Public Hearing 11 Brisbane - Day 6
CHAIR: Good morning, everybody. I welcome everyone to the sixth day of this Public Hearing 11 of the Royal Commission. As always, I invite Commissioner Mason to commence proceedings by giving the Acknowledgment of Country.
COMMISSIONER MASON: Thank you, Chair.
We acknowledge the First Nations people as the original inhabitants of the lands on this which hearing is sitting.
Nganana tjukarurungku kalkuni Anangu kuwaripa tjara nyinantja tjuta, ngura nyangangka.
We recognise Meeanjin, Brisbane.
Nganana ngurkantananyi ngura Meeanjin nga Brisbane ta.
We recognise the country north and south of the Brisbane River of the home of Turrbal and Jagera nations.
Nganana ngurkantananyi karu panya Brisbane River nya alintjara munu ulparira Anangu nguraritja tjuta nyinantja munu kuwari nyinanyi Turrbal nga munu Jagera nya.
And we pay respects to the Gadigal people of the Eora Nation. Their land is where the city of Sydney is now located. We pay deep respects to all Elders past, present and future and especially Elders, parents of young people with disability.
I would like to read the First Nations content warning.
This hearing will include evidence that may bring different responses for people. It will include accounts of violence, abuse, neglect and exploitation of First Nations people with disability. It will also include references to First Nations people who are deceased.
If the evidence raises concerns for you, please contact the National Counselling and Referral Service a 1800 421 468. You can also contact Lifeline on 1300 11 14, Beyond Blue on 1300 224 636 or for First Nations viewers, your local Aboriginal Medical Services for social and emotional wellbeing support.
CHAIR: Thank you, Commissioner Mason.
Dr Mellifont, yes.
DR MELLIFONT: Thank you, good morning. May I start, please, by tendering a short form chronology about the case study of Melanie. That will be found at Tender
Bundle F.1, Tab 84. I ask that it be received into evidence and be marked as 11.1.86.
MS FURNESS: Excuse me, Chair, I missed the beginning when Dr Mellifont spoke. Was the chronology provided by Ms Seare S E A R E S, the solicitor for Melanie?
DR MELLIFONT: No, it is not. It is the one provided by the Office of the Solicitor Assisting through correspondence, as I understand it. Thank you.
MS FURNESS: Because if it is Ms Seares --- (overspeaking) ---
DR MELLIFONT: It's not.
Chair, it's not the chronology provided by Ms Seares, it is the chronology produced internally within the Royal Commission, which has been disclosed in correspondence.
CHAIR: Thank you. That will be admitted as 11.1.86.
EXHIBIT #11.1.86 SHORT FORM CHRONOLOGY RELATING TO CASE STUDY OF "MELANIE"
DR MELLIFONT: The second document is found at Tab 11 of F.3, and it is entitled "Public Hearing 11 Recommendations Arising From Past Inquiries". This is the document I referred to in my opening on Day 1 of this hearing, which draws on thematic issues arising from past reports and inquiries. I ask that it be tendered into evidence, marked Exhibit 11.36.11.
CHAIR: Yes, that can be done. That will be Exhibit 11.36.11.
EXHIBIT #11.36.11 PUBLIC HEARING 11 RECOMMENDATIONS ARISING FROM PAST INQUIRIES
DR MELLIFONT: That's correct, thank you.
CHAIR: Both of those documents, I take it, Dr Mellifont, are now public documents?
DR MELLIFONT: Not immediately but they will be very shortly.
CHAIR: Very good. Thank you.
MS McMILLAN : Sorry to interrupt. Can I inquire when those documents were forwarded?
DR MELLIFONT: In correspondence last week. I will have a discussion with Counsel for Queensland in the break ---
MS McMILLAN: Thank you.
DR MELLIFONT: --- to ensure that she is fully aware of the document which has been tendered. Thank you.
CHAIR: Yes, all right.
DR MELLIFONT: This morning we have, giving evidence in a panel, Mr Michael Haralambous and Ms Dorothy Armstrong. You will find the written statement of Ms Armstrong at Tab 5 and a report entitled Recognition, Respect and Support: Enabling Justice for People with an Acquired Brain Injury, which is referred to in Ms Armstrong's witness statement at Tab 6, Tender Bundle A. I ask to tender these documents into evidence and to be marked as Exhibits 11.21.1 and 11.21.2 respectively.
CHAIR: Yes, those documents will be admitted into evidence with the markings you have indicated.
EXHIBIT #11.21.1 STATEMENT OF MS DOROTHY ARMSTRONG
EXHIBIT #11.21.2 REPORT OF MS DOROTHY ARMSTRONG
DR MELLIFONT: Thank you. You will find Mr Haralambous's two witness statements at Tabs 5 and 13 of Tender Bundle B.2. I ask to tender these documents into evidence and for them to be marked as Exhibit 11.22.1 and Exhibit 11.22.2. You will also find, at Tab 89 of Tender Bundle D.2, a system map, which we can see behind Mr Haralambous and Ms Armstrong, which we will go to in the course of this morning's evidence. I ask for it to be tendered into evidence and to be marked as 11.22.3. Finally, at Tender Bundle D.2 Tab 90 is a document entitled "Victorian Government Response Notice to Produce". I ask that it be tendered into evidence and marked as 11.22.4.
CHAIR: Those documents will be admitted into evidence and given those markings. Thank you very much.
EXHIBIT #11.22.1 TO #11.22.2 STATEMENTS OF MR MICHAEL HARALAMBOUS
EXHIBITS #11.22.3 TO #11.22.4 - ANNEXURES TO STATEMENT OF MR MICHAEL HARALAMBOUS
DR MELLIFONT: Might the witnesses be affirmed.
CHAIR: Yes, first of all, thank you very much, Ms Armstrong and Mr Haralambous for coming to the Royal Commission to give evidence. We very much appreciate your doing so. Before I ask my Associate to administer the affirmation, I will just want to point out where everybody is, because we are a little scattered.
Dr Mellifont is speaking to you from the Brisbane hearing room, and in the Brisbane hearing room we have also Commissioner Mason and Commissioner Atkinson. With me in the Sydney hearing room is Commissioner McEwin and in the Sydney hearing room as well is my Associate, who is now going to administer the affirmations to you, if you would each be good enough to follow her instructions, we would be grateful. Thank you.
MR MICHAEL HARALAMBOUS, AFFIRMED
MS DOROTHY ARMSTRONG, AFFIRMED
CHAIR: Thank you very much. Now Dr Mellifont will ask you some questions.
EXAMINATION IN CHIEF BY DR MELLIFONT
DR MELLIFONT: Thank you, Chair. Mr Haralambous, can you state your full name, please?
MR HARALAMBOUS: Michael Haralambous.
DR MELLIFONT: Have you provided statements dated 28 April 2020 and 22 February 2021?
MR HARALAMBOUS: I have.
DR MELLIFONT: Are those statements true and correct to the best of your knowledge and ability?
MR HARALAMBOUS: Yes.
DR MELLIFONT: Do you hold a Bachelor of Laws and a Bachelor of Arts from Monash University?
MR HARALAMBOUS: I do.
DR MELLIFONT: Are you a Senior Adviser in Research and Advocacy, Justice and Disability at the Centre for Innovative Justice at RMIT?
MR HARALAMBOUS: Quite a mouthful, but yes, that's my title.
DR MELLIFONT: Indeed. Can you tell us, please, what is the Centre for Innovative Justice?
MR HARALAMBOUS: Sure. The Centre for Innovative Justice was set up in 2013 by the former Attorney General of Victoria, Rob Hulls. The Centre conducts rigorous research into the justice system, it has a focus on bringing people with contact with the justice system to the centre of all the work we do. We are based at RMIT University's Social Innovation Hub, we are co located with the Law and Advocacy Centre For Women, which is a community legal service that delivers criminal law services for women, and youth law, which is again a community legal centre that delivers legal services to young people. We conduct research into family violence, projects into family violence, restorative justice, and we have a large focus on disability justice, which is why we are speaking to you today.
DR MELLIFONT: Your collective statements speak about the Enabling Justice Project and the Supporting Justice Project. Can you give us a snapshot of each of them, please?
MR HARALAMBOUS: Sure. So the Enabling Justice Project was one of the first major projects the CIJ was involved in. It was funded following some pretty shocking research out of the Department of Justice in Victoria, which found that 42 per cent of male prisoners and 33 per cent of female prisoners at Victorian prisons had an acquired brain injury, so we were provided some funding with Jesuit Social Services through the Office of the Public Advocate in Victoria to work with people with lived experience of the justice system and with acquired brain injury to understand why this was the case. We set up a Justice User Group of 20 people with lived experience. One of those people is Dorothy Armstrong, who is with me today, and we worked with those individuals to understand their experiences, and their experiences were put into a report which is already tendered into evidence today, which has a list of recommendations for ways that the justice system can better respond to acquired brain injury.
Following the completion of that project we were approached by the same anonymous funders and asked to conduct a systems change project focused on addressing that same issue, the over representation of people with disability in the criminal justice system, using the contacts and the expertise of the Centre for Innovative Justice, we have been working on the Supporting Justice Project since
2018 to draw in stakeholders from across the disability, social services and criminal justice sectors together, to understand ways that we can try and improve the response to disability.
As part of that work we have created a system map which is on the wall behind me. We have created supportingjustice.net, which is an online resource, which was funded through the Department of Health and Human Services in Victoria, which is an online resource for court and legal professionals primarily but also for people with disability and support workers, to help them navigate the criminal justice system.
We have again been working with our stakeholders to try and understand the issues and work with them to develop their responses.
DR MELLIFONT: Thank you. Prior to working at the CIJ, were you at Victorian Legal Aid, where you worked in the criminal law programs there?
MR HARALAMBOUS: Yes, I was a criminal law solicitor.
DR MELLIFONT: You have also worked at Victorian Aboriginal Legal Services and National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services?
MR HARALAMBOUS: That's right.
DR MELLIFONT: Ms Armstrong, can you state your full name?
MS ARMSTRONG: My name is Dorothy Armstrong.
DR MELLIFONT: Your statement is dated 29 April 2020. Is that statement true and correct to the best of your knowledge and ability?
MS ARMSTRONG: Yes, it is.
DR MELLIFONT: Do you work as an Adviser and Peer Support Worker for the Supporting Justice Project?
MS ARMSTRONG: Yes, I do.
DR MELLIFONT: You in fact worked on and with others to develop the Supporting Justice Online resource that Mr Haralambous has just spoken about; correct?
MS ARMSTRONG: Yes, I did.
DR MELLIFONT: In fact, you also worked on the map which we see behind you, as part of that project; is that correct?
MS ARMSTRONG: Yes.
DR MELLIFONT: We will come to it a little bit more later, but that map and the work with it is work you are enormously proud of and wish to share with Australia; is that correct?
MS ARMSTRONG: Absolutely.
DR MELLIFONT: Have you also worked with the CIJ and the Self Advocacy Resource Unit to develop the Voices for Justice training?
MS ARMSTRONG: Yes, I did.
DR MELLIFONT: You were also previously involved with the Enabling Justice Project as a member of the Justice User Group; is that right?
MS ARMSTRONG: Yes.
DR MELLIFONT: As we have heard, that was a group of people with acquired brain injury, who had experience in the criminal justice system, created in part to help find out why there were so many people with acquired brain injury in prison; is that right?
MS ARMSTRONG: That's correct, yes.
DR MELLIFONT: In 2018, did you receive a Victorian Disability Award For Excellence in Promoting Rights, Standards and Safety?
MS ARMSTRONG: I did, yes.
DR MELLIFONT: Congratulations.
MS ARMSTRONG: Thank you.
DR MELLIFONT: I will come back to the work of the CIJ in a little while. Ms Armstrong, first I'm going to ask you some questions about you. Okay?
MS ARMSTRONG: Okay.
DR MELLIFONT: Where were you born?
MS ARMSTRONG: I was born in Queensland.
DR MELLIFONT: Did your family move to Victoria?
MS ARMSTRONG: Yes.
DR MELLIFONT: How old were you when that happened?
MS ARMSTRONG: I was five when my family first moved down here.
DR MELLIFONT: Have you spent most of your life in Victoria?
MS ARMSTRONG: Yes, I have.
DR MELLIFONT: How many brothers and sisters did you have?
MS ARMSTRONG: I had 10. But now, my two eldest brothers have died, so there's nine of us left.
DR MELLIFONT: Can you please tell us a little of what your childhood was like?
MS ARMSTRONG: One of the things I grew up with was family violence. I predominantly grew up with my brothers. My family moved all the time, you know, always --- sort of the new kids at school. Yeah, it was really --- it wasn't nice.
DR MELLIFONT: Did you always have enough food?
MS ARMSTRONG: No. Very rarely, very rarely, you know, was there food for us. You know, I remember --- and I can still like --- even now in my mind's eye, I can see, I was five and where we were living at the time, and I was standing out the front of the house and, you know, looking around and waiting for my real family to come and pick me up.
DR MELLIFONT: You spoke about experiencing violence and violence at the hands of your family.
MS ARMSTRONG: Yes.
DR MELLIFONT: Did you feel you could speak up?
MS ARMSTRONG: Absolutely no.
DR MELLIFONT: Your statement speaks about being raised to think "What happened in the house stays in the house", is that how it was?
MS ARMSTRONG: Yes, that is --- that's exactly how it was, and it's --- I mean, as an adult now, I can look back and make a lot more sense of things that of course as a child I didn't --- and I couldn't have known. But it was sort of my mum and I was, you know, sort of like the only females in the house and my mum was 45 when she had me, so I didn't have anybody to look after me, you know. And it was my brothers. So I didn't have anybody to help me or protect me.
DR MELLIFONT: As a child, would the police sometimes come to your house?
MS ARMSTRONG: Sadly, yes. Sadly, yes. Again, I can still see in my mind's eye,
Kerri --- you know, officers barrelling through the door and the situation would be even more violent. They were quite violent. I remember officers being really violent, you know, with my siblings, and me trying to hide.
DR MELLIFONT: You describe in your statement obviously finding that quite scary.
MS ARMSTRONG: Yes, it was terrifying, because it was my family, and even though my family scared me, the police terrified me, because I didn't even know them, you know, and they were hurting my family.
DR MELLIFONT: Ms Armstrong, you describe in your statement having experienced a lot of homelessness
MS ARMSTRONG: Yes.
DR MELLIFONT: --- and violence in your life, but I want to ask you what happened when you were 17, please.
MS ARMSTRONG: Several things. But what was particularly, unbeknownst to me at the time life changing, was that I was a victim of crime, I had had my handbag stolen, and I was staying with a girlfriend in St Kilda here in Victoria, and so I reported to St Kilda Police what had happened and, you know, sort of weeks had gone by and I would sort of call every week, and like nothing had happened. It was as if they weren't doing anything about it. And it was sheer luck that I knew --- I knew the name and the address of, you know, the man who had taken it, and so I called --- I called the suburb, and anyway the officer that became involved and ultimately investigated that and, you know, solved it, I was raped --- I was raped by that officer.
DR MELLIFONT: Did you try and contact that police officer after that?
MS ARMSTRONG: Numerous times, Kerri. So initially, he was a [REDACTED]. Initially it was, "He's not in, I'll take a message, he's not in." Then it was, "Oh, no, he doesn't work here any more." And I just accepted that, like there was nothing I could do that, I just accepted that, like okay, and that was it.
I couldn't even --- yeah.
DR MELLIFONT: You speak in your statement you wanted to contact him to ask him why he did that to you. Is that right?
MS ARMSTRONG: Yes. I mean, there's a lot of, you know, specific details that I think for a lot of really good reasons, you know, I won't go into today, about what actually happened to me. But I wanted to know why, because when I initially contacted the station that he worked at --- it took a couple of months for it to happen, of me, you know, telling him about the theft of my handbag, I believe this is the
person, this is their address. And then for that process, if you will, to happen, to, "Yes, he's made admissions, he's going to court", that took a period of time. And it was over a couple of months. So --- and I had never met the officer in person, we were quite --- it was like I was on one side of Melbourne and his station was, you know, way over the other side. But we had --- we had a lot of phone contact over a period of time.
DR MELLIFONT: All right. Well, in your statement you speak about having other bad experiences with police. I'm going to come back to that, if that's okay. But I want to ask you, how have those experiences affected you? You speak about being terrified of police in your statement.
MS ARMSTRONG: It's true, it's absolutely true. I've had other experiences with police, you know, that aren't in my statement, Kerri.
DR MELLIFONT: Yes.
MS ARMSTRONG: It is terrifying. It's terrifying whether it's two police officers or five, especially if they're males, you know, putting their hands on me. That's really frightening. It's a terrifying experience.
DR MELLIFONT: And part of the effect that has had on you is that when you first started working at the CIJ, for example, you refused to use anything other than your nickname or have photos taken, because you were worried police or ex violent partners would track you down. Is that right?
MS ARMSTRONG: That's true. I was actually terrified. I was terrified. And even today, I acknowledge that, you know, because of my own action, that you know my --- my name, you know, my details will forever be in the database. But yes, using my nickname only, no photographs, no talking to anybody else, because the risk for me, the fear of retribution was so overwhelming that I just --- I couldn't even bear the thought to entertain talking to anybody about things that had happened to me.
DR MELLIFONT: Ms Armstrong, we see from your statement, as you have told us, you have an acquired brain injury.
MS ARMSTRONG: Yes.
DR MELLIFONT: When did you first find out that you had an acquired brain injury?
MS ARMSTRONG: I actually found out when I was in prison, the one and only time that I went to prison. However, as a young person, I was really aware that I had changed. As I said, in my family home, I predominantly grew up with my brothers and I was the target of a particular brother and he --- it's like I was his punching bag. And you know --- for whatever his reasons were. But as a young person, I was really aware that I had become different and I didn't know why.
DR MELLIFONT: So let's just orient in terms of timing, for a minute. You went to prison for the first and only time when you were 37; is that right?
MS ARMSTRONG: Yes.
DR MELLIFONT: And is it the case that you first noticed that there was something different about your thinking patterns when you were about 16 or 17 years old?
MS ARMSTRONG: Yes.
DR MELLIFONT: Before then, before you noticed those differences, how was your memory?
MS ARMSTRONG: Great. Picture perfect. You know, I had great recall, yeah.
DR MELLIFONT: And your English skills?
MS ARMSTRONG: Fabulous. I loved --- I loved, you know, going to school, yeah, I was able to participate, and happily so.
DR MELLIFONT: And so you have described noticing some changes, and in your statement you speak about for a long time you knew there was something wrong, something really wrong, but you just didn't know what it was. Is that how it was for you?
MS ARMSTRONG: Yeah, absolutely, Kerri. And even just sort of hearing back what I just said to you, that I went from someone who sort of really enjoyed being at school, you know, and I did --- I had a really good mind --- to someone who became quite withdrawn and not able to really trust myself and not really know what was going on at times.
