Public hearing 26 - Homelessness, including experience in boarding houses, hostels and other arrangements, Parramatta - Day 1
CHAIR: Good morning, everybody. I would like to welcome everyone who is joining or who will join this, which is the 26th Public hearing of the Royal Commission into Violence, Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation of People with Disability. This is a five day hearing and is being conducted at the PARKROYAL Hotel in Parramatta. The evidence during this week will concentrate on the experiences of people with disability who have been homeless or are at risk of homelessness, for example, while living in boarding houses or other forms of insecure housing.
I'm pleased to say that, for this week, members of the public are free to attend the hearing in person, although, of course, it's open to anyone to follow the proceedings on the live stream if they wish.
On behalf of the Royal Commission I wish to acknowledge the Dharug people, the traditional custodians of the land upon which this hearing takes place. We wish to pay our respects to their Elders past, present and emerging, and we also pay our respects to all First Nations people attending the hearing in person today, as well as those who may be following the proceedings on the mainstream.
The first part of this hearing will hear experiences of people with disability in New South Wales who have been homeless or who live or have lived in insecure accommodation, such as the boarding houses I have just mentioned. The second part of the hearing will focus on a category of regulated boarding houses in Victoria known as Supported Residential Services, SRSs. The SRS sector has been the subject of criticism by the Victorian Ombudsman and the Victorian Public Advocate.
Among other things, this hearing will be considering whether and to what extent people with disability, particularly people with intellectual or psychosocial disability, are at an increased risk of homelessness; whether experiencing homelessness makes it more difficult for a person with disability to find and remain in safe, accessible and secure accommodation; and whether insecure accommodation exposes people with disability to a greater risk of violence, abuse, neglect or exploitation.
At this hearing, I'm joined in the Parramatta hearing room by Commissioner John Ryan AM who's on my left. Commissioner Rhonda Galbally, who can be seen on the screen, Commissioner Galbally AC, is participating from Melbourne. Senior Counsel assisting the Royal Commission, Ms Kate Eastman AM SC, and Ms Elizabeth Bennett SC are in the hearing room in Parramatta. They appear with Ms Cathy Dowsett and Mr Ben Fogarty, also in the Commission hearing room.
This week, the Royal Commission will hear evidence from approximately 27 witnesses, most of whom will give their evidence in person. Ms Eastman will shortly provide more details about the witnesses and the evidence they are to give in her opening statement. A number of parties have been given leave to appear at this hearing, and I will take appearances from their representatives shortly.
I hope I might be forgiven for offering a personal reflection on the subject matter of this hearing. In 1974, 48 years ago, as the Commissioner for Law and Poverty on the Australian Government Commission of Inquiry into Poverty, which was chaired by Professor Ronald Henderson, I wrote a research report on homeless people and the law. That report formed a chapter in my final report on Law and Poverty in Australia that was published, presented in 1975. By a masterpiece of timing, it was presented three weeks before the dismissal of the Labor Government.
The Law and Poverty Report focused on the use of the criminal law, principally through the offences of public drunkenness and vagrancy, as a means in effect of penalising poverty. The report did not specifically concentrate on disability as a cause of homelessness. This was 17 years before the Disability Discrimination Act was passed by the Australian Parliament. But the report pointed out that homeless people were much more likely than the general population to have what these days would be described as a psychosocial disability. The report argued that the criminal law had been applied in a discriminatory fashion against the poorest people in the community, including First Nations people, especially, of course, those experiencing homelessness.
The Law and Poverty Report recommended that the States and territories repeal laws criminalising vagrancy and public drunkenness. In due course, most jurisdictions did exactly that. But that wasn't the end of the story. Police were later given powers to detain people found in public places, allegedly for their own protection. The 1991 Aboriginal Deaths in Custody Royal Commission, for example, found that many First Nations people had died in custody after being placed in protective police custody for public drunkenness. Deaths of this kind did not stop in 1991.
In New South Wales, police move on powers introduced in 2002 have been used in ways similar to the old public drunkenness or vagrancy laws. In 2016, the New South Wales Ombudsman found that consorting offences, which had recently been introduced, that is, offences involving consorting with known criminals had been used to socially isolate and exclude homeless people, including First Nations people and people with cognitive impairments. My purpose in referring to the re emergence of laws and practices that can penalise homeless people, a high proportion of whom are people with disability, is to show that history has a habit of repeating itself, often in a different guise.
This has occurred even though the Australian Government and the state and territory governments have treated the problem of homelessness very much more seriously in recent decades than in earlier times and have devoted considerable resources to reducing the incidence of homelessness and to supporting people at risk of homelessness.
The history that I have very briefly described is a reminder that the process of analysing evidence, identifying policy issues and proposing reforms capable of bringing about transformational change is not a simple process. Even if recommendations are accepted by governments, reforms are not as self executing. They not only have to be implemented, whether by legislation or changes to policies and practices, but they also have to be carefully monitored over time to ensure that they are achieving their objectives and not being undermined for one reason or another.
In short, reform is always a work in progress. Exhibit 1 is the NDIS. The most significant provisions on the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities for the purposes of this hearing are Articles 19 and 28 of the Convention. Article 19 recognises the equal right of all persons with disabilities to live in the community with choices equal to others. This includes the opportunity to choose their place of residence and where and with whom they live on an equal basis with others; to have access to community support services, including personal assistance necessary to support living and inclusion in the community; and to prevent isolation or segregation; and the right to access community services and facilities on an equal basis to the general population.
Article 28 of the Convention recognises the right of persons with disabilities to an adequate standard of living, including adequate housing and a continuous improvement of living conditions. The realisation of this right requires State parties to ensure, among other things, access by persons with disabilities to public housing programs without discrimination on the basis of disability. Evidence that will be given by representatives of the Department of Social Services at this hearing will say that governments in Australia, including the Australian Government, intend to fulfil their "progressively realisable obligations under the CRPD" through, first, the provision of social and affordable housing; secondly, action under Australia's Disability Strategy 2021/2031; thirdly, the implementation of the National Construction Code 2022; and fourthly, the NDIS.
One issue for consideration at this hearing is whether other steps are needed to reduce the risk of violence, abuse, neglect and exploitation to which people with disability are exposed if they become homeless or are at risk of homelessness. These days, we have considerably more data than in 1974 about the extent of homelessness among people with disability in Australia, and data about the number of people with disability at risk of homelessness, although the data is still far from complete.
The starting point is the 2016 Census, which estimated, on the basis of a variety of indicators, that over 116,000 people were homeless on census night. The comparable figure for the 2021 Census is not yet available. The Australian Bureau of Statistics has estimated on the basis of 2016 the census data that about 10,200 people with severe or profound disability had experienced some form of homelessness during the year.
Data from multiple sources indicates that, despite the actions of Australian State, Commonwealth and Territory governments and other agencies, people with disability, especially intellectual disability, are considerably more likely than people without a disability to experience homelessness or to be at risk of homelessness. Information that has been provided by the National Disability Insurance Agency, the NDIA, and which will form part of the evidence shows that the number of NDIS participants who self reported that they had been homeless during the last three years was as follows: During the 2019/2020 year, 1,016 participants; during the to 2020/2021 year, 1,368 participants; and during the most recent year, 2021/2022, 1,594 NDIS participants.
The NDIA considers that NDIS participants are at risk of homelessness if they are living in a hostel, a boarding house or a private hotel or in short term crisis accommodation. When NDIS participants at risk of homelessness in accordance with this definition are added to the participants reporting that they had actually been homeless, the totals for the same three years are as follows: 2019 to 2020, 4,592 participants either homeless or at risk of homelessness; 2020 to 2021, 5,712 NDIS participants; 2021 to 2022, 6,306 participants.
These numbers represent, it is true, a relatively small percentage of the total of NDIS participants, but the numbers are nonetheless substantial. In considering the numbers, it has to be remembered that the objectives of the NDIS Act 2013, include giving effect to Australia's obligations under the CRPD, supporting the independence and social and economic participation of people with disability, and promoting the provision of high quality and innovative supports that enable people with disability to maximise independent lifestyle and full inclusion in the community.
It's also to be remembered that the NDIS allocates very large sums of money to support people with disability to find and remain in safe, secure and accessible accommodation. There is, of course, absolutely no reason to doubt that the NDIS has greatly enhanced the lives of many of the 534,655 active participants as at 30 June 2022. Even so, to have over 6,000 NDIS participants either experiencing homelessness or at risk of homelessness is a significant social problem that demands attention.
Of course, NDIS participants are not the only people with disability who experience homelessness or are at risk of homelessness. Additional data will be presented during this hearing to provide a more complete picture of people with disability who are homeless or at risk of homelessness. This is the first Public hearing to investigate specifically the experiences of people with disability who are homeless or at risk of homelessness, but as we have emphasised throughout this Royal Commission, all of our hearings are connected in one way or another. We are now moving towards the end of our exceptionally demanding hearing program, and as we do, I hope that the connections are becoming clearer.
We have received evidence about people with disability experiencing homelessness or being at risk of homelessness for a number of hearings. For example, Public hearing 3 on the experiences of living in a group home for people with disability, heard how the process of de institutionalisation, particularly following the Richmond report in the 1980s, produced a dramatic increase in the number of people with disability who became homeless or were taken into custody by the authorities, one way or another. There are lessons here about the ever present danger of reforms producing unintended consequences.
Public hearing 4 on health services for people with cognitive disability received evidence about a First Nations man with disability from a remote community who was discharged from hospital after an operation into homelessness. He was left without assistance to return to Country and to community. Public hearing 6 examined the use of psychotropic medication, behaviour support in relation to so called behaviours of concern.
The Royal Commission heard evidence that some people with disability who display serious behaviours of concern become homeless because service providers simply relinquish support. There was also evidence that people with complex support needs were sometimes left at local hospitals by their accommodation service providers with nowhere to go after being discharged. Public hearing 11 examined the experiences of people with cognitive disability in the criminal justice system. We heard directly from people with disability who had experienced homelessness and transient living arrangements for prolonged periods of time.
One witness described how her life transformed, or was transformed once she had stable accommodation. She said:
"Being homeless, it has caused so much harm. It is so harmful not to have somewhere safe, you know, affordable to live."
