see the leading lady, the mum, the dad, the doctor, the lawyer or just people doing jobs where the disability really isn't written into the story line because it just becomes the sum total of who they are. Disability is something to be proud of. It is just another way of being, and our stories and how they're told and what we see should reflect all of us, not just the dominant culture.

MS FRASER:  Can you think of some ‑ I'm going to start with particularly good because I like to start with the good ‑ can you think of some particularly good examples of the portrayal of disability within the media?

MS CORBIN‑MATCHETT:  I can tell you an amazing organisation that makes great films. All of our films portray disability in a positive light, in a real light, but I have to nod to some film ‑ to Heartbreak High, Chloe, exceptional. We were really proud to work with that team before they got to production, to be ‑ for our inclusion and action training so it was a culturally safe place.

But to hear Chloe speaks about her contribution to the dynamics of that role and then for her to capture audiences' the way that she has, that's really positive to see Autism ‑ and an amazing actor, an autistic actor, a proudly autistic actor, winning accolades, Audience Choice, that's beautiful here.  Other films, Sunshine, our gorgeous film that we made last year with our Brisbane program that's now available on ABC that just premiered on the weekend, beautifully written.  The contribution of our participants to the characters and to that film, that's so brilliant.

Further afield, my own community in CODA, loved it, loved watching that with my daughter. We ‑ we cried. You know, when Aurora was born, Children of a Lesser God was the only example of Deaf culture I could show her. And I love Marlee.  She is our queen. But to be able to show her a film that was relevant to her age group now is really important to be able to watch that together.

Peanut Butter Falcon is amazing. But our catalogue of films don't always feature people with disability on screen.  They're made by people with disability. The films that we've  made with our program this year are all works of nonfiction. I think after COVID, our participants didn't want to look at documentary. Some of those characters and roles in the film do feature disability, but some don't and I guess that's just fruit of these beautiful creative minds that we are working with.

So, I would firstly say our films are a brilliant example of disability told well, but there are many productions ‑ our films, Groundhog Night written by Emily Dash, who's a member of our board who lives with cerebral palsy, together with Genevieve Clay‑Smith, is a beautiful ode to family and relationships. It's funny. We've got, you know, Heartbreak High which is really leading the way, and I just think the needle has shifted. People want to see amazing stories told well. We want to see ourselves on screen.

Avoid the tropes and don't watch the content that's not inclusively made. I'm guilty of googling every disabled actor I see on screen and finding out if they really are disabled, and it is a beautiful moment when you go, yes, they are, and it is such a deflating moment when you realise they aren't actually a disabled person.

MS FRASER:  I want to come back in a moment and talk just a little bit of some of the negative images and portrayals of disability within the media that we may have seen in the past and continue to see today. But I just wanted to come back first to that point that you raised a moment ago about Bus Stop Films' students not just making films about disability. Can you tell me a bit more about that and why that's important?

MS CORBIN‑MATCHETT:  It's really important we don't pigeonhole people with disability that they only live in one world. We all are intersectional and we have friends within and without our own communities. We want to hear stories from within and from outside of our own communities. Film making is about story‑telling and creativity that is limitless, and for our participants, it's a chance for them to tell the stories that they want to hear.

Out of the 14 films, we have a western sci‑fi, we have a queer teen rap, we have a cranky chef, we have an animation, we have a rom‑com ‑ starring Dylan Alcott. It's really beautiful. But they're so diverse in the stories because our cohort, our students are diverse in their experiences and what they want to see on screen. People with disability shouldn't have to just stay in their lane and make content and watch content that is about disability where audiences want to see content that's from different perspectives.

And film is a way to express your experiences, your interests and, for our participants, it's really led by them what they would like to make a film about, and that's part of inclusive film making, is that through our lens of working with people with disability is allowing them to explore the stories and themes that they want to explore.

MS FRASER:  While I don't want to touch too much just for this purpose today on some of the negative portrayals of people in media with disability, something that you talked about was the need for authentic casting. Can you tell me just a little bit about that just briefly?

MS CORBIN‑MATCHETT:  Authentic casting considers the authenticity of the person to speak from their community and so when we look at stories made by and about the disabled community, it's casting people with disability in those roles where the role is a person who has disability. And that really avoids ‑ that opens up those opportunities for people with disability to enact their stories their way and from their community, but it also gives legitimacy to their contribution to the development of that character and that performance.

And it is unfair and unjust for able bodied people to take up a role that is written from the perspective of a disabled character. And within the context of authentic casting, it's about casting for that role. And actors act. That's the premise. They act other people. But when it comes to disability and the culture of disability, it undermines our community when able bodied people portray disabled people on screen or in productions.

And it is really positive to see that within the Australian framework, our screen agencies now view disabled content, disabled story‑lines and disabled characters with the same lens they do view First Nations content, that you cannot come to the screen agencies with a project that shows that community without demonstrating a connection to that community, and understanding of their contribution to development of those characters and that casting, and that's a really positive step forward.

MS FRASER:  Ms Corbin‑Matchett, can you tell me how much interaction or support does Bus Stop Films receive from the federal government?

MS CORBIN‑MATCHETT:  We receive funding and resources from a variety of streams, primarily through the fees that our participants pay for the program, and all of those are NDIS participants. They pay for the programs through their NDIS funds. We receive some funds for different projects that have developed resources for the screen industry, but on an ongoing basis, we don't receive funds from federal ‑ from any level of government for our organisation. It's really tied to different projects.

We have received some funds recently through ILC to develop our Inclusion In Action training, which has been brilliant, and to develop an accessible acting program, and recently to develop the inclusive ‑‑ project, which is really taking the skills and resources that we have for the screen industry to support employer confidence to employ people with disability, wrapped around a feature film that we'll make next year that's looking at developing resources that are specific to different departments. So, for hair and make‑up, camera, sound, because each of those different nuances.

So, we do have some grant funding for specific projects but on a day‑to‑day basis, Bus Stop Films doesn't receive funds, and all of our film productions, we fundraise and I write grants like nothing else to fund.  All of our film productions are funded either through donations, sponsorship through corporates, not from government.

MS FRASER:  And that position is the same for both the federal government and all of the state governments? Am I correct to understand that?

MS CORBIN‑MATCHETT:  Yes. Yes. Different particular projects or one‑off films that we have made have enacted some grants from different screen agencies and that's wonderful.  We do have great relationship with our state screen agencies and they support us in different ways. Screen Queensland provided us with space in their studios to film our Brisbane film this year, and our state screen agencies support us in other ways. Screen New South Wales partnered with us on our Inclusive Film making Toolkit. By nature of the way that the films are made through our program, they don't meet guidelines for production finance, so that means that we have to fundraise for them ourselves.

MS FRASER:  So, that includes, just so that I'm clear, in terms of the employment work that you do, you mentioned earlier that this year alone you placed 100, or thereabouts, people into positions, albeit some of them may have been shorter positions ‑


MS FRASER:  ‑ in the film and TV industry. You've done that without any government support?

MS CORBIN‑MATCHETT:  Not one cent. We've done all of our employment support to date in the whole 14 years that the organisation has been in operation, and we've placed almost a thousand people into paid employment. We've done in absence of any government support. We've recently received some funds from the Snow Foundation and a Westpac Inclusive Employment Grant to help us employ a person to really develop our employment support and grow it so that we can help more people into more jobs and to make it more sustainable for us to do it on a scale, given that we're growing.

We don't want to stop doing it, because it's so important, but we will continue to do it and find ways to make it sustainable. And hopefully if they're listening, soon, maybe one day there will be employment for the screen industry at a national level in terms of wage subsidy around disability employment.

MS FRASER:  Accepting that we've discussed around wage subsidy already, what more can governments and the private sector do to support the representation of people with disabilities on both sides of the camera? I appreciate that's about a quadruple-barrelled question, but in terms of both the government and private sector increasing representation of people with disabilities in all aspects of the film and TV industry, what are some of the suggestions that you would make?

MS CORBIN‑MATCHETT:  My suggestion would be to look at the relationships. It is an industry based on relationships. So, if in your teams, your networks, your professional and personal lives you don't have relationship with people with disability, start then, make a friend, connect to a disability organisation in your local area, reach out, hold a fundraiser, get to know them, invite us along to your networking events. But also start to think about the roles that bring a production to life from the very genesis of an idea through its development, to the production to post‑production.

There are so many stops along the way that employ people in a film, coming from an idea in someone's mind to what we see onscreen that can employ people with disability. And if it seems too big and too hard, start with one. Start with one.  Look at who you're employing and make a committed effort to employ people with disability in your production. Reach out to us. Do our Inclusion in Action training, connect, watch our content. It is around a partnership and working together. And give it a go.

It might fail. There might be bumps along the way but that's okay because you learn from that and you grow. It is around an attitudinal change of considering who's on your team, who do you work with, who are you going to crew up with your next production, and make space. It is about making space and start ‑ and start small and then grow. And we see that now.

Inclusive film making is the way of the future. The Oscar guidelines have changed, the BAFTA guidelines have changed, commissioning guidelines have changed here in Australia for our broadcasters, and making your content inclusively for the screen industry and employing people with disability is future‑proofing your practice, because this is the way that film making is heading.

The genie is out of the bottle and to start to make your content and your productions inclusively from the very get‑go means that you're more ‑ you're off the ready, if that's your goal. And I think it really is around making space, starting small. Reach out, connect to us. We're always up for a partnership and to be able to help productions, big or small, feel more confident in employing, creatively collaborating or working aside a person with disability and ‑

MS FRASER:  Are there specific examples of changes that the government could make or ways in which they could lead the way?

MS CORBIN‑MATCHETT:  Absolutely. In other countries in particularly in Canada, the streamers are ‑ there's a percentage of payment that they pay that goes into sort of a collective pool which is used by organisations to enact disability employment on productions, and I think that that's something that the screen industry could explore here, that we consider the contributions of the streamers and other broadcasters to contribute to a pool of funds that is centrally managed that perhaps can be enacted to be used as a wage subsidy to employ people with disability on productions.

I think the way that the screen agencies are moving, rightly so, in terms of unlocking opportunities around production finance that require productions to employ people with disability or other underrepresented groups on their productions is a really great step forward. But enact it as business as usual, not as a special stream that this is the projects made by people with disability funding. This is something that is applied across the line.

And I think governments, screen agencies, policy makers can really look at how the wage subsidy for disability employment is viewed and the disconnect between our industry and how it operates, and I think that is a real point that needs to be addressed. And until that's addressed and there is some fairness and equity for business owners who do want to employ people with disability on set productions but can't unlock a wage subsidy, it just makes it harder for them, or easier for them to not do it.