DR MELLIFONT: Now, in your statement you have described that your mind seems to operate in two ways. I'll just read out what you have said, so that we can, so the Commission can understand how this injury affects your thinking. Sometimes your thoughts are full on 24/7 and can be unbearable, and other times you feel unable to communicate at all, there's nothing in your mind, there are no words. Is that how you experience things?
MS ARMSTRONG: For many, many years, yes, that is how I experienced --- that's what it's been like to be me.
DR MELLIFONT: What does it feel like, Ms Armstrong, not being able to communicate, in those periods where you are not able to find words? How does it feel?
MS ARMSTRONG: I think there's a lot of, there's a lot of words --- it almost seems
counterintuitive, Kerri, when I don't have words, and now I'm saying words --- it's really terrifying, and in the past --- I don't have any criminal involvement now, you know, or justice things; going on. But it's a terrifying feeling to not be able to communicate to another human being anything --- it's humiliating, it's shameful, it's all sorts of things. But for me, the most --- it was just terrifying that I couldn't --- I couldn't tell anybody what was happening to me or ask for help or anything.
DR MELLIFONT: You were married at age 22; is that right?
MS ARMSTRONG: Yes.
DR MELLIFONT: Had two children?
MS ARMSTRONG: Yes, I did.
DR MELLIFONT: Was your husband good to you?
MS ARMSTRONG: No.
DR MELLIFONT: Was he violent?
MS ARMSTRONG: Yes. Yes. He was.
DR MELLIFONT: In your statement, you describe your life as spiralling out of control.
MS ARMSTRONG: Yes, that was a real --- being with my ex husband was a real turning point. And by that, I don't mean in a good way, Kerri. I mean, just really bad, a lot of damage. I was just really damaged as a person, being with him.
DR MELLIFONT: You described to us that when you finally left him, you were distressed and felt emotionally and mentally broken and you felt like that set you on a path of no return. Is that how you felt at that time?
MS ARMSTRONG: Absolutely. You know, leaving my ex husband, I was in an area I was unfamiliar with, the kids and I had sort of been dragged up there, we were in a domestic violence refuge, which I didn't even know existed prior to that, and you know, I didn't have anybody in my life, you know. I certainly couldn't ask my brothers for help. My mum couldn't help me. I didn't have anybody. And I mean that's just a --- I'm just stating a fact here. And so that's how it was, it was just --- it was completely overwhelming for me. And I couldn't cope with the things that were happening to me.
DR MELLIFONT: Did you end up in other violent relationships after that?
MS ARMSTRONG: I did. And this isn't in my statement, but I remember at that first refuge, that one of the women who worked there, she offered me to, you know,
change my name, move somewhere else, and I was just completely terrified because I was so isolated and in desperate need of, like, everything, where I was, I couldn't even entertain the thought of, you know, going interstate or something like that. But, yes, I did end up in other violent relationships and, as I said, I understand things differently today, looking back. I think I was a perfect target. I think I was quite a magnet of, you know, vulnerability and probably a combination of other things too.
DR MELLIFONT: All right. Ms Armstrong, you speak in your statement about having trouble getting the police to believe that you were a victim of family violence, having trouble with the police not following up your complaint, and you also speak of being attacked by three men, going to the police station, your clothes ripped ---
MS ARMSTRONG: Yes.
DR MELLIFONT: --- and you screaming, with blood on you, and a police officer coming out and yelling at you to F-off.
MS ARMSTRONG: Yes, yes.
DR MELLIFONT: Was it hard for you to go to the police?
MS ARMSTRONG: In a way, it seemed a bit like insanity, because, like I didn't have anybody else. But I had already been --- I had already been really quite injured by, you know, certain police officers, but I didn't have anyone else to --- I didn't have anyone else to go to.
DR MELLIFONT: You speak in your statement about --- even when you did go to the police, still feeling embarrassed because you had bruising and other injuries, and concerned because that secrecy of keeping the violence within the home had been ingrained into you. Are they the feelings you had at that time?
MS ARMSTRONG: They were certainly some of the feelings I had, Kerri, and --- yet in saying that, I wasn't ever --- I wasn't asked if I was okay, and I did present a lot, like battered. I was actually never asked if I was okay, I was never offered medical help in any way, and it was as if no one cared. And I understand the role of police is, you know, law enforcement, but just as a human being, it was --- nobody cared, nobody cared to ask, like, "Are you okay?" "Are you safe to go back wherever you have come from?" Just --- nobody bothered to ask me. And, like I'm a woman presenting beaten and I'm saying that it's a man that, you know, would have been my partner, and yeah, to have the experience of, you know, presenting myself or presenting, you know, back when there were answering machines, with tapes in it, you know, presenting things like that to police, full of disgusting threats of what's going to be done to me, and to have absolutely no action taken at all is just --- I still don't even know how to put into words how that made me feel, that I'm going to the police to protect --- like I'm in fear of my life, I've been attacked by, you know, random people, and what you just referenced about, you know, Geelong Police Station. And I was screaming --- yeah, I was screaming. Because three men had
attacked me. And, you know, an act of providence allowed me to get away, and by --- I burst through the door of the station and an officer came out and, you know, "Shut the fuck up, and fuck off", and shut the door. And unbeknownst to that officer, I went out of the station to make my way to the hospital, those three men had gotten in their car and we sort of met and they tried dragging me in their car.
DR MELLIFONT: Ms Armstrong, you describe that at age 37, someone finally started to reach out to help you.
MS ARMSTRONG: Yes.
DR MELLIFONT: Is that correct? This was somebody from the hospital; is that right?
MS ARMSTRONG: Yes. Where I was living, I got a phone call this day and it was a man saying that, "We have set up" --- I don't remember what it's called, Kerri, like a unit or a service, something like that, "for people, you know, who present a lot at hospital and we have identified that you are one of those people and we would really like to help you." I think I had a couple of really distinct feelings, one was just --- I was just so --- I was just so brokenly sad, you know, like this is my life, like a random stranger in his job capacity is calling me because, you know, I present at the hospital so often from violence that, you know, they are trying to help me. And yet he was so desperately grateful that somebody cared.
DR MELLIFONT: What happened in consequence of that, Ms Armstrong, is they did some tests?
MS ARMSTRONG: Yes.
DR MELLIFONT: They found that you had an acquired brain injury, and you actually found out about that while you were in prison, is that right?
MS ARMSTRONG: Yes, that is right, Kerri.
DR MELLIFONT: Let's talk a little bit about this time in prison. In your statement, you speak about living in a motel in 2008, after your partner had trashed your home.
MS ARMSTRONG: Yes.
DR MELLIFONT: While you were there, you were involved in a violent incident that led to your first and only term of imprisonment, and you served 16 months imprisonment. Have I got that right so far?
MS ARMSTRONG: Yes.
DR MELLIFONT: Can you share with the Commission what was especially scary about having an acquired brain injury when you were in prison?
MS ARMSTRONG: I don't think I'm doing justice to really be able to just say one thing. There are really --- there's a lot of things that are really quite terrifying. I mean, I had no --- apart from what I'd seen on TV, I had no concept of what prison was like until I was in it. When I was there --- excuse me. Once I was there and I just saw all this metal and steel, and you know the different personalities and the way that women behaved, I was --- I was just like, oh my god! If there's a fight --- which of course there is, there always is violence, that's what my body and my head is going to be hitting, all of this steel and concrete. It was really, really frightening.
DR MELLIFONT: You in fact describe in your statement being jumped by three women and put into solitary confinement for two weeks after defending yourself ---
MS ARMSTRONG: Yes.
DR MELLIFONT: --- from those three women?
MS ARMSTRONG: Yes.
DR MELLIFONT: How did being put it into solitary --- you called it the slot ---
MS ARMSTRONG: Yes.
DR MELLIFONT: --- being put into solitary affect you?
MS ARMSTRONG: I think in numerous ways. It made no sense to me that I was the one who got attacked by three people and I was the one who was put in solitary --- that made --- and it still doesn't make any sense to me, why I was the one who was put there. And it was --- and it actually happened a couple of times, like within the first couple of weeks of being in prison, there was some other woman, you know, wanted to take stuff off me, I didn't let her, and again I'm in solitary confinement. And it just --- it didn't make sense to me. But aside from that, to me it was so serious, it was such a serious thing to be in prison, like it was never on my to do list to go to prison or to live a life that hurt myself or other people. So --- and I was --- around me I had people that some --- like it was a big joke, and officers who didn't care, you know, I needed to be on medication, like anti depressant medication --- that didn't always happen, you know. It was like, "Yep, if I can be bothered you'll get it, if not, it's not happening." You know, "If I'm up for it, you will be getting out of the cell for an hour, otherwise you're not." Like --- I couldn't understand --- I couldn't understand why, and why it was so disgusting, and such an unpleasant and, to me, an unnecessary, totally unnecessary way to handle something.
DR MELLIFONT: You describe it being very scary to be reliant on another person for the medication which you needed and being at their whim. Is that how it was for you?
MS ARMSTRONG: Absolutely; not now and not for a really long time, and I'm so -
-- you know, there's probably lots of words I could use, blessed, lucky, you know, not for a really long time, but for a lot of my life I did have really poor mental health, Kerri. And having medication on a daily basis was the difference between, you know, wanting to take --- and I don't say this lightly, you know, my eldest brother took his own life, I'm not saying this lightly --- but having medication or not was the difference between suicide ideation or not, like, that's how serious it was.
DR MELLIFONT: I just want to take you back to something you said before about difficulty in communicating, and the impact that could have on you, and just to confirm with you that when you were in prison, and if you were having trouble finding words, communicating, that was sometimes taken by the officers, or assumed by the officers for you to be non compliant or resisting. Was that your experience?
MS ARMSTRONG: Yes, absolutely. I apologise, Kerri, because you did ask me this earlier and I realise that I didn't answer you: that is the same with police also.
DR MELLIFONT: Right. No need to apologise, Ms Armstrong, it's all perfectly fine.
I want to ask you a couple more questions about being in prison and then I want to talk about your life after prison. Okay?
MS ARMSTRONG: Okay.
DR MELLIFONT: Are you good to keep going or would you like a break?
MS ARMSTRONG: No, I'm good, thank you.
DR MELLIFONT: Did you get any therapy while you were in prison about your mental health or your acquired brain injury?
MS ARMSTRONG: Absolutely not. Certainly physically, and that was by chance, I believe I shared with you when you initially took my statement, you know, what the --- the health issue was. That was --- I'm incredibly grateful that happened for me, you know.
DR MELLIFONT: So ---
MS ARMSTRONG: Everything else --- (overspeaking) ---
DR MELLIFONT: Just to put that into context, it is some compulsory screening, we don't need to go into the details days, but they did compulsory screening which detected something which meant you can have treatment for that physically and for that you are very grateful.
MS ARMSTRONG: Absolutely, yes.
DR MELLIFONT: Can we talk about your time after prison?
MS ARMSTRONG: Yes, please!
DR MELLIFONT: When you got out, your violent partner was actually in prison; is that right?
MS ARMSTRONG: Yes.
DR MELLIFONT: That helped you get free of a very violent man; is that right?
MS ARMSTRONG: Yes.
DR MELLIFONT: Now, at that stage you were homeless, with nowhere to go?
MS ARMSTRONG: Yes.
DR MELLIFONT: But your parole officer kept badgering you, saying, "Surely you must know somebody." So eventually you gave him the name of a woman who you just happened to be in prison with for about a month, just an acquaintance from prison; is that right?
MS ARMSTRONG: Yes.
DR MELLIFONT: So you went there but that arrangement broke down after three days, so you were homeless again. Is that right?
MS ARMSTRONG: Yes, and I was --- again, Kerri, looking back, I was just so naive. I was terrified that I would be picked up and I would be sent back to prison. Being homeless, it has caused so much harm, it is so harmful to not have, you know, somewhere safe, you know, affordable to live. But yes, it did break down after three days and then ---
DR MELLIFONT: Did Corrections help find a new place to live?
MS ARMSTRONG: Definitely not. I pleaded, I absolutely pleaded ACRO, ACSO, I used to --- public phone boxes, I would get lists of places to call or perhaps places that could possibly help me, and on a daily basis, because, one, I'm looking for somewhere to live but also I don't want to go back to jail because I don't have somewhere to live. And then I also had parole appointments and, you know, and so every day I'm looking, looking, looking, but I didn't get any help. I eventually got some help from a housing service, and sort of in between times it was, say, two nights in a motel here or one night in a motel there, until eventually, you know, I ended up in a boarding house, before I got to live where I'm currently living now.
DR MELLIFONT: I'm going to come to where you're currently living now in a minute, but you speak in your statement about throwing yourself at services and
begging for help, but you kept coming across answers like, "They are only for men", they didn't have enough places or their books were closed for the year. Was that your experience?
MS ARMSTRONG: Very much so. And even --- I don't recall if it's in my statement, Kerri, but even being told that I was too old, that you know there are programs for women 25 and under, but not for the sort of women my age.
DR MELLIFONT: At that time you would have been around 39, 40? Is that right?
MS ARMSTRONG: Yes, and I was told I was too old.
MR HARALAMBOUS: Sorry, Kerri. I'm not sure if I'm allowed to ---
DR MELLIFONT: You are.
MR HARALAMBOUS: What Dorothy often speaks about as well is in that period not being able to find programs that were available for women post release, so programs to help find a job, things like that.
Dorothy, I'm not sure if you want to illustrate, looking at the board and seeing all of these programs advertised for men and constantly being told that there was nothing for women.
MS ARMSTRONG: Yes. Thank you, Michael.
Yeah, so you sort of said that, Kerri, and that's what I saw too, you know, when I would go to Corrections building, you know, there's all these ---
DR MELLIFONT: Notices?
MS ARMSTRONG: --- programs and courses available for men and not for women. Not for women. And I --- I actually, I can't even explain it, I don't even understand that, nothing for women. You know, I did like industrial cleaning or something like that, first aid, but that's sort of like --- that's the cap of what Corrections could offer me, whereas for men there was like, you know, family violence, there was anger management, help with getting a job, help with this, help with that. And for women --- and it was --- I think I just lived in a constant state of "I don't know if I'm going to make it", desperation and hopelessness. It's like it didn't matter what I tried or who --- who I talked to, it was --- it was as though --- I just slipped through the cracks all the time, all the time. And no one cared, no one --- nobody cared at all.
DR MELLIFONT: You speak, Dorothy, in your statement, towards the end --- and just let me say this to give you a little moment to catch your breath. You say at paragraph 63 of this statement that in your life there are a lot of times that support would have made such a difference to you, if someone had asked your parents why you were moving all the time, why the kids did not have enough food, if someone
had asked you when you were offending in your 20s why you were alone and help link you to service, if someone had asked you in your 30s why you had so many injuries and helped you find a way out of your situation, but you spent so much time looking for help.
That's the message you have for the Commission, isn't it, the need for people to reach out and for support; is that right?
MS ARMSTRONG: Absolutely. And for me it was that simple, Kerri, to just ask some questions, to ask some questions, you know. Like I said, I know how I feel, whether it's a man or a woman, I know what it's like to witness violence and to look at somebody who has experienced it. I know how I feel. And I completely --- I can understand people who want to look away. But you can't do that to a human being, you can't keep turning your head away from something that makes you feel uncomfortable or because you don't like it.
DR MELLIFONT: Thank you, Ms Armstrong.
I just want to ask you a little bit about your current accommodation and then I'm going to make Mr Haralambous do some work.
MS ARMSTRONG: Now we're talking!
DR MELLIFONT: Eventually you got some help from the Melbourne City Mission, who provided an apartment through the service Launch Housing which was funded by the Victorian Government; is that right?
MS ARMSTRONG: Yes.
MR HARALAMBOUS: I might again clarify that, they are two separate agencies, so Melbourne City Mission is a housing and support service, Launch Housing is another housing service. Launch Housing had a program that was common ground housing, which was new housing in the city, which provides semi supported accommodation to people with mental health and cognitive disability or multiple and complex needs.
DR MELLIFONT: Ms Armstrong, you speak about your housing for the last several years in your statement.
MS ARMSTRONG: Yes.
DR MELLIFONT: But in short, currently your view is that you are still there, which the building itself has sort of been run down a bit and on skeleton staff, and that the tenants there need more support.
MS ARMSTRONG: Absolutely.
DR MELLIFONT: Is that your current experience?
MS ARMSTRONG: Absolutely. It still is --- I mean, it's a beautiful building, it's in the heart of the Melbourne CBD. However, when it first opened and for the first year, you know, there was a doctor on site, there was a nurse on site, you know, classes were offered from something called the Council of Adult Education, you know, say cooking or sewing, things like that. The tenants but then after the first year, the government --- you know, funding was cut. And each tenant had a worker. After the first 12 months, funding was very deeply cut, and it's literally as if everything that was put in that building has literally been sucked out, and there's a lot of unwell people that live there and it's quite painful to see that and to live with that.
DR MELLIFONT: To see that they need support, that's a ---
MS ARMSTRONG: Yes, yes.
DR MELLIFONT: All right.
Mr Haralambous, I want to take you to the Supporting Justice Project which, as we have heard, you and Ms Armstrong both worked on, and have a discussion about the system map. We are going to bring it up onscreen. The first showing of it will not be able to be read because of the small print, but we will hone in on various parts. It is IND.0079.0001.0001.
MR HARALAMBOUS: I might say, for people following along at home, you can download the system map from the CIJ website. It's not designed to be viewed on desktops or laptops or even phones --- definitely no, it's meant to be something that's a communication tool. You can see behind me, behind us, that we have it printed out on the wall. This is actually one of the smaller versions that we have printed out because we wanted it to fit on the screen, but yeah, you can print it out large scale, it can be 3 metres long, and it's really a communication tool. It helps people understand and see the complexity of the criminal justice system from the perspective of someone who is going through it.
I think one way to describe it is that it's a spaghetti and meatball mess, and that's pretty fair, but once you get close, you see that all the meatballs are factors that are present in someone's life or a service point that you might have contact with as you move through the criminal justice system. Then the spaghetti lines are the relationship factors, the relationships between those different factors as you move through the system.
DR MELLIFONT: Before we go into the detail of it, let me capture a couple of things first, if that's all right.
MR HARALAMBOUS: Certainly.
DR MELLIFONT: What this map does is show us the paths from your studies, from
your work, which can lead people with disability into contact with the police and the criminal justice system; is that correct?
MR HARALAMBOUS: Yeah, so if we look at --- it's not a process map, it's a system map. So system maps are common in systems change theory, they show relationships between factors. So one way to look at this map is to really start at the light blue section, which is personal history factors. So you have these
DR MELLIFONT: Just a minute, Mr Haralambous. Okay, go ahead.