At Public hearing 14, the Royal Commission examined the provisions of services in South Australia by a state run disability accommodation provider and also examined governmental responses to the tragic death of Ms Ann Marie Smith, of which many of you will have heard. Evidence was given about the joint efforts of the NDIA and the NDIS Quality and Safeguards Commission to develop a so called Vulnerable Participants Framework which identifies as a risk factor for abuse associated with -- received evidence at that hearing about the importance of providers of last resort being available when a person with disability is at risk of becoming homeless. This can happen, for example, when no provider is willing or able to provide supported accommodation to a person with disability.
The Royal Commission is now about to enter the last year of its life. We face a truly formidable task in preparing a final report which analyses the issues identified at hearings. We will have held by the end of this year, 2022, 32 public hearings dealing with an extraordinary range of topics and issues. The final report will need to explore the connections between the hearings and, of course, other information that has come to the attention of the Royal Commission.
As with so many of the topics we have investigated, homelessness and insecure and unsafe housing for people with disability are very closely linked with other aspects of our work. I hope that the final report will make those links clear. I shall now take appearances.
MS EASTMAN: Thank you, Commissioners, my name is Kate Eastman. I appear as Counsel Assisting the Royal Commission with Ms Elizabeth Bennett SC, Ms Cathy Dowsett and Mr Ben Fogarty.
CHAIR: Thank you very much, Ms Eastman. I think there's an appearance from the Commonwealth.
MS MORGAN: Thank you, Chair, I appear
CHAIR: As you know, the vast resources of the Commonwealth should be able to provide you with your own microphone.
MS MORGAN: I thought I had a microphone at the table, Chair. Ms Morgan, I appear for the Commonwealth with Ms Robinson.
CHAIR: Thank you, Ms Morgan. There's an appearance, I think, for the State of New South Wales.
MS FURNESS: There is. My name is Gail Furness, and I appear with Trent Glover, instructed by the Crown Solicitor's Office for the State of New South Wales.
CHAIR: Thank you, Ms Furness. I think there's an appearance remotely for the State of Queensland.
MS McMILLAN: Yes, good morning. Yes, Chair. My name is initials K counsel, appearing instructed by Crown Law
CHAIR: Yes. Thank you, you broke up a little but I assume it's Ms McMillan who's appearing for the State of Queensland. Thank you.
CHAIR: I think there's an appearance to be announced for the State of Victoria.
MS HARRIS: Yes. If the Commission pleases, my name is Claire Harris, and I appear for the State of Victoria.
CHAIR: Thank you very much. I shall wait a moment to see if there are any other appearances. I don't think there are. Yes, Ms Eastman.
MS EASTMAN: Thank you, Commissioners. As Counsel Assisting, we also acknowledge the traditional custodians on the land on which we are meeting today and across Australia. We pay our respects to First Nations Elders, past present and emerging, as well as to all First Nations people following this Public hearing.
Commissioners, housing has been raised at every Public hearing of this Royal Commission. Chair, you've mentioned some of the hearings this morning. Commissioners, you have heard evidence from people with disability about their homes, living arrangements, about inaccessible dwellings and substandard conditions of hygiene. You have heard about the importance of choice and control, about where a person lives and who they live with. People with disability and their families have told you about threats of eviction and the fear of losing their accommodation.
You have heard about the importance of secure accommodation being essential to enable people with disability to undertake employment, to feel secure and participate in the community. You have heard about the impact on women with disability who experience family and domestic violence, rendering them homeless. At the recent Public hearing in Alice Springs, you heard about the experience of First Nations people with disability with respect to the lack of housing, overcrowded homes and inaccessible dwellings.
In December 2019, the Royal Commission held Public hearing number 3, concerning the experience of people with disability living in group homes. At that hearing, you heard that de institutionalisation in Australia coincided with an increase in the number of people with disability who became homeless or incarcerated in prisons. People with disability have also provided submissions to the Royal Commission describing how they became homeless or their experiences living without a home and supports.
They've told you about the experience of being discharged from hospitals, mental health facilities and prisons into unsupported accommodation. They have told you about having to live in a hospital, sleeping rough, living in a car, staying in hotels, caravan parks and boarding houses, where some have experienced violence, abuse, neglect and exploitation.
People with disability have also made submissions about the impact of public emergencies, including the COVID pandemic and the recent floods in New South Wales and the impact these events have had on their housing and supports. People with disability who have made these submissions reflect a diverse group. They live with a wide range of different disabilities and come from different socio and demographic groups.
Their experiences also include a range of interactions with all level of government, with social housing, with private sector housing as tenants and homeowners. Their experiences reflect the findings of other public inquiries and research. As the Commissioners are aware, the Royal Commission's Terms of Reference require the Commissioners to have regard to past reports and past recommendations.
The recent House of Representatives Standing Committee on Social Policy and Legal Affairs presented its report, An Inquiry into Homelessness in Australia. It found people with disability are at a greater risk of housing stress and homelessness. It also found that they faced additional barriers to accessing support and housing services. The Committee made a number of recommendations and identified the need for an increased focus on prevention and early intervention to address homelessness in Australia.
The recent Royal Commission into Victoria's Mental Health System found that safe and affordable housing plays a central role in supporting people to live well with a sense of safety, security and belonging. The recent Victorian Parliamentary in its report highlighted that many people seeking homelessness services in Victoria rely on Commonwealth income support such as JobSeeker or the Disability Support Pension. The academic research is rich, and it identifies a large number of issues. I'll just touch on a few.
The research tells us that people with disability are at a greater risk of experiencing homelessness, that disability is considered one of the several risk factors for experiencing homelessness, that people who experience chronic homelessness have higher rates of cognitive impairment, traumatic brain injury, serious physical health problems, a history of abuse or trauma, and psychosocial disability.
The research identified, for example, that in June 2020, there were 141,000 social housing households that included a person with disability. Of these households, 40 per cent were households for people with disability and the greatest proportions representing public housing, followed by community housing and state owned and managed Indigenous housing. The research also tells us that the pathways into and out of homelessness are just as varied and can be influenced by disability type, location and the level of a person's disability.
I want to turn to experiencing homelessness. This Public hearing will examine the experiences of people with disability of homelessness and living in boarding houses, hostels and insecure housing. The starting point is to ask what does it mean to be homeless and what is the prevalence of homelessness for people with disability. There is no clear or consistent definition of homelessness used in Australia. You will hear from the witnesses this week, but they don't identify by reference to a definition. They speak to their experiences.
But the Australian Bureau of Statistics says definitions of homelessness are culturally and historically contingent. The ABS says that they range from limited objective measures which conflate homelessness with rooflessness or to more equivocal subjective definitions founded on culturally and historically determined ideas of what it means to have a home.
In 2012, the ABS developed a statistical definition of homelessness to use in its work and it defines homelessness as follows:
"When a person does not have suitable accommodation alternatives, they are considered homeless if their current living arrangement: (1) is in a dwelling that is inadequate; (2) has no tenure or if their initial tenure is short or not extendable; and does not allow them to have control of or access to space for social relations."
The ABS acknowledges that there are limitations using this definition with respect to the census data to estimate homelessness because of the risk of under or over estimation and under enumeration of people in the census. The ABS says:
"Observing homeless people in any data collection is a challenge and their homelessness circumstances may mean that people are not captured in all datasets that count people generally."
The ABS also acknowledges that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are over represented in the measures of homelessness developed with this particular definition, and there are likely to be additional aspects of homelessness for First Nations people with their perspectives and that the definition does not currently capture, including high rates of residential mobility or living remotely in the bush on Country.
For the most recent census in 2021, the ABS records that one in 200 people in Australia are experiencing homelessness. It records that 116,000 people are homeless every night, including those sleeping on streets across Australia. The previous census of 2016 identified around 5,700 people with disability, being defined as people with a need for assistance with core activities, were experiencing homelessness, and people with disability represented about five per cent of all homeless people.
The census also recorded that people with severe or profound disability were over represented among certain forms of marginal housing. While representing around five per cent of all homeless people, those who were homeless because of disability were disproportionately represented in the following areas: 12 per cent were in supported accommodation for homeless people, 12 per cent were marginally housed in caravan parks, nine per cent in temporary lodgings, and eight per cent living in boarding houses.
There are other definitions, and the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, which receives and aggregates data from 1,600 specialist homeless services agencies across Australia on a monthly basis, uses a different definition to the ABS. The Specialist Homelessness Services identify a person as being homeless if they are living in non conventional accommodation or sleeping rough, and that's defined as living on the streets, sleeping in parks, squatting, staying in cars or railway carriages, living in improvised dwellings or living in the long grasses. Or it could be short term or emergency accommodation due to the lack of other options and that includes refuges, crisis shelters, couch surfing, living temporarily with friends or relatives, or insecure accommodation such as emergency accommodation, hotels, motels and boarding houses.
The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare's key findings about their clients with disability for the year 2020 to 2021 reveals that there were 7,000 of the clients who identified with disability. Of those 7,000 clients, 66 per cent had previously been assisted by a Specialist Homeless Services agency at some point in the past 10 years. And the majority of clients with disability were alone and not part of a family.
Can I now turn to the question of human rights and a human rights perspective on the experience of homelessness. From a human rights perspective, experiencing homelessness means not having stable, safe, and adequate housing or the means and ability of obtaining it. The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Right to Adequate Housing says this:
"Homelessness is a profound assault on dignity, social inclusion and the right to life. It is a prima facie violation of the right to housing and violates a number of other human rights in addition to the right to life, including non-discrimination, health, water and sanitation, security of the person and freedom from cruel, degrading and inhuman treatment."
The Special Rapporteur has said the experience of homelessness will not be fully captured unless the definition goes beyond the deprivation of physical shelter. Reducing the definition to merely putting a roof over someone's head will fail to take into account the loss of social connection, a feeling of belonging nowhere, and the social exclusion experienced by people living in homelessness.
Commissioners, the right to an adequate standard of living, including adequate housing, is recognised as a core social right. It is integrally connected to the enjoyment of many human rights. And, Chair, this morning you have referred to both Article 19 and Article 28 of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Article 28 recognises the right of people with disability to an adequate standard of living for themselves and their families, including adequate housing, and, in particular, Article 28 requires States to take measures to ensure access by people with disability to public housing programs.