MS FRASER:  Having identified some of the changes that can be made or encouraged by both government and private sector, what do you see as the levers for those changes? What is it that's going to force those changes to be made or encourage those changes to be made?

MS CORBIN‑MATCHETT:  I think the lever is the policy change. We saw it through the pandemic, that the screen industry falls through the cracks in a lot of ways, or that creative arts ‑  freelancers, gig economy couldn't get JobKeeper or JobSeeker because of the way that the employments runs in our industry. It's an industry that runs different to others, but it's such an important industry for employment, an important industry for arts and culture.

So, it's taking a lens to the creative arts and the screen industry about how our industry works around employment and looking at how statutory organisations to support people through employment in this sector, anyone of us, but also for people with disability. That policy change will enact great flow‑on effects to how people with disability can be employed and small businesses, who are the nuts and bolts of the screen industry that keep the productions going, can unlock those supports that retail, manufacture, hospitality can unlock to employ people with disability.

And I think also too where we look at the importance of arts and culture as pieces of advocacy, that to encourage and support inclusive film making and intersectional diversity in the screen ‑ in our screens and the content and the stories that we tell, that in itself ‑ that in itself will unlock cultural change or unlock attitudinal change because art is such a powerful medium for advocacy.

You know, we watch films and we are moved, we laugh, we cry, we connect, we see people different to ourselves, but we also see ourselves. And encouraging the production of beautiful, inclusively made, well told stories that show people with disability in all of our glory, in all of our amazingness, all of our warts and all, can really connect the rest of the community to the disability community to break down barriers, to break down attitudes, to show that we are worthy, we are valid, we have a right to be here, we are broken and flawed and funny and sexy and all of those things that everyone else gets to be in arts and film and TV, and that really is a huge, huge driver for social change.

This week we'll premiere Head Over Wheels, Dylan making his onscreen acting debut in a rom‑com. I can't think of any other rom‑com that featured a young man in a wheelchair in the lead role. When we see people with disability on screen, they're often pitied or sad. They're not sexy leading men or just being, you know, in a meet‑cute on a first date. It's really impactful when we see that on screen.

MS FRASER:  So in terms of that lever, coming back to the lever, it's connecting that outcome with the investment that can be made in inclusive film making.

MS CORBIN‑MATCHETT:  Absolutely. Investing in inclusive film making, investing in inclusive ‑‑ stories, investing in the employment of people with disability in the screen industry will enact global change around how the world views disability and how the world views the disabled community.

MS FRASER:  And coming back to that question of investment, can you tell the Commissioners about what you consider to be the impact on a film budget of making inclusive films?

MS CORBIN‑MATCHETT:  There is no impact. We make all of our films in one day on the tiniest of budgets. $15,000 filmed in one day and our films win awards all around the world. There is no impact. Being inclusive doesn't cost anything more. In fact, it adds value to that ‑ to that film.

MS FRASER:  So in terms of those levers, that's again making that connection between the impact that can be achieved and the relative financial investment?

MS CORBIN‑MATCHETT:  Absolutely. For a producer who might be thinking oh, I don't want to hire that person with disability because then I'll have to get toilets for my set that are accessible. Where is the rest of your cast and crew going to go to the toilet? Access benefits all of us. There is no real additional cost. And with things like the NDIS here in Australia where people can enact some subsidies around their employment needs, not on an ongoing basis but for other aspects, there is a way that you can work round it. But for us there is no additional cost to being inclusive. It's part of the process, it's business as usual. And it ‑ it's a value add to the production rather than an additional cost to bear.

MS FRASER:  ‑‑  Can I finish your evidence, Ms Corbin‑Matchett, by asking you what your personal or professional vision for an inclusive Australia is?

MS CORBIN‑MATCHETT:  Big one. Well, I guess my personal and professional views are intertwined. I bring my whole self to work and I'm lucky to do so. My view is that people with disability will have the rights, capacities and experiences of everyone in the community. That we won't have it ‑ that we'll ‑ I don't want people to see past our disability because I want them to see us for all who we are, but in terms of film and TV, I want to see more people with disability on both sides of the camera, writers, director, producer, as creative beings, legitimate contributors to screen culture and I want to see people with disability in terms of a more inclusive Australia, just being, being part of the community.

Disability is another way of being. I would like to see that we ‑ we don't have to come out as disabled. It's just part of who you are. It's the sum total of yourself, and when we move from a point of having to constantly articulate who we are in terms of our access and inclusion, and it's just part of the normal society. And in terms of screen culture, I just want to see more people with disability on our screens. If we're 20 percent of the population, yet we're only seeing in Australia two years ago eight percent of ‑ eight percent of people involved in production with a disability. I want to see that grow to 20 percent. I want to see more people with disability making content and of being part of the production.

MS FRASER:  Thank you so much for coming today and giving your evidence. We are very grateful. Thank you.

CHAIR:  Yes. Let me add my thanks to you, Ms Corbin‑Matchett, for coming to the Commission and giving your evidence today and telling us about Bus Stop Films and the work that it does. It is very helpful. So, thank you very much for your evidence.


CHAIR:  Ms Fraser, do we now adjourn?

MS FRASER:  Just before we adjourn, Chair, may I tender Ms Corbin‑Matchett's statement.

CHAIR:  Yes.

MS FRASER:  Sworn 23 November 2022. That will be exhibit number 31‑004, together with a copy of Ms Corbin‑Matchett's curriculum vitae which will be exhibit number 31‑004.1.

CHAIR:  Yes. Those two documents can be admitted into evidence.


EXHIBIT 31‑004.1 Ms Corbin‑Matchett's curriculum vitae

MS FRASER:  Thank you, Chair.

CHAIR:  Thank you again for your evidence. We will now adjourn until, I assume, 1.30; is that right?


MS FRASER:  Yes, I believe that's correct.

CHAIR:  Thank you.



CHAIR:  Yes, Ms Eastman.

MS EASTMAN:  Thank you, Commissioners. Our next witness is Harry Sillett and, Commissioners, you will have in the materials a joint statement of Mr Mark Gates and Mr Harry Sillett. Mr Gates is unable to join us today so Mr Sillett is taking both roles and he has sworn his oath a little earlier.


CHAIR:  Mr Sillett, thank you very much. Thank you for taking the additional burden of acting on behalf of Mr Gates. I'm sure you'll be able to handle that. We're grateful for the statement that you and Mr Gates have made which we have and which we have read. If you would be good enough to follow Ms Eastman, she will now ask you some questions.


MS EASTMAN:  So just confirm you are Harry Sillett.


MS EASTMAN:  And with Mr Gates you prepared a statement dated 6 December this year.

MR SILLETT:  Yes, we did.

MS EASTMAN:  You've had a chance to read over the statement.


MS EASTMAN:  There are no changes you wish to make.


MS EASTMAN:  And the contents are true and correct to the best of your knowledge and belief.


MS EASTMAN:  Alright. Mr Gates was unable to join us today. He's the Chief Executive Officer of Vanguard, and so you're going to cover as much as you can of the issues raised in the statement, but you'll let me know if I ask you a question that's specific to Mr Gates' role and perhaps we can take that question on notice.

MR SILLETT:  Yes. Will do.

MS EASTMAN:  Alright. Before I start, I want to start with what is, how does it work, Vanguard Laundry Services?

MR SILLETT:  Yes, so Vanguard Laundry is a not for profit social enterprise. So, probably, for the uninitiated, the easiest way to think about a social enterprise is a charity that gives to itself. In our instance, we are a charity and we perform a commercial function, and that commercial function is providing linen services to hospitals and hotels. And in doing so, we target employment at people with a background of social disadvantage, and they come from a variety of cohort groups.

Generally speaking, the connective tissue, so to speak, is a lived experience of mental health challenges and we provide a transitional ‑ a transitional program of employment. So, we work alongside our staff to transition them into our community ‑ into open employment with other employers.

MS EASTMAN:  And you're based in Queensland, in Toowoomba; is that right?

MR SILLETT:  Yes, we're in Toowoomba in regional Queensland.

MS EASTMAN:  In terms of activities beyond Toowoomba, at this stage, you're just in Toowoomba.


MS EASTMAN:  And I might ask you about what the scope for expansion will be as we go on. So, to you, you are the General Manager, Social Enterprise and Operations at Vanguard and that's a role that you've held since October 2021. But you've worked for Vanguard since 2018; is that right?


MS EASTMAN:  In terms of your current role as Social Enterprise and Operations and that General Manager role, can you tell the Royal Commission what's the part of your duties and functions?

MR SILLETT:  Sure. I oversee two discrete functions of Vanguard, one being the Social Impact Program that we oversee and we use to engage with our target staff, our cohorts of socially disadvantaged staff, and also and alongside that function I also oversee the commercial operations, so the day‑to‑day operations of our commercial laundry.

MS EASTMAN:  So, I want to ask you in a moment about the sort of two aspects of the business, but before we do so, the approach that you take at Vanguard is to have a very clear mission and purpose in the work that you do, and you've told us a few moments ago Vanguard is a not for profit social enterprise, but are we right in understanding that the mission is to create a raft of positive outcomes for people that you provide employment opportunities with? But not only that, to also work with the businesses that you engage with in the local community to really bring that connection together?

MR SILLETT:  Yes. Correct. So, primarily, our purpose is to provide benefit to our program candidates and our staff, and we do that through open award wage employment but also through targeted support, and the end result of that, and a further function of what we try to do is to then transition people into the community, into businesses in the community. And we believe that by doing that, we create a dialogue between people, or a linkage, perhaps, between people who have been locked out of employment through various ‑ through social disadvantage in various guises, and we provide a linkage into those businesses in our community that may be perhaps hesitant or unsure about engaging with people from diverse backgrounds.

And so by bringing people through our programs, two benefits to transitioning them. One is that we provide that linkage and provide that advocacy with those businesses, but also by transitioning a staff member out of Vanguard, we provide another job that can be filled by someone who is in a vulnerable part of their life, perhaps.

MS EASTMAN:  And the statement refers to something called a theory of change, and you've provided for the Commissioners an infographic that's got lots of arrows.

MR SILLETT:  Yes, lots of arrows.

MS EASTMAN:  Could we step back in terms of what the theory of change model means for your company's mission. Can you walk us through what a theory of change means?

MR SILLETT:  Yes. So, essentially it's a map, and essentially we knew that when we began ‑ and just to preface this, this work was completed by people before my time, so I don't want to take credit for that work, but essentially the purpose of Vanguard was established and then the knock‑on effects of that work were mapped out to arrive at what might be outcomes for the different stakeholders involved in the process. It's important to say that Vanguard doesn't stand on its own two feet. It's part of an interconnected community and economy as well and a sector, so the knock‑on effects of Vanguard operating in the way that it does were mapped out with this document.