MR HARALAMBOUS: You have things like homelessness, contact with Child Protection Services, mental ill health, and those factors might draw you into contact with police, so if you move to the right of the map, you can see the dark blue area is contact with police. When we sat down with people with disability in particular --- so the process we went through to make this map, and I should point out the first iteration of the map was produced by Paper Giant with CIJ, and they are responsible for the beautiful colours, and I'm responsible for making it look very messy. When we sat down with people in the criminal justice system, but particularly people with lived experience, they talked about how, so often, when they had contact with police, it was a negative experience, they experienced an inappropriate response, inaction, misidentification of who was the victim and who was the offender. And that kind of --- you can see here, we have got a factor for trust in police. So you can see that all of these experiences kind of influence how someone with disability might move through the criminal justice system.
Around the outside of the map you have these yellow nodes, and they are stigma and discrimination nodes. So the way we wanted to present that, if we were being --- I should point out as well, it is not an empirical tool, this is the basis of consultations we have done with people in the system. But if we were being honest, we would draw relationship lines between every one of those discrimination factors and each one of the experiences, because it is really pervasive. So what we did is we put it on the outside of the system because it really --- when you look at it in large scale, you can see that the whole criminal justice system is framed by people's experience of disability discrimination, people's ideas about people with criminal justice contact, people's racism, things like that, gender discrimination. I think in Dorothy's evidence today she has spoken quite powerfully about how her experiences are connected with being a woman, and you know experiences of family violence, and none of that can be viewed in isolation.
I guess, why is this useful, why did we do it? We did it to understand where there were opportunities in the criminal justice system to intervene, to get better outcomes. One of the areas that I think is quite significant and something that was picked up on a lot when we were speaking with people --- bureaucrats, policymakers, lawyers, people with disability --- is that there are very few connections on the map between contact with police and getting the right supports at the right time. There's really nothing that at that point in time is going to intervene to kind of staff this avalanche of moving into the court system and then in Corrections.
So one of the kind of themes for supporting Justice, after we did the mapping stage, was that we need to work on more early intervention, to make sure that people coming into contact with police, coming into contact with lawyers, are getting referred to the right supports at the right time, and not being left to go through the justice system without any support.
Something that I want to pick up on in Dorothy's evidence is her acquired brain injury was picked up on from a service that was delivered by the hospital. I mean, at that particular point in her life she would have had a lawyer, she was going through a court process. The lawyer at no point is there asking questions of Dorothy, "You are giving me instructions that you have had a history of family violence, do you think we should get a report to see whether there might be an acquired brain injury or something else underlying that experience?" I think that goes to an assumption that some people might have that people moving through the justice system when they have contact with a lawyer, these things are going to be picked up. For most people with lived experience that we have come into contact with through the Enabling Justice Project and through Supporting Justice, it wasn't the case that their acquired brain injury was recognised in the justice system or picked up by their legal representatives or by police; it was something that kind of happened by chance in another kind of realm of their life.
DR MELLIFONT: Can I just pick up on a couple of issues there, Mr Haralambous. You have spoken about the need for early intervention. That was one of the four key priorities that the Supporting Justice Project identified. That's correct, isn't it?
MR HARALAMBOUS: That's right, so after we sat down with the stakeholders from across the justice system and people with lived experience, we collated what they said to us and recorded which nodes on the map people spoke the most about, and we came up with four priority areas for change in the justice system and how it responds to disability.
One of those priority areas is early intervention, which I have spoken about, and the next area was disability and trauma awareness. Again, that goes to people in the justice system and this is something that is picked up very clearly in the Enabling Justice Report, that people working in the justice system, whether they are police officers, correctional staff, judicial officers, lawyers, support workers employed within the criminal justice system, need to take a universal cautionary approach to the people they are coming into contact with; not to assume that disability is an uncommon occurrence that can be triaged to a specialist service; that everyone needs to feel competent and confident in making reasonable adjustments for people with disability moving through the service, and that's how we should be designing and delivering services within the criminal justice system.
So disability and trauma awareness was one of the factors, housing was another factor. You have heard Dorothy's evidence about how when she was applying for parole ---
DR MELLIFONT: Just slow down a little.
MR HARALAMBOUS: I'm sorry, my apologies.
DR MELLIFONT: Slow down for a second. I will give you a chance to speak about this in a moment, but two other of the four key priority areas were housing, correct?
MR HARALAMBOUS: That's correct.
DR MELLIFONT: And system collaboration and information sharing?
MR HARALAMBOUS: That's right.
DR MELLIFONT: I will speak about that briefly and then I want to move you to your supplementary statement. In short, housing is a big issue?
MR HARALAMBOUS: That's right, yes. You heard in Dorothy's evidence that when she was applying for parole, there was no offer of support to find housing, it was this expectation that she would be able to find someone to live with in the community. Then when she is released on parole and that insecure housing falls away, there's no follow up to help her find somewhere stable to live. That's an experience that was shared by many of the self advocates from Dorothy's self advocacy group that she is a part of, Voices for Change. As part of our submission to the Royal Commission we co produced a podcast series with those self advocates. A lot of them talk about that challenge of finding housing post release, finding stable, safe, long term secure housing. That's a really pervasive recurring issue for people who are disabled and who have contact with the criminal justice system. That last factor that is one of the priority areas is system collaboration and information sharing. It is this idea that whilst professionals like to think of the criminal justice system as this coherent system, it's actually --- the map does a very good job of illustrating this --- a series of disconnected bureaucracies. There needs to be more work done to make sure that this bureaucracy serves the people moving through the services and not become further self serving silos, if I can use that cliche. So, yes, I can elaborate on all of those things but I think it will take all of your time all day and I am sure you have more important people to talk to!
DR MELLIFONT: Sure, and we do have the benefit of the statement. Mr Haralambous, there are two parts of your supplementary statement I wanted to take you to and I wanted just to ask Ms Armstrong about Voices for Change, before I hand over to the Commissioners.
Have you got your supplementary statement there with you?
MR HARALAMBOUS: I do, yes.
DR MELLIFONT: I want to take you, please, to page 2, paragraphs 8 to 9, where
you speak about CIJ working with a group of stakeholders to develop an early intervention proposal called "Advocacy Connections for Young People", which you explain is in part about helping young people who may need support getting their appropriate assessments and advocacy assistance to recognise their entitlements and to find support through the NDIS. I wanted to pick up on those words, "unmet need." Why is this necessary?
MR HARALAMBOUS: There have been a number of reviews into the youth justice system in Victoria over the last couple of years, I'm sure the Royal Commission is aware of them.
DR MELLIFONT: Yes.
MR HARALAMBOUS: The findings of those reports, particularly the Armitage Report, was that there are significant numbers of young people with disability moving through the youth justice system. Our stakeholders that we work with on the Supporting Justice Project tell us that is absolutely the case, and that a small percentage of those young people are being connected with support through the National Disability Insurance Scheme or other specific disability supports.
As part of our work to try and find early interventions in the justice system, we have been meeting with those stakeholders to try and understand what types of responses would fill this gap, address this issue.
What we came up with was that for young people it's about --- for young people, the way they interact with the justice system that it's not often the case that they serve one long period of detention; that they are usually cycling in and out of custody, and that if we want to support young people to access their entitlements through the National Disability Insurance Scheme, there needs to be someone whose job it is to work with that young person to recognise their choice and control in accessing those services, and that person whose job it is to work with the young person shouldn't be nested in the criminal justice system, that their job should be about advocating for that young person, and the person who has the most relevant experience in the system at the moment is a disability advocate. We know that disability advocacy services are significantly strained at the moment. They are struggling to meet --- my understanding is they are struggling to meet the needs of people trying to access NDIS, to support access from NDIS, so the proposal we put together, the connections with young people proposal, is about having funding available for disability advocates to go in to create a referral pathway for young people who might be having contact with police, so that we can support them into the NDIS or other disability supports that they might need.
It might be that they need support getting appropriate assessments and the part of the proposal was also to have money set aside for specialist neuropsychology or allied health assessments to support that process.
DR MELLIFONT: Thank you.
Finally, Mr Haralambous, can I take you to paragraph 26 of your supplementary statement. In there you say that:
The Supporting Justice System map illustrates the complexity in the criminal justice system from the perspective of a person with disability.
There are multiple interacting factors and few connections that lead to getting the right supports at the right time.
You have explained that for us. Then you say:
The situation is compounded by the changing nature of systems of support with the introduction of the NDIS.
Can I ask you, as concisely as you can, to explain to me what you mean by that?
MR HARALAMBOUS: Yes, so when we were creating the map and meeting with people to understand what the system looks like, we were repeatedly told that the introduction of the NDIS, whilst it has extremely good goals at getting people access to individualised support, the reality is that introducing a layer of complexity, it is introducing another bureaucracy that people who might be criminal justice system workers need to get their heads around. Services that might have previously existed are now, you know, might not have had their funding extended with the roll out of the NDIS, with disability funding moving from the State to the Federal level or Commonwealth level.
On the system map, it is actually illustrated, on the bottom right hand corner there's a node that talks about funding models that don't respond to complex needs and dual disability. We were told by a number of our stakeholders that it's difficult for people with criminal justice system involvement who might have a lot going on in terms of, you know, substance misuse, mental health, potential cognitive disability, it's difficult for those individuals to get NDIS plans that adequately provide for their multiple needs. And so that's what I'm getting at in that paragraph of my supplementary statement; that the NDIS adds a layer of complexity on an already complex system of support. If you are expecting people in the criminal justice system to be able to know where to get support for their clients, it's unclear at the moment.
I might also say that there are some good --- there is some good movement in this space in Victoria at least, the roll out of the Justice Liaison Officers by the NDIA has, as far as our stakeholders have been communicating with us, is a positive move. There's also recent funding from the Victorian Government for Justice Disability Advisers, which again are working with the Justice Liaison Officers to make sure that people in custody are navigating that justice/NDIS interface effectively.
But for people on the ground, solicitors, social workers who might be working with people, it's still a very difficult bureaucracy to navigate. And I think more work could be done to make sure there's a front door and good pathways for people who don't fit --- don't fit a cookie cutter mould of what we expect someone accessing the NDIS to look like.
DR MELLIFONT: Thanks, Mr Haralambous. Ms Armstrong, can I just ask you a couple more questions, then I'll hand over to the Commissioners.
Your statement speaks about Voices For Justice, which is a program which helps people with cognitive disability and experience of the criminal justice system, learn how to be self advocates. That's right?
MS ARMSTRONG: Yes.
DR MELLIFONT: Is it correct that some graduates from that program, the Voices For Justice program, have formed Voices For Change; is that right?
MS ARMSTRONG: That's correct, yes.
DR MELLIFONT: You are part of that group, Voices For Change?
MS ARMSTRONG: Yes.
DR MELLIFONT: Which is for people with acquired brain injury who have contact with the criminal justice system; is that right?
MS ARMSTRONG: Yes.
DR MELLIFONT: Part of the work you are doing with that group is to raise areas of concern for people with acquired brain injury in the criminal justice system. Do I have that correct?
MS ARMSTRONG: Yes.
DR MELLIFONT: Commissioners, they are all the questions that I have.
CHAIR: Thank you, Dr Mellifont.
What I will do now is ask other Commissioners if they have any questions. I might today start with Commissioner Atkinson.
COMMISSIONER ATKINSON: Thank you, Chair. No, I don't have any questions. Thank you very much for the evidence you have given today.
MR HARALAMBOUS: Thank you, Commissioner.
MS ARMSTRONG: Thank you.
CHAIR: Commissioner Mason?
COMMISSIONER MASON: No, thank you, Chair.
CHAIR: Commissioner McEwin?
QUESTIONS BY THE COMMISSION
COMMISSIONER McEWIN: Thank you, I have one question. Mr Haralambous, at clause 35 of your supplementary statement you talk about your --- rather than adopting an approach that expects disability to be handed by a specialist team, you want the system, everybody in the system, to feel confident, you mentioned some positive initiatives, such as Justice Liaison Officers. Could you perhaps expand briefly, what do you think --- given the complexity of the justice system --- how do we achieve that in practice?
MR HARALAMBOUS: I think what I'm trying to get at in that paragraph, Commissioner, is that lawyers in particular, police officers, need to be given enough disability awareness training and have the skills at their disposal to know how to recognise disability in the people that they are coming into contact with, and make reasonable adjustments in the way they are delivering their services.
The reason why I have said that --- there's this pervasive view in the criminal justice system, from my personal experience, that disability is something that's going to be really obvious when you come across it, and that you are going to be able to take a particular forensic approach with the matter that's going to mean that specialist people are dealing with it and it's going to be their job to make sure that the person with disability accesses justice. Your job as a solicitor is to give advice about criminal law, your job as a police officer is community safety, your job as a judicial officer isn't to worry about whatever disability someone has in your courtroom.
So I'm attacking that misconception because the reality is that a significant proportion of people moving through the criminal justice system have some form of impairment, whether that is a cognitive disability, significant mental health issues. As such, we need to make sure that all people who are coming into contact with those people know how to make reasonable adjustments in their work, know how to make spaces where people with disability can follow their legal matter, be part of the decisions that are affecting their life.
I think Dorothy provided a pretty good illustration of that in her evidence, that early on she talked about not being able to communicate and how terrifying that was in a court situation, not knowing what's going on. No one in that situation was asking
Dorothy the right questions, and the right questions might be as simple as "You have experienced family violence, maybe we should see whether you should be assessed for an acquired brain injury." Taking time to make sure that people understand what's going on is a really --- is already a duty that we have as lawyers, and I want to get away from this perception that disability should be treated as an exception. We should be making sure that every single client or person moving through the criminal justice system understand the process and is a part of that process.
COMMISSIONER McEWIN: Thank you. My thanks to both of you.
MR HARALAMBOUS: Thank you, Commissioner.
CHAIR: Mr Haralambous, in paragraph 46 of your supplementary statement you suggest that targeted awareness training would assist the judiciary to navigate issues related to people with disability who may appear before them.
MR HARALAMBOUS: Yes.
CHAIR: Do you have a particular program in mind or, if not, what do you have in mind?
MR HARALAMBOUS: Thank you, Commissioner. Look, I have a particular program in mind but I think when we think about designing disability awareness programs or designing anything for that matter that relates to disability and the justice system, we need to make sure that we are bringing in the voices of people with lived experience. I think particularly when we are thinking about disability awareness training, we are co designing whatever that training will look like with people with lived experience.
We had a really fantastic opportunity when we were promoting the supportingjustice.net online resource, we were able to present at the Magistrates' Court of Victoria conference or training conference --- I'm not sure how they would describe what we presented, but it was a room full of Magistrates. The experience we had giving a presentation about the website was really fantastic, and I think part of that --- Dorothy, if you want to take over --- Dorothy gave a bit of a presentation, and you could hear the pin drop in the room when Dorothy was given an opportunity to respond to the magistrates. I don't think that happens very often in our system, that people who are subject to courts, subject to the justice system, have an opportunity to tell judicial officers in particular but even lawyers what it's like to be in that situation, what it's like to be in their courtrooms. I think the Magistrates in that room got a lot out of that experience, I know they did because they told me they did afterwards, they reached out directly to Dorothy afterwards and said that was fantastic. In terms of designing disability awareness training or building empathy among judicial officers, I think that has to be done with people with lived experience of the justice system.
That's a theme that I'm afraid didn't come out strongly enough in my evidence today
but is absolutely core to the Supporting Justice Project, CIJ, and really all the work we try and do, which is that people with lived experience need to be brought to the centre. At the tail end of her evidence, Dorothy spoke about the Voices for Change lived experience group. We are working hard to make sure there's self advocates out there who have lived experience of the justice system who have the confidence and the ability to participate in those types of experiences. So I think that's what I think that training needs to look like.
CHAIR: The background to that comment, I take it, is that of course the courts that most commonly have people with disability who come before them in the context of criminal justice are Magistrates' Courts?
MR HARALAMBOUS: Yes. I mean, that's probably true. I think part of the issue and something that I touched on --- that is touched on in the recommendation, is that we don't know a great deal about what the cohort of --- what the characteristics of people coming before our justice system are, so all of our research was ticked off by a report that was done in 2011 that looked at the prevalence of acquired brain injury in the prison population, and we can extrapolate from that to think that, well, there is probably a high proportion of people moving through the court system as well. But everything I have read, there is not a regular report where Corrections or courts are having to report on the number of people with disability coming before them. So I think while it's true that anecdotally the Magistrates' Court, because it is the highest volume court, probably deals with the highest number of people with disability, the higher courts also --- they deal with, at least in my jurisdiction in Victoria, they deal with mental impairment matters and fitness to be tried matters, and you are dealing with quite significant disability in those contexts. And so it's not going to do any harm for all of the judiciary to have disability awareness training.
CHAIR: No, I wasn't suggesting it would do any harm. Certainly not!
Ms Armstrong, did you want to add anything about your own experience with the roomful of Magistrates?
MS ARMSTRONG: Thank you, Commissioner, for asking. Firstly, it was quite frightening.
CHAIR: Was it!
MS ARMSTRONG: It was very scary. Yet, it was --- it was also actually a really wonderful experience because I was given the courtesy of being listened to. As Michael just said, apart from, you know, some Magistrates that approached all of us afterwards, can I mention that --- no.
MR HARALAMBOUS: I didn't mean to cut Dorothy. We did receive particular correspondence afterwards to indicate that the presentation had a significant effect on one individual, but I'm not sure if he would feel comfortable with us telling you that.
DR MELLIFONT: No, we won't name anybody.
MS ARMSTRONG: No, I wasn't going to say, but it --- I suppose in a way, Commissioner, it was really sad that it sort of took my whole life, and doing the work that I'm doing now to actually be able to have a conversation with a Magistrate for myself. Because previously I had not --- I had not ever been able to speak for myself before or was really consulted about what was happening. It was as if things just happened, I wasn't involved in what was happening to me, and I certainly didn't get the opportunity to speak for myself or about myself. So it was a mixture of things but it was actually a really wonderful experience and I'm really grateful that I was invited to be a part of that.
CHAIR: Thank you. The important thing is not that it took a long time to do, but that you have done it, and no doubt you will be happy to do it again.
MS ARMSTRONG: Yes.
CHAIR: On behalf of all of the Commissioners, I would like to thank you both. I would particularly like to thank you, Ms Armstrong, I know it's not an easy task to come to the Commission, and it may be even more difficult because we are doing this remotely rather than in person, but we really are very grateful to you for recounting your own experiences and telling us of the things that you think might improve things, including talking to roomfuls of Judges and Magistrates. Thank you very much for doing that. Thank you also for your role in the spaghetti and meatballs. We will have the opportunity to look a little more carefully once we get a very, very large print out of that and examine it. Thank you very much for that.
Mr Haralambous, thank you too for the work that you have done, for the evidence you have given, for the suggestions you have made, and also for the work that you do within the Victorian justice system. Thank you very much.
MR HARALAMBOUS: Thank you, Commission. Thank you for the opportunity.
MS ARMSTRONG: Thank you.
THE WITNESSES WITHDREW
DR MELLIFONT: 11.15?
CHAIR: Yes, sure. We will adjourn until 11.15 am Brisbane time, 12.15 pm Sydney time.