At Public hearing 3, Commissioners, you examined the nature and scope of Article 19 of the CRPD. Chair, as you've said, it recognises the right of people with disability to live independently and to be included in the community. This right includes the opportunity for people with disability to choose their place of residence and where and with whom they live on an equal basis with others, and not to be obliged to live in particular living arrangements.
It also includes the right to access to a range of in home residential and other community support services, including personal assistance necessary to support living and inclusion in the community and to prevent isolation or segregation from the community.
We note, Commissioners, the preparation of your Commissioners' hearing report for Public hearing 3. A copy of that report is available on the Royal Commission's website, and you address the operation of Article 19 in some detail. This Royal Commission's work is guided by the CRPD and, importantly, how those rights in the CRPD can be practically and effectively implemented in Australian laws and policies.
Chair, you might recall asking the question of Dr Ian Wiesel during his evidence at Public hearing 3. You asked him this:
"What would the system look like if Article 19 were to be fully implemented? What would have to be done?"
You will remember this question was asked in December 2019. He said:
"We would need a program, a national program to build a supply of affordable housing, and I'm talking at a scale of 100,000 new homes. This is just for NDIS participants, excluding many other people with disability who are not NDIS participants and live in substandard housing or live in private residential accommodation, experiencing affordable stress which means paying half their income on the rent. So a national plan to build 100,000, at least, new homes that are affordable to people to pay no more than 25 per cent of their income on rent is the first step."
And he said:
"I don't see any such policy being proposed."
Commissioners, this week, you will have the opportunity to hear whether Australian housing and homelessness policies and strategies are designed to meet Australia's human rights obligations or whether a human rights approach informs housing policy. I'll start, then, with Australia's Disability Strategy. This week we will ask representatives of the Australian Government why homelessness was not addressed in Australia's Disability Strategy 2021 to 2031, that strategy being launched in December last year.
Australia's Disability Strategy highlights two priority areas in relation to housing for people with disability: (1) to increase the availability of affordable housing; and secondly, that housing is accessible and people with disability have choice and control about where they live, who they live with and who comes into their home. The Strategy does not contain a priority or action item related to homelessness for people with disability.
Another important strategy is the National Housing and Homelessness Agreement. We will ask the Australian Government why people with disability are not currently a priority cohort in the National Housing and Homelessness Agreement. This Agreement commenced on 1 July 2018 and it's due to end on 30 June 2023, but it's expected that it will be extended through to 30 June 2024. The Australian Government provides around $1.6 billion each year to states and territories to improve access to secure and affordable housing across the housing spectrum.
In the 2020/2021 budget, the Agreement included $129 million for homelessness services, which were to be matched by the States and territories. There was no specific funding identified for people with disability who experience homelessness. Under the Agreement, there are six housing priority areas, and the Agreement identifies six priority homelessness cohorts. These cohorts may include people with disability but there is no specific priority cohort identified specifically to capture people with disability.
The Agreement provides that State and territory governments may identify other priority cohorts in their respective bilateral agreements, and there will be an opportunity over the course of this week to ask New South Wales and Victoria with respect to their arrangements. The Agreement also requires State and territory governments to make their housing and homeless strategies publicly available even to contribute to improve data collection and reporting in order to receive funding.
A Data Improvement Plan for 2019 to 2023 details agreed data improvements and a schedule, but the plan is silent on any indicators or agreed outcomes specifically related to people with disability. Commissioners, you are also aware that the Australian Productivity Commission is reviewing the Agreement and, among other things, the review is considering the extent to which the Agreement is meeting the obligations of government under Australia's Disability Strategy. Now, we've checked the website and we understand the Productivity Commission will hand its report to the Australian Government on Wednesday this week.
Chair, you've made some observations about the role of the National Disability Insurance Scheme and the Quality and Safeguards Commission. This week, you will hear from the NDIA about its role in supporting participants who are homeless or at risk of homelessness and the supports to enable them to secure accessible, safe and sustainable housing. Now Chair, you mentioned some figures this morning. As you were speaking, we received an updated schedule of those numbers, and perhaps when Ms Short gives her evidence later in the week we will come to those numbers and make sure that they reflect the correct numbers.
But the NDIA says that it is aware of the participants who are homeless or at risk of homelessness being the type of participants who might disengage with the services, supports and networks, and one of the issues we'll explore during the course of this week are the measures used by the NDIA to connect with such participants. Later this week, on Friday, you will hear from the National Disability Insurance Quality and Safeguards Commission about its role and the measures taken by it with respect to service providers who provide supports and services to people with disability living in boarding houses and hostels.
So can I now turn to this hearing. This hearing will be led by people with disability who will share their personal experiences of homelessness and insecure housing. The first part of this hearing will focus on New South Wales, and people with disability will tell you about their personal experiences. Commissioners, in preparation for the hearing, the staff of the Royal Commission have engaged with people with disability who have a wide range of experiences concerning housing and homelessness.
We have visited a range of homelessness services and places for crisis accommodation. And, in particular, we acknowledge and thank the Haymarket Foundation and the Newtown Neighbourhood Centre. Commissioners, over the course of the next three days, we will present some pre-recorded oral evidence from our visits, in particular to the Newtown Neighbourhood Centre, and you will hear from Jack, William, Christmas and Dave.
Shortly, you will hear from ‘Charlotte’. ‘Charlotte’ is 61, and she has prepared a statement that I'll read with her. She will share her experiences of living out of home and then in institutions. She lived in a boarding house for about 15 years, where she experienced significant violence, abuse and neglect. She will tell you that she thought living in jail would be preferable to living in the boarding house. ‘Charlotte’ has now lived in public housing for the last 25 years, and she will tell you about the importance of stable housing, secure supports and making her own decisions.
You will also hear from Dawn. And Dawn is already here in the hearing room. And thank you, Dawn, for coming today. I don't know whether I should say your age, Dawn, but you're probably in your 70s, and Dawn lives in a boarding house in Sydney. We met Dawn at the Newtown Neighbourhood Centre, and Dawn pre-recorded a conversation with me some time ago, and we'll play that, but you'll also have the opportunity to hear from Dawn this morning.
She will talk about different housing services, accessing services, and her experiences during the COVID lockdown. Later today, you will hear from ‘Colin’. He's 58 and he lives with disability and he currently uses a wheelchair. He's worked most of his adult life running his own business in regional New South Wales. In February 2022, he was living in his sister's house. His sister lives with disability, and ‘Colin’ was supporting her.
He will tell you about the experience of the rising waters and having to be rescued and surviving the Lismore flood. He has experienced homelessness as a result of the flood and is now constantly moving from one temporary form of accommodation to another, with no medium or long term accommodation on the horizon for him.
Tomorrow, you will hear from Nik Moorhouse. She lives with visual snow syndrome, and she has two teenage daughters who are neuro diverse. She faced imminent homelessness when she was evicted from her private rental property in Newcastle, and she was initially unable to find suitable alternative rents accommodation, including social housing that was within her budget and also met her accessibility requirements.
She will tell you about the lack of affordable and accessible housing for people with disability, problems with the linkages between the NDIS and social housing, and how difficult it is to navigate the social housing system, even with knowledgeable and sorry, proactive NDIS support coordinator.
Also tomorrow, you will hear from ‘Claudia’. She's 25 and she lives in a regional part of New South Wales. ‘Claudia’ has a physical disability which has required many painful surgeries throughout her childhood, adolescence and now into adulthood. She experienced -- sleeping in a car. ‘Claudia’ lived in ‘Foyer accommodation’ and she will tell you about that. Secure housing has enabled ‘Claudia’ to undertake tertiary studies and engage in youth homelessness advocacy.
Commissioners, the evidence of people with disability is likely to identify a number of systemic issues including, first, a lack of affordable, suitable and accessible housing for people with disability and an overreliance on crisis and temporary accommodation; secondly, how people with disability can slip between the service provider and sector cracks, leading them into homelessness; thirdly, the value of obtaining safe, secure and sustainable housing; fourthly, the need for ongoing wraparound support for people with complex support needs to sustain a tenancy; fifth, the additional barriers faced by people with disability when trying to engage and interact with mainstream service systems such as the public housing system and the NDIS; and next, then, the problems with integration and coordination between agency support services and sectors; and, finally, for the NDIS participants, the role the NDIS plays or should play in supporting participants who are homeless or at risk of homelessness to find, secure and then sustainable permanent housing.
Commissioners, you will also have the opportunity to hear from the frontline services. Tomorrow, you will hear from representatives from three peak homelessness sector bodies, Homelessness New South Wales, Neami and Mission Australia. Commissioners, you will hear this week that there is a disconnection between the policies and strategies to address homelessness and those that address and support people with disability in New South Wales. The sector witnesses are likely to tell you what we know or we don't know about people with disability in the homelessness sector in New South Wales, what the structural system and attitudinal individual barriers are that prevent people with disability who are experiencing or at risk of homelessness the opportunity to secure appropriate and accessible long term housing.
You are likely to hear that there may be some proven models programs and projects, as well as strategies of intervention and support, that can tackle and bring down the barriers for people with disability, and we will also ask the sector representatives what their visions are for housing and homelessness for people with disability in New South Wales in 20 years' time.
You will also hear from the New South Wales Government, and New South Wales has a suite of homelessness and social housing policies covering emergency circumstances, boarding houses and social housing. The New South Wales Homelessness Strategy 2018 to 2023 refers to a range of different cohorts. It includes people with mental health issues but not people with disability generally, and we will ask the question why.
You will hear, for example, in New South Wales that as at 30 June 2021, there were almost 50,000 applicants on the New South Wales housing register. About 22 per cent of the applicants are people who live with disability, and that's defined as where the household’s head's main source of income is a Disability Support Pension. I want to ask about waiting times for access to social housing. You are likely to hear that the median waiting time for priority approved applicants for public housing in the year 2020 to 2021 was 2.2 months, but the maximum waiting time for a priority approved applicant could be as much as 15 years.
With respect to the suite of policies and practices in New South Wales, we'll examine the eligibility for priority assistance in housing. We'll examine the making of modifications to premises to improve accessibility. We'll ask about programs to support people with disability, for example, special rebates, and we'll also ask about eligibility for longer fixed term tenancies that may be available for people with disability, and we'll touch on the eligibility for private rental subsidies.