MS EASTMAN:  So, if I sort of walk through this, tell me if I've got this right.


MS EASTMAN:  The theory of change starts with identifying, in your case, four particular areas. So, you say if we, one, create a supportive and flexible work environment and we ask how we're going to do that ‑


MS EASTMAN:  So, the second question on that one is the way in which we do that.


MS EASTMAN:  And ‑ and I'll just use this as the example, is if we create a supportive and flexible working environment by offering workplace tours and work experience opportunities to people, and offering meaningful work opportunities and fair conditions, and connecting people to external sources of emotional and social support, and integrating staff with and without experiences of social disadvantage, and supporting career and personal development aligned with the individual's needs and aspirations. So, are we right in that list really reflect what it means to create a supportive and flexible work environment?

MR SILLETT:  Correct.

MS EASTMAN:  You identify those things.


MS EASTMAN:  Then you say:

            "The challenge for us is practically implementing the flexible work, fair conditions..."

Et cetera, should lead to particular outcomes.

MR SILLETT:  Mm‑hmm.

MS EASTMAN:  So, the outcomes are this is what we want to see in the way in which we seek to achieve a supportive and flexible working environment. So, we go to those columns, and what you're seeking to achieve is, for example, personal independence and self‑assurance arising from earning income, reduced reliance on welfare services, increased friendships and support networks of staff and volunteers, increased confidence to pursue goals, and people experience increased and sustained wellbeing. So, you say this is our aim, this is the way we're going to do it, and this is the outcomes that we want to lead to. And then you go one step further, which is under the heading And Ultimately. So, again, taking this thread through:

            "Ultimately improving the lives of Vanguard participants and their relationships and communities."


            "Improve long‑term economic participation of people with experience of social disadvantage."


            "Improve long‑term employability of Vanguard staff."

And then:

            "Creating cultural change and who can work."

So, we're right in understanding that this task of the theory of change requires, first of all, a clear identification of what needs to happen to achieve change. Secondly, identifying the how, so practically how should this be done. Thirdly, to keep in mind at all times the outcome you're seeking to achieve, but then also to have a broader and longer term vision. Am I right in saying how you approach the theory of change?

MR SILLETT:  Yes, I think that's pretty good. Yeah.

MS EASTMAN:  What have I missed in that network? Because I've only taken one example there.

MR SILLETT:  Yeah, no, it's a flowchart. I think, you know, social enterprises and charities often have a fairly well‑developed purpose before they begin, but I think the theory of change, as you've described, maps out the practical steps that will need to be taken to achieve that outcome. And then also how that will benefit people, firstly, and then more broadly the kind of trends that will create at more sort of macro levels. I think you've described that really well.

MS EASTMAN:  And you've got ‑ I suppose in response to a question we asked you is:  does Vanguard as an organisation or entity have a vision for an inclusive Australia, and, Commissioners, you will see this in paragraph 11, but you've said:

            "An inclusive Australia is one that does not see barriers in lived experience of social disadvantage. Rather, it's one that embraces and positively harnesses lived experience of social disadvantage and appreciates the scope of experience that accompanies this."

So, in that context, you see that an inclusive Australia is a place where people with disabilities, already on social disadvantage, are treated with dignity and respect in all facets of life, including economic participation. Now, I might say to you that's a very lofty and aspirational vision. Do you feel, bringing it back to what you're doing on the ground in Toowoomba day by day, you'll help realise this vision?

MR SILLETT:  Yeah. It's important to say despite the two sides of Vanguard, the commercial and social impact being discrete as you've described, really lots of the social impact is generated by the commercial outcomes. So, it's the meaningful work that is the key piece, so despite, as you say, this being quite a lofty ambition we see every day that people engaged in meaningful work are able to develop themselves in a variety of different ways.

And also I think it's really important to say that inclusivity is of benefit, quite obviously, to the people participating in our program and other programs like that, but it also has great benefit to the economy and the ‑ sorry, the community that that activity occurs in, so I think inclusivity is a two‑way street and benefit goes both ways.

MS EASTMAN:  While you are a charity and you're a not for profit, are we right in understanding what you're seeking to do is not replicate charitable models in the ways in which you engage people with disability and social disadvantage into meaningful employment and work?

MR SILLETT:  Yes, if by charitable models you mean something that's based on donations or fundraising, that is an element of what we do, but certainly our primary purpose and ‑ and primarily our activity is commercial in nature, but it doesn't generate a profit, per se. It is a not for profit structure. So, yeah, we seek that ‑ I think, as I alluded to before, we are a charity but rather than seek donations, we create economic activity that acts to boost our social impact.

MS EASTMAN:  Alright. Can I tuck in now and go behind the scenes to actually ask you some questions about what actually happens on the day‑to‑day basis.

MR SILLETT:  Sure, yeah.

MS EASTMAN:  So Vanguard is probably an organisation or an entity that we would call a start‑up; is that right?

MR SILLETT:  We were, much that every organisation that starts up is by definition a start‑up. I think we're probably in a slightly more mature place now. We've been operating for six years.

MS EASTMAN:  So, let me jump in there. Take us back to 2016. I know that's a little bit before your time joining the organisation but what was the impetus in setting up a commercial laundry in Toowoomba, Queensland, 2016 and saying we are going to have as a target the people we want to employ in our business will be people from social disadvantage but also to give opportunities for people we employ to move through our business and into other employment opportunities?

MR SILLETT:  Yeah, sure.

MS EASTMAN:  What was the reason to start all of this?

MR SILLETT:  So in 2016 when Vanguard was founded, our founder, Luke Terry, he ‑ he surveyed the community. So, there's ‑ really, Vanguard is answer to two questions. One, how do we engage people who are disengaged from the labour force and also how do we do so in a way that services our community from an economic viewpoint as well.

So, Luke worked with a number of different organisations but soon came to the ‑ came to the door of St Vincent's Private Hospital in Toowoomba, and they had an ageing laundry that needed extensive upgrades, and they had made the decision that that was not economically viable and they would send their business elsewhere, probably to Brisbane about an hour and a half down the road.

So, Luke was able to reach an agreement with St Vincent's that pledged their laundry contract for nine years on the basis that a not for profit laundry could be built, and it was that contractual position that was then leveraged to gain funding through all sorts of different routes.

MS EASTMAN:  So, from 2016 through to around 2019, you're in a growth phase.

MR SILLETT:  Certainly.

MS EASTMAN:  Where you're working out what the structure of the business should operate but also who would be the target cohort of staff and to try to get that right mixture between staff who will discharge a managerial function but also staff who could come on where you're really actively targeting people from particular social disadvantage. So, I'm not using that expression "social disadvantage" in any pejorative way but really for convenience. So, I want to just dig into that model a little bit more.

MR SILLETT:  Sure. Yeah.

MS EASTMAN:  The model you say ‑ Commissioners, this is paragraph 21 ‑ comprise two separate but interconnected paths, the first being the commercial laundry and the second being the social impact program. And you describe having a model in paragraph 23, as:

            "...a hybrid approach to hiring staff."

So, can I ask you about that?

MR SILLETT:  Sure. So, we have a split workforce, essentially.  So, we have that managerial workforce you described, but also amongst our production staff we have a cohort of our staff that are community members. So, essentially, the way that they gain employment at Vanguard's by answering a job at SEEK or dropping their résumé off to the front door, which they often do, and they are employed, much as anyone in any commercial laundry or entry‑level job in Australia might be employed. There is also a separate cohort which is our target cohort so that ‑

MS EASTMAN:  Can I jump in there. Tell me about the target cohort, because that started with a relatively small target group in the start and expanded over time.


MS EASTMAN:  So, what can you tell us about the target cohort of Vanguard?

MR SILLETT:  So, when we began we had a symbiotic relationship with Toowoomba Clubhouse, as it was called at the time, now called Momentum Mental Health, who still are a very important partner of ours. But, initially, all of our staff referred to ‑ all of our target staff were referred to, so they're the people who get the support provided to them by our Social Impact team. They were referred to ‑ exclusively by Toowoomba Clubhouse at the time, now Momentum Mental Health.

Because we, our volume increased almost exponentially, we had to broaden our horizons, so to speak, because simply our demand for staff outstripped the referees that could be provided to us. So, we made a decision that we would also partner with other community groups in order to provide multiple referral pathways into Vanguard. So, for example, we started working with organisations that would refer staff from a refugee background to us, also women who'd been victims of domestic violence or survivors of domestic violence, as well as at risk young people, First Nations people, people recovering from addiction. So, we broadened our scope. That's why we used the umbrella term "social disadvantage" to encompass those disparate groups of people.

MS EASTMAN:  As the model has grown and evolved, are we right in understanding that there's been an aspect of co‑design with the target cohort staff as to how that model evolved and, if so, can you tell us about how the co‑design process operates?

MR SILLETT:  Yeah, sure, so the theory of change is a good example of a document that was produced or co‑produced with two members of staff who identified as having a background of lived experience mental health challenges, and they  were extremely important in the formation of that document. Also our evaluation ‑ evaluation which will go into later, I believe, is also ‑ is also a document that was ‑ or a program of evaluation that was co‑designed with those guys present at the table.

MS EASTMAN:  What do you think taking a co‑design approach has provided Vanguard that it might have otherwise missed if it made a range of assumptions about what people with psychosocial disability or mental health might experience in a workplace?

MR SILLETT:  I think, you know, it's only people with lived experience that are able to tell their truth and what that means in a practical sense. I think a really good example from our design of our theory of change and our evaluation was I think we placed a lot of lofty ideas around all the kinds of knock‑on benefits that employment at Vanguard would provide.  And actually one of our candidates who helped co‑design the theory of change was really adamant that, for them, the biggest impact would be that financial independence, which is the most obvious impact but also the one that maybe we overlooked, and we needed that voice at the table in order to help us kind of focus our energy.

MS EASTMAN:  So, one of the decisions, am I right in understanding this, that the business made early on is that you were going to pay all the target staff the award wages; that you identified the relevant modern award, which is the Dry Cleaning and Laundry Industry Award, and you used that award to ensure that the terms and conditions and the wages paid are consistent with the award. So, that was a conscious decision to do that?

MR SILLETT:  Yeah, I think so. Yeah, and I think that's really reflective of a number of different things. One, that that reflects the dignity and respect within which we engage people from diverse backgrounds, but also I think that part of us having a transitional employment program as well is that we're really conscious that we're just the first step in the career journey. So, in order to best replicate what a candidate might find at the next business they go to work for, we really think it's important to put that foundation or the award wages front and centre of the approach.