ADJOURNED [12.01 PM]
RESUMED [12.15 PM]
CHAIR: Thank you very much, Mr Shillito, Ms Axleby, Ms Wolff and Mr Simpson for coming to the Royal Commission to give evidence. I know you are scattered all over the place and we will have to see how we go with that.
First, I'll ask Ms Crawford to attend to some matters of documentation.
MS CRAWFORD: Thank you, Chair. You will find a copy of Cheryl Axleby's written statement at Tab 7 of Tender Bundle B2. I ask to tender her statement into evidence and for it to be marked as Exhibit 11.24.1. A copy of Ms Axleby's CV is at Tab 54 and an attachment to her statement is at Tab 55 of Tender Bundle D.2. I ask to tender these documents into evidence and for them to be marked as Exhibits 11.24.2 and 11.24.3 respectively.
CHAIR: Yes, thank you, that can be done.
EXHIBIT #11.24.1 STATEMENT OF MS CHERYL AXLEBY
EXHIBIT #11.24.2 - CURRICULUM VITAE OF MS CHERYL AXLEBY
EXHIBIT #11.24.3 - NATIONAL ABORIGINAL AND TORRES STRAIT ISLANDER LEGAL SERVICES, SUBMISSION TO ROYAL COMMISSION INTO VIOLENCE, ABUSE, NEGLECT AND EXPLOITATION OF PEOPLE WITH DISABILITY (MAY 2020)
MS CRAWFORD: A copy of Mr James Simpson's written statement is at Tab 9 of Tender Bundle B2. I ask to tender his statement into evidence and for it to be marked 11.26.1. A copy of Mr Simpson's CV is at Tab 51 and an attachment to his statement is at Tab 52 of Tender Bundle D2. I ask to tender these documents into evidence and for them to be marked as Exhibits 11.26.2 and 11.26.3 respectively.
CHAIR: Yes, that will be done.
EXHIBIT #11.26.1 STATEMENT OF MR JAMES SIMPSON
EXHIBITS #11.26.2 TO #11.26.3 ANNEXURES TO STATEMENT OF MR JAMES SIMPSON
MS CRAWFORD: A copy of Ms Tania Wolff's written statement is at Tab 8 of Tender Bundle D2. I ask to tender her statement into evidence and for it to be marked as Exhibit 11.25.1. A copy of Ms Wolff's CV is at Tab 49 and an attachment to her statement is at Tab 50 of Tender Bundle D2. I ask to tender these documents
into evidence and for them to be marked as Exhibits 11.25.2 and 11.25.3 respectively.
CHAIR: Yes, that too can be done with the markings you have indicated.
EXHIBIT #11.25.1 STATEMENT OF MS TANIA NATALIE WOLFF
EXHIBITS #11.25.2 TO #11.25.3 ANNEXURES TO STATEMENT OF MS TANIA NATALIE WOLFF
MS CRAWFORD: You will also find a copy of Mr Lewis Shillito's witness statement at Tab 6 of Tender Bundle D2. I ask to tender his statement into evidence and for it to be marked as Exhibit 11.23.1. A copy of Mr Shillito's CV is at Tab 48 of Tender Bundle D2 and I ask to tender the CV into evidence and for it to be marked Exhibit 11.23.2.
CHAIR: Thank you very much. That too can be done.
EXHIBIT #11.23.1 STATEMENT OF MR LEWIS SHILLITO
EXHIBIT #11.23.2 CURRICULUM VITAE OF MR LEWIS SHILLITO
MS CRAWFORD: Thank you, Chair. I can indicate that all panel members are taking an affirmation.
CHAIR: Thank you very much.
Thank you, panel members, for listening to patiently to that fascinating part of the hearing. I should explain where everybody connected with the Commission is.
Ms Crawford is speaking to you from the Brisbane hearing room. In the Brisbane hearing room we have Commissioners Atkinson and Mason, and Commissioner McEwin is with me in the Sydney hearing room. And you are scattered through various places.
I would ask you, if you don't mind, to follow the instructions of Commissioner Atkinson's Associate, who will administer the affirmation to you. Thank you very much.
MR LEWIS OWEN SHILLITO, AFFIRMED
MS CHERYL AXLEBY, AFFIRMED
MS TANIA WOLFF, AFFIRMED
MR JAMES SIMPSON, AFFIRMED
CHAIR: Ms Crawford will now ask you or some of you or all of you together questions.
EXAMINATION IN CHIEF BY MS CRAWFORD
MS CRAWFORD: Ms Axleby, you have produced a statement to the Commission dated 5 February 2021. Is there anything in that statement that you wish to amend?
MS AXLEBY: No.
MS CRAWFORD: Is that statement true and correct to the best of your knowledge and ability?
MS AXLEBY: Yes, it is.
MS CRAWFORD: You are the CEO of the Aboriginal Legal Rights Movement in Australia South Australia?
MS AXLEBY: Yes, I am.
MS CRAWFORD: You are also Co Chair of the Change the Record Coalition?
MS AXLEBY: Yes.
MS CRAWFORD: And the former Co Chair of National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services?
MS AXLEBY: Correct.
MS CRAWFORD: Mr Simpson, you have produced a statement dated 21 January 2021?
MR SIMPSON: Yes.
MS CRAWFORD: I understand you wish to make an amendment to that statement at paragraph 41?
MR SIMPSON: Thank you. Dare I say that the approximate funding for the Cognitive Impairment Diversion Program last year was $960,000. I have since got a more recent and final figure from the Intellectual Disability Rights Service and that figure should be $844,716.
MS CRAWFORD: There was one other matter you wanted to put on the record with respect to a potential conflict?
MR SIMPSON: Yes. For the record, I would like to mention that Janene Cootes, who is the Executive Officer of the Intellectual Disability Rights Service, is my spouse, and in fact we were both involved in establishing the Intellectual Disability Rights Service back in the 1980s before we were married.
MS CRAWFORD: Thank you, Mr Simpson. With respect to the balance of your statement, is there anything else in the statement that you wish to amend?
MR SIMPSON: No, that is fine.
MS CRAWFORD: The statement is true and correct to the best of your knowledge and ability?
MR SIMPSON: Yes, indeed.
MS CRAWFORD: You are a Senior Advocate at the Council for Intellectual Disability in New South Wales; is that correct?
MR SIMPSON: Correct.
MS CRAWFORD: You are also a former Presiding Member of the Mental Health Review Tribunal in New South Wales?
MR SIMPSON: Correct.
MS CRAWFORD: Ms Wolff, you have produced a statement to the Commission dated 14 January 2021; is that correct?
MS WOLFF: Yes, that's correct.
MS CRAWFORD: Is there anything in that statement that you wish to amend?
MS WOLFF: No.
MS CRAWFORD: Is everything in that statement true and correct to the best of your knowledge and ability?
MS WOLFF: Yes, it is.
MS CRAWFORD: You are the Principal and Director of Legal Services at First Step Legal in Victoria; is that correct?
MS WOLFF: That's correct.
MS CRAWFORD: You are also the president of the Law Institute of Victoria?
MS WOLFF: Yes, for 2021.
MS CRAWFORD: And a Sessional Legal Member of the Mental Health Tribunal?
MS WOLFF: That's correct.
MS CRAWFORD: Thank you.
Mr Shillito, you have produced a statement dated 12 January 2021.
MR SHILLITO: Yes
MS CRAWFORD: Is there anything in that statement that you wish to amend?
MR SHILLITO: No
MS CRAWFORD: Is everything true and correct to the best of your knowledge and ability?
MR SHILLITO: Yes
MS CRAWFORD: Mr Shillito, you are theDirector of Criminal Law at the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Service here in Queensland; that is correct, isn't it?
MR SHILLITO: Yes.
MS CRAWFORD: Commissioners, my approach to the panel members today will be to ask the panel members a series of questions and then direct questions to specific panel members.
Perhaps we might start with you, Ms Axleby. There is evidence before the Commission that people with disability are over represented in the criminal justice system. You would agree with that statement, wouldn't you?
MS AXLEBY: Yes, absolutely. And our people with disabilities in particular are also grossly over represented in the criminal justice system, and the lack of reliable
data about exactly how many people with disability are in the criminal justice system is a reflection on how undervalued their lives and wellbeing are within the system. And there is a crucial need for change.
MS CRAWFORD: For other panel members, Mr Simpson, you would agree also, wouldn't you, that people with disability are over represented in the justice system?
MR SIMPSON: Indeed, and that's been notorious since at least the 1980s.
MS CRAWFORD: Ms Wolff, can you talk to the problems that that raises with respect to the over-representation of people with disability with the justice system?
MS WOLFF: In terms of it, can I just endorse that I think we all know there is an over representation of people with disability in the justice system, but it's also how one looks at disability, and I take an expanded view of disability, so not only the cognitive disabilities as well that are borne out by statistics but also the psychosocial disability that often flows from the functional impact of mental health issues on people's lives and how they interact with the environment.
The problem when you criminalise disability, which is effectively what happens with people who have not got the supports that they need to be able to function effectively in their lives and then become entangled and enmeshed in the system, is that you end up perpetuating the harms that they have experienced in their life through the criminal justice system.
MS CRAWFORD: Mr Simpson, responding to Ms Wolff's comments there, what are the actual impacts of the over representation of people with disability in the criminal justice system, would you say?
MR SIMPSON: The impacts are people being extremely at risk within the criminal justice system, through to things like rapes in jail, people getting into cycles of offending and re offending without having the supports that they need to escape from those cycles of offending and re offending. People ending up with very poor and deprived lifestyles, when, with the right supports, they could have had very positive lifestyles.
MS CRAWFORD: Mr Shillito, with respect to the First Nations people who are over represented in the criminal justice system, you would agree that that's the case, wouldn't you?
MR SHILLITO: Categorically.
MS CRAWFORD: Can you comment on what factors you consider are leading to the over representation of First Nations people with disability?
MR SHILLITO: A lack of understanding amongst all of the stakeholders in the criminal justice system is a really key thing, in the sense of, certainly for clients of
our service of First Nations people, but more broadly as well, every interaction they have with any member of any one of those stakeholders can be an instance of being understood or otherwise. And the why of why a person offends, as opposed to the simple fact of offending, is often lost where there is an inadequate understanding about those disabilities.
MS CRAWFORD: Ms Axleby, with respect to the First Nations people being over represented, you would agree with Mr Shillito's observations that there are opportunities at every point when someone comes into contact with the criminal justice system?
MS AXLEBY: Yes, and also I think it's important to point out that entry into prison is often the first place a person is assessed and diagnosed with a disability. While this creates an opportunity for support and appropriate interventions to be put in place, in my experience this rarely happens. And prisons are not therapeutic environments, they are not the appropriate places to treat or manage disabilities or chronic illness, and second, too often our people are criminalised for their behaviour relating to their disability, only then to be released from prison on conditions that are unreasonable or impossible to comply with, given the nature of their disability. So, having --- and also the same problems arise, having access to programs and supports within the prison system itself. So I totally concur with his comments.
MS CRAWFORD: One of the areas that the Commission is inquiring into is the idea that people with cognitive disability become enmeshed in the criminal justice system, and that is that they can cycle in and out of the criminal justice system. So, Ms Wolff, in your view can you think of two main factors that lead to this enmeshment of people with cognitive disability in the criminal justice system? What would be the two big ticket items that you could choose?
MS WOLFF: In terms of a of revolving door, as you put it, the cycling in and out of the criminal justice system, if one's behaviours or ways of being is responded to in terms of how the administration of justice is done, for example through police, if police are noting behaviours or responses and they are resorting to a criminal response to it or to a criminal sanction rather than working out ways to divert people out of the system, that is one way that someone is enmeshed because they go before the court. They will usually be sanctioned by the court in some way. There is --- I don't know if anyone would say that the criminal justice system, through the courts or through sanction, is anything other than a penalising response rather than a therapeutic response.
Then the issues that had brought them to the attention of the criminal justice system in the first place, or the issues that were underlying the behaviour, would not have been responded to at all in a constructive way in that engagement, so there's no reason why it would be a different response afterwards.
So in terms of how one might manage this in a slightly different way, there are all sorts of ways in which things might be managed in a different way, but if you look at
--- if someone who has a cognitive disability and isn't heard or understood and their way of engaging or misunderstanding is then --- is then taken as an affront or taken as a non compliance, then their behaviour, rather than being supported in the future, is only going to become --- is going to continue and they will continue to cycle in and out as a result of it.
MS CRAWFORD: All right. Mr Simpson, with respect to that answer and with respect also to Mr Shillito's answer a few minutes ago, is there an issue of identifying that people actually have a cognitive disability at that initial intervention stage, whether it's by police or otherwise, would you say?
MR SIMPSON: That's a really important issue, identification. I think there's also an element of police --- identification needs to be a whole lot better, and that would allow the right sorts of things to flow in terms of supports if the supports were available. But I think there is also an element of universal design here. I think police, for example, in their interactions with people, should be trained and able to communicate with anybody, and communicate in a way that anybody can understand and be part of, because I think one of the major problems is that police do not recognise that a person has a cognitive disability, they use language that the person finds hard to understand; their authoritarian manner is very offputting to the person; and that of itself can lead to, all of a sudden, charges of resist arrest and assaulting police.
So I think identification is really important. But I think it needs to be seen within that kind of broader concept of police being much better able to accommodate everybody's needs on the assumption almost that people might have a mental health problem or a disability, and that is the case for such a high proportion of people who come into contact with the police.
MS CRAWFORD: Thank you.
Ms Axleby, would that be amplified as a problem for First Nations people, this issue of communication, for example, that has been touched on by Mr Simpson?
MS AXLEBY: Absolutely. In the context of our people coming into the justice system, more often being arrested rather than reported, or police using their ability to not charge a person, you know, and also provide cautions, is an area of concern which drives our people into the justice system as well. I think the other point is there's been the defunding of community driven services, the underfunding of community health, mental health disability and diagnostic services, and the failure in a range of institutions who may come into contact with people in the police system. From an early age, particularly young people, there are many avenues when they have gone undiagnosed, whether it's through the child protection system or the education system, where, had identification occurred earlier, then we may be having support services provided that actually deters them from entering into the justice system in the first place.
MS CRAWFORD: Mr Shillito, in your statement you refer to the importance of supports and services to help people transition, that's with --- effectively back into the community post release from prison. Can you tell us a bit more about that issue as well, please?
MR SHILLITO: Absolutely. There is a whole raft of support services that are limited in both their effectiveness and availability of people wanting to get back into the community in a functional sense. Accommodation is key, and the availability of suitable accommodation, the limits on that place a real restriction on --- you will land in one of a set number of locations, all of which will have a number of people that are likely similarly recently released from prison. The availability of rehabilitation centres and whether they are appropriate or culturally appropriate for people and the access particularly to people before release is a real issue as well, in the sense of it's all well and good to have community services that are available to support people, but if their first point of contact is with a person or material contact is after they have been released, you might have missed the window in which to meaningfully engage with them to develop a rapport, to put in place plans that might actually see something sustainable in place for when they are released.
MS CRAWFORD: We heard last week and we will hear again later today from Dr Ellem about inadequate and unavailable community supports. Mr Simpson, you were touching on that a moment ago, so perhaps I can start with you. Can you speak to the adequacy and the appropriateness of supports and services that are available to people with a disability who come into contact with the criminal justice system? What's your view?
MR SIMPSON: Overall they are certainly inadequate. I think there's two examples of things that we have had here in New South Wales which show what positive things can happen. One is the recent Cognitive Impairment Diversion Program, which through a short period of intense case coordination was able to get the trust of the person, arrange NDIS access and find suitable NDIS services for a person. That's a good example of what can work.
At the other end of the continuum we had a program called the Community Justice Program which provided intensive and tailored accommodation and support for over 300 people with intellectual disability who had been in very serious trouble with the law and they were generally people leaving jail after significant sentences.
Again, that was something that worked pretty well. There are --- in that latter area, there are now some major issues in relation to making similar things happen in the NDIS world which you probably don't want me to go into right now, but what we can see is that there are things that work, I think in New South Wales we have been, over the last 20 years, comparatively well placed --- nowhere near enough, but comparatively well placed --- in the availability of those things in other parts of the country, with perhaps the exception of Victoria, things have not --- there haven't been those nearly as much in the way of positive support as we have had in New South Wales in that period.
MS CRAWFORD: Ms Wolff, can I ask you to comment on any particular difficulties that you might be aware of with respect to people with a cognitive disability accessing available supports?
MS WOLFF: Firstly, everyone has to know what is out there. I think that is always a fundamental threshold question is, do you know what's out there? Then how do you communicate your needs if you are not necessarily able to identify them all? And often they don't, like many things in life, happen in silos. So there's a combination of issues and needs and complexity around you, and being able to identify which one of those is something that's a little bit difficult. So you need to have sensitive, intuitive supports around you that are willing to invest the time and the effort to be able to respond appropriately. I think something that has come through from the tenor of today and what everyone has said is that there is a press on resources, because there is not enough resources, those who are working in this space are time poor and the volume of need far exceeds what is being able to be provided.
MS CRAWFORD: Perhaps, Ms Axleby, with respect to First Nations people, would it be correct then to say that the available services that there are may not necessarily be culturally sensitive or culturally aware?
MS AXLEBY: Yes, and whilst we are starting to see a small growth in investment in Aboriginal self determination, there needs to be a greater investment in developing and designing programs with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities at the forefront, and also with people with disabilities, you know, an assisted approach to people with disabilities.
One of the things I think, there are a number of avenues about culturally safe and competent services both pre court system, within the court system and post, out of the system. We need to actually have more specialist Aboriginal courts, the Nunga Court in South Australia, the Koori Court system, Aboriginal sentencing courts, where there is a culturally safe environment with Elders and with people of significance to people with disabilities within that system, and also with them having support people provided with them throughout that system.
Post or pre court system, what we need is --- and I think the other aspect is about the assessment, the culturally appropriate assessment tools that are utilised with diagnosing disabilities. We need to have culturally sensitive and appropriate tools.
MS CRAWFORD: Can I ask you to slow down a little bit for our interpreters?
MS AXLEBY: Sorry, I do talk fast.
MS CRAWFORD: All right.
Mr Shillito, with respect to what Ms Axleby has just said about some of the programs that are available in South Australia, can you comment on some of those
things here in Queensland?
MR SHILLITO: Yeah, look, I would agree with what Ms Axleby was saying particularly about the desirability about that being pre criminal justice intervention, I think it was something Mr Simpson was saying earlier as well, in terms of it is really important that there is training and awareness at the police level, but you have missed an opportunity by that stage if you are trying to address what is effectively a health problem at the stage at which it has become a criminal justice problem. The criminal justice system is some blunt instrument for dealing with those sorts of things.
The support services that are in existence, they are growing in the sense of there being culturally safe elements to them or particularly small community driven initiatives that are designed from the ground up in that sort of a way, but they are still relatively few and far between, in Queensland at least, to my knowledge.
MS CRAWFORD: In each of your statements you refer to the important of culturally safe services and supports and the limited availability of these.