Commissioners, as you've mentioned, the second part of this hearing will focus on Victoria. So on Thursday and Friday this week, we will turn our attention to aspects of Victoria's policies and practices in relation to homelessness. Victoria also has a suite of homelessness and social housing policy covering emergency circumstances, boarding houses and social housing. In particular, we will examine the experiences of people with disability living in Supported Residential Services in Melbourne, which is a hostel form of accommodation, and you will hear from people with disability and their family members about living in what we'll be using the expression SRS.
We propose to make some additional opening comments to explain the nature of SRSs, the relevant regulatory arrangements and the actions taken by Victorian Government with respect to SRSs that have failed to meet regulatory standards, and we will present those additional opening remarks on Thursday morning.
Now, up on the screen you will see that there is a content warning. The focus of this hearing is to listen to and to understand the experience of people with disability who have experienced homelessness and insecure housing. Some of the evidence will be distressing, so the Royal Commission encourages those watching, whether it be here in person or on the web stream, to be mindful that topics might be quite distressing, and we encourage anyone to seek support in that respect. The numbers and the contact services are identified on the screen.
Commissioners, for this Public hearing, we will not ask the Royal Commission to make any adverse findings with respect to any individual experiences of people with disability. For this hearing, we will not ask you or invite you to make findings as to whether a particular person, entity or agency has breached a law or breached a policy. The Royal Commission is not intended to be a substitute for the Commonwealth, State and territory regulators, for the conduct of coronial inquiries or to act as if it was a court or tribunal dealing with tenancy and homelessness issues.
Finally, before we break, I just remind everyone following this proceeding, be it in the room or on the web stream, that there are provisions in the Royal Commissions Act that have a very clear object of protecting witnesses who give evidence before the Royal Commission. In particular, I want to draw attention to section 6M of that Act which provides that:
"Any person who uses, causes or inflicts any violence, punishment, damage, loss or disadvantage to any person on account of the person having appeared as a witness, given evidence or produced documents to the Royal Commission commits an indictable offence."
Thank you, Commissioners.
CHAIR: Thank you, Ms Eastman. We will now take an adjournment and resume at 11.30 today.
MS EASTMAN: Thank you.
ADJOURNED 10.58 AM
RESUMED 11.31 AM
CHAIR: Yes, Ms Eastman.
MS EASTMAN: Thank you, Commissioners. Our first witness is ‘Charlotte’. ‘Charlotte’ is a pseudonym, and ‘Charlotte’ has already taken her affirmation.
CHAIR: ‘Charlotte’, thank you very much for coming to the Royal Commission today to give evidence. We very much appreciate the help that you're giving us and we look forward to hearing your evidence today. So thank you very much. If at any time you want to take a short break, you just let us know and that can be done without any difficulty. Okay? Thank you very much. Yes, Ms Eastman.
MS EASTMAN: Commissioners, ‘Charlotte's’ prepared a written statement, and as we were preparing for the hearing, ‘Charlotte’ would like me to read her statement. I'll stop at different parts just to check in with ‘Charlotte’ to make sure that I'm on track, and there are a few things ‘Charlotte’ would like to talk to you about at the end of the statement. So, Commissioners, you have a copy of the statement in your bundle in part A1 behind tab 1.
This statement is made by me accurately, sets out the evidence that I am prepared to give to the Royal Commission into Violence, Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation of People With Disability. This statement is true and correct to the best of my knowledge and belief.
There are a number of people I will refer to in this statement who I have given certain names to instead of using their full names. About me: I am a 61 year old woman. I was diagnosed with schizophrenia by the time I was 14 years old. I control this by taking medication. I have Charcot foot, which makes it difficult for me to walk. I use a walking frame and a wheelchair for longer distances. I also have custom footwear.
I think I may also have an intellectual disability, but this has never been confirmed. I was in special classes at primary school and early high school. I need help with personal care, domestic tasks and some day to day decision making. I have help from my brother in law and from a range of service providers. My sister used to help me but she began getting sick in 2016.
My background: I have a long history of living out of the family home. When I was a child, I lived with my parents, my older sister and my older brother. We lived in a house in a northern suburb of Sydney. I had a good family. Some of my aunties and uncles lived close by, and others lived around Sydney and New South Wales. When I was 12 years old, my sister got married and left home. My mum died when I was 23 years old, and my aunties became like mothers to me. Every Mother's Day, I used to look for cards to send to my aunties.
I didn't like school very much. It was hard, and I was treated differently to other children. At first, I went to my local primary school, but due to my mental illness, I got moved to other primary schools further away from home. When I was around 13 years old, I started to show symptoms of schizophrenia. Because I was getting sick, I couldn't sleep. Mum and dad would also be asleep, and I would be out wandering around the neighbourhood in the early hours of the morning. There was not much support for my parents when I was a child.
Mum was worried about my safety. She tried to get me into Rivendell, which is a mental health facility for young people, but they wouldn't take me because my schooling wasn't good enough, and I didn't want to go to year 12 at school. The only other option was Redbank School, but at that time you had to be a state ward to go there, so I had to go to Rydalmere Psychiatric Hospital. That's when the bad days began for me.
As a young person living outside of the family home, I was vulnerable and often I did not feel safe. There was no help for me or mum. I knew it wasn't my mother's fault for putting me in Rydalmere and she tried the best she could. I got to go back to my parents' house from Rydalmere, but there wasn't enough help. I got sent to Chelmsford Hospital for a while, but mum took me out of there because it wasn't safe. The doctors were doing deep sleep therapy and people were dying. Mum used my aunty's address so that she could get me into Hornsby Hospital, because we didn't know what else to do.
It was after I got sent home from Hornsby Hospital that mum took me to Minda Remand Centre. That's when I got made a State ward. It was all mum could do to keep me safe. I was about 15 years old when I became a State ward. From Minda, I was sent to live in the Reiby Training School near Campbelltown. I felt happy and safe there. They kept me busy. I went to night school, where I learned how to use a switchboard. We also did physical education. In the main school, you slept in dormitories, but there were privileges cottage, and you got more privacy and freedom, including your own room and the right to wear your own clothes.
I went back to my parents' house after I finished at Reiby School but there wasn't much sorry, there still wasn't much help for my parents. One day, the police picked me up and took me to a psychiatric hospital. At first, I was under a temporary Mental Health Act order for six months, and then I was made a permanent patient. I lived at various hospitals around Sydney, the Central Coast and Newcastle.
I also spent time at a psychiatric rehabilitation ward in Newcastle where I went to TAFE and learnt a lot. In one of the hospitals I lived in, I had 24 rounds of electroconvulsive therapy. I felt the hospital staff could do what they liked to me because I was on an order. I just remember them putting on the electroconvulsive equipment on my head, and then I'd wake up. When I woke up, I wouldn't remember who I was or where I was. And it took a while to remember. It was scary.
I will just pause there. ‘Charlotte’, how are we going? Everything okay.
MS EASTMAN: Would you like me to keep going?
MS EASTMAN: After I was released from that hospital I went to live in a boarding house in Stanmore, a suburb in inner west of Sydney. I lived here for around 15 years during the 1980s and 1990s. I will talk about my experiences at this house later on in my statement. While I was living at the boarding house, I spent some time at Gladesville Hospital. At Gladesville Hospital, I worked in an industrial therapy unit, an ITU, and that got me ready to work at a workshop. When I was working at the ITU, I was paid $38.50 per week.
I've always known that I was different, and I've been on a disability pension since 1981. I haven't been able to work a regular job, but working at the workshop was the closest thing I had to a proper job. Staff at that workshop were the ones that helped me get to live by myself. The workshop I worked at was in Redfern. It was called a sheltered workshop. I did piece work at first. Sometimes the pay was good, depending on the job and how much work you did. This made the Redfern workshop one of the better paid workshops. After a while, things changed and I was getting paid about $80 a week, which was even better than the piece work pay. To me, $80 per week was a lot of money.
Depending on how much you earned from work, the Housing Department put your rent up as well, and Centrelink took money out of you if you earned more than about $60 a week. I didn't get paid enough for the Housing Department to put up my rent.
My experience living in a boarding house: life at the boarding house was terrible. It was like a prison. We were treated horribly by the staff and the owner. I had no control over my life and no privacy. The boarding house was privately owned. The owner lived in the boarding house to start with, but then moved out and got his own house.
It was a very big old house with lots of rooms. The house is still there, but it has been done up and it is no longer a boarding house. I don't know how many people were living there when I lived there. Some people lived in shared rooms. Others lived in dormitories, and lots of men lived in the chapel. If you had a bedroom of your own, you had to pay more rent. It was pretty expensive to live there.
I don't know how much, because the staff used to take money from my savings as well. The pension wasn't very much back then, and I would only have $2 a day left over. I couldn't even afford to pay for my glasses, and my sister had to pay for them. When I first went there, it was good. The place was kept spotless and the food was good. There was the owner of the boarding house, a manager and other staff.
Once the manager left and the owner got rid of the cleaner, things started to go downhill. At one stage, there were live in staff, but the owner got rid of them and we didn't have staff staying overnight. The owner then got new staff, but they didn't stay, and for a while there was no staff working at the boarding house, only the owner. We had to do the cleaning, and sometimes the owner would want me to clean up if someone had dirtied or vomited on the floor.
There wasn't support at the boarding house. Everyone saw the same doctor, who used to come to the house every week. Nearly every week, he got us all to sign his Medicare slip, whether or not he saw us and he got me to sign a form whether or not I needed whether I needed him or not. We were supposed to be fed three meals a day but the food was terrible. The porridge was like dish water and the sandwiches were horrible.
When I was working in a kitchen at Redfern, my employers told me I could make a sandwich for lunch, so I used to make one for me and one for my friend Andrew because it was a lot better than the food at the boarding house where we lived. One night at the boarding house, we were given half a saveloy and a stale bread roll and were told it was dinner. About once a month or so, there were people from St Vincent de Paul who would come and cook breakfast on a Sunday. That was the best food we had out of the lot.