MS EASTMAN:  Given the target cohort of new employees coming into the business, would it have been open to the business to have taken an approach going down the supported wage system to determine whether or not an employee with disability may have lower productivity and, therefore, be assessed and a lower wage below the minimum wage be paid?

MR SILLETT:  That decision was ‑ I couldn't speak directly to that decision. It was made prior to my time at Vanguard. I would say there's various characteristics about the program that may run counter to that idea. So, we very consciously have a program of employment that's designed with the same tasks being completed, whether you're in the community cohort or target cohort, there essentially is no differentiation on the production floor, and we believe that builds things like social cohesion and those deep social connections between people from disparate backgrounds, which is really important to how we approach our program. I'm not sure that incorporating some kind of assessment process at the beginning of employment would ‑ would potentially derail that, to some extent. So, I can only speak to the characteristics of our employment program now.

MS EASTMAN:  That probably takes me to a walk through how someone comes to Vanguard through the referral ‑ through other processes. So, when we're looking at the target group, which are a particular cohort of employees, the starting point is there may be a referral, people drop off their CV. How do people make that initial entry to ‑‑

MR SILLETT:  Yeah, we rely really heavily on our community partners to provide those referrals initially, so they will have people completing programs within their own offerings that have finished a program or have kind of made a decision that they want to enter the workforce, and then those ‑ those community partners will contact us and make that referral based on the ‑ what the candidates are chasing.

MS EASTMAN:  Would some of the candidates be people who may have long‑term unemployment or may not have worked in an open employment setting before?

MR SILLETT:  Yes. Yeah. So, we are, most of our ‑ most of our candidates come to us having a big gap on their résumés and often ‑ in some instances, they may never have worked before.

MS EASTMAN:  So, I assume they don't just have the referral and then the next day, here you are you're on the floor of the laundry, away you go. What's the process to support a person in that target group to actually enter the business? What's the process that you use there?

MR SILLETT:  Yeah, so and the process is, first we meet people in a very informal way, tour them through the laundry itself, and show them the kinds of tasks that are completed on a typical day of work. Try to describe those tasks as well to give people that additional outlook about is this something I might be able to do and is this something I'm ready for.

MS EASTMAN:  Pausing there, you ask the person whether they feel it's something to do, rather than you making that decision; is that right?

MR SILLETT:  Yeah, I mean, there's certainly ‑ we certainly have a process of recruitment like any organisation but it's much more based on if the person is feeling like they're ready to work.

MS EASTMAN:  So, they do a bit of a walk through. Is there a process of any work experience or trials and what would be the purpose of that?

MR SILLETT:  Yeah, so we ask candidates if they'd like to participate in work experience. Obviously, that's voluntary. They can choose a program of work experience that spans two weeks. It's up to then how many hours they'd like to do within that time. Really, the purpose of that is we are conscious that people are breaking back into the workforce for the first time. So, sometimes people get very excited about being ready for work, and then they actually need that practical experience to decide for themselves whether it's right for them.

MS EASTMAN:  And I think you've got a bit of a wait list now, don't you? So, in terms of being able to meet the demand of people who might want to come and work at Vanguard, is there now a waiting list and how does that work?

MR SILLETT:  Yeah, so we try to meet people where they are. So, if they've decided they're ready for work, we like to engage them at that point. But that may mean we don't have a role actually available. So, we ‑ we tell people they have been successful and their work experience was great. And then they will go onto a waiting list as you describe, and we'll maintain contact with those people while they're on that list.

MS EASTMAN:  What's the nature of the ongoing contact with those people?

MR SILLETT:  Just regular check‑ins on the phones, depending on what their needs are. They may call us; we may call them just to touch base. We have in the past a number of times supported people into ‑ into employment outside of Vanguard. If they say, look, I'm really ready, I want to try and get a job at whatever it is, we can help them with things like résumés and interview preparation at that point as well.

MS EASTMAN:  Okay. So, assume, then, a position becomes available at Vanguard. The person will then become an employee.


MS EASTMAN:  So they're not on any sort of independent contractor strange type of arrangement, like gig economy ‑‑

MR SILLETT:  No, they go straight into the workforce, inducted and recruited as you would expect.

MS DOWSETT:  And is your practice to put people into a full‑time position right at the start? Or how do you manage the nature and the form of the employment?

MR SILLETT:  Yeah, it's not our practice. There's a couple of things at play there. So, we generally engage people on casual contracts. In fact, we exclusively do when they start with us. One of the reasons is that people often want to break off a little bit of re‑entry into the workforce at a time, so they often start on quite limited hours, based on their needs and what they want to do, and then they will work their way up into more hours and more employment as they progress through, which matches nicely to a casual model.

MS EASTMAN:  I think you've said in the statement that over time as people progress and their skills increase, that their wages might also increase pursuant to the award. Can you just briefly tell us what are the steps once a person starts work in terms of training and supports and ‑ what are you seeing as the outcomes as people progress through?

MR SILLETT:  Yeah, so initially when people first engage in work, they ‑ we give them a period of time to kind of establish themselves in the ‑ in the new job that they ‑ that they've just moved into. So, that's more about, you know, working up their proficiency on a more heavy laundry equipment machine or whatever it might be. And then we sort of start to engage with them from a career development point of view later into the process. Running concurrent to that process is starting just to engage with them on a career development basis as they're also working through milestones to pass their probation of six months, which is when they move to the second level of the award as you describe. So, there is some technical proficiency but also some initial career development steps happening in that second phase.

MS EASTMAN:  In the statement, the expression "curriculum of support" is used. What does that mean?

MR SILLETT:  So, it's a step‑by‑step process by which people tick off essentially what is a career plan. So, they might identify areas they've worked in before or skills they'd like to acquire, things that they feel confident, things that they would like to build up, and that's done through regular check‑ins in our Social Impact Centre once a fortnight, once a month, depending on where people are at on the journey. And over the course of however long it takes someone to progress through that program ‑ and that's very open‑ended depending on people's own needs ‑ they will get to a point where they have established what it is they want to do and they want our support in achieving after Vanguard.

MS EASTMAN:  Is the overall object that once a person starts in employment, they develop a skills, a level of proficiency in skills but at the same time also working with more personal development about what they might wan to do longer‑term, different types of jobs.


MS EASTMAN:  And the aim is that while they might develop the skills to work in a laundry, the ultimate aim is to support them to transition to other type of work; is that right?

MR SILLETT:  Yeah, exactly. Yeah, so once people have established themselves in a new job and their confidence starts to build, we're really keen to discover what it is people want to do as a career and what they want to sink their teeth into, and we will then shape their experience at Vanguard based on what that outcome is.

MS EASTMAN:  So does Vanguard have to take on a role of almost being like an employment agency to then refer the employees to different other employment opportunities? Or how ‑ do you outsource that function to somebody else?

MR SILLETT:  I would say we perform a lot of the functions that you might expect from an employment services provider whilst the person is engaged in work.

MS EASTMAN:  How does that happen practically for a person who may have been working with you for six or 12 months and is now ready to move on to something else. They've got a clear idea about what they would like to do and how they might like to work. What does Vanguard do in those circumstances?

MR SILLETT:  Yes. If somebody was to say I really ‑ I want to be a chef, go and work in a restaurant, we would work on all those documents and things you would associate with looking for work. So, we would develop a résumé, make sure it's updated, cover letters and interview preparation, developing a SEEK profile, a LinkedIn profile if that's appropriate, all of those foundational steps to getting ready to transition, and then we also support people by contacting employment partners who we may have used before, may have worked with before or also branching out and finding new employment partners that match that career path to that person.

MS EASTMAN:  So, once they've left Vanguard, do you close the door?


MS EASTMAN:  What happens?

MR SILLETT:  We generally keep contact with our staff ‑ our transition staff for up to six months after they've left and we handle all sorts of curly situations that may occur once a person has transitioned, and we provide support to both the person who has transitioned and the business to which they have transitioned as well.

MS EASTMAN:  Right. Can I ask you just in terms of the numbers that we're talking about ‑ and I know you've set this out in your statement at paragraph 45. In terms of volume of people who've come through the Social Impact program, and then successfully transitioned, what can you tell us about the numbers?

MR SILLETT:  Yeah, so as referred to in our statement, of about ‑ over 120 individuals have come through our program from those various cohorts and then more than 60 of those individuals have been transitioned. So, there's still a remaining cohort but also ‑ also we have had staff members who have transitioned from our target cohort into our community member cohort, because they have decided that had a career in laundry is something they want to pursue.

MS EASTMAN:  Now, Commissioner McEwin has raised, I think, a question that I ‑ I'm sorry, I might have overlooked when I was asking about the target cohort. Does Vanguard employ people with intellectual disabilities?

MR SILLETT:  It's hard for me to say, Commissioner, because I haven't ‑ we don't ask for any diagnoses or anything of that nature when we engage people in employment. We rely on our community partners to refer people, and that generally tells us something about that person's lived experience. But I couldn't definitively say yes or no.

MS EASTMAN:  Would ‑ related to that, when you're thinking about the target cohorts, has there been any part of the business where you've actually said, right, we want to connect with organisations in the community that support or advocate for people with intellectual disabilities?

MR SILLETT:  No, we have never done that.

MS EASTMAN:  Would that be something that you would be open to doing if you're expanding the areas?

MR SILLETT:  Absolutely, yeah, we would never make a blanket decision about that before considering it.

MS EASTMAN:  Alright. So, coming back to the numbers. I think you've said in the statement at paragraph 45 that there's 33 individuals who are still part of the program who haven't made the transition onto new employment. And are we right in understanding that there is a small group who may have moved on to new and different employment but then actually come back to Vanguard?

MR SILLETT:  Yeah, yeah, that's also an element of our program. So, that's set up quite robustly when people are preparing to transition, that they do have the comfort of knowing that they can return to Vanguard if their transition is not successful.

MS EASTMAN:  Right. Some of the employees, I assume, also may be ‑ are recipients of the Disability Support Pension. They could be NDIS participants. Or they may be on some other sort of social support. So, I think old JobActive or Job Support. How does Vanguard balance the opportunities for work in open employment where that safety net of social support also is a very important part of somebody's life? Do you have to sort of navigate around some of these complex systems?

MR SILLETT:  Yeah, we certainly do. I think we really rely on our candidates to make those decisions about ‑ those decisions which, you know, can extend to those financial decisions as well, and it's a ‑ you know, it is a conversation we have fairly regularly with people who say, "I'm really comfortable completing" whatever it is, "I'd like to do two shifts a week, three shift a week. Any more than that may ‑ may mean that I won't receive, say a disability pension moving forward and I'd like to cap it at that", and we will work with people to do that if that's what their goal is.