Ms Axleby, in particular, with respect to paragraphs 14 to 19 of your statement, there is no definitive list of things that makes a First Nations person feel culturally safe, but you do list a range of things. Do you have your statement in front of you there?
MS AXLEBY: Yes, I do. I will look that up now.
MS CRAWFORD: Can you tell the Commissioners about what you consider to be the most important aspects of that list with respect to making a First Nations person feel culturally safe in their interactions with the criminal justice system?
MS AXLEBY: If you go to paragraph 19 where I talk about the NATSILS view, in regard to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander, Aboriginal community controlled services, to be truly culturally safe, Aboriginal communicated controlled organisations are more likely to:
Be established for the purpose of addressing historical and systemic injustices, racism, discrimination in people with disability institutions ([that is also within] the justice system);
Be accountable for decisions in service delivery and outcomes of work to community
One of the contexts about Aboriginal Community Controlled Organisations is that we are held to a higher account to our communities, and there's a greater investment by Aboriginal community members within our organisations and also accessing them, because they feel culturally safe.
Have culture embedded from the strategic to the service provision level;
Employ Aboriginal staff, including in senior roles, and in community or
cultural support roles.
Have staff who speak local languages
This is really important particularly in rural and remote communities. Yes.
MS CRAWFORD: With respect to employing staff including in senior roles, so that's First Nations people employed in those senior roles, that's something that you would agree, wouldn't you, that is absolutely critical in building a service, a support service that would be responsible and culturally responsive to people who are First Nations people?
MS AXLEBY: Absolutely, and we are seeing some examples of those in South Australia. There's a couple of Aboriginal disability support programs that are really engaging with families and communities, and also with our members in the community who have disabilities who feel that there's a greater connection, they can come together with other community members. It is more than just a service delivery when we are talking about Aboriginal Community Controlled Organisations, it is also about connecting with people in community that you know are family. They may not necessarily be the employees, but it's about that bringing together and that sense of inclusion and cultural safety in our own culture.
MS CRAWFORD: Thank you.
Mr Shillito, we heard in Public Hearing 8 about the experiences of First Nations people with disability in the child protection system and some of the key hallmarks of cultural safety. Can you comment on the importance of place based and community led services?
MR SHILLITO: Yes, but it is more or less as Ms Axleby was just saying, it's about the credibility which is given to those organisations or those groups if there is --- there literally can be, particularly in the smaller communities, that family connection, that's obviously very helpful. But even at the community level where there's a known quantity, as in it's an organisation that has --- that is known to have members of the community and senior members of the community, Elders, who are in those senior roles actively running and guiding the direction of the organisation, a person who may wish to interact with them will come at it from a different perspective than they will for an organisation that they don't have that relationship with, and those initial steps that can be critical in engaging with that person in need, about building a rapport and a relationship where they trust you enough to allow you to deliver whatever service it is you are trying to deliver, you can simply miss those entirely without that existing perception of the organisation.
MS CRAWFORD: It would be right to say, wouldn't it --- perhaps we can move to Ms Wolff, although I know this isn't perhaps your area of expertise --- that that does fit, though with the holistic person centred therapeutic approach that actually is required for any service to be an appropriate support service?
MS WOLFF: Yes, absolutely.
MS CRAWFORD: So that being said, those being the elements of perhaps culturally appropriate services and supports specific to First Nations people, but also they have generalisability for people who are not First Nations people but for people who have a disability who come into contact with the criminal justice system; Mr Simpson, would you agree with that proposition?
MR SIMPSON: Yes, certainly, I think there's a number of elements of the kinds of things that are needed there. But I certainly agree with that proposition.
MS CRAWFORD: Ms Axleby, would you agree that it's the case that services, even with these particular hallmarks, can be ineffective but they can't be effective without them?
MS AXLEBY: Yes. Yes, I would agree with that. And I suppose the biggest issue that we face with Aboriginal Community Controlled Organisation sector is the investment. There have been a number of programs that had been run also within our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services, but also out there in the community, and investment is very short term, so I think the other aspect to this is about how do we actually look at the investments, when we know that programs are being delivered successfully, and how that investment continues so that there's longevity in program delivery for people in our communities.
MS CRAWFORD: We are going to come to funding, and I will come back to you about that, if I may.
For the moment, the Commission has heard about the challenges for people with disability interacting with the criminal justice system in relation to court processes, and we are going hear from Justen Thomas, who is a First Nations man with disability who is giving evidence tomorrow. He said in his statement:
They would just throw paperwork at me. Nobody told me what I had to do .... I would lose my paperwork. I have never had a good memory so I missed court dates a lot of times .... I had no one to talk about these things.
Mr Shillito, can I come to you. With respect to Mr Thomas' statement but also with respect to the experience that you have had with clients of your service, what do you think the supports are that would be necessary for people in the context of court processes? What do we do well, what can we do better?
MR SHILLITO: That's a very broad question. All of what --- I think you said Thomas, his name was --- his experience is very true for a lot of our clients, particularly any of the documentation received from police and probation and parole authorities, the sorts of interactions inevitably or often will involve people who are either impaired by virtue of their disability, or in a lot of cases in view of the consumption of illicit substances or alcohol, so to hand somebody in that context a
piece of paper or to put it in their property or if they are processed through a watch house or something like that, and hope that that will result in them actually attending a court date or going near the --- having fingerprints or whatever it may be is optimistic to say the least.
What can we do better or what are we doing well? There is the extent to which the use of services, such as up here in Queensland, like Murri Watch, are an alternative to processing people through the watch house where there are minor interactions that aren't effectively criminal in nature is useful. I can't remember their full title, but effectively Indigenous community liaison officers through the police, who might be able to have some degree of interaction with a person in a somewhat culturally appropriate manner so that there may be that level of conversation, that level of understanding gained. They can all be positive. Really, it's more about that next step, though. If you have got to the stage of there's going to be some sort of a further interaction with the criminal justice system and there's paperwork involved, it's about linking that person in with a service such as ours or other like services in a proactive way, as opposed to at best there might be a phone number on the back of a ticket or something like that, under the current system. Reporting obligations becoming not just mandatory but culturally expected within organisations that interact with clients, so that they are the ones that are taking the next step on behalf of the person who has had that interaction to do that soft handshake of, "You are off to see that person next, they will assist you with the next stage of this process." That's probably what I would suggest.
MS CRAWFORD: Mr Simpson, in your statement you refer to challenges with these processes, including communication challenges between people with intellectual disability and justice system personnel, and the formal and intimidating atmospheres and procedures that exist within courtrooms across the country. Can you speak to that issue and what supports you see would assist with that?
MR SIMPSON: Certainly. Having a support person for a person with cognitive disability through the process of police interview to understand what's happening and to exercise your rights, including your right to silence, is an important aspect that once you get to court, the things we have just been hearing about Mr Thomas' experience of being totally overwhelmed and confused is all too common. To have a support person who is able to walk through those court processes with you to ensure that you understand bail conditions, do their best to ensure you understand the legal mumbo jumbo that we lawyers tend to use, to ensure that you understand conditions on a bond, for example, and taking into account that Legal Aid lawyers with the best will in the world are usually utterly overwhelmed with their caseloads and they don't necessarily have too much experience in working and communicating with people with intellectual disability, and so again support in dealing with Legal Aid. I think all of that is important, and that's the kind of work that the Justice Advocacy Service does here in New South Wales.
In terms of the court processes themselves, I have a radical view that court processes generally should be made much more accessible to people with disability and to the
general population by reducing the amount of formality, the raised benches, the wigs and gowns, all of those things, which can just freeze up a person with intellectual disability so that they are much less likely to understand what's going on, to participate in the process.
I think the Commission itself, in the hearing that it conducted in relation to health issues in February of last year, in Sydney, provided something of a model of how a hearing room can be established which maintains the necessary dignity but provides a much more comfortable environment for people with disability to feel relaxed and to participate.
Certainly in New South Wales, and I imagine in other states, guardianship tribunals similarly have stepped back from the geography and formal language of courtrooms without losing their dignity and authority but making themselves much more accessible environments for people with disability.
MS CRAWFORD: Thank you. Ms Wolff, can you comment on whether or not you agree with Mr Simpson about some radical steps needing to be taken in order to reduce the formality and perhaps some of the ceremony associated with courts?
MS WOLFF: I completely agree with those comments, and I think the test has already been to some degree started in relation to that, to see if it's effective. There are specialist courts that are now in operation, certainly in the Victorian jurisdiction that I'm more familiar with, which one of the hallmarks of those courts are the informality, and making them respond better to the needs of those that are using them, and one in particular being the Assessment and Referral Court List, which is for those with mental health and disability and cognitive impairments or other functional impairments which preclude or hamper ability for self care, self management. There are already accommodations in those jurisdictions which have been shown to be far more successful in creating engagement, supporting, compliance, and they range from the lowering of the bench up high, to the police who are the prosecutors not being in police uniform but being in plainclothes; and accommodation of something as unusual as timing, not having to report to court at 9 o'clock in the morning but having an accommodation that might be more flexible, that also might understand that some medication makes it a little bit difficult to wake up in the morning.
And a way in which people are engaging which is not alienating for them, or isolating for the individual that is engaged, that shows empathy and compassion and concern --- all of these words which might seem very strange to others who think of the formality of the legal system --- which uses simple words and expressions in speaking to people. It is not --- we are not just talking about people with significant disability and impairment who are the preponderance of people who get caught up in the criminal justice system, it's anyone who ever goes to a circumstance or a situation or an event where it's unusual or there is stress associated with it, and even going to the doctor, if you are not really looking forward to hearing what you are going to hear back, you often take someone. You often take someone because you forget
what is being said after the first few words, because you are so stressed and anxious --- not to recognise that in our ourselves and then realise that those who have so many other issues that they are battling against should not be accommodated in a much more compassionate way really beggars belief.
So yes, I do, a long winded answer to that question, completely endorse what was said, and anything that can reduce the harms of a system and a structure and be more sensitive to trauma would be something I would completely endorse.
MS CRAWFORD: Thank you. Each of you refers to the need for additional training of justice system personnel. We have already heard from you today about police training as well. Perhaps I might start with you, Mr Simpson: why would this training be required? What is it that it is addressing?
MR SIMPSON: It's addressing a number of things. It's addressing signs that a person may have a disability. It is addressing what then to do by way of seeking guidance and support for yourself in dealing with that person and support for that person in dealing with the justice system. It's about training in communication with people with disability, it's about non adversarial interactions with people or non authoritarian interactions with people which may well be provocative, and so we could go on.
For lawyers it's about obtaining instructions from a person, for example, the kind of distraction free environment which is really important to maximising a person's capacity to give instructions to you; the kind of language that you should use to maximise the person's capacity to give instructions to you; and so we could go on.
People with disability themselves are the best trainers, is one thing I would like to emphasise in that context. We have talked about that at the --- I have emphasised my personal view on that at the hearing about health issues last February, and I say it very much again here. People such as the three people who I know the Commission will be hearing from tomorrow, their personal experiences, I would say that they would be wonderful trainers for everybody from police through to prison officers --- much better than people like myself giving a learned lecture which won't stick with people and is unlikely to change their attitudes. Attitudes is a key part of it, and positive, respectful interactions with a person with disability who has been through the justice system is one of the ways in which attitudes can be challenged and changed.
MS CRAWFORD: Thank you for that.
Mr Shillito, who would you say should be the recipients of the training?
MR SHILLITO: All of the people that Mr Simpson has just touched on. But if you are a stakeholder in the criminal justice space, you need to have some level of awareness at a base level to be able to functionally do your job. That means from, I guess generally speaking it's going to be a police interaction through community
service organisations that interact at that stage, the courts themselves, definitely lawyers, and at the other end of the system as well, probation and parole officers, corrective services and those in potential custodial environments.
MS CRAWFORD: Ms Axleby, we heard Mr Simpson saying that people with disability should be the trainers. How does that become a reality for the First Nations person's experience, the person with a disability in the court? Assuming that we can have a program, some educational program designed, what needs to be added to make it culturally appropriate?
MS AXLEBY: Again, involving significantly the Aboriginal Community Controlled organisations sector, you have got the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services, you have the First Nations Disability Network. There are also Aboriginal Elders. I think it's important to highlight that within our communities, many of our people living with disabilities have been supported unconditionally by a lot of Elders and family members who have a lot of experience and also be able to support the person with a disability if they want that. But again it comes back down to that designing programs with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people with lived experience with a disability, as well as the Aboriginal community controlled sector.
I also just wanted to --- I didn't get an opportunity to respond in the context about the role of training, and I would like to make a comment about that, if I may.
The reason why I want to make this comment is that there are a lot of positions that have been designated Aboriginal positions within the sectors, but what we often find is a lot of those roles are often not fully applying the cultural context of their roles and responsibilities, and they also get absorbed within the system. An example I'll give is the Aboriginal Court Liaison Officers as an example, Aboriginal Justice Officers, they are all called different names in different states and territories, they were there to be able to provide that support and guidance, to explain conditions of bail, et cetera. What I have seen in South Australia in particular is there has been a change of that role where that hands on assistance is no longer being applied or provided, so there is that disconnect.
The other point is that within the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services, one of the things we have been calling for is for funding to be able to employ Disability Support Workers within the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services, so there is that independent support provided for people going through the justice system. You will see in my submission, there have been examples of where those programs have been delivered quite successfully, but again the issue is the sustainability of funding.
Getting back to the original point, in the context of co design, and the training needs to be delivered right across the board, across the whole sector, particularly Judges, Magistrates, I understand there is often a lot of flexibility about whether or not they will do cultural training or specialised training, I think we also need to look at mandatory training being delivered typically within the area of disability and also
with First Nations people.
MS CRAWFORD: Thank you.
In each of your statements you refer to the difficulties with limited and short term funding and providing services, planning and supporting people with disability. Ms Wolff, you say that First Step had to turn away prospective clients because of resourcing issues, at paragraph 27 of your statement, and you say where your clients are among the most marginalised and disenfranchised in the community, at paragraph 14. How does this impact people getting the help they need?
MS WOLFF: First Step, the legal service itself, is a very small, embedded legal service within the wider clinic, which is a mental health and addiction clinic, and funding, pretty much for most of the last eight years that I have been there, has been completely generated through philanthropy and grants, there has been no government funding to this particular way of working with clients in an intensive way and there isn't the ability, therefore, to be able to manage the significant need there is for these responses to complex problems. We know that, when you look at who comes, at least at the lower courts, you know that there is a range of complexity of issues that people are presenting with, we know that through various studies. In Victoria there was an Ombudsman's Report in relation to prisons in 2015, and the snapshot of those that get enmeshed was very, sobering, I think there was something like 40 per cent of men had cognitive disability issues and 33 per cent of women had cognitive disability issues. You had mental health issues at close to 40 per cent. You had unemployed at 85 per cent. You had all of these other issues which are significant --- homeless, unemployment, about half 50 per cent were unemployed. There was that social disadvantage of more than 50 per cent coming from about 2 per cent of the postcodes in Victoria, which were the lower socioeconomic ones. And we know the shameful statistics when we talk about the over representation of our First Nations people in prisons.
So those people reflect also who come before the courts and who get enmeshed in this system. So without adequate funding and resources for a different way of engaging with people, so that they can have some of the other aspects of their lives which perhaps are underlying the issues that have brought them to the attention of the courts, that's only going to be a recipe for a continuation of the same for us.
MS CRAWFORD: Thank you.
Ms Axleby, in your statement you say that limited funding as well as funding uncertainty continues to limit the ability of ATSILS to assist Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, including people with disability. Can you tell the Commission more about that?
MS AXLEBY: Yes. I think it is important that when we look at the funding allocation and the funding allocation model itself, I would encourage the Commission to revisit that in that context. We --- Aboriginal and Torres Strait
Islander people are so over represented in the justice system, yet we are only less than 3 per cent of the total population, and our funding is based on our population context, more so than actual demand and need within the system.
The other thing is that there's not been a study in regards to looking at the legal needs of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people within the justice system, and that's something that we have called for time and time again, for that study to occur, so that we can identified legal needs for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in the justice system.
The other aspect is data is so important to attract funds, yet we still see a big gap in data collection to be able to properly identify Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in the justice system with disabilities. So these are significant areas that need to be addressed and looked at, so that we can actually have a better focus on funding allocation for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
But the other key point, which is an administrative point, and sometimes --- I refer to it as a systemic racism issue --- is the investment in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. State Governments usually look to the Federal Government for that investment, yet we are citizens of states and territories, and yet that is also a continued barrier that we face, unless funding usually comes from the Commonwealth, there won't be a strong investment by states. So they are important things I would like to highlight today.
MS CRAWFORD: Thank you.
Mr Simpson, with respect to funding and the issue of data that has been raised across the Commission, what about funding of evaluation to provide a basis for further or ongoing funding? These services that are being provided are constantly having to evaluate themselves and then report on their effectiveness or otherwise in a way to continue their own funding as a recurrent issue. Can you offer some insights into that reality for the Commission?
MR SIMPSON: Certainly. There's a number of issues there. I have got no problem whatsoever with the idea that any recipient of public money should be accountable and should be able to demonstrate that they are achieving positive outcomes for the consumers of their service.
I want to emphasise that there's a fundamental contradiction there between the kind of accountability that tends to be put on non government organisations that are funded for diversion or post release programs, and the lack of any similar accountability that I'm aware of in relation to prisons. The vast amount of government money that goes into prisons, which arguably is money very poorly spent in terms of achieving worthwhile outcomes, but what accountability is there? Nothing significant of which I'm aware.
So, sure, let's evaluate, but let's evaluate across the board. But, also let's be
proportional in how we evaluate, so that successful programs are not axed because of very narrow cost benefit analyses or the like, such as we all too often see, and let's not cut programs because prisons are seen as something that we have to provide the money for, therefore if we have to save money, well, we can save these comparatively small amounts of discretionary spending on the more effective programs in general, the diversion and post release programs.
MS CRAWFORD: Thank you.
Mr Shillito, you refer in your statement, as does Ms Axleby, to a need for improved screening, diagnosis and identification of disability in the justice system. Do you consider that a factor that leads to the enmeshment or the cycling in and out of the criminal justice system of First Nations people in particular is related to this failure to identify disability at a early opportunity?
MR SHILLITO: Definitely, I and Ms Axleby, and I think everybody spoke about it earlier, the fact that the criminal justice system or an interaction with it is used as a trigger in some cases, not all, for that diagnosis is unsatisfactory.
From my understanding, from a client's perspective as well, there is often through that context a real reticence to engage with the sort of mechanisms for diagnosis that there may be. If I have a client wander in the Arrest Court on Monday morning with a public nuisance charge, they would be much happier, more often than not to walk out the door with a small fine, rather than having it adjourned for months for me to go off and try and get some funding to get them diagnosed to see whether it might be that they have Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder and that was part of what was influencing their behaviour. And you can totally understand why. But it leads to unsatisfactory outcomes in the sense of the Court is not properly informed, so in passing that big mallet sort of sanction approach to it, they don't get the information that would properly inform them about it, and the person, if they are cycling in and out, waits until that cycle has snowballed to a sufficient extent that they are looking at a custodial term or they are in custody, or some other factor comes into play before they are often willing to engage with the process involved to get diagnosed because they haven't been at a pre criminal justice system stage.