There were a mix of people at the boarding house. Some people weren't too bad but other residents were not good. John used to light a lot of fires in the boarding house. John got the older residents to do not nice things. There are some bits I just can't tell anyone at all. There was also a resident at the boarding house who said he was a murderer. He said he was sent to hospital instead of jail and that he was let out after a couple of years to live in the boarding house with us. There were alcoholics living at the boarding house. It was like a mini institution. That's what it felt like to me, an institution.
The boarding house is also where I met Andrew, who was my only friend there. We are still friends. He is like family. He used to come to dad's place with me, and he used to come to my house and say, "let's go visit dad today."
Conditions of the boarding house: the boarding house was in very bad condition. A lot of things in the boarding house didn't work. For example, I often couldn't have a shower. The doors were broken so you couldn't shut them when you were having a shower. When I could use the shower, I had to wear thongs because I never knew what I was going to tread in. I used to have to catch the train to my dad's house to have a shower or sometimes I went to Central Station to have a shower at the country train because it was a lot cleaner than the boarding house showers.
There were no doors on the toilets upstairs. There was one downstairs, but that was always water everywhere. So everything would get wet if you used it. Other people that lived there would sometimes go to the toilet on the floor, and the owner would make me clean it up. If I didn't clean it up, he would hit me. I used to go to Stanmore Station if I needed to go to the toilet.
I couldn't use the washing machine to wash my clothes because I didn't know what was going through the washing machine with my clothes or if they would come out clean. If I put my clothes in the dryer or hung them out to dry, other residents would steal my clothes. Although the boarding house provided linen, I had to ask my dad to give me sheets and blanket because we never knew how clean the sheets would be.
The food at the boarding house was horrible. There were mice in the pantry and all over the boarding house. One of the staff from the boarding house did the cooking, but he was always drunk and the meals were disgusting. I couldn't sit in the day room because you didn't know what you would sit on. Other residents would wee on the seats. There was a woman who would sit at the table peeling herself while you were having your meal. Half the residents were scratching because they had head lice.
Alright, ‘Charlotte’, I'm just stopping there. How are we going? Keep going?
CHARLOTTE: Yes. Yes.
MS EASTMAN: Violence and abuse by staff: the managers and staff at the boarding house used to hit the residents. Samantha, one of the girls who worked in the boarding house kitchen, was really violent and abusive. Depending on how she felt, Samantha would sometimes not give us breakfast or lunch. While I was at the boarding house, I worked at a workshop, and every time I got paid, Samantha would be down at the station waiting for me, and she would take all my money from me.
Samantha would also take all of my pension money and I was left with $2 a day to live off. I was not the only person Samantha was taking money from at the boarding house. People would ask for their money back and Samantha would say no. Samantha would also take my clothes. Everything I had, she wanted. And if I didn't give it to her, she would hit me.
The owner also hit residents. He had access to everyone's bankbooks and would make us sign a withdrawal form every fortnight so that he could withdraw money from our accounts. The owner used to be an accountant before he owned the boarding house.
He was getting it on with one of the managers. Her husband was a police officer, and when he found out he threatened to shoot the owner. No one believed us because none of it should have been happening.
Misuse of medication: the staff at the boarding house used to drug us up on medication when we tried to complain about the conditions at the boarding house, or the staff taking our money. One day, my friend came into the house when a staff member, Rose, was putting the money away. My friend asked for his money and was told no. The staff member, who refused to give my friend money, told another staff member, "give him some medication to shut up him." Rose was not a doctor.
I was on a lot of medication back then. I was drugged all the time. I was on 1200 milligrams of Largactil, 400 milligrams in the morning, at lunch and at night, plus lithium. I was also on 100 milligrams injection of Modecate once a week. There wasn't a mental health centre for adults then. I saw a psychiatrist sometimes. He was good, but the GP could do what he wanted with my medication.
Violence in the house and witnessing the murder of my friend: there was a lot of violence in the boarding house. I don't think the owner cared who lived at the boarding house as long as he got his money. I was hit and raped while I was living there. One time I got hit so hard on the back of the head that it bled. I still get scared sometimes if people touch my head or brush my hair because it reminds me of being assaulted there.
There was a lady in the boarding house who used to be up and down all night, and would leave the front door open at night. I would get up and shut the door when she left it open. One night, I didn't hear her leave the front door open and didn't get to shut it. I heard a scream from her bed and I saw a man running out of her room. I think the man had tried to jump into bed with the lady. One of the staff who lived there came out with her son, Robert. Robert ran after the man. My friend Graham ran after Robert to make sure he was alright. I went after them and heard somebody yell out, "look out, he's got a knife".
It was too late. I watched the man stab Graham, and Graham died. Watching Graham die has affected me greatly. And because of this, I am still afraid at night. ‘Charlotte’, I'll just stop there. Okay?
CHARLOTTE: I'm all right.
MS EASTMAN: All right?
MS EASTMAN: Keep going? Next topic. Pregnancy, forced termination and sterilisation: one manager of the boarding house had a boyfriend, Ian. He used to come to the boarding house to be with her so he knew me from there. When they split up, Ian took me to live at his house. I told him I didn't like the boarding house, so he said I could live with him.
But he just wanted a slave, and this was around 1984. No one said anything when I left the boarding house. The owner was on holidays and there were only two staff working, Samantha, the one who used to steal my money, and her partner, who was always drunk. At Ian's house, he used me and I was his slave.
I was not at his house for long, but I was there long enough for him to abuse me. He was a psychiatric nurse. I should have been able to trust him. Back then, I just didn't know what to do. I didn't know what I was allowed to do. My mum knew about it, and my sister knew about it, but we didn't know what to do. I'm a bit afraid to talk to the police now. I've thought about it, but I don't know where Ian is or if it would change anything. I just want people to know what happened to us, what they did to us.
After Ian abused me, I had to go back to the boarding house. No one asked me what happened or how I was. I still had my things because I'd taken all my things with me to his house, but I couldn't have my room back, so I moved into a new room. When I was back at the boarding house, I had no idea where I could go to leave there. I thought my only option was another boarding house.
The next time the regular doctor came to the boarding house, I tried to tell him what had happened to me. He didn't listen, and he told me it was all in my mind. So a few weeks later, I decided to go to a different doctor at Stanmore. He did some tests and found out I was pregnant. When I came back for the results, he had the letter all written out for me to go to hospital. He didn't tell me I could go to the police or see a counsellor. They did not ask me what I wanted to do. They just sent me to a hospital with a letter saying that I was to have a termination.
The letter was already written and I had no choice. They said that if I didn't agree to having a termination, they would send me to a hospital under a Mental Health Act order, and then they could make me have a termination anyway. I might not have wanted to have a child in that way, but I regret not being given the option. I did not have a normal life after that termination.
At hospital, I was also forced to be sterilised. Not long after the termination, I overdosed. It was on purpose. I wanted to die. I ended up at a western suburbs’ hospital, then they sent me to another, under another Mental Health Order. I stayed in that for a while, and then I got sent back to the boarding house. That's when I lost my mum. Nowhere else to go. I hated the boarding house so much. I did not want to live there any longer, but I had nowhere else to go. I didn't know where to get help. I didn't know my name had dropped off the housing list. It wasn't until the program director at work told me about their houses that I knew there was another choice.
Finally moving out of the boarding house: the program director at the workshop I worked in ran some houses that workers at my workshop were allowed to live in. My friend lived in one of these houses, and they had a spare bedroom, which I moved into. It was a three bedroom house. When I got there, it was like heaven to me. They bought me a new bed and mattress. It just felt nice to have something new. Although my bedroom was very small, I was just happy to have it.
A few weeks later, my housemate that had a bigger room said, "I'm getting my housing apartment soon so you can have my room." Then I moved into the bigger room with a balcony. We paid $90 each a fortnight for rent, and that included our electricity and phone bills. We had to buy our own food and do our own cooking and keep the house clean. My welfare officer at work and my mental health social worker wrote letters of support for me to apply for public housing. When I took the letters to the Department of Housing, I was told that my file had been inactive. Once they got the letters, I went to the top of the list, and I was offered a few housing options. I was offered a place near my family, which I took.
That was in 1997, and I was around 36 years old. To have my own key and to let myself in and not to have to worry about anyone was really good. That's when my dad gave me a key to his house. That was the first time I had a key to his house, so I could spend a couple of nights a week there with him. And they looked after my dog Toby because there were no fences at my house. When dad went away, I would stay at his house with Toby. One of the doctors had told my dad that I should never get out of hospital. Another told dad that I could get better, and dad was proud of me living on my own.
I am sad my mum never got to see me well. Mum died in 1985 when I was 23 years old. She never got to see me living in a place on my own, and mum would have liked that. Ever since I moved into my own house, I've felt good. I've lived in that house for about 20 years. I worked at Richmond PRA, and I enjoyed my job. My job was for people with a mental illness, so I didn't feel different. I didn't feel like I had a disability. I used to get up of a morning and I was doing things normal people do: going to work, shopping, doing the cleaning. I didn't feel like I had an illness then.
Reading and numbers are hard for me, and I'd missed a lot of school because I was sick. I did courses at TAFE to get better at reading and writing, and I am proud of the certificates and awards I got from TAFE. First, when I started at the workshop, we did headset and pack things and put stickers on things. And I worked in the kitchen, and then they even let me order the milk and the juice and yogurt and the cakes. And they used to let me go to the supermarket. I got awards for 10 years and 20 years’ service and the general manager's award for helping other people.
The only thing that stopped me working was my foot and my leg. I kept getting cellulitis, and I got an ulcer on my leg. They said they could come back after my surgery, but my mobility went backwards and I couldn't go back to work. If it wasn't for my mobility, I would still be working at my job and I would have worked until I was 70.
There were steps in my house. Eventually, I couldn't get up and down the steps with my walker, so I was stuck in the house 24 hours a day. The shower was in the bathtub, so someone would have to swivel my legs into the bathtub, and the OT wrote a report about the situation. Rather than modify the house, they transferred me to a disability place. I waited six weeks, and then I got the place I'm in now. I've lived here for about five years.