MS EASTMAN:  Okay. So, we asked you if there are any challenges to that particular business model, and I think you've been candid in acknowledging that not all individuals that you've sought to assist have experienced positive impacts, and the same can be said for some of the businesses. Is part of taking on a start‑up of this kind where you're looking at innovative models and implementing that theory of change mean that inevitably there are going to be challenges along the way?

MR SILLETT:  Yeah, I think so. I think the space we play in is one, you know, where people just come from such a diverse variety of backgrounds that to pretend that, you know, we would be the right solution for every individual in every case is probably a folly. And we want to, as I said, meet people where they are and provide the best ‑ provide the best intervention we can, but we are, yeah, never 100 per cent successful in that space.

MS EASTMAN:  Can I ask you, then, about opening up the business to be externally evaluated. Is that something that you've done because you've had to do that under charities regulations, to be evaluated?

MR SILLETT:  No. No. I think, you know, the purpose behind opening up to external evaluation really is for a variety of reasons. We want to be ‑ we want to do the best job we can and continuously improve what we do. But also I think the evaluation that has been conducted on our operations by the Centre for Social Impact at Swinburne is a fairly pioneering evaluation, and I think a part of that as well is ‑ is almost a proof of concept about what social enterprise can do for communities of people who are locked out of participation in the mainstream.

MS EASTMAN:  So, the ‑ just ‑ and you've provided ‑ thank you ‑ a copy of the evaluations for 2021.


MS EASTMAN:  Commissioners, you've got a copy of that in the materials. And the evaluation appears to really link in to the theory of change.  So, that diagram we referred to earlier, I just picked one of the topics, people, but there's also place, profits and social enterprise ecosystem. And the evaluation noted that obviously COVID and the COVID lockdowns had an impact on the business. From your perspective, did COVID change the way in which you had to do your business? Or how did you adapt in those circumstances?

MR SILLETT:  Yeah, I think it definitely did, as it did with, I'm sure, almost every business in Australia. For us, there was probably two ways in which we changed. Obviously, there was quite a big commercial and operational impact on how we operated, but also, you know, as another layer of complexity for us, we were really conscious of the ‑ of the social impact that that was brought on people who were already vulnerable, perhaps. So, we had to deal with, you know, both of those ‑ both of those challenges at the same time.

MS EASTMAN:  Coming back to the evaluation, part of the evaluation also meant engaging with some of the transition target cohort of staff, and they were involved in the ‑ in the evaluation.


MS EASTMAN:  Is that right?


MS EASTMAN:  So, just looking at some of the data from the report, that the median age of the transition participants ‑ this is page 11 ‑ was 37, but the typical range of participants were aged between 22 and 50. Then in terms of gender, you had a pretty much fifty‑fifty split in terms of men and women, but you had a cohort who didn't identify a gender. And also a significant proportion of people from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds. As an organisation, did you deliberately take an approach where you wanted to try to get an equal mix of people of different age, different gender and different cultural identity?

MR SILLETT:  No, I don't believe that was by design. That's more just reflective of the diverse community partners we engage with.

MS EASTMAN:  Yes. Then one of the, I think, outcomes of the report was that many of the people actually wanted to work more hours than you had available. So, that seemed to be part of the feedback from the staff who worked in the organisation, that they would have liked to have done more work. How do you strike the balance in terms of increasing the opportunity to work greater hours with also then providing a broad range of jobs?


MS EASTMAN:  Is it a bit of a challenge?

MR SILLETT:  It is a challenge. I think the challenge was particularly evident during 2021, the period of the report, because of COVID. So, even once we returned, we didn't return at full clip, owing to lots of different restrictions that were around the country. So, I mean, our volumes remained fairly muted throughout that year, which meant we had less work to give out, essentially. But there is always a challenge in providing people with a living wage and providing people with the hours that they need, you know, to feel the effects of the program, but also sharing those hours around and also making sure that if people do need extra hours, we work with them to find other work as well. That's another string to our bow that other employers don't necessary and that's something we do really regularly with people, is find that second job, even while they prepare to transition.

MS EASTMAN:  What was ‑ I think, from a layperson's view, reading the evaluation report, is that it went beyond just looking at what the levels of wage rates were, the hours of employment, how long it took to transition, to also identify a broader social benefit on issues such as stability in housing.

MR SILLETT:  Mm‑hmm.

MS EASTMAN:  Decreased number of visits to the emergency departments and also being able to quantify, as far as possible, what the economic benefit may be to the broader Australian community in terms of the cumulative net impacts in Centrelink, for example. Had that been part of the model to track through these broader social impacts?

MR SILLETT:  Yes, certainly it was part of our evaluation from the beginning, and it sort of harks back to what I referred to before as that, because we were really trying to prove the concept of this social enterprise at large, impactful on communities and states and the country as well, we wanted to prove those broader macro factors as well as the individual impacts of employment and social enterprise ‑ in the social enterprise.

MS EASTMAN:  So, I want to finish on asking about where to for the future, and one issue that the Royal Commission has heard about in its work is about the circumstances of young people with disability starting school and then getting towards the end of school, around the year 9, year 10 level, and opportunities for work experience, particularly for young people with intellectual disability, and what seems to be the risk of being on what's often described as a polished pathway from a special school into an Australian Disability Enterprise. Have you looked as part of your model of connecting into younger people at school, the opportunities to run work experience and tapping into that area as a target cohort?

MR SILLETT:  Yeah, so we certainly have worked with a number of local schools to provide work experience. Generally speaking, the candidates we have received have been at the sort of year 10, 11 level, unsure about what they might be doing when they leave school, and they come from a variety of different cohorts. So, yeah, certainly we can see value in providing that for our community and giving people that opportunity to experience work outside of, you know, their school community. So, certainly.

MS EASTMAN:  And looking to the future, and this might be a Mark Gates question rather than you, so if this is outside your area, let me know, but what, in a sense, is the expectation for this business into the future? Are you looking to expand or to replicate this model around the country, or do you see the importance of really ensuring that sustainable model where you are in Toowoomba?

MR SILLETT:  Yeah, so certainly expansion is something we're very focused on. You know, for a couple of different reasons, we think the model benefits communities as a bottom line. So, we are really conscious that we think there are other communities in Australia that can benefit from having a Vanguard Laundry, but we're also very conscious that those communities have their own unique needs, particularly from a social impact point of view about what cohorts, what kind of demand there is and what specific social issues exist in those communities. So, there's a lot of work for us to do prior to expansion to make sure we're making an impact and making it in the right way. And there are obvious commercial benefits to us expanding as well and we're keen to pursue that, and keen to work towards the sustainability.

MS EASTMAN:  Does any expansion model bring in elements of co‑design in terms of ‑‑

MR SILLETT:  Certainly.

MS EASTMAN:  ‑‑ and what would that look like?

MR SILLETT:  I think we've already started to work with communities in Australia in regional Queensland to work towards expansion and that has already involved co‑design meeting with people and making sure that those issues are upfront, known before we start to actually build any kind of program structure or commercial structure within those communities. As to what that would look like specifically that's probably a question for a little bit down the pathway towards that expansion process, once that kind of fact‑finding has happened, but it's definitely high on our list of priorities to make sure that happens.

MS EASTMAN:  Mr Sillett, thank you very much. We've covered a lot of territory. And, Commissioners, those are the questions I wanted to ask Mr Sillett and to thank him and also extend our thanks to Mr Gates who unfortunately wasn't able to be here today as well. Thank you very much.

MR SILLETT:  Thank you.

CHAIR:  Yes, thank you, Mr Sillett, and, again, please convey our thanks to Mr Gates for his role in preparing the statement and for facilitating your appearance and the evidence you have given today. So, thank you very much.

MR SILLETT:  Thank you.

MS EASTMAN:  Chair, could I just tender in evidence the joint statement.

CHAIR:  Yes.

MS EASTMAN:  And some accompanying material which, Commissioners, you have in your tender bundle. If you could mark the joint statement Exhibit 31‑005 and then the accompanying material would be 31‑005.1 through to .6.



CHAIR:  Yes, the joint statement will be admitted into evidence with the marking Ms Eastman has indicated and the other documents will also be admitted into evidence with the markings Ms Eastman has ‑ just five minutes?

MS EASTMAN:  Commissioner, if we can have five minutes, we will do a little reconstitute of the hearing room, and Ms Tarrago will be introducing our next witnesses.

CHAIR:  Very good.




CHAIR:  Ms Tarrago.

MS TARRAGO:  Commissioners will next hear evidence through a prerecord from Bill Cooper and Kyran O'Donnell, who are a social media duo known as The Brother Boys. Bill is a 26‑year‑old man from Wentworth, New South Wales and lives with Down syndrome and Bill's brother‑in‑law, Kyran O'Donnell, is a 33‑year‑old First Nations man who lives in Mildura. Bill and Kyran create content for social media and in particular have gone viral after making TikTok videos of trends, dances and pranks that directly and indirectly challenge ableist attitudes towards disability.

I'll begin by showing Commissioners a TikTok video of The Brother Boys, and there is a colourful word at the start of the clip, and the clip showcases their relationships and the journey that Kyran had, not having met anyone who lives with Down syndrome before he came to know Bill. Operator, please play the TikTok.

(Video played)

(Music playing)

(Video ends)

MS TARRAGO:  On 30 November this year, I travelled to Mildura with staff from the Royal Commission ‑ Genevieve Pritchard from the Office of the Solicitor Assisting team and Tyrone Day from Counselling and Support ‑ to meet with The Brother Boys and pre‑record their evidence. In their pre‑recorded evidence, the Brother Boys share why it's important to challenge community attitudes about disability, and their vision for an inclusive Australia. Operator, please play the pre‑record.

(Video played)

MR COOPER:  I love everything they do, they appreciate me and shake hands and take photos and everything.

MS TARRAGO:  And that's because you and Kyran have a TikTok account called Brother Boys.

MR COOPER:  Exactly, yes.

MS TARRAGO:  Yes. And you're brothers‑in‑law?


MS TARRAGO:  So, how long have you known each other, probably?

MR COOPER:  Probably ‑

MR O'DONNELL:  11 years, I think.

MR COOPER:  11 years, yes.

MR O'DONNELL:  11 years, we've known one another.

MS TARRAGO:  Yes. So, how old were you when you first met?

MR COOPER:  Probably I was about ‑

MR O'DONNELL:  15, 16, roughly.