MS CRAWFORD: Where would you say the earlier opportunities would be?
MR SHILLITO: The education system and effectively the health system are really where it should be directed, where funding and attention in that respect should be directed. It's got to be accepted that in some contexts, the family or community environment in which a person may grow up may not be unfortunately the most proactive in getting those steps taken to look at diagnosis. When that occurs, it has to be the systemic level organisations, such as education, which have themselves effective means of screening and engaging in a culturally appropriate and other ways that we have been speaking about, so that that can occur through that context rather than waiting until it reaches effective breaking point through a criminal justice system interaction.
MS CRAWFORD: Ms Axleby, this is also building on the response that you gave earlier to the funding issues as well. With respect to improved screening and diagnosis, that is a gateway step to accessing services and supports, isn't it?
MS AXLEBY: Absolutely. And what's been highlighted here is the barriers in getting assessments done at an earlier age. There are mechanisms already in place, and it comes back to each of those areas, whether it's education, whether it's in the child protection system. From my experience, it's the cost factor of obtaining those reports, but also the specialist context and also relating to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, it's about having the culturally appropriate assessment tools and not mainstream tools that actually view us in a deficit. I know that Dr Tracy Westerman has provided evidence previously in regards to the tools that she has developed, and it is important that we get to the stage where culturally appropriate tools are utilised for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
MS CRAWFORD: You would agree, you are obviously very familiar with Dr Westerman --- as I expect you would be, but Dr Westerman said that “mainstream assessments for mental health conditions, including those constituting psychosocial disability, have limitations when used for Aboriginal people”.
MS AXLEBY: Absolutely, and I fully concur with her sentiments and her expertise.
MS CRAWFORD: You have also mentioned in your own statement, at paragraph 40, that there are challenges that arise from people being assessed using tools that are not culturally appropriate. Can you expand on that for the benefit of the Commission?
MS AXLEBY: Yes. In my experience, there have been many --- I will give an example where I've worked in youth justice and also in the child protection systems, where I have seen quite a lot of undiagnosed disability and where getting assessments made --- and I suppose also experience with people going into the prison system, who often go in without a diagnosed disability and often come out with one, who are often placed on medications and yet there is a gap from when they leave the system as to follow through. So the lack of information sharing in particular, but I think again --- the tools that I have seen utilised in child protection is another classic example --- is where I have seen a deficit approach to support and working with those individuals and those families, where it's further escalated them into the system rather than actually looking at how best that family could be supported to reduce children coming into the child protection system.
A lot of those tools, from my experience and from what I have seen, are utilised by internal employed staff, so there is also one thing I want to make a key point about them utilising the system tools, they should be independent from government agencies and there should be expert reports that should be provided. Anthropology also has assisted our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services when we have worked in regards to getting assessments undertaken from an Aboriginal family
living in a cultural environment context, it has made a difference when we have actually taken the matter to court.
MS CRAWFORD: Ms Wolff, with respect to the comments that people have given about the early screening and diagnosis challenges, you would agree with everything that's been said, I assume?
MS WOLFF: I would. There's a couple of things. I certainly endorse everything that Mr Shillito has said about when you are doing it at court for the first time, you are in some trouble, and I would agree with that for a whole raft of reasons but also because certainly there is inadequate funding for it, if it is the first intersection, and it starts at a lower level when actually the most is to be had by knowing more about the individual that you are working with and how best to address their issues --- if you are doing it at that point, you usually don't have funding to be able to provide that kind of assistance to the court or whoever is maintaining it, so that is a shame, it should be done earlier.
The other problem that I note is that certainly when my clients come before a court and it might be trying to get entry into a specialist court and showing therefore the disability, the impairment, the issues that the individual has, they are at best cross sectional reports by a visiting clinician which the court funds, and they are of limited utility, quite frankly, because there are so many other complex issues usually going on for the individual at the time that for them to present, they are most likely going to present with ongoing issues, whether it is substance abuse issues, which might impair their ability to engage in that process in the most constructive way at that time. So if there is a mechanism for getting more of a historical perspective of an individual, over time through their intersection with education and health services along the way, that would be far better.
MS CRAWFORD: The Commission has heard, including in this hearing, about the need to improve data collection in relation to people with disability and about the interaction between people with disability and the justice system.
Mr Simpson, can I ask you to comment on nationally what is consistent in the data, if you can, and where the shortcomings with that national data might be?
MR SIMPSON: Look, I'm not able to say very much, unfortunately. Certainly I know that there is a fundamental problem in relation to disability in a number of contexts, but I can't say anything specific that would be very helpful there, I'm sorry.
MS CRAWFORD: That's all right.
Ms Axleby, in your statement you refer to the lack of nationally consistent data in relation to First Nations people. Can you comment on what you think bridging that gap would look like and what are the problems that it would solve?
MS AXLEBY: Well, it's important just to point out there is no focused
population based survey that captures the prevalence, profile and outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people with disability. This means there is a real lack of understanding of the scale about people with disability who are not having their needs met and who are potentially being pushed down inappropriate and harmful pathways into the justice system. For example, the ABS Survey of Disability, Ageing and Carers provides one primary source of population data, and the ABS National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Survey provides another, but there are significant differences in how many of my people have a disability. Data is essential to ensure that adequate service supports are provided to our people, and what we need to do is actually look at how data can now start being collated. In our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander agreements, funding agreements, for instance, we identify people with disability in that context but we are not really sure what actually happens with that data and where that data actually goes to, to look at the legal needs and how we address the needs of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in the justice system. So there is a big gap and a lot of work to be done.
I think the other aspect too is the --- Aboriginal health has a strong focus on Aboriginal health and wellbeing, life expectancy, but we need to have a stronger focus on people with disabilities under that --- separate from that umbrella, so that it can be more visible and can be better measured.
MS CRAWFORD: Is it fair to say that that also brings in issues in and around information sharing across the silos of varying departments that might have some of that relevant information that you would be able to use if you could get access to it?
MS AXLEBY: Absolutely, and I know that there are very complex data systems across governments in each state and territory that do things very differently, there is a lot of inconsistent data, so trying to match that data up, I understand would be a bit of a problem. Again, coming back down to concerted effort and research and having a focus on data collection will mean we will be able to provide the government will know where they can target their funding and also Aboriginal Community Controlled Organisations will know where to source that funding as well.
MS CRAWFORD: Thank you.
Ms Wolff, in your role with First Step Legal, you talk about the First Step Legal and First Step as a Health Justice Partnership. Can you explain to the Commission what is a Health Justice Partnership and what is the First Step model?
MS WOLFF: Sure. I should preface by saying I speak as someone who has worked in this way of working for about a decade, and who has been piloting a couple of new Health Justice Partnerships. But that is the extent of my expertise. There is a roof body called Health Justice Australia, which is the roof body of Health Justice Partnerships in this country, and they would be someone that I think could also provide some information to the Commission.
But essentially, what they are is they are collaborations between health and legal services and legal service providers, and it allows for the embedding of legal services within a healthcare setting. The opportunity that's created in that is the opportunity to deliver integrated and holistic responses to a person's complex needs --- health and legal --- and the wider goal being wellbeing for the individual that is engaging, and it is a means of effecting better legal outcomes and better health outcomes. Legal outcomes because it is supported with the team approach of the other players in this --- your doctors, your mental health nurses, your social workers, your support workers --- that will allow for the right information to be drawn out and provided to the court or the right scaffolding to be put around an individual, and better health outcomes because we understand that legal issues, if unresolved, cause stress and impact on health.
So the assumption is that when you have legal strategies that are pursued together with health strategies, that through that partnership there is a better outcome that's provided. Certainly a better outcome than is provided with the siloed approach we know is not working, where you have a legal outcome that might be provided in isolation of the complexity of the individual --- where a health outcome that doesn't understand what is underpinning perhaps some of the stresses that are manifesting in different ways in an individual's life.
It also comes from the understanding, the Health Justice Partnership model comes from the understanding that many experience unmet legal needs in the community, and they are most prevalent among people who have disadvantage or experience social disadvantage, and that there is that tendency of clustering of need that we know through surveys, there is a law wide Australia survey in 2012 --- I might be mixing up the "wide" and "Australia" in terms of where it fits into that, but --- they essentially looked at the clustering of legal need around people with disability, that you have various needs co existing at the same time, and certainly people with disability with were the highest ranking of unmet legal needs in Australia.
So it's a sense that those people who have those legal needs need to have a concerted coordinated collaborative response to it that is going to better fit it, and the problem is that often those that are disadvantaged have multiple complex needs --- firstly, can't identify a legal problem, they don't know that their problem perhaps has a legal solution, they are less likely to go to a lawyer; however, they may be more likely to go to a health setting and speak to a trusted doctor or a trusted nurse or a trusted clinician, or they might be speaking to that nurse while they are taking their child for a check up. Therefore, there is an ability to bring it to where people go, rather than expect people who have all sorts of issues to go and see a lawyer about an issue that they have identified that they can seek legal redress for.
MS CRAWFORD: That's really about identifying and making the most of opportunities to interact with people but to put holistically all of their issues at the centre of whatever service it is that you are providing, and linking them, if you can, to be appropriate services.
MS WOLFF: Correct, and having a collaborative response, so that the lawyer works in an integrated team with the other clinicians to support that individual, and, if it is in the criminal justice system, it is working together with that individual and their support that can accommodate their needs along the way. It is quite a radical way of working in terms of it's a different way of working to traditional legal service delivery.
MS CRAWFORD: Thank you. I can see everybody nodding. Does everybody agree that that would be a very good way to work with people with disabilities, that that is an opportunity that we have got that we can change things?
MS AXLEBY: Absolutely. I think it is also important in the context that again having that model within those specialist court settings will see also greater engagement with Aboriginal people and their families, like within the justice system, and understanding the system a lot better.
MS CRAWFORD: Thank you.
Thank you, Chair. I have nothing further.
QUESTIONS BY THE COMMISSION
CHAIR: Thank you very much. I will ask the Commissioners whether they have any questions of any or all members of the panel. First, I shall ask Commissioner Mason if she has any questions.
COMMISSIONER MASON: Yes, I do have a question.
Thank you, Cheryl Axleby, for your service to the First Nations community, for many, many years but also for your evidence today in helping to shine a light on the issues that NATSILS and ATSILS are endeavouring to progress.
You raised a question about funding and about funding being based on population and not on demand. Given the recent finalising of the work around the national agreement with the Closing the Gap work, do you see that change, that formula changing?
MS AXLEBY: Thank you, Commissioner. I would like to say that I would be hopeful that we would see a change in funding going to the future. But I think we are already seeing that there are some focus areas that are going to be attracting funding immediately and some that are not and that's what concerns me going forward, for instance, in the justice sector and also in the disability sector. We need to look outside of that as well, in my view, so that there is a concerted focus by government as to how we actually address the funding gaps and increase funding in the disability sector.
COMMISSIONER MASON: Thank you. I have one more question, and this is to do with the cultural capability of First Nations people to adapt, talking 65,000 years here, and one of the reasons why we are the longest living culture in the world is our ability to adapt. I heard today from all of the witnesses in this session a number of roadblocks that hinders the way that services can adapt, and our leaders are bringing to the table solutions. I want to talk about particularly the approach that is often how First Nations leaders and organisations lean, and that's towards coalitions, leans towards multidisciplinary teams.
I'm interested in your perspective, Cheryl: is this the way of the 21st century of thousand these very significant intractable issues around justice, particularly in the area of disability, need to be resolved? You talked about seeking funding for disability workers to be based in ATSILS, to be part of that frontline service, to be proactive, not reactive, to be primary as opposed to tertiary. I'm really interested in that approach; and again, when can this change?
MS AXLEBY: Well, it will change once we get a greater investment and a recognition of the importance of the delivery of services by First Nations peoples and by our Aboriginal Community Controlled Organisation sectors. I suppose the other critical aspect to that is that when we are looking at people with disabilities, we need to have specialist positions based within our Aboriginal Legal Services as well as our other Aboriginal Community Controlled Organisations as well.
We are seeing a growth in having our own Aboriginal psychologists. I have talked about the work of Dr Tracy Westerman, who I think of the great value of the work she has done to be able to enhance the service delivery to our community members and to have better assessments, I think is the number one, to be able to identify. And, as I mentioned before about the big gap in identifying legal need for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in the justice system and particularly also people with disability is crucial. That's the first bit of work we need to do, so we can look at and start mapping the funding pathways, to be able to ensure that programs are co designed and delivered. As I mentioned before, I have a very strong passion about our organisations in our communities and we have a lot of rural and remote communities who can be provided funding to provide support services at that local level, rather than having people travel hundreds of kilometres to try to get services and supports. So I think that there is opportunities that could be further explored by the Commission.
CHAIR: Commissioner Atkinson, do you have any questions?
COMMISSIONER ATKINSON: I do.
We know that people with cognitive disability are over-represented in the criminal justice system, we know that First Nations people are over-represented in the criminal justice system and we know that these two overlap. A third thing I know from my experience as a Judge is that substance abuse and addiction, people with
substance abuse and addiction are over-represented in the criminal justice system and I also know that there is a paucity of programs suitable for people with cognitive disability and/or who are First Nations people to deal with a rehabilitative and therapeutic approach, rather than a punitive approach to substance abuse and addiction.
So my question --- and this is critical because it is critical to questions of bail, it is critical to questions of alternatives to imprisonment and post imprisonment parole --- so my question is, firstly, do you agree with me that this is a problem; and, secondly, are you aware of any positive programs in that area that are specifically tailored for people with cognitive disability; and, thirdly, for First Nations people, that is culturally competent and culturally appropriate for people with cognitive disability and substance abuse and addiction problems?
CHAIR: I assume the answer to the first question is yes, so let's go on to the second one.
MS AXLEBY: Absolutely, yes. There are services being delivered out in the communities that I'm aware of and I know this happens in other states and territories as well as South Australia. I can only talk from the South Australian perspective because that's where I'm from. There is a program that's being delivered. But I think the big challenge again is having the availability of programs, because what we find is that we have small programs that are being run and delivered on small funding and yet the demand is greater within our communities to be able to access those programs. So quite often there's a lot of unrealistic expectations and pressures placed upon those programs, who are already exceeding the funding quota and the service delivery that they had committed to. So we need to see a greater investment in those spaces.
There are two programs, called Bookyana and InComPro in South Australia that have been delivering services to First Nations peoples with disabilities and proven to be successful. What we need to see is a growth in investment and also longevity in funding, because that's the biggest issue.
I think we also need to look at the onus of reporting that is provided to community controlled organisations. The reporting sometimes outweighs the time and commitment that you have to put into service delivery. So there are some of those accountability aspects that could be further addressed and perhaps the burden lightened a bit, as Jim already mentioned earlier, similar to some of the government agencies that don't have to have the greater standard afforded to them.
MR SIMPSON: In New South Wales, it's an issue that my organisation has been advocating on for many years, with a fairly large degree of frustration. Perhaps about 10 years ago, New South Wales Health funded the development of a guide in front of me, called Complex Needs Capable: A Practice Resource For Drug and Alcohol Services, which was specifically focused on better equipping drug and alcohol services to work with the kinds of issues we are talking about. I'm not aware
of any really robust implementation of that resource although I'm sure it's had some impact.
I think one of the key issues is the combination of the reasonable accommodation that is needed by drug and alcohol services to the fact that people with cognitive disability aren't necessarily going to be terribly --- may have trouble with things like keeping appointments, getting beyond what I think is called the precontemplative approach to change. Drug and alcohol services have tended historically to see a clear desire to change as being a first step to allow you through the door, but for people with intellectual disability who need support to get to a point of that commitment, that can be a challenge.
I think the combination that is needed here is for drug and alcohol services to really lift their game but also for a recognition in things like NDIS funding that people need disability support to assist them to access drug and alcohol services, so that the disability support and the drug and alcohol service is acting as a partnership, collaborative partnership, with the person.
CHAIR: Ms Wolff?
MS WOLFF: I was racking my brain to think if I could think of even one response to that complexity of cognitive disability and having a cultural sensitivity as well as drug and alcohol that I would be aware of in Victoria and I couldn't think of one. Given that I have been working in this space for a long time, that is a problem.
We have just started to come to terms with the idea that there is a dual diagnosis capacity that we can look at mental health issues together with addiction and see it as part of --- as something that we can address in tandem and together because they are often coexisting. I think to go the extra step with cognitive disability as well would be very, very much appreciated in this space.
Recently I had a situation where we did have an individual who was at a drug and alcohol rehabilitative organisation, he was in residential rehab, he had cognitive impairments and he also had mental health issues that were quite significant. That place was completely unsuitable for him to continue and he couldn't comply. There is a rigour and a rigidity about residential rehabilitation which is important for the structure of it usually, but that actually doesn't necessarily make allowance for the unique needs of the individual. So my view is that there isn't enough and we do need funding in relation to creating those places that accommodate that complexity.
CHAIR: Mr Shillito?
MR SHILLITO: I would endorse what has already been said. In Queensland, similar to Ms Wolff, I'm not familiar with any service that would touch on all aspects of what is highlighted there. The scenarios where I have seen that work best are where there is effective interplay between a number of support agencies, particularly where Public Guardian is involved and practically in a very hands on way case
managing something and that the person who is doing that is appropriately skilled. When we have seen that work well, it's been really good because they will attend those various stakeholder groups or support services to ensure that that additional need is met, particularly around cognitive impairment. But that's rare in my experience, personally at least.
CHAIR: Commissioner McEwin?
COMMISSIONER McEWIN: No, thank you.
CHAIR: Does Victoria have a Drug Court, as New South Wales does?
MS WOLFF: Yes. Victoria has it in two jurisdictions only, in Melbourne and in Dandenong.
CHAIR: Do they help?
MS WOLFF: They do, but in some respects it's too little too late. They are well regarded, there is an evidence basis to it, KPMG did a review of the effectiveness on recidivism and that is excellent. It replaces a sentence, a custodial sentence, so one elects to have a drug treatment order effectively in lieu of custody. So when at that bar, you have already got quite an ingrained issue and it also is often difficult to comply with if you have other concerns. So very few of my clients over my journey have actually engaged in the Drug Court because it requires three or four times of drug tests per week, although you are not living there, you have to have appointments, you have to meet appointments at a particular time. Although there is some latitude, it is quite a strict situation.
Funnily enough, the ARC court, which is in a few more locations, has more flexibility and people who have drug and alcohol or other impairments seem to be filtered there and again resources is tricky and challenging.
CHAIR: Thank you. Thank you very much, all of you. I will check, if Ms Furness is still there, if you have any questions of anybody on the panel?
MS FURNESS: I am here, and no, I don't.