My life now:- today, I live in a one bedroom apartment on my own. Living in my own place is heaven for me. My current apartment has one bedroom, but it feels like a mansion to me. Now I have all the things that normal people have in a house. The abuse that I experienced was a long time ago, but it never leaves my mind. I still have a lot of trust issues because I feel I might be hurt again. After living in the boarding house, I still get scared by myself. But I am more scared of living with other people.
I have been an NDIS participant since 2017. The NDIS pays for my supports now. I have support workers coming into my house every day to help with things, including personal care. Because of the abuse that I have experienced, I do not like having male support staff. It has taken me a long time, but I now have a support team that I trust.
If I didn't have NDIS, I would be in a nursing home. If I lived in a nursing home, I'd die of a broken heart. From time to time, some of the mental health team that support me now suggest that I move into supported accommodation. That upsets me, and I don't want them to keep asking me about it. I do not want to go into supported accommodation or a nursing home because it reminds me of my time in the boarding house.
I am happy to go to rehab to get better if I need to, but I always want to keep my home. I love my home, and I want to stay here until I die.
‘Charlotte’, I'll just stop there. How are we going?
CHARLOTTE: All right.
MS EASTMAN: Okay? Keep going?
Taking charge of my life: I have become more confident to take charge of my life and make sure that the decisions that are being made are in my best interest. With the help of my advocate, I have been able to start making sure that people listen to me before any decisions about my life are made. The mental health team and hospital team sometimes tell me when I turn 65, I will have to go on aged care funding. I do not want to leave the NDIS, but they think I had to.
I have to educate the hospital workers and let them know I can stay on the NDIS if I want to. I have been working with my advocate to make sure that if something happens to me, anyone who has to make a decision about me knows what I want and has written evidence. My advocate has helped me get a will, an enduring power of attorney, and a guardianship order that states I do not want to go into shared living, unless it is the last resort.
Now I don't have to worry about being put in a nursing home or a group home. Previously, I would go to the doctors and tell them I have pain, and they would tell me it's all in my head, but now I have more confidence. I have been able to insist that the doctors review my medical issues and look for what is wrong. Because of this, I'm going to get new boots to help with my leg pain.
I'm also getting people I trust to help me remember the important questions I have for my doctors and to remind me of important things that have happened so I can explain things and they listen better. Now my team know a lot more about what is going on in my body and that it's not all in my head. I like that I can give advice to other people who have been in bad situations and can help them feel connected and empowered.
My hopes for the future: there shouldn't be boarding houses. While there are still boarding houses, they should be owned by the government so there are more people involved than just the owners. There were no checks on the owners, so they could get away with things. I want there to be enough help for children with mental illness to be safe at home with their families. This is more help for there is more help for the families now than there was back then. I still worry that I won't get enough support to keep living in my house or that people might make me leave. Going to a nursing home would feel like being back in an institution.
There were no mental health centres for adults back then. In the boarding house, no one was under mental health care, so the GP could do whatever he wanted. There should be more people who you can tell who can tell you about the options and choices like the welfare officers at the workshop did for me.
Once I've gotten my story shared, I think that will end this all for me nicely. Now, I want to be able to live. Sometimes it gets me very sad when I think about all those years like that. I've missed out on things like driving or having a wedding. It took me a long time to feel normal, and I have a lot of memories about that, and I want to let them go.
‘Charlotte’, thank you for your statement. I hope I've read that in the way you wanted.
MS EASTMAN: But there's a few things you'd like to talk to the Commissioners and tell the Commissioners about.
CHARLOTTE: Yes. There shouldn't be any boarding houses, and if there is boarding houses, they shouldn't be privately owned. They should be run by the government so people can do more checks on them. Privately owned, they can do what they like. And no one knows what they're doing. I think no boarding houses.
MS EASTMAN: And, ‘Charlotte’, what would you like to happen in the future? You've said in your statement, you don't want to live in a nursing home or supported accommodation. What would you like to see happen to you into the future?
CHARLOTTE: Well, I want to stay living where I am. I want to stay there until I die. I don't want anyone to move me. Because if I got moved, it would just be the same.
MS EASTMAN: And part of coming to share your story at the Royal Commission is that, I think it's time for you to say you don't want to have to remember all of these terrible things that have happened to you; is that right?
CHARLOTTE: No, I just want to live a life.
MS EASTMAN: And so sharing the story with the Royal Commission, we can take that story for you now.
CHARLOTTE: Well, thank you.
MS EASTMAN: And you are free to get on with your life.
CHARLOTTE: That's good.
MS EASTMAN: I know you are thinking about doing a year 10 certificate, aren't you?
MS EASTMAN: And so you want to do some more study and to live the life you want to have; is that right?
CHARLOTTE: Yes, the things that I missed out on.
MS EASTMAN: Is part of that living like a teenager?
MS EASTMAN: And that's what you want to focus on, is living the life that you've missed out on.
CHARLOTTE: Living a life.
MS EASTMAN: ‘Charlotte’, thank you so much for working with us at the Royal Commission, for sharing your story and thank you very much for letting me read your story today.
CHARLOTTE: Why, thank you.
MS EASTMAN: Commissioners.
CHAIR: ‘Charlotte’, would you mind if I ask the Commissioners if they have any questions to ask you; is that alright?
CHARLOTTE: I don't mind.
CHAIR: You don't mind? You're sure? Okay. I'll ask first Commissioner Galbally. You can see her on the screen, and she is in Melbourne. So she's in this hearing 600 miles away.
CHAIR: But she's in the hearing. And I'll ask Commissioner Galbally if there's anything that she would like to ask you.
COMMISSIONER GALBALLY: Thank you so much for your evidence today, ‘Charlotte’. It was really very important. I have no questions, but I just feel so pleased that, you know, you're now in a home that you love. Yeah, I really feel so pleased, yep.
CHAIR: Thank you. Commissioner Ryan is next to me in the hearing room, and I'll ask Commissioner Ryan if he has any questions he would like to ask.
COMMISSIONER RYAN: ‘Charlotte’, I don't have any questions, but I really do want to thank you for being so generous in sharing such a tough story with the Royal Commission. I really thank you for doing that. And it's a very important story, and I am just so glad I heard it. I don't have any questions. It's been beautifully told. It's very clear to understand and it's very powerful. I'll remember it for a very long time. So thank you. Thank you, Mr Chair.
CHARLOTTE: Thank you.
CHAIR: Thank you. ‘Charlotte’, I just have one question.
CHAIR: Can you tell us what it is you particularly like about where you are now?
CHARLOTTE: It's home.
CHAIR: It's home. That's the best part about it.
CHARLOTTE: That's the best part. I've got everything I need, and everything I've got was brand new, and I own everything. No one's going to steal from me anymore. No one takes my money.
CHAIR: So you feel safe?
CHARLOTTE: I feel safe now.
CHAIR: That's wonderful. Look, just as Commissioner Galbally said and Commissioner Ryan, I too want to thank you very much for making your statement, which is very detailed and which we will all remember, and for coming to the Commission today to give evidence. We know it's not an easy thing to do, and we're extremely grateful to you for coming and telling us about your experiences. So thank you very much, and we all wish you the very best to do all the things that you've told us that you want to do.
CHARLOTTE: Thank you.
CHAIR: Thank you, ‘Charlotte’.
CHARLOTTE: Thank you.
MS EASTMAN: So, Commissioners, if we could adjourn now for lunch and come back at 1.30.
CHAIR: 1.30. All right. We'll come back at 1.30. We'll adjourn now and come back at 1.30. Thank you. And thank you again, ‘Charlotte’.
ADJOURNED 12.14 PM
RESUMED 1.31 PM
MS EASTMAN: I'm here, Chair.
CHAIR: There you are. Yes, Ms Eastman.
MS EASTMAN: Thank you, Commissioners. So you'll see I'm sitting with Dawn, who's our next witness, and Dawn has already taken her oath. And, Commissioners, a few weeks ago or maybe about six weeks ago Dawn came into the Royal Commission to meet with us and to share her story with us. We did a recording of the conversation between Dawn and myself, and we thought we might start by playing part of the recording and then Dawn's written a few notes, and so there's a few things Dawn would like to talk about you about today, and I'll ask her some questions after the recording.
CHAIR: Dawn, thank you very much, both for doing the pre record with Ms Eastman, and thank you for coming to the Royal Commission today.
CHAIR: As Ms Eastman has said, we'll play some of the pre record and then Ms Eastman will ask you some questions. I'd just like to explain where the Commissioners are. If you look at the screen over there, that is Commissioner Galbally who is in Melbourne. So she's joining the hearing remotely. And Commissioner Ryan is on my left, and I'm the Chair of the Royal Commission. So thank you again for coming, and what I'll do now is ask Ms Eastman to organise the pre record of your evidence.
DAWN: Thank you very much.
CHAIR: It's a pleasure.
MS EASTMAN: So I think we're ready to start.
DAWN: There in the start pardon? That one.
MS EASTMAN: That one there. We'll do that one.
DAWN: That me. That was at Strathfield. That was that place was Strathfield. The nursing home.
MS EASTMAN: And what sort of place was it? Was it like a hostel or a boarding house?
DAWN: Oh, no, no, it was self contained.
MS EASTMAN: So you had your own unit?
DAWN: Yeah, for every tenant there. Yeah, we had that, but I was there for some time, yeah. And and there was a problem there which I could never quite understand. Somebody was giving out very bad information about me. I didn't know about it. And they were trying to say I had a mental problem. And the big boss, he sent me to the mental place in the in that there's a hostel hostel hospital there, yeah. And I didn't know what was going on, and that's where all my problems started. Because I had no idea that anyone could make up lies. Because all I ever did was keep to myself and do my business, say, "hello, nice day", and that wasn't a problem for me, but it was a problem for some of these other people because they didn't know much about me.
MS EASTMAN: And so what did you did the big boss tell you that some people thought you might have a mental problem?
MS EASTMAN: Is that what he told you?
DAWN: Yes, he's the one he's the one who started it all and he's the one who said, "you go to that" I said oh, it's the hospital, the mental one. Yeah.
MS EASTMAN: Did you go to the hospital?
DAWN: Yeah, I did go and then I realised what was happening.
MS EASTMAN: What did it mean for were you able to stay in your unit? Did you come back to your unit after being in the hospital? What happened?