MR COOPER:  Yeah, 16 years, yeah.

MR O'DONNELL:  Yeah, and I would have been 20 years old. So, it feels like a long‑arse time ago now.

MS TARRAGO:  And you've got quite a special bond together.

MR COOPER:  Yeah, we certainly have. Yeah.

MS TARRAGO:  Can you tell us why that's special?

MR COOPER:  The reason it's special between us, we have a special connection, Aboriginal to Down syndrome, and yeah, we ‑ yeah, all that, yeah.

MS TARRAGO:  And you share that bond with a lot of people.

MR COOPER:  Yeah, we share that bond and love and all that.


MR COOPER:  Spreading across the world and love and happiness and all that.

MR O'DONNELL:  So we're just brother in laws.

MR COOPER:  Yeah, brother‑in‑laws, yeah.

MR O'DONNELL:  That have a really good connection, formed a great bond over several years.

MR COOPER:  Good connection point, and no one can understand it, just bugger off and, yeah, just keep the positivity to us.


MS TARRAGO:  So just keeping it positive.


MS TARRAGO:  And can you tell us what TikTok is?

MR COOPER:  TikTok is like an app that you download from the Play Store and you can do challenges and pranks on each other and, yeah, all of that, yes.

MR O'DONNELL:  So it's just an app where you practically record yourself doing videos and post it online for everyone to see.

MR COOPER:  Yeah, record ‑ yeah, you can record something and yeah, all that, yeah.

MR O'DONNELL:  So, yeah, there are challenges or talents or whatever it is you want to do, dancing.

MR COOPER:  Yeah, dancing around or car challenges.

MR O'DONNELL:  Post it online and it just ‑ you just swipe it and it goes across the world really quick, doesn't it?


MR O'DONNELL:  It works off an algorithm, so if people like your videos, I guess depending on how many views you get, comments, how much it gets interacted with, the further it reaches. So, that's how it goes. That's what a TikTok is, isn't it?

MR COOPER:  Yeah, it is. Yeah.

MS TARRAGO:  So when did you start your account on TikTok?

MR COOPER:  When we first started that account with TikTok, it was a couple of weeks back and ‑


MR COOPER:  Yeah, it was when COVID started.

MR O'DONNELL:  2020.

MR COOPER:  Yeah, in 2020 we were in lockdown. I was at Lucy and Ky's house for two nights and ‑ yeah.

MR O'DONNELL:  So, 2020 we started doing ‑ well, we've always filmed videos over the last course of the 10 or 11 years we've known each other.

MR COOPER:  We were very bored and all of a sudden our first TikTok.

MS TARRAGO:  So, I hear that you are well‑known for being pranksters for a long time.


MS TARRAGO:  And so you might have used other social media platforms, but then once COVID happened, you have created this account on TikTok and it's just taken off?

MR O'DONNELL:  Practically, really, isn't it?

MR COOPER:  Yeah, it is.

MR O'DONNELL:  We used to post to Facebook and Snapchat all the time.


MR O'DONNELL:  And then COVID sort of made us check out on TikTok and then things went a little bit differently from TikTok just compared to just our, you know, our close family and friends that used to seen it. People on TikTok had no idea about Down syndrome ‑ well, they didn't have probably a rough idea maybe, but since we started sharing videos of, you know, other brotherhood, it's reached out to a lot of people and as an eye opener for a lot of people that may be unaware of people with Down syndrome or people like myself, Aboriginal people. So, people started getting interested, invested, followers started coming along, views and things and TikTok started to spread, and we just kept up the content and just show them talents. We started off doing talents, wasn't it.


MR O'DONNELL:  Bill's a man of many talents, accents and things like that.


MR O'DONNELL:  And we started off with things like that. Then singing, dancing ‑ a lot of dancing. And yeah, we just ‑ pranks, yeah, and then there was numerous pranks as well. So, that's ‑ yeah, we just started to widen our variety of different content for social media and then this is where we're at now.

MS TARRAGO:  And were you worried about how people might respond to your content?

MR O'DONNELL:  We weren't necessarily worried, but we weren't prepared, you know what I mean. We did sort of maybe expect a bit more negative reactions to some of the videos that we posted, but surprisingly we haven't really got nowhere near the amount we sort of might have thought we might get. But, no, it's been great. Everybody has been, you know, pretty good on TikTok.

MS TARRAGO:  And do you think it's important to challenge people's attitudes about disability and about First Nations communities?

MR O'DONNELL:  Yeah. People have this image of Down syndrome or Aboriginal and that's what stays. It's what they see, you know. If you see, you know, a Down syndrome person doing this and an Aboriginal person doing that, then that's all you see and that's all that's going to stay in your head until you see our videos and then you start to see a little bit more, there's more to us than what you may see walking the street or school or wherever else you may see someone with Down syndrome or Aboriginal. So, yeah, we've educated ‑ definitely educated a lot of people through our platform as well. So, for us to be able to do that means heaps. It's been great.

MS TARRAGO:  That's fantastic. And, Bill, what do you see an inclusive Australia to be? What would be your dream of seeing that?

MR COOPER:  I'm not sure.

MS TARRAGO:  Are you ‑‑

MR O'DONNELL:  Do you just want people to get along? Do you want to see people get along more like us?

MR COOPER:  Yeah, something to ‑ get along like me and, like, brother boy have, yeah.

MR O'DONNELL:  Like, we don't judge one another.

MR COOPER:  Yeah, we don't judge anyone, like, skin or colour and that, just keep on being happy and positive and don't give up on your dreams and just be positive and all that.

MS TARRAGO:  That's fantastic. And so for people to see and celebrate friendships and ‑

MR O'DONNELL:  Like you said in one of those videos, everyone deserves love. You remember that video?


MR O'DONNELL:  It doesn't matter, gay, black, white, Asian, whatever it may be, it's all about what's on the inside, you know, inclusiveness regardless of people's differences.


MS TARRAGO:  And that's your dream for an inclusive Australia as well?

MR O'DONNELL:  Absolutely. Yeah, what we like to put out is what we would love to see more of. Including inclusiveness is the best way to move forward, you know. If people stop judging by what they see or what they think, and understand everybody's different and accept that, then you can go a lot further, I believe.

MS TARRAGO:  And you've been surprised by the response to your TikTok account. It's opened a lot of opportunities for relationships with people you might not have connected with before?


MS TARRAGO:  Can you tell us about that?

MR O'DONNELL:  Yeah, celebrities and things like that following us these days, don't we?

MR COOPER:  Yeah, celebrities follow us and ‑ on TikTok and what happened there.

MR O'DONNELL:  Yeah, the response that we get is still overwhelming, isn't it?


MR O'DONNELL:  Like how people see our relationship. To us when we first started it, it was normal to us. We didn't really see it how other people seen it. We knew our relationship from what we built together. And then now to be able to showcase it and seeing people's responses really makes you understand and appreciate the relationship that we have between us. Because, you know, people from the outside seeing in, they made us understand that we really do have a great bond and different, and accepting. And, yeah, I just wish more people were like us.

MS TARRAGO:  Is there anything else that you want to tell the Royal Commission?

MR COOPER:  I'm not sure.

MR O'DONNELL:  I'm not quite sure either, to be honest with you on that one.

MR COOPER:  I don't know.

MS TARRAGO:  Was it a bit of a surprise that the Royal Commission got in contact?

MR O'DONNELL:  Definitely, yeah.

MR COOPER:  Yeah, definitely, I think, yeah.

MR O'DONNELL:  Sorry, yeah, to  your question you asked us before, yeah, the opportunities and things like that that have come with TikTok and the people that we're meeting and speaking to and things like that, I'm telling you, that's not something we first expected when this started to blow up. We didn't know what we were in for, you know. And then all of a sudden we got in too deep and now it's just amazing to see where our life is and where it was before. It was always good, but now it's just ‑ we don't even know anybody who's doing what we're doing, and that means heaps. People look at us, especially you, Bill, like role models. And for us to be able to have that impact on people just by creating videos and being ourselves online, that, to me, that's massive. That's huge, isn't it?


MR O'DONNELL:  That's living the dream now, just being yourself on social media and getting recognised for it and getting to meet great people along the way. That's massive. Yeah, we love this. Don't we?


MS TARRAGO:  And do you think that being part of the conversation is really important as well for those opportunities for sitting down with the government, for example?

MR O'DONNELL:  Like, that's where our platform, our social media does showcase a lot of positive and joyful moments between us, and we're also educating as well, people that, like I said, they don't know about Down syndrome and Aboriginal people. We love to educate and yeah, break down barriers and stereotypes and things like that, and so ‑ yeah. It's a lot ‑ it's really ‑ it's become quite big and we just, yeah, really appreciate what we're able to do through our platform and, yeah, open people's eyes up.

MS TARRAGO:  Well, thank you both.

MR O'DONNELL:  Thank you.

MR COOPER:  Thank you.

(Video concludes)

MS TARRAGO:  Chair, that's the evidence for those witnesses. I tender two exhibits.  The first being the prerecord which I ask to be marked as Exhibit 31‑006 and the second is the transcript of the prerecord I asked to be marked as Exhibit 31‑006.1, and that takes us to our afternoon ‑

CHAIR:  Yes, both of those will be admitted with those markings.



MS TARRAGO:  Thank you, Chair. And that takes us to our afternoon adjournment for 15 minutes.

CHAIR:  Very well. It is now just after 2.45 so if we resume at 3.05, is that convenient? Okay. Thank you.



CHAIR:  Mr Fraser.

MR FRASER:  Commissioners, to conclude this afternoon we have a panel with three witnesses, Natalie Daoud, Elizabeth Gearing and Andrea Dalziell, who will give evidence about a charity operated by Variety Children's Charity called Just Like You. The witnesses have already taken their respective oaths and affirmations.




CHAIR:  Thank you very much, Ms Gearing, Ms Dalziell. Is that how it's pronounced? Sometimes it's pronounced Diel. And Ms Daoud. Have I got that right?

MS DAOUD: Ms Daoud.

CHAIR:  Thank you very much for your statement which we have and which we have read. Thank you to coming to the Commission today and preparing to give evidence. If you would be good enough to listen to Mr Fraser, he will now ask you some questions.


MR FRASER:  Thank you. I'll ask you in turn to state your full names and confirm that the joint statement you provided dated 25 November 2022 is true and correct to the best of your knowledge and belief. So, I'll start with you, Ms Gearing.  State your full name and is the statement true and correct to the best of your knowledge and beliefs?


MR FRASER:  Yes. Ms Dalziell?

MS DALZIELL:  Yes. Andrea Dalziell and, yes, the statement is true and correct.