CHAIR: Thank you very much. I would like to thank each of you for coming and joining in this panel, which has been a very productive conversation. We are very grateful for your ideas and sharing of your experiences. Thank you and thank you for the detailed statements that each of you has provided to the Commission, which contain of course very valuable information for us. Thank you very much.
THE WITNESSES WITHDREW
CHAIR: Should we adjourn until 2.00 pm Brisbane time, 3.00 pm Sydney time?
MS CRAWFORD: Thank you, Chair.
CHAIR: We will adjourn until then. Thank you.
ADJOURNED [1.51 PM]
RESUMED [3.00 PM]
CHAIR: Thank you. Mr Power.
MR POWER: Chair, I call Dr Kathy Ellem.
CHAIR: Thank you. We will wait for Dr Ellem to appear onscreen.
Good afternoon, Dr Ellem. Thank you very much indeed for coming to the Royal Commission to give your evidence. Mr Power will shortly ask you some questions, but there are just a couple of formalities amounts in tendering material that we need to go through first. Thank you.
MR POWER: Thank you. Commissioners, you will find Dr Kathy Ellem's written statement at tab 11 and her CV at tab 12 of the Tender Bundle B.1. I ask to tender those documents into evidence and have them marked Exhibits 11.27.1 and 11.27.2 respectively.
CHAIR: Thank you, that can be done.
EXHIBIT #11.27.1 STATEMENT OF DR KATHY ELLEM
EXHIBIT #11.27.2 CURRICULUM VITAE OF DR KATHY ELLEM
MR POWER: The attachments to Dr Ellem's statement are at tabs 17 to 24 of Tender Bundle D.1, and I ask to tender those attachments into evidence as Exhibits 11.27.3 to 11.27.10.
EXHIBITS #11.27.3 TO #11.27.10 ANNEXURES TO STATEMENT OF DR KATHY ELLEM
MR POWER: At tab 37 of Tender Bundle D.1 there are some diagrams which may be referred to in evidence. I seek to tender those documents and have them marked as Exhibits 11.27.11 to 11.27.14.
CHAIR: Yes, all of those documents can be admitted into evidence and given the numbers to which you have referred.
EXHIBITS #11.27.11 TO #11.27.14 DIAGRAMS REFERRED TO IN EVIDENCE OF DR KATHY ELLEM
MR POWER: Thank you, Chair. Dr Ellem will take an affirmation.
CHAIR: Dr Ellem, this has almost certainly been explained to you, but in case it hasn't, I know you are in the Brisbane hearing room, and in the Brisbane hearing room you will see Commissioners Atkinson and Mason. I am in the Sydney hearing room, together with Commissioner McEwin, and that is basically it.
So if you would be good enough to follow the instructions of Commissioner Atkinson's associate, she will administer the affirmation to you. Thank you very much.
DR KATHY ELLEM, AFFIRMED
CHAIR: Thank you very much, Dr Ellem. Now Mr Power will ask you some questions.
EXAMINATION IN CHIEF BY MR POWER
MR POWER: Dr Ellem, could you tell the Commission your full name and occupation?
DR ELLEM: My full name is Dr Kathleen Alicia Ellem, also known as Dr Kathy Ellem, and my occupation is I'm a lecturer at the University of Queensland for the School of Nursing, Midwifery and Social Work.
MR POWER: You provided a statement to the Royal Commission dated 3 November 2020. Is that statement correct to the best of your knowledge?
DR ELLEM: Yes, it is.
MR POWER: Prior to your academic career did you work as a social worker?
DR ELLEM: Yes, I did. As a social worker I was involved in many different roles, I was involved in citizens, parents and systems advocacy for people with a disability, I have also worked in case management roles for services in the government and non government disability sector, and working with people with disability with their families. I have also had experience with working in youth work as well.
MR POWER: Has that experience as a social worker and as an advocate for people with cognitive disabilities informed your later academic career?
DR ELLEM: Yes, totally. A lot of what my interest is in is how as a social work profession we can actually support vulnerable people such as people who have been criminalised with cognitive disability, and certainly my interest area is around practice and around how we can really make some differences both at a micro, macro and mezzo level for people.
MR POWER: Your PhD thesis was entitled "Life Stories of Ex Prisoners with Intellectual Disabilities in Queensland", and that related to in depth interviews with 10 people with intellectual disabilities conducted over two years. Could you give a brief overview of your findings from those interviews with those 10 people with disabilities?
DR ELLEM: Okay. I'm hoping that it will be brief but I guess there's a lot to say about people's stories and everybody's story was really important, but I guess I wanted to ---
CHAIR: Do your best, Dr Ellem, do your best.
DR ELLEM: Okay. I wanted to just cover some background stuff about thinking about how people actually enter the prison system, so I briefly cover some of the issues. Some of the issues are really around really poor educational experiences, some participants had experienced --- dropped out of school, had significant learning disabilities, the education system often failed them and often failed to adequately address any behavioural concerns that people had as children.
It is also really important to note that people prior to going into imprisonment didn't really have much in the way of resources, so what we normally assume in terms of --we may have meaningful work, we may have meaningful use of our time, for many of the people that I interviewed they did not really have those experiences.
Similarly, there were two participants in my study who were parents of children and their stories reflect, I guess, what we know a lot about parents with intellectual disability. Both of those parents had their children become wards of the state.
A probably really key thing too, around people coming into prison is that most of
them came with a high degree of childhood trauma. This is not in contradiction to what's being said today, so I think a lot of my findings resonate with what other speakers have talked about.
Six of the people that I interviewed had been in out of home care as children, and the remaining four participants, although they were --- they grew up with their biological parents, you could look at those experiences and see them as quite chaotic, that there were episodes of sexual abuse and physical abuse that occurred within the family environment.
MR POWER: Perhaps before we move on, if I could ask that the chart that has been prepared, EXP.0048.0002.0004, be placed onscreen. While that is being done, is it correct that that is a chart that you prepared in your research, and on the left hand side are the pseudonyms for the 10 people whose experiences you related in your PhD and later articles, and then what we have is, tracking through their life course, the many different types of accommodation or institutions that they have resided in or been held in against their will. As you have noted, a large number of them were in foster care, a large number were in children's homes, three were in juvenile detention. Almost all of them were in what is generally unstable accommodation of hostels and boarding houses. A significant proportion, 6 of the 10, spent time in psychiatric hospitals. A number of them were homeless, and only one of them was in fact in secure specialised accommodation, and only two of the remaining were in public housing.
Is it the case that you were talking about that deprived childhood experience, but is it correct that this maps out a life course where instability in accommodation and places to live formed a very significant part of their experience?
DR ELLEM: Yes. I think what this chart speaks to is, I guess, the transient nature of people's lives, and also the fact that there are so many situations where people have the opportunity to intervene, have the opportunity to help people, but the institutionalised way of living is very predominant in the sample that I had in this study.
I also want to make a note about the secure accommodation for people with disabilities. It sounds like it's a very ideal situation, but that particular form of accommodation was very, very institutionalised; the person who was that in situation was pretty well under lockdown for most of the day and in social isolation, so it was less than ideal in terms of accommodation.
MR POWER: That person's pseudonym was Leanne. One can see, not only was she in that, but she had also experienced the institutional settings of foster care, children's home, juvenile detention, psychiatric hospital, as well as hostels and boarding houses?
DR ELLEM: Yes.
MR POWER: To take you back to your findings of those 10 people with intellectual disability, what other key points came out of your study?
DR ELLEM: I think what is really relevant to the Commission's work here, is really around the fact that the majority of participants experience some kind of abuse. Four of the participants, prior to being in prison, had been victims of sexual abuse, and that sexual abuse may have been witnessing sexual acts by family members, it may have involved rape by strangers in the community, it may have involved sexual assault and rape by co residents in a hostel for people with a disability.
All of that shaped, I guess, people's experiences when they go into the prison system, but there is also other examples of abuse and neglect, including physical assault, people being overmedicated, people with damage to property in their social networks that they belong and having experienced theft by friends as well. So they were some of the things that people spoke about. Whether people actually spoke about all of their experiences in the term of my research is also questionable.
Why I kind of give you this background is because I think it is really important to consider the impact when people go inside prison, and already people have significant amount of trauma as they go in. For example, Peter, who was sexually victimised from a very early age, went into prison, was gang raped on a prison farm, he was stood over by an older prisoner who was grooming him to be his sexual partner. There were other examples where people were bullied and threatened by other prisoners inside. Kylie and Mario reported that they had to give some goods --- so goods within prison have a really important value base. Mario and Kylie used --- they were forced to give cigarettes and chocolates to other prisoners in exchange for a respite from the threats and bullying and to keep themselves safe. For Peter who I just mentioned, he ended up being charged for murder. In that, he actually saw that in some respects as a good thing, which is a sad, sad plight, because it actually offered him protection from the bullying and from other prisoners because he was able to tell them of his offence, and that he said they were wary of him.
So it is a very different culture that people are exposed to when they go to prison. The other thing about prison --- and this has been mentioned in the hearings today --- has really been around the isolation that people experience in prison. Some of that is really around systemic issues of how people manage people with cognitive disability in prison. There is a concern that people are going to be harmed by other prisoners and therefore they are kept in higher security sections of the prison. It is also used as a means of behaviour management, that people are isolated, to manage their behaviour and also as a means to supposedly stabilise people's mental health.
This is really an issue for women prisoners. Certainly the women that I interviewed had all been what was known at the time as the Brisbane Women's Centre, as a crisis support unit. This is basically, I will just describe the architecture, this is a separate unit in the prison with separate cells around a central common area, there's a padded cell with restraining devices, and an adjacent caged in exercise yard. The women in those centres aren't allowed any personal property.
MR POWER: I'm sorry to interpose, this is based on the studies you did with these people at the time of your PhD?
DR ELLEM: Yes.
MR POWER: Just to confirm, what time period are we talking about there?
DR ELLEM: We're looking at 2005 up to 2010. It is my understanding that this unit is still present in the Brisbane Women's Centre and certainly it has raised a lot of controversy in terms of how we manage people who are mentally unwell. People are under observation, so the cells have a dim blue light that is kept on for 24 hours a day.
Basically, what happens in a lot of these contexts is that people can lose, I guess, a lot of adaptive life skills while they are in prison, let alone the isolation and removal from human contact. So people are supervised to the extent that they are given drinks, not allowed to hold drinks themselves, not allowed to have staples within a magazine because of the fear that people might self harm. There are all of these things that are really restrictive for people. It is a way in some respects to keep people safe, but it is less than ideal in terms of people's rehabilitation.
Talking about long term isolation, certainly this has been covered by the Commission in this hearing. But we know there is plenty of evidence in the research that people --- long term isolation in prison can lead to psychological harm for people. Certainly that was the case with my research, that people experienced depression, distress, they engaged in suicidal behaviour, disturbed sleep and in one instance engaged in prolonged starvation inside.
We really need to think about this: is this the most appropriate way in which we support people who are highly vulnerable?
The other concern that I really want to raise, and part of the reason why I explained people's early childhood experiences, is that around sexual abuse, is the fact that we have these practices in our prison systems called strip searching that potentially have been criticised by many people as rape by the state. One of the issues around strip searching, particularly for people with cognitive disability, is that they may actually be strip searched more than other prisoners because there are concerns that perhaps they are drug mules, that they may be given drugs that they can circulate around in the prison, and certainly two of the people that I interviewed for my research talked about being strip searched daily because of these concerns.
MR POWER: Obviously your statement and your research goes into enormous detail about these factors. If I can perhaps then turn to the next part of your research about these people, and that is what happens on their release.
DR ELLEM: Okay.
MR POWER: If I can perhaps just place up again on the visualiser the document we had previously, that is the one ending in 0004, to note one of the people, Kylie, who is in that. The fourth person down is Kylie, and she is somebody who, although she wasn't in juvenile detention, she was in foster care, children's homes, hostels, psychiatric hospitals, homelessness episodes and ultimately public housing, and that has just been marked in red.
As part of your research and ongoing work as an academic, did you continue in contact with the person whose pseudonym was Kylie and get her permission to prepare ultimately a paper about her life, which was published with her consent?
DR ELLEM: Yes.
MR POWER: I'm going to go to paragraph 29 of your statement. I won't for present purposes identify her by name, but it is the case that part of that was she gave her consent because she saw value in her life story being presented.
DR ELLEM: Yes.
MR POWER: If I could then I have been asked to slow down, and so if you could also slow down as well, we will keep the Auslan interpreters happy.
DR ELLEM: Okay.
MR POWER: If I can place up on the visualiser EXP.0048.0002.0003, it will come up in a moment, but is it the case that this is --- and I will continue referring to her by the pseudonym "Kylie" --- a map of Kylie's life in terms of significant institutional events or other events in her life?
DR ELLEM: Yes. This is how Kylie recalled this at the time that we interviewed her, or I interviewed her. One of the things about using this methodology with people is it's recognising that people --- it's really difficult for people to account for their history in terms of being able to give you accurate dates, and sometimes the order of events may not always be entirely accurate. So I was really relying on Kylie to recall things, and this was a way in which I helped her move through what happened.
What she has got here, in terms of the many different things that she was involved in, going into foster care, moving around homelessness, going into Boggo Road, going into women's prison and so on, this is her recollection. It is probably --- it looks complex enough as it is but the reality is that probably, if we were to go into her case notes from different things, you would probably find it's actually much more transient than what we have got there.
MR POWER: This is in some ways a more personal story than the chart but it represents the same thing. We can see that she was born in a regional town, grew up
not with her parents but with a family member; ultimately ended up in foster care in a place that was not her home town; she was then a patient in Wolston Park Hospital, and that obviously must have been as a child because she then attended the Mount Gravatt Special School. One can see the "Work Experience/Further". At that juncture in her life there are some positive training steps, but then that all seems to fall apart because there is moving around and homelessness across a number of regional areas before she is imprisoned for the first time in the old, now closed, women's prison in Brisbane, further periods of homelessness, time in another prison, the Brisbane Women's Correctional Centre, and then The Park Centre for Mental Health, before ultimately living in a suburb in Brisbane.
Is it the case that what your research with Kylie and with the other people with cognitive disabilities who had spent time in prison showed that housing and stability of housing was an incredibly important factor?
DR ELLEM: Yes, that is certainly the case, and when people make these transitions there are things that are lost as they move along. For example, for Kylie, when she moved from Correctional Centre to The Park Centre for Mental Health, she reported she didn't have the belongings that were dear to her, close to her. So I think when we talk about housing, when we talk about these things, housing is just a fundamental thing for all of us. Secure housing ---
MR POWER: Could I ask you to slow down a bit.
DR ELLEM: Housing is a very important thing for people, it's a basic human rights and it is a way in which people form their identity. They can have belongings around them that actually help them to feel safe. But what we have when people exit prison is we often have a very unstable situation.
One of the things that --- the model that I'm particularly interested in is the Housing First Model, and it is more about the principles behind such a model, which is really around that housing is not dependent on whether people engage in treatment, it's not dependent on any particular behaviour, it's something that is there and is promised to the person so that they have a stable base to come back to.
MR POWER: Just to stop there for a moment, you deal with this at paragraph 86 of your statement, and that is at 0033 of the statement.
You indicated that some of the things that you have mentioned may not necessarily be fully within somebody's control. So what you are saying is there are some practical benefits that derive from having stable accommodation?
DR ELLEM: Yes. We need to think about people's journey out of the criminal justice system as something that just doesn't happen overnight. We don't want to put supports in place that potentially can remarginalise people who already have been marginalised. The Housing First Model is based on that principle and certainly there's some research there that people have evaluated the Housing First Model in
Brisbane. And a colleague from UQ, named Cameron Parsell, and others in 2013 looked at this and found that with regards to people with mental illness and problematic substance use, there was a large reduction in the use of justice services, with the cost to police and courts dropping. The average was around $8,719 per person per annum and that reduced to an average of just $2,172. In terms of economic cost, it's a really valuable thing but we can't measure the benefit to people and the safety that that stable housing can give to people with cognitive disability.
MR POWER: Thank you. Moving on to another topic of research, you conducted research in 2017 and 2018 about the interaction ---
CHAIR: Mr Power, before we move on to some different research, may I ask Dr Ellem a couple of questions.
The research you have just been talking about involved 10 case studies, as I understand it. How were those cases selected?
DR ELLEM: Well, one of the issues was really --- I would love to say that I had --- it was very easy to recruit people and that I could pick out and be very purposive in my sampling around this. One of the issues is that it was really difficult to find people. The whole process of this research is initially I had wanted to interview people inside prisons and had applied to Corrective Services Queensland to do so on two occasions and been denied that opportunity. So I had to then rely on lots of services outside.
I had to interview --- I guess the eligibility criteria for the research was that people have had to be not on parole, they needed to have been in prison. And so I had quite a big range, so some people had been in prison a long time ago. And I found a lot of people in secure mental health facilities, I found people in hostels, in boarding houses, but it was very difficult to be purposive in terms of the group that I got, because even if I knew of somebody in a hostel or boarding house, it may be that that person is very transient and they are not actually staying in that situation for a long enough time to be able to engage with them.
CHAIR: Dr Ellem, why these 10? What was the characteristic that resulted in these forming part of the study?
DR ELLEM: So the criteria was that they needed to had been in prison, and that they needed to have been given the label of intellectual disability. Another really key factor about this is that many people don't identify with the label of intellectual disability. So I was very reliant on gatekeepers who said that at some stage this person had been given this label. So it was very --- in many respects it had to be a very flexible methodology in order to engage with people and to also help them to feel comfortable to tell their stories.
CHAIR: The stories they have told, as shown in the chart, are very powerful. But I just want to be clear that you are not suggesting that this is a random sample from
which conclusions can be extrapolated, as occurs with random studies?
DR ELLEM: No, this is a qualitative piece of research. At the time when I conducted the research there was just an absence in the literature about people's own stories. So really my purpose of the research is to get stories of the lived experience about this. A lot of the literature really talked about interventions and recidivism and were very much focused on psychiatric research rather than actually looking at people and their experiences. So it wasn't ever meant to be a random sample. You wouldn't be able to do a random sample with this group, it would be very difficult.
CHAIR: Yes, Mr Power.
MR POWER: Just following on from the Chair's questions, firstly, you have mentioned that people didn't necessarily identify as having a cognitive disability. Particularly within lower socioeconomic and prison populations, did you find that there was stigma attached to being labelled in that way?
DR ELLEM: Yes, totally. For example, for Angela, she had been told by child protection authorities that she had mental retardation and that was the reason why her child had gone into care. So that really --- it was quite fascinating that child protection authorities would use that label, which is a very antiquated label in the Australian context, but nevertheless that was in her case notes and that was something that she had really negative associations with.
Similarly, people may not have ever accessed disability services. Many people who go into prison have mild to borderline intellectual impairment, as well as a whole other range of presentations, not just intellectual impairment. So it is really quite complex to engage in a diagnosis about people. There are so many things that interface with that, in terms of life experience and mental health issues, substance use issues, so it's really quite a diverse area, I guess, around that as well.