DAWN: Well, as time went by, there were changes, yeah. I did go to Coogee Beach at one occasion, and I think it's all the same kind of mentality. Housing managers are always on your back because you a lot of things weren't right, yeah.
MS EASTMAN: Where do you go or who do you ask if things aren't right?
DAWN: I did try [REDACTED] or they'll try and help you, but what I've found over the years is that if you it's a certain type of problem and they don't really know how to handle it, they just sort of eventually sort of push you away a bit, you know, and they never really really help you.
MS EASTMAN: How does that make you feel? That, as you say, being pushed away a bit, how does that feel?
DAWN: I felt very annoyed because to have somebody say, "oh yes, we will help you", and then after 12 months or whatever it is, "no, sorry, can't help you." And
MS EASTMAN: Have people helped you find places to live?
DAWN: They have in some ways, yes, but what happened is one particular occasion was there was a I don't know which lawyer, whatever it is, she would come and I told her what was going on and she would come to me and say, "oh, well, I've got this paper here", right, it's the third it's the first she called it the first round. And then she'd come back and tell me, "in the second round". That's her, like, what she would describe it, and then it will come to the third round. And she'd very briefly say "too many people involved". So, all these people get the part of whether how can I put it different departments saying, "oh, there's that woman again. There's that woman again." And I was aware of all this because the lady who went to the third order, I think you might know what I mean, yes, she well, she actually left eventually. But she was good. But to tell me that there's so many people and you couldn't handle all those people would just merge on me, the "oh, there's that woman again." You know what I mean.
MS EASTMAN: Yes, I know what you mean. So have you ever had one person?
MS EASTMAN: That you can always go to and say “that is the one person who I always know and helps me.” Have you had somebody like that in your life?
DAWN: Well, the lady did try to help me but I wasn't quite sure where it was she left. I'm not quite sure.
MS EASTMAN: But you think she might have been a lawyer. Is that right?
DAWN: She might be.
MS EASTMAN: A lawyer?
MS DAWN: Yeah, she went up to deal with the third order, yeah, and she must have done a lot of research, yeah. I had forgotten her name but I know she went up to that order.
MS EASTMAN: When you talk about all the different departments around you, did any of those departments help you find special housing? So a place to live?
DAWN: No, I don't think so. No.
MS EASTMAN: Dawn, you had to have a bit of time rough sleeping; is that right? Have you had to do rough sleeping in the streets at all?
DAWN: I've done that, yes.
MS EASTMAN: Okay. Can you tell me about that.
DAWN: Done it on purpose, yeah.
MS EASTMAN: You've done it on purpose, okay. There's a story here Dawn. Tell us about it. What's it like doing the rough sleeping?
DAWN: I did it on purpose because there was that very nasty lady. She had how can I put it the that was my last accommodation, the house on the hill; okay? Yeah. And the other people, you know, they'd say nasty things, especially those fellas. They ignored it, in the end. But what happened. I said to myself, "I'm not going to look for accommodation straightaway. I'm going to go outside, sleep out, okay, and they won't be able to track me down". Because I knew what [REDACTED] was like. That's why I did it. And I didn't intend to collect a lot of money and I wasn't aware of that, but I did manage to save money and the other things that it was just one of those things that they people do. Yeah.
MS EASTMAN: How did you feel? How did you feel when you were doing the rough sleeping and sleeping out? What was that like?
DAWN: It it's a learning process. It's you to be careful, not to be seen, especially when you are looking for somewhere to stay, things like that. You learn to be quiet so they can't hear you. And but I did that because I didn't know what [REDACTED] was doing. I didn't trust them. And the last time I saw them, they were most insulting. Oh, yes, they came to my door, the four of them, and they'd say, "oh, we're short staffed" and then they do the rounds. They go to these three I think there was four of them, four staff, "oh, we're short staffed." And the next, "we are short staffed." Next, "short staffed." And then they'd go on to another and that's all they did and they cut me short of one and a half hours of what I could have done in my and I wasn't having this then.
MS EASTMAN: What happened to all of your things? Did that when you were when you left [REDACTED], were you able to take all of your things with you or what happened to them.
DAWN: Well, I couldn't because they'd changed the lock.
MS EASTMAN: You couldn't get into your own unit?
MS EASTMAN: So what happened to all of your things?
DAWN: I suppose they threw them out.
MS EASTMAN: So when you left [REDACTED] spent that time lying low, keeping quiet, when you were on the street, but did you have somewhere to keep all your things then?
DAWN: I know what you're getting at. I told you about [REDACTED]. I came home and that's when they said, "you're leaving in September." Yeah. Yeah. So that's where that happened.
MS EASTMAN: Okay. So that's that connection.
DAWN: Yeah. Yeah. But they were very nasty people. Anyhow, I didn't say a word. I let them do their rounds and haven't seen them since, thank God. Yeah. Oh, they can be very, very nasty.
MS EASTMAN: When you had that time sleeping rough or on the streets, you didn't stay there forever?
DAWN: No. I went to
MS EASTMAN: So you had to find somewhere else to live. So what happened to get off the streets and into a new place to live?
DAWN: That's when
MS EASTMAN: How did that happen?
DAWN: That would be when I went to Marrickville. No, wait a minute. I went to
MS EASTMAN: I think you've been to Ashfield, Dulwich Hill and Marrickville. So you've had those three places.
DAWN: Marrickville, Marrickville, that's right, yeah.
MS EASTMAN: So how did you get to your place in Marrickville. How did you get in there? Did someone help you get that accommodation?
DAWN: Yeah, somebody said, "oh, yes, there's a vacancy." And I didn't know what to expect, and I thought, "well, I've been on the street for a while, I'm tired of that." And yeah, I decided, yeah, I will go to there.
MS EASTMAN: Go there?
DAWN: To that house, that's where I am.
MS EASTMAN: Do you have to pay any rent or any money to stay at the house?
DAWN: Oh yes. It's $460 a fortnight, yeah.
MS EASTMAN: And how do you pay that?
DAWN: Oh, well, I go into the real estate and give it. They take the cash, okay.
MS EASTMAN: And how do you get the cash? Are you on a pension? Are you working? How do you do it?
DAWN: On the pension, yes, yes.
MS EASTMAN: So your pension pays for your rent or the
MS EASTMAN: the cost of staying at the house.
DAWN: So what I do
MS EASTMAN: What do you do?
DAWN: Go to the bank once a fortnight, draw out a certain amount of money, for rental. See that covers water, electricity and that, yeah.
MS EASTMAN: And at the Marrickville house, do you share that house with other people, or is it just you?
DAWN: We do share the house, yes. Yeah.
MS EASTMAN: How is that? What's it like sharing the house?
DAWN: Well, for some reason, the men won't talk to me, and I'm not too sure about those fellas.
MS EASTMAN: Are they around the same age as you?
DAWN: Well, I could be I'd say a bit older than them, yeah, but not that much older.
MS EASTMAN: Do you all share a kitchen together? How does the house work?
DAWN: Yes, that's shared, yeah.
MS EASTMAN: And how are you on your cooking and things like that? Do you like doing the cooking?
DAWN: Well, it was okay in the beginning, and for some reason they took all the cutlery away. They took the plates away and the saucepans away, and they didn't say anything to us. They just took them away.
MS EASTMAN: What do you do now if you can't cook in your own house? What did you do?
DAWN: Yeah, just do it outside.
MS EASTMAN: Where do you go?
DAWN: Different places, yeah. I go and join the street people and they're good people actually. There are bad ones too, but they're good people there that sleep there, at the Martin Place, yeah. But, oh, no, I couldn't believe that she'd take the cutlery away, and I wasn't about to confront her. And I mean, what can you say?
MS EASTMAN: What can you say. Dawn, what during COVID, did you have to have the lockdowns? Were you locked down in COVID? What happened to you in COVID?
DAWN: I was, yes. That's right. That was when those two gentlemen were standing there apart, like I said, I thought these two guys, I thought what are they standing there for?
MS EASTMAN: Where were you when
MS EASTMAN: Where were you when visiting somewhere or?
DIANNE: This was when well, the other lady she was going to give me the mobile so they can keep me in touch, and those two men are standing there, and the next thing they're putting me in the van.
MS EASTMAN: What? In a van? Yeah?
DAWN: In the ambulance.
MS EASTMAN: Right. And what happened?
DAWN: Blimey, we froze. I thought, well, oh no, this is the worst thing I've ever had. Oh, it was terrible.
MS EASTMAN: Did you know where you were going?
DAWN: I had not a clue.
MS EASTMAN: But you were in an ambulance.
DAWN: I knew it was a the ambulance was waiting there and I think, "what's the ambulance doing there? It's been there for a long, long time. That's there to pick up people like me".
MS EASTMAN: Where did you go?
DAWN: They didn't tell me. They didn't say a word.
MS EASTMAN: But you must have gone to somewhere in the ambulance. What did you end up?
DAWN: I don't know. All I know, I'm in the van and then I'm escorted up to the where I'm going to stay, the room, and I was there for 14 days. And, yeah, I don't know.
MS EASTMAN: Was it a hotel or a house?
DAWN: It was like a hotel.
MS EASTMAN: And did anyone tell you how long you were going to be, whether it was 14 days?
DAWN: Tell you nothing.
MS EASTMAN: And how did you get out of there?
DAWN: Well, they escorted me out on the appropriate day because, well, I didn't have any health problems. So but a taxi took me home. That was about seven o'clock in the evening, yeah. So I I just can't I don't know how to put it. But I know that my eyes are a lot worse now because of those bright lights, yeah. My hearing and that. It's
MS EASTMAN: That cut out there. Dawn, I think you said that was very definite. So when you went to stay in the hotel for the COVID, that really affected your eyesight and your hearing?
DAWN: Yes. Yes. Yes.
MS EASTMAN: Okay. Well, Dawn, thank you for having that conversation with me a few weeks ago.
MS EASTMAN: There's a few other things you'd like to tell the Royal Commissioners today. So you've written some notes this morning.
MS EASTMAN: And can I ask you some questions about that? What would you like to talk about?
DAWN: Yes, I was looking through them myself and I thought the best way to do it, to start from the very beginning, you know, just
MS EASTMAN: So I might ask you a few questions. So you came you used to live in Adelaide?