MR FRASER:  Ms Daoud.

MS DAOUD:  Yes. Natalie Daoud, and the statement is true and correct.

MR FRASER:  Thank you. I will start with you, Ms Gearing. You are the Head of Kids Support at Variety New South Wales/ACT the Children's Charity; is that correct?

MS GEARING:  That's correct.

MR FRASER:  And in that capacity you head up a team that manages grants and programs, including the Just Like You program.

MS GEARING:  Correct.

MR FRASER:  Ms Dalziell, you are a partner of EY and you are the Leader of Community Impact Practice; is that right?

MS DALZIELL:  That's correct.

MR FRASER:  And in that role you work with Variety as the delivery partner for the Just Like You program?


MR FRASER:  And, Ms Daoud, you are a Program Facilitator for the Just Like You program. Is that right?

MS DAOUD:  Correct.

MR FRASER:  Ms Dalziell, if I can start with you, can I ask you to confirm or tell the Commission about the Just Like You program, some of the key features of it. So, first of all, how does it work on the ground? Facilitators go to schools; is that what happens?

MS DALZIELL:  That's right, yes. The Just Like You program is a disability and inclusion awareness program. It's delivered in primary schools across New South Wales, ACT and Queensland, and we have a team of facilitators that go into schools and deliver that program face to face where possible and virtually where not possible. And teachers and students explore a range, through the workshop program, exploring different concepts of disability, understanding attitudinal shifts, language, behaviour related to people with disabilities and driving a more inclusive school community.

MR FRASER:  So, is it a one‑off session that a facilitator runs?

MS DALZIELL:  That's right, yeah, it's one class in duration, so typically around 45 minutes in length, and then we come back to schools over ‑ so there's three stages to the program covering all of primary school, and we'll soon move into year 7s in high schools. And, yep, a single intervention workshop per year but returning back to the same schools often several years in a row.

MR FRASER:  Is it right that during the workshop, just to touch on what you said earlier, students are introduced to concepts relating to disability such as the notion of hidden disability.

MS DALZIELL:  That's right, yes.

MR FRASER:  Physical versus mental disabilities.

MS DALZIELL:  That's correct.

MR FRASER:  The use of appropriate language and terminology around disability.


MR FRASER:  And the importance of social inclusion.

MS DALZIELL:  That's correct

MR FRASER:   And, really, what is the program designed to do? What's the objective of the program?

MS DALZIELL:  It's designed to bring this form of disability and inclusion awareness education to young people and to reduce the stigmas associated with and the treatment of people with disabilities, creating more inclusive schoolyard communities and better environments for all students, including those with disabilities.

MR FRASER:  And how long has the program been running?

MS DALZIELL:  So the program was developed by Cerebral Palsy Alliance back in 2006, I believe. It had a slightly different model to the model that's running now, and it used volunteer facilitators, their carers, similar structure in terms of going into classrooms across the territory or the state and delivering the program. In 2015, Cerebral Palsy Alliance engaged with my team at ‑ we were a different organisation at that point, and we supported them to redevelop the program, ensure that it was embedded with behaviour change principles, and we supported them with then delivering the program on their behalf, so employing the facilitators that then went out and delivered that program. In 2017, Variety - the Children's Charity took over from Cerebral Palsy Alliance in owning that program, and we've worked with them ever since in supporting them to deliver the program.

MR FRASER:  And is it right to say that the target audience for the program is really schoolchildren ‑ primary school children at the moment but moving into high school when you expand the program.

MS DALZIELL:  It is, but I'd also say that perhaps the indirect audience for the program is the broader school community and students' community as well, so parents, families, as well as teaching staff and school staff are involved in the program and benefit from it.

MR FRASER:  And in terms of where the program currently operates, is it right that you're in New South Wales at the moment?


MR FRASER:  And where else?

MS DALZIELL:  So currently across ‑ New South Wales, we're in Newcastle and Queensland. So, sorry, Sydney, Newcastle, Queensland.

MR FRASER:  And digitally as well, you ‑‑ emails?


MR FRASER:  And does that include across to the ACT?

MS DALZIELL:  It does, yes.

MR FRASER:  You mentioned plans to expand into year 7.  Are there plans to expand geographically at well?

MS DALZIELL:  At this stage, those plans are depending upon further funding. So, yes, we can expand the program virtually where we can be delivering across States and Territories. We have had conversation was other states within the Variety organisation, but at this stage New South Wales, ACT and Queensland is the remit of the program.

MR FRASER:  In terms of the facilitators, how many facilitators are currently engaged in the program?

MS DALZIELL:  We currently have four facilitators associated with the program. We have three in New South Wales and one in Queensland at this point.

MR FRASER:  And I'll turn to you now, Ms Daoud. You're one of those facilitators, aren't you?

MS DAOUD:   Correct.

MR FRASER:  And you've been a facilitator or facilitating the Just Like You program workshop for around six years across Sydney; is that right?

MS DAOUD:   Yes.

MR FRASER:  And prior to that, we've heard that there was a previous incantation of the program, if you like. You were first involved with the program in 2013 when it was operated by the Cerebral Palsy Alliance.

MS DAOUD:   Correct.

MR FRASER:  Now, from your perspective as a facilitator, what can you tell the Commission about your own observations about the impact of the program when you go into a classroom and present the program?

MS DAOUD:   So as Andie briefly touched on, the program is there to educate the students, but quite often what I find is that it also has an extremely great impact on the teachers and also the parents and the community overall as well. So, in my experience, most of the time ‑ depending on the school because, of course, they're all different ‑ I've had experiences where I will go into the school. Sometimes the students have no idea what a disability is, especially if they haven't been exposed to it. So, if their school doesn't have a support unit or doesn't have students in their school that have disabilities, then quite often the Just Like You program is their first time that they're ever meeting somebody with a disability and then learning about disabilities.

And then I've also had other experiences where they might be already exposed to disability because they've got students in their school that have disabilities or a support unit with students with disabilities. And so then, in that scenario, our program helps to further aid their involvement with those students and help them to understand how to better include their peers so that they're not being left out or excluded in the mainstream side of school.

MR FRASER:  And the facilitators such as yourself are actually persons with disability, aren't they?

MS DAOUD:   Correct.

MR FRASER:  In your statement at paragraph 52, you give some ‑ you give an example of the particular seminar you gave and the impact ‑ or workshop that you gave and the impact that that had. Can you tell the Commission about that example?

MS DAOUD:   Sure. Yeah, so we ‑ so our team was asked to go into a school, as we do with many, and for this particular school there was a student there that had cerebral palsy, and they ‑ all their classmates knew that they had cerebral palsy but they never really had a chance to talk about it or tell their peers about their disability. And so our program really opened up the door for them to actually be able to speak very openly and honestly about their disability. And the student confidently stood up at the front of the room and just told his class how his disability affects him and how he would like for his peers to treat him and how they can better include him.

And as a facilitator personally who also has cerebral palsy, it was very touching to see the impact that that had on him because it also ‑ from what I could see, he just had a really great sense of newfound confidence in that moment to be able to openly speak about the disability. And I think that's something that is so unique about the Just Like You program is we don't just go in there to educate students with disabilities, but we actually create a safe space for them to speak about disability openly and honestly, and, of course, they can also ask us questions, because, as a facilitator, we have disabilities too. So, yeah.

MR FRASER:  They are the examples that come to mind that you've seen on the ground, so to speak.

MS DAOUD:   Sorry?

MR FRASER:  Any other examples that come to mind of the experiences you've had where you can speak to the impact of the program?

MS DAOUD:   Sure. So, I've also had a similar experience where I did go into the school, and in this particular circumstance, one of the parents was invited to come in and observe the session, because her son in one of the classes had Autism. And I had an opportunity to speak to the parents before the class came in, and she let her know that her son has Autism but he doesn't speak about it at all, and she said that she was really curious to see how her son is going to react to the program, and she doesn't even think that he will mention his disability at all.

Surprisingly, the moment I mentioned hidden disabilities and started to speak about the disabilities, he shot his hand right up and said, "I have Autism" and with a massive smile on his face he began to explain his Autism and began to speak to his class about, I guess, how his Autism affects him.  And I got a quick glance at his mother who was at the back of the room, and her eyes were filled with tears and, for me ‑ I think I'm up here getting emotional because, for me, as somebody with a disability, it's very touching to have those moments. I apologise, sorry. Yeah, it was a very ‑ as a facilitator, it felt very great to be able to provide that opportunity for that student, because I remember when I was in school I never had those types of opportunities. So, yes.

MR FRASER:  So, when you're in school, do you remember there being a program like the Just Like You program?


MR FRASER:  Just touching on any examples, I will throw that open to the panel, if there's any examples of the sort of day‑to‑day experience of the program that anyone would like to share?

MS DALZIELL:  I'd love to jump in, if I can, and we have many of those stories of impact across the many years that the program's been running. One of my favourites is of a little boy who was in year 5, I think, at the time. This was at a time when the program delivered a Workshop A workshop and then came back a couple of weeks later to deliver a Workshop B follow‑up workshop. And this young ‑ this young year 5 student also had a disability, and throughout all of his schooling life, he'd never been invited to a birthday party.

And so in the time between the students who had participated in Workshop A and then when the facilitator came back two weeks later for Workshop B, he'd been invited to his very first birthday party, sort of five years into his schooling life. So, you can imagine the impact in terms of this young boy's experience of school and inclusion in that class.

MR FRASER:  Ms Gearing, if I can turn to you, in terms of the reach of the program, do you have an idea of how many schools, classes and students that the workshop has been delivered to?

MS GEARING:  Yes, it's ‑ so Just Like You has been presented in 264 unique schools, 3,274 classes, and it's reached 100,369 students.

MR FRASER:  And in terms of the schools that the program is presented to, is it only government schools? Is there any restriction of that type?

MS GEARING:  No, there's no restriction. We can run the program in any school.

MR FRASER:  And I'll return to that in a moment. How is the cost of the Just Like You program funded?

MS GEARING:  So it's funded ‑ Variety funds it. Variety completely funds it. We get no government funding so it's funded from our fundraising model, events and donors, sponsors, but there's no government funding.

MR FRASER:  And if I can turn to you, Ms Dalziell, coming back to the engagement of facilitators, so the persons with disabilities that actually run the programs in the schools, how are they recruited?

MS DALZIELL:  They're recruited through an open market. So, we put ads out whenever we have an opportunity to engage a facilitator. We also use our network of disability service providers that may have referrals to refer people into the program. It's a really difficult job, the facilitation role, and one that team members are supported to do well. But also that the program's impact is really reliant on having a great experience in the classroom with facilitators.