MR POWER: The second aspect flowing on from the Chair's question is, was part of what you were doing, both in that research and later with regard to --- I'll use the pseudonym --- the article that was published in the British Journal of Learning Disabilities, "Kylie's Story of Life in Prison", is it the case that Kylie was involved in the writing of that article? She at times changed the wording used and was very clear that she wanted to share her story, to help others going through prison? Is it the case that part of your research was to give a voice to these people?
DR ELLEM: Yes, it was a very primary thing that was driving my research. Kylie actually --- one of the reasons that she said she really wanted to share her story is that she was aware that when people come out, they just feel so lost when they come out of prison, they lose their network. She often talked about the girls inside and how she had really good friends inside and the social isolation that people experience when they leave prison, and she was really hoping that there would be better supports for people when they come out of prison.
MR POWER: Turning to your research in 2017 and 2018, which was about interactions between police officers and young people with disabilities, in particular at paragraphs 40 to 44 of your statement, I want to ask you some questions about this. You mentioned about the criminalisation of disability, earlier in your evidence. Were there aspects of what you observed through these interview based studies about people's disability being reacted to negatively, resulting in their criminalisation and, if so, could you tell the commission about what that research showed?
DR ELLEM: Yes, we interviewed practitioners. The majority of the sample was practitioners, with three young people involved in the study as well. Practitioners talked about some of the issues they experienced with police and really about how police --- people with disability, cognitive disability, young people, became very visible to police. And some of that would have been around people's behaviour, young people's behaviour in the community; perhaps they were speaking loudly, perhaps they weren't honouring the personal space of others, perhaps there were some verbal tics. And also there was a lot of discussion about other factors, including a person being Aboriginal or if that person was gender diverse. All of those sorts of things compound to make a person highly visible to police and I guess a lot of the study was really around the concerns that practitioners had about police's response to young people.
MR POWER: In your statement you refer to a youth legal professional describing some young people with cognitive disability lacking the ability to follow police instructions, such that there was frustration arising that they couldn't get their message across; that in turn led to aggressive or uncooperative behaviour; that then led to an arrest where one might have been avoided but for this interaction.
DR ELLEM: Yes. So when police don't have a knowledge about the young person's disability, it becomes really difficult. For example, the way in which they touch the young person, the way, if a person has sensory issues, that could actually trigger much more --- may actually escalate the situation.
MR POWER: Sorry, just to interpose there, that's obviously very difficult for a police officer. So what, I suppose, is the answer to that? What can be done?
DR ELLEM: It is a very difficult thing. And I guess there were --- we had positive examples when things were deescalated, when police officers were able to listen to people around that young person. For example, if they entered a special school, it was clearly obvious that the young person had a disability and they were able to have the resource, they were able to talk to the teachers around that young person and get some advice around how to deescalate the situation. I think Jim Simpson was talking about this today. There is a huge need for police training, to identify what might be some possible presentations around disability in their interactions. But I would argue too that to do that, and that's been spoken about for many years, about educating police, that that type of education really needs to come from police themselves because they need to be able to own that and it needs to be embodied in police culture. I think it is a really challenging aspect of this issue.
MR POWER: Something you have touched upon is the difficulties of identifying people with cognitive disability. In your statement at paragraphs 56 to 59, you discuss this. Is it your position that there should be much more testing of people who are in custody, to try and determine whether they have an intellectual disability, so that they can be linked to support services before they leave prison?
DR ELLEM: Yes. I think the latter part of your question there is the important one, so that they can be linked to support services. I think the difficulty is that unless you invest in identifying and diagnosing people and engaging in screening tools, which there are plenty out there that people can use, and non clinicians can use, to talk about the possibility of cognitive impairment, but if you invest in that, you also equally need to invest in appropriate responses to people. It is no point pouring a lot of money into these things without a benefit. But from a ---
MR POWER: Could I just interpose there. Would it also be the case that you have to make sure that it is not going to be an extra barrier to these people's release under parole?
DR ELLEM: I think that is an important point as well, that it could end up being, so it is really people's understanding of people with cognitive disability. There is a lot of stigma around having cognitive disability, there is a lot of assumptions around that people can't grow, people can't develop, people can't change their behaviour and therefore our response might be that we put people in isolation, they do their full term, because there is this myth about "We really can't help these people".
So yes, we can identify people but we need to be really careful about how we do that so that we actually make sure we are improving the lives of people rather than creating a new pathway in which they are treated --- they are discriminated against and treated differently.
MR POWER: Moving to paragraph 61 of your statement, you go through a number of reasons why people with cognitive disabilities are over represented in prison. I just want to touch on a couple of them. Paragraph 61(f), you note that people with cognitive disability are likely to have been victims of abuse, neglect and violence. Why does that then make it more likely that they themselves become prisoners?
DR ELLEM: I think if violence, neglect and abuse become the norm in your life, then you are a person who has ongoing trauma, you can become easily triggered, and if you're a person that perhaps doesn't have a lot of supports in place, it's not just simplistically around the abuse but it's also around people's circumstances and how that abuse is responded to.
If you are living in poverty, you have got a whole heap of factors that are impacting on you and a whole heap of disadvantage happening there, it's very easy for you to be triggered in the community, it's very easy for people to misinterpret your anxiety as something that can't be managed, and it's very easy for it to be escalated and for
people to be entering into the criminal justice system that way.
MR POWER: In 61(g), the last part of that --- well, we'll read all of it:
many in this group find it difficult to navigate systems and advocate for their own rights or their cognitive impairment may not be assessed as severe enough to be eligible for support.
We saw what was called “the spaghetti and meatballs diagram”, the complexity of the system. Is it your experience, from speaking to professionals and people with disability, that there is a great deal of difficulty in just simply navigating the system?
DR ELLEM: Yes, so every step of the way is difficult, particularly in the current context when we think about the National Disability Insurance Scheme and some of the assumptions that we make around people who are participants in that model. We assume people can navigate the free market, we assume they have very clear insight into what goals they want to achieve in their life, and we assume they are able to identify supports and services they can access. It is a lot more complicated for this group of people who have complex histories, so much disadvantage, they are really not interested in doing a plan.
That's just one example. There are many other examples. We have heard this today too, about people falling through the gaps, so people aren't quite disabled enough, and certainly when I was trying to recruit people for my study, "No, we don't cater for people who have that experience in our disability services." Or they are seen as competent because people learn to act as if they are competent, and it is often a lot more complex than that, and people's ability to just navigate everyday life is really quite difficult for them.
MR POWER: I won't ask you further about (h), but it includes that there may also be co existing issues with addiction, problematic alcohol use or gambling. You were watching the session previously where Commissioner Atkinson raised those problems co existing with cognitive impairment in her experience as a judge.
DR ELLEM: Yes. It is interesting because I think a lot of the research around addiction is that overall, if we were to look at, say, people with intellectual disability, and we were to see how many of the people with intellectual disability had issues around substance use and compared that with the general population, we would find that generally there's less people with intellectual disability engaged in problematic substance abuse. But what is interesting about what we know about that research is those people who do engage in that have greater problems in terms of overcoming those addictions.
MR POWER: Is that in your view because the program --- whether they are 12 step programs or other programs to defeat addiction --- are not focused on people with a cognitive disability?
DR ELLEM: Certainly there's not enough around really helping people's concrete ways of thinking, there's not enough done around simplifying the language and the communications stuff. There's not enough done around the timing of these programs. Often they are way too brief for people with cognitive disability. There's a really --- a need for very long, sustained efforts for people to really get to a point where they can recover from some of these issues.
MR POWER: I want to finally turn to your 2019 research, which you refer to in paragraphs 80 onwards in your statement, under the heading "Need for wraparound and relationship based supports". You refer to the importance of relationship based practice. Before I ask you some questions about this, could you explain what relationship based practice is?
DR ELLEM: Relationship based practice is a framework that has been around for many, many years. It is a very “social worky” kind of term. But if we were to explain it, it's really around looking at the ways in which we can work developmentally with offenders with cognitive disability. So it's not so much emphasising particular interventions or techniques --- and certainly there's plenty of literature on those interventions or techniques --- it's not to say that they are not worth doing or worth pursuing, but really, what it is about is how we actually deliver interventions, what is the quality of relationships, and how we engage with people with cognitive disability who are criminalised.
So it is really about coming back to basic principles about respect and connection, but also thinking about relationship not only between the worker and the person with a cognitive disability, but also thinking about the relationships around that person with a cognitive disability, thinking about the relationships between services and how do they relate together and how does that impact on that person with cognitive disability, and it is also about building intentional communities.
I'm a firm believer that people committing crime is a community responsibility, and therefore when we address issues for these people, we really need to take a community response for that and not just let it rest with the individual all the time.
MR POWER: In your statement you go through a number of examples but I want to briefly touch on one of them at paragraph 83(a). You mentioned that a person with an intellectual disability whose pseudonym is Mario was released with $5.40, and the conditions of his release involved not living in his hometown for a 12 month period. You then describe what the Disability Support Worker did, and all of the tasks that were involved. There is a lot of work that is there. But the advantage of that was that Mario didn't immediately breach the terms of his release. Is that the sort of cost --- there's a cost to Mario's Disability Support Worker, but what was saved was a lot more expense but also Mario not returning to jail. Is that what that is trying to communicate?
DR ELLEM: That is a good example of relationship based practice. It was really that worker really trying to look at what does it take to actually help this person, help
this person really achieve what they need to do? So she advocated --- she knew somebody in Centrelink, so already she had --- she was somebody who was really embedded in her local community, she knew somebody from Centrelink who was willing to stay back so that Mario could get his Centrelink payment sorted. She was willing to work after hours to get Mario to the place that was out of his community so he was not breaching parole, and she was willing to continue that work with him around his child that he needed access to, around negotiating his relationship with his mother, negotiating his relationship with his ex girlfriend, and so on. So she was really looking at his whole life and I guess what was important to Mario, as much as how he was going to survive was the system and the requirements that the system had on him.
MR POWER: I take it from that example that that Disability Support Worker had maintained that contact with Mario because Mario was only in prison for a relatively short time. What happens if someone like Mario is in prison for a long period of time and doesn't have that support? What's the bridging mechanism that needs to be there?
DR ELLEM: That's a good question. I think --- as you said, Mario was short term in the community, but ---
MR POWER: In custody?
DR ELLEM: In custody, rather, yes. But for people on long term sentences, there are so many things that --- people lose so many skills in terms of being in prison for a long time, so they miss out on what's going on in their community, they miss out --- like with the technology that happens over the time that they are in prison, and they still need somebody outside to keep an eye on what's going on inside. People need assistance in navigating so many things. So I think there is --- and some of this was talked about today as well, having somebody there that is separate from the system is not really involved in a kind of involuntary working with involuntary client, that they are there apart from the system to help that person keep connected. Many people lose connections with their family as a result of going to prison. Many people lose relationships. So I think there are lots of things that can be done, even in that situation, when people are in for a longer term.
MR POWER: Paragraph 87 of your statement goes through a number of it goes from a to e. Perhaps if we could have the second page of that, which is the statement page ending in 0034, paragraph (c) is:
Corrective Services, NDIS and other service providers work together to ensure that people with cognitive disability have access to accommodation and supports on leaving prison.
If it is a short sentence, that release plan should start planning immediately.
DR ELLEM: Yes.
MR POWER: I won't read them out, but (d) reflects the role of an independent support person to try to help them navigate those complex systems that we have heard about today.
Your statement obviously goes through a great many different matters and we can't cover all of them, but is there anything in closing that you would like to ask the Royal Commission to consider in terms of the most important recommendations you have seen from your work as a social worker and then an academic in this area?
DR ELLEM: There's so many things, it's hard to choose. I think --- I have a real interest, and this is probably my interest, but I think there have been so many really important recommendations that have been made to date so I don't want to discredit what other people have said here, but I think one of the things that really disturbs me in a lot of ways is how much we actually are resourcing our disability workforce. When I talk about that, I'm talking about the fact that people really need to have the skills and training, we need to invest in supervision. We need to invest in training of people so they have some knowledge around these other systems. We need to invest in people --- because there has been so many really complex cases that we have discussed in these hearings and it just is really sad to hear about the responses that occur, that people --- workers themselves don't feel safe to support people. Ultimately, that is not ideal for the workers but we need to invest in our workforce because, if we don't invest in our workforce, we have going to have really, really poor outcomes for those people that are involved and they end up being in isolation. They end up being in a whole heap of restrictive practices and so on, and so there is just not enough that is done about that. The people that I know in the sector are crying out for information around legal rights and being able to understand how do they work with police, how do they --- how can they really help a person who comes in contact around a criminal matter? They don't feel resourced, they don't feel connected to the system and feel that they have much power or say in that. That really bothers me on so many levels, as somebody who has worked in that sector, that's not there.
The other thing I guess, too, in terms of my research interest, I think that there really need to be further work around really costing, I guess what it is, where people are at and how much it really actually costs the State to see people going through these systems and what's the benefit around early intervention. Is there some way that we can look at the economic and social costs and the benefit of really investing in people in the early stages.
MR POWER: On that subject we will be hearing from John Walsh tomorrow, but what you are speaking about there ensuring that all of the costs are properly inputted to work out what the various costs are of pursuing model A versus model B?
DR ELLEM: Yes, and I think unfortunately that's the nature in which our
governments work, is that they often work around economics, rather than looking at a lot of things that are really quite intangible but we just know intuitively that this is what is needed for this person. So we have to find ways in which we can cross that divide with Government. I think too with the NDIS, it's here to stay, I think we really need to do some research around the NDIS, how are people with complex support needs actually using plans, how are they accessing the NDIS in the first place, and how does the actual sector and the services within the National Disability Insurance Scheme cater for this group of people. We certainly know there are thin market and there is very little in the way of support in the community for this group of people. I think much more research need to happen in that area.
MR POWER: Thank you.
Chair, they were all the questions I had.
CHAIR: Thank you, Mr Power and thank you, Dr Ellem, for your evidence. I will just ask the Commissioners whether they have any questions of you, in the hearing room with you, I shall first ask Commissioner Atkinson.
QUESTIONS BY THE COMMISSION
COMMISSIONER ATKINSON: The only question I have got to ask is, really, we hear this phrase "thin markets" a lot. I have come to understand what it means in this sector, but I think it would be good if you would actually explain what it really means, because it sounds like an abstract concept, but in reality it is actually a dreadful thing.
DR ELLEM: It is a dreadful thing. For example, the system might find a person that, "Yes, this person has significant needs and yes, we will fund this amount of money for somebody and, yes, we have got a plan, we are responding to that person and we know what supports are needed". But in reality, this person has got a plan that has no meaning whatsoever to them if there is not the support in the community to do that. So the thin markets refers to the fact that there might be one service maybe in a central area, like an urban area, that catered for this person in perhaps behavioural support or whatever that service is, and for that person to access it --- they might live up in North Queensland, for example. They are not going to leave their community to go down and find a service in Brisbane. That is just not what is very useful. So we can pour money into people, but what is the point of pouring money into people if we can't use that money for them?
COMMISSIONER ATKINSON: Would it be fair to say that if you shift services from the public sector to the private sector and the private sector is unable to supply those services, that is then euphemistically referred to as a thin market?
DR ELLEM: Yes, so we are looking at a marketised disability sector, so what
previously catered for by the State Government is no longer there. As much as there were lots of problems, I guess, with the State funded disability service sector, there was at least a steady point where people could go, and it was much more difficult for a State Government to refuse a service to people, whereas it is much more easier for people in the marketplace, agencies, to say, "No, we can't cater for person". So it is one of those things where we really want people to have the so called choice and control, but we also need to be able give people some sense of security as well. And if our marketplace isn't doing that, then we really need to think about maybe we need to resource a bit more block funding --- I'm talking like a social worker, I'm not sure if people understand what block funding is, but block funding is a way of working in the disability sector where funding was given to an agency to do a set of work, it wasn't necessarily linked to an individual. I'm not advocating that we go back to a block funding model because I think that's really problematic, but I do think we need a mix of services, and that mix of services, I think we have lost something by totally going into this individualised model, there's something is lost there, and for groups of people that we are talking about today, it's even more problematic because perhaps they don't even identify as having a disability in the first place.
COMMISSIONER ATKINSON: Thank you.
CHAIR: Commissioner Mason?
COMMISSIONER MASON: No, thank you.
COMMISSIONER McEWIN: No, thank you.
CHAIR: Dr Ellem, “thin markets” is not limited to the NDIS, is it? It is an economic concept that involves a market where there are a small number of buyers and sellers and often characterised by illiquidity, as in financial markets. So it's the application of a broader economic and commercial concept to the NDIS. Is that a fair way of putting it?
DR ELLEM: Yes. What the NDIS is based on --- certainly a lot of people with disability were involved I guess in advocating for this individualised model under the NDIS but what also has kind of moved in on that is that market based terminology, so people become what we call customers. And so, therefore, when you are a customer, there's a level of expectation that you have got a whole heap of supports and services that you can choose from and the world is your oyster, I guess.
The reality is, when we have thin markets, then maybe the world isn't your oyster, there is a whole heap of competing agendas around people's --- around services and how they continue to survive in a marketplace. Certainly I have spoken to people in Canada where I guess some of these systems have happened for some time, and sometimes services lose sight of what they are actually doing, it's more about keeping their survival in a marketplace than actually, unfortunately, serving the people that they are funded to support.
CHAIR: Thank you.
I assume, Ms Furness, you don't have any questions of Dr Ellem?
MS FURNESS: I don't, thank you, Chair.
CHAIR: Dr Ellem, thank you for coming to our Brisbane hearing room to give us the benefits of your research.
COMMISSIONER ATKINSON: Ms McMillan is in this room. She might want to ask questions, I don't know ---
CHAIR: I didn't realise she was with us today.
COMMISSIONER ATKINSON: Well, if you were here, Chair, you would see she is wearing a very bright green coat, so she is definitely noticeable.
MS McMILLAN: Thank you, Commissioner Atkinson, that's very kind of you.
No, I don't have any questions, thank you.
CHAIR: Dr Ellem, thank you very much for giving us your evidence and for giving us the benefit of your research, which we have looked at very carefully and we will continue to look at. Thank you very much.
DR ELLEM: Thank you.
THE WITNESS WITHDREW
MR POWER: Chair, that concludes the evidence for today. Could we ask that the Commission adjourn till 9.30 Brisbane time, 10.30 Sydney time tomorrow.
CHAIR: Thank you, we will do that.
Mr Power, you have enlightened me today, I did not realise that "inputted" in is a verb. If it is, it is, I have to say, one of the ugliest verbs I have come across for a long time.
MR POWER: Yes, I apologise for my infelicity.
CHAIR: You may be right; language changes even as we speak, literally. We will adjourn until tomorrow at 9.30 Brisbane time, 10.30 Sydney time.
HEARING ADJOURNED AT 4.07 PM UNTIL 10.30 AM ON WEDNESDAY, 24 FEBRUARY 2021