Public hearing 16: Message from the Honourable Ronald Sackville AO QC (Auslan)
Message from the Honourable Ronald Sackville AO QC
Thank you very much for watching this video from the Disability Royal Commission. I hope that you are all keeping safe and well during these very difficult times.
I shall commence with an acknowledgment of country.
I wish to acknowledge the Gadigal people of the Eora Nation, the traditional custodians of the land on which I am making this presentation, and I pay my respects to their Elders past, present and future.
My name is Ronald Sackville. I am the Chair of the Royal Commission which, as you probably know has been operating since April 2019, about 2 and a half years ago.
The Royal Commission has 5 additional Commissioners. They include Andrea Mason OAM, who will be very well known to many of you. Commissioner Mason has guided the Royal Commission in its investigation of what should be done to prevent violence against, abuse, neglect and exploitation of First Nations people with disability.
So far the Royal Commission has held 1 Public hearing (Public Hearing 8) specifically addressing the experiences of First Nations people with disability and their families in their contact with child protection systems in Australia.
We’ve had other public hearings that have examined issues of particular concern to First Nations people, and we’ve done that through the experiences of First Nations people with disability themselves; those with lived experience.
For example Public Hearing 11, which was held in Brisbane from 16 to 25 February 2021, examined the experiences of people with cognitive disability in the criminal justice system.
That hearing concentrated on the terrible experiences of 2 First Nations people with disability whom we called Melanie and Winmartie – not their real names of course. Both had been held in custody for many years; that happened after they had been found unfit to plead to criminal charges that had been brought against them.
Both Melanie and Winmartie had been kept in custody for many years longer than if they had actually been convicted of the charges that had been made against them. They endured during this period of incarceration conditions that have been described as inhumane.
The Royal Commission plans to hold further hearings on topics of importance to First Nations people with disability.
One of these hearings is scheduled to begin in Alice Springs on 17 September, about 3 weeks from now. And that’s scheduled to continue for 6 hearing days. The hearing will consider violence against and abuse, neglect and exploitation of First Nations children with disability in out-of-home care. That is a very important topic.
A great deal of work has been done, especially by the First Nations teams within the Royal Commission, to prepare for this hearing. The preparation has been designed to ensure that First Nations witnesses – people with disability – can give their evidence in person in Alice Springs and do so in a culturally safe and trauma informed environment. Commissioner Mason has planned events, such as a smoking ceremony, to take place in the context of the Alice Springs hearing.
As we all know we are living in very difficult times because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The restrictions on movement associated with the pandemic have forced this Royal Commission to alter our programs in very significant ways.
Everybody in the Royal Commission, but particularly the First Nations team, have been very keen for the hearing in Alice Springs to be held in person as we had planned.
Unfortunately the restrictions and the risks to public health have forced us to find another way of conducting this hearing. It is simply not possible for the hearing to be held with witnesses, lawyers and Commissioners all gathered together in the one hearing room and indeed in the one city.
For these reasons we have reluctantly made the very hard decision to change the hearing from one that will be held person in Alice Springs to what we describe as a virtual hearing. This means that the hearing will still take place, but most of the witnesses, lawyers and Commissioners will participate from places away from Alice Springs. And this will happen through the wonders of modern technology.
The Royal Commission has plenty of experience with virtual hearings – all of our hearings since the start of the pandemic in February 2020, with one or two exceptions, have been held remotely. So this will not be a new experience.
The decision to move to a remote hearing was based on the best health advice that we could get, and in compliance with the restrictions that unfortunately affect travel to Alice Springs by people outside the Northern Territory.
Many witnesses, staff, lawyers and Commissioners would have had to travel to Alice Springs for the hearing but cannot do so now, at least not safely under the present conditions. Our primary responsibility of course is to protect the health and safety of our staff, witnesses at the hearing, people with disability themselves and the more general Alice Springs community.
All of us at the Royal Commission are extremely disappointed that the hearing cannot take place in person within the Alice Springs community as we had planned. But the hearing still will take place and everybody who is interested will be able to follow it online. This will allow the Royal Commission to continue its important work, enable First Nations people with disability to have their voices heard and bear testament to their unique experiences.
We invite all Australians but, particularly First Nations people and First Nations people with disability and First Nations communities generally to follow the experiences of First Nations children with disability in out-of-home care when the hearing begins on Friday 17 September 2021.
The hearing will be live streamed on the Royal Commission’s website.
You can also find a description of Public hearing 16 on our website.
Please take care everyone, keep safe and thank you very much for listening and watching.