So, we go through a typical vetting process to ensure that facilitators ‑ that any of our facilitators are well suited to the role, so are able to communicate clearly in a classroom, to deliver learning outcomes and participate in that ‑ the travel and logistics required for the role. And all of the facilitators are employees of EY in delivering that program.

MR FRASER:  So, they're not volunteers. It's a remunerated role?

MS DALZIELL:  That's correct, yes.

MR FRASER:  And in terms of onboarding or training new facilitators, what training is provided?

MS DALZIELL:  We have ‑ all of our programs have clear learning objectives. We have slides that go along with all of our workshops. We have a comprehensive training program where facilitators are able to shadow another facilitator if there's one in their state or location. We also have some internal training videos provided so they can kind of see it in action. We do a lot of internal presentations internally to each other, so that they can really understand the nuance of, you know, how a classroom ‑ what the dynamics of the classroom may be, the sorts of questions that students may ask at what intervals during the workshop, where that facilitator has those boundaries of how to answer a question, if there's one that's particularly personal that they're not comfortable answering, and also how to drive those learning objectives that we seek through the program. So, it's a pretty comprehensive training program before those facilitators are then able to go out independently and deliver the program.

MR FRASER:  And in terms of the ongoing assessment of the program, what steps are taken to ensure that the program is actually meeting its objectives, what you want it to do? Ms Dalziell?

MS DALZIELL:  Yeah. We have embedded impact evaluation measures within the program. So, we regularly survey at the conclusion of every workshop teachers and sometimes students, if it's as part of an intensive evaluation project, are asked to give feedback on the program. They answer a variety of questions around what those teachers have observed in their students prior to their participation in the workshop, as well as following their participation in the workshop.

And we've also ‑ recently, actually, last year we partnered with University of Tasmania. Some researchers out of University of Tasmania undertook a study of the program, an evaluation of the program to see how it was serving the broader objectives of that wider school community. So, there's a range of measures that are inbuilt in the program to ensure that it's continuing to meet those objectives and not only behaviour change and impact, but also things that are important to access, including curriculum alignment, making sure that teachers feel like it's delivering the outcomes the teachers need to deliver in the classroom, which can be tricky. You know, we start with the behavioural objectives and see how we can weave it into the curriculum. So, those sorts of things are primarily through surveys and analysis done on those embedded in the program's operations.

MR FRASER:  And in terms of the outcomes of that assessment you're talking about with the University of Tasmania, what was the timing of the ‑ of that research?

MS DALZIELL:  Yeah, the University of Tasmania found ‑ found the program to be impactful in delivering on those outcomes. If you could help me locate the paragraph where this is in my statement, I can give you ‑

MR FRASER:  You're referring to para 59 and 61, particularly 61, which is at page 11 of your statement.

MS DALZIELL:  Yeah. So the researchers found thatL

          “The program had a positive and direct impact on typical students whom the program was targeted at, both in the short term as well as in the medium term.”

MR FRASER:  Now, Ms Gearing, if I can turn to you, and I'm at paragraph 66 of your statement, if that assists you. We've heard that the program is to be expanded to year 7 students. Can you tell the Commission about what's involved with that expansion.

MS GEARING:  Yeah. So, up to this year, it's only been years 3 to 6, but it's been ‑ Variety have long wanted to move it into year 7, and Nat's experience was pivotal in that decision. So, we've recently approved funding for the expansion of Just Like You offering it to year 7 students for 2023. We've done that on the basis that advancing the reach of the program to older students raises the level of awareness, which can then cause a ripple effect both within and outside the school community.

We believe this, you know, is advantageous for children that are moving from being a big fish in a small pond from primary school, where their peers would all know the disabilities that they have and will be aware of them and understanding of them, and then they leave that and they go in to be a very small fish in a very large school where nobody knows them and they have to go through it all over again, and it just seemed that we were ‑ we were letting them down by not following them into high school.

MR FRASER:  So the idea is to expand the program into the transition point for the first year of high school?

MS GEARING:  Yeah, I mean, eventually we'd like to carry it on but year 7 is such an important year for young people.

MR FRASER:  Can I ask this question, sort of future‑facing question. I'll start with you. What do you see as your vision for the future of the program?

MS GEARING:  I think we'd like to see the program incorporated into the curriculum. That would be the tip‑top vision for it. Imagine if ‑ imagine what it would be like if inclusion, inclusive education, was as common as maths and English in the curriculum. And every child going through school, it would just be part of school so they'd end up leaving school with a total acceptance of the students that they've been going to school with, and then that would just blossom into their working life. They would assume that inclusion is part of the way it should be. So, you know, that would be amazing.

MR FRASER:  Ms Dalziell, is there anything that you'd like to add to say in terms of your vision for the program in the future?

MS DALZIELL:  Yeah, I think if I was to take that a step further, wouldn't it be wonderful if there was no need for a program like this? Bit ambitious and a bit further out, perhaps, but in the meantime maybe if every school across Australia could participate in a program like this and have their students benefit from a program like this, that would be wonderful.

MR FRASER:  And Ms Daoud, as a present facilitator, is there anything that you'd like to add in terms of your future ‑ or your vision for the future of the program, as a facilitator or personally?

MS DAOUD:   Yes. So, I definitely agree with both of you, but to add to that, I would also, as somebody who does have a disability, I can personally speak to the fact that if Just Like You had existed when I was in school, my school experience would have been a lot better than it was, because I did endure a lot of bullying, exclusion, kids not understanding me and my disability. So, I think that the positive impact that Just Like You has is well worth it, and also ‑‑ I guess partway the negative impact that not having the program has caused for a lot of people.

And let's face it, bullying is something that happens to many people, not just people with disabilities, but I think what's so unique about Just Like You is we also speak about the importance of differences as well within our program. So, although we are there to educate about disabilities, the students also walk away knowing just as a general rule that it's okay to be different, whether that difference is disability or whether it's something completely different. And I think the fact that our program is run by facilitators that have disabilities allows the students to also ask questions that they usually wouldn't be able to ask so openly, and I think that's what makes our program so unique.

MR FRASER:  Ms Gearing, if I can come back to you, in terms of your vision, if you like, of expanding the program in that way to make it part of the curriculum, what's needed to achieve that vision, in your view?

MS GEARING:  Money. So, Variety itself can't ‑ does not have the capability to fund the program nationally. It needs a government level determination to make inclusive education part of the national curriculum and be prepared to back it and fund it. We have a fantastic scalable model. We've got the course already. We've got ‑ been running it successfully for seven years. It could easily be scaled out in every state, scaled up into every state. We just need the funding to do it. It's all ready to go.

MR FRASER:  Can I talk a little bit now about this idea of the impact the program has, not just on the school but on the broader schooling environment, if you like, because is it right that it has an impact further afield than just the direct students? I'm happy to ask that, Ms Daoud, if I can start with you.

MS DAOUD:   Sure. Just to clarify the question, do you mean in terms of the teachers?

MR FRASER:  Teachers, parents, the broader community. 

MS DAOUD:  Sure. So like I mentioned earlier on, impact on parents is definitely there. I've also seen the impact it has on teachers as well. Quite often I have teachers come up to me and say, "Thank you so much. I learned to much from this session that I wasn't even aware of." And it could be something as simple as the wording that they should use. Say "accessible toilet" instead of "disabled toilet" because the toilet doesn't have a disability, is an example, or it could be something even bigger like how to better include their students in the classroom that have disabilities. Yeah.

MS GEARING:  Can I just say one of the things that we would love to be able to do on that note is to leave ‑ is to expand the program so that we can leave the teachers with ongoing resources so that they ‑ the program doesn't end 45 minutes after it started. And Nat leaves a whole, you know, load of work or work sheets or ‑ because, correct me if I'm wrong, but the teachers often ask you, don't they for ‑

MS DAOUD:   They do.

MS GEARING:  ‑ other materials?

MS DAOUD:  Yes, so, we're asked for follow‑up resources or any way that they can further engage the students, but, unfortunately, as Liz mentioned earlier because of the ‑ we don't have the funds there to be able to create those extra resources, so we're often leaving it up to the teachers to sort of figure that out on their own, which is not the most ideal scenario.

MR FRASER:  If I can talk more broadly to finish off, in your joint statement at paragraph 75 to 77, you talk about your vision for an inclusive Australia. Can I ask you to expand or tell the Commission about what that vision is, and I'm happy to ‑‑

MS GEARING:  Am I allowed to read it, because I don't think I can remember it.

MR FRASER:  Certainly.

MS GEARING:  So we said, on the basis of our experience, we believe that inclusive education benefits all of us. An inclusive education system provides opportunities for learning, friendship and growth within a diverse society, which fosters respect, tolerance, understanding and celebrates diversity. Traditional ideas and stereotypes still play a surprisingly large part in framing the negative attitudes towards people with disabilities. They can lead to social ridicule among peers and can encourage lower expectations for people with disabilities in the classroom.

MR FRASER:  Sorry, Ms Gearing, would you mind slowing down just a little.

MS GEARING:  Sorry. Including as a process of whole school change involving all staff, parents, children and the local community to reduce the barriers so all children can equally participate in learning and the social life of the school. The impact of good inclusive education influences all children and students in a positive manner. The process of achieving inclusive education requires a bottom‑up approach, bringing together parents, people living with a disability, teachers and children, backed up by a real willingness by politicians and administrators to put in place the policy, infrastructure, training and awareness measures necessary to spread the islands of good practice to the whole country.

MR FRASER:  Thank you. I'll invite you ‑ if anyone else wants to add anything to that, this is your opportunity to do so. If not, I'll move on.

MS DALZIELL:  Sounds pretty good to me.

MR FRASER:  That's the end of the questions that I have. Thank you for attending and giving your evidence. Can I, just before I finish, I tender the joint statement as Exhibit 31‑007 and the accompanying annexure which will marked as 31‑007.1.

CHAIR:  Yes, those documents can be admitted into evidence with those markings.



MR FRASER:  And subject to any questions the Commissioners may have, that's the evidence of this panel.

CHAIR:  Thank you very much. Thank you very much for, again, coming to the Commission and for your evidence this afternoon. We do appreciate your assistance and also the work that you've been doing, Ms Daoud, Ms Dalziell and Ms Gearing. Keep it up. Thank you very much.

MS GEARING:  Thank you.

MR FRASER:  Chair, that concludes the evidence for this afternoon, and I propose that we adjourn until 9.30 am tomorrow morning.

CHAIR:  9.30.

MR FRASER:  Sorry, my mistake. 10 am.

CHAIR:  10 am. That sounds much more civilised. We'll adjourn until 10 am.