MS EASTMAN: You used to live in Adelaide, South Australia.
MS EASTMAN: And you came to Sydney in about 1962.
DAWN: Yes, I have a reason for this.
MS EASTMAN: What do you want to tell the Commissioners about when you came to live in Sydney?
DAWN: I'll cross it off as I go along.
MS EASTMAN: That's fine. Let's start on page 1.
MS EASTMAN: There you go.
DAWN: No, I'm going to start from the beginning.
MS EASTMAN: You're going to start from the beginning.
DAWN: I'm telling you why.
MS EASTMAN: Okay. Let's do it.
DAWN: I have to sorry. Starting from even before I was in housing. I was homeless. I did have a accommodation at different times. I came across an acquaintance and he was at Springwood and he said, "you can stay in the place and look after it" and he would come and go on his pushbike. So that was some time ago. But what I I don't quite know what he might have done. I've just forgotten now.
MS EASTMAN: That's okay.
DAWN: It was a while ago. Oh, that's right. I went back to the place and near in the city there, where they held him there, and they did help me a bit then. Yeah, I've just forgotten.
MS EASTMAN: That's okay.
DAWN: Some of the details, anyway.
MS EASTMAN: Dawn, can I ask you, because you've never had a place that's just your own home where you've lived alone and just been by yourself, have you?
DAWN: Yeah, but on this occasion, the person had a home at Springwood.
MS EASTMAN: And you used to look after that house.
DAWN: And I was there for about 12 months.
MS EASTMAN: Okay.
MS EASTMAN: And you've lived in lots of different places, haven't you? One time you were a cook at a boys' boarding school, weren't you? Did you do the cooking at a boys' school. Remember doing that?
DAWN: No, I don't.
MS EASTMAN: You don't remember doing that?
MS EASTMAN: No a boys' school. So a school where all the boys went.
DAWN: No, no. I'm not sure.
MS EASTMAN: You can't remember that.
MS EASTMAN: Can I ask you you're still living at Marrickville now, is that right? So you're still at Marrickville.
DAWN: No, I have a reason for
MS EASTMAN: You want to go back to this one?
DAWN: I have a reason to do this. Because at that stage, I hadn't been with housing.
MS EASTMAN: Yes.
DAWN: Right. But then when I came back to Sydney, there was an acquaintance of mine and he would go up to the mountains to Springwood and he'd stay there one or two nights, then he'd go back to Sydney again, and he said, well, you can stay at my place, and I was there for about 12 months. So I eventually left there, and that was it was a help. After that
MS EASTMAN: Where did you go after?
DAWN: I hadn't even been in [REDACTED] back then. And eventually I did get to [REDACTED] and oh, I know [REDACTED] now, when I was there, [REDACTED] wasn't known as that. It was the [REDACTED] place. That was that was
MS EASTMAN: You've lived there.
DAWN: before [REDACTED], yeah.
MS EASTMAN: And that was at a time when people thought you might have some mental health issues?
DAWN: Yes. And there was another branch well, fell into that and so [REDACTED] was like sorting out a bit like that. But I was at Strathfield and I was there when there was all the changeovers and whatever they did.
MS EASTMAN: And, Dawn, that's what we were talking about when we started playing the video. We started by talking about what happened at Strathfield?
DAWN: Yeah. Yeah. Now, but I did want to put to your attention was when I was in Strathfield, [REDACTED], I had a problem with the tenants and some of them made up stories about me because they they said I was mental, or something like that. I had no idea what they had to say. And there was about five of them, and they wrote their separate letters and they sent it to the mental hospital. And from there on, I was always dubbed, “oh, she's mental”.
MS EASTMAN: That didn't make you feel so good, did it?
MS EASTMAN: You didn't like that?
DAWN: Yeah, I know. You see, that is what was happening and I couldn't do much about that, because they couldn't prove anything. I hadn't been in the asylum. I hadn't go round screeching to people. So they they couldn't find a reason why they should try and get me in, but they still tried. They were very determined.
MS EASTMAN: Okay. So Dawn, the Commissioners also have some questions that they want to ask you. So can I ask you one more question.
MS EASTMAN: And that is where are you living now? Are you still at Marrickville?
DAWN: Sorry, where?
MS EASTMAN: Are you still at Marrickville?
DAWN: I'm still at Marrickville, yeah, because the real estate agent said I could stay.
MS EASTMAN: Okay. And you're living with four other people, four other men?
DAWN: Well, how can you put it? I shouldn't say it, but they're the homosexuals don't like as a rule, don't like women.
MS EASTMAN: Okay. So these are ones who are living with you and they don't talk to you very much.
DAWN: Yeah. No, but, unfortunately, they don't do the right thing.
MS EASTMAN: Okay. Well, we won't talk about what they do or they don't.
MS EASTMAN: But they still live in the same house as you; is that right?
MS EASTMAN: Okay.
DAWN: Well, most of the men, I don't really know them well because they lock themselves in their bedrooms
MS EASTMAN: So, Dawn, I think when we spoke before, I asked you about where would you like to keep living. So you're about what, can I say your age, about 78 years old now?
DAWN: Where would I like to go?
MS EASTMAN: Where would you like to go? I think you've said you don't want to go into aged care, do you?
DAWN: My true feeling is to go up into the mountains.
MS EASTMAN: And you want to live somewhere where there's lots of trees and gardens. That's what you like to do; is that right?
DAWN: Yeah. I go up there once a week, and I have to go the weekend, the you know, the weekday I mean, yeah, and see what's around.
MS EASTMAN: See what's around. Well, Dawn, thank you very much for coming to the Royal Commission and telling us your story and talking to us when you came to visit us at the Royal Commission office. And I'll just check if the Commissioners have got any questions they want to ask you, because they might want to ask you a couple of questions as well. So you'll see them talk in a minute. Dawn's hearing is not so good, Commissioners, so if I can assist, let me know.
CHAIR: Very good. I'll ask Commissioner Galbally who you can see on the screen, whether she has any questions she would like to ask.
DAWN: Bit difficult with the echo.
COMMISSIONER GALBALLY: I'd like to thank Dawn very much. Thank you so much for coming and telling us about your experience with homelessness and sleeping rough. I found it very valuable. Thank you very much. No questions.
MS EASTMAN: No questions on that one.
CHAIR: And I'll ask Commissioner Ryan, who's sitting next to me, whether he has any questions?
COMMISSIONER RYAN: Dawn, first of all, thank you for coming to the Royal Commission. I really appreciate
COMMISSIONER RYAN: hearing from you. Can you tell me, do you have anyone helping you with cooking your dinner or going shopping?
MS EASTMAN: Do you have somebody to help you cook dinner or go shopping?
DAWN: No, I don't need help in that way, no.
COMMISSIONER RYAN: So you don't have any help to do that?
DAWN: No, I'm quite independent that way, yes.
COMMISSIONER RYAN: If you've got any how do you go to the doctor? You decide you want to go to the doctor, do you just take yourself?
MS EASTMAN: Do you go to the doctor, and if you have to go to the doctor, do you just go yourself?
DAWN: No, didn't actually have any reason to go to the doctor, no.
COMMISSIONER RYAN: All right.
DAWN: I didn't have any falls, nothing like that.
COMMISSIONER RYAN: When you left the house you were living in in Marrickville, am I right in understanding that you left it because you felt that you would be in trouble with someone, so you were getting away from them. Is that did I understand you properly?
MS EASTMAN: So you know when you decided to go and get away from nasty people and that's when you decided to sleep out or sleep rough, were you what is that the question, Commissioner, why you felt you had to leave to go out of your house?
DAWN: I I don't actually stay home and had my food there. I I'm like a lot of other young people, or older people who just want to get some food somewhere, and then and that's the way they do it.
MS EASTMAN: Yes, okay.
COMMISSIONER RYAN: Right.
COMMISSIONER RYAN: Thank you, Dawn. You've helped me understand some very important things, and I'm very grateful for your generosity in coming to the Royal Commission and telling us about your life. I thank you very much.
MS EASTMAN: He says thank you very much. Okay, Chair.
CHAIR: Yes. Dawn, you've said that you were sleeping rough here I am, over here. You've said you were sleeping rough for some time.
MS EASTMAN: You were sleeping rough for some time.
CHAIR: When you were doing that, where would you sleep? What would happen just on a day to day basis? Where would you go to try and be safe?
MS EASTMAN: So when you were sleeping rough and you were on the streets, you know you said when you were sleeping rough you kept very quiet and no one could see you, where did you actually go? What type of places did you spend the night? When you were in the streets, where would you go?
DAWN: What do you mean? I didn't quite get you? When
MS EASTMAN: So when you were sleeping rough, where did you go?
MS EASTMAN: Where did you sleep at night time? Where did you go when you were on the street? Or are they secret spots and you're not going to tell us.
DAWN: Sometimes I do different things, and I don't always look back and think about whatever
CHAIR: That's fine.
MS EASTMAN: Okay. That's okay.
CHAIR: Dawn, thank you very much for speaking to Ms Eastman, and we saw the tape on the screen. And thank you very much for coming
CHAIR: today to tell us about your own experiences. We're very grateful to you for helping the Royal Commission, and you have been a big help to us. Thank you very much.
MS EASTMAN: So he said thank you very much.
DAWN: Thank you. Thank you very much.
MS EASTMAN: So, Commissioners, a big thank you to Dawn for coming to speak to us today. We're going to have a very short break and then you'll hear from Jack. So probably about five minutes if that's okay.
CHAIR: It's just after five past two, so we'll resume at 2.15.
MS EASTMAN: Okay. Thank you.
ADJOURNED 2.07 PM
RESUMED 2.17 PM
CHAIR: Mr Fogarty, yes.
MR FOGARTY: Thank you, Chair. The next witness is Jack. Chair, Jack did a pre recording with me in July of this year, and that will be played in a moment. I understand Jack has already been administered the oath. So if the recording could be played, after you
CHAIR: Just before we do that, Jack, thank you. Thanks for coming to the Royal Commission today. Thank you also for the pre recording that you did with Mr Fogarty. I'll just explain where the Commissioners are. You can see on the screen in front of you Commissioner Galbally. She is
CHAIR: joining the hearing from Melbourne and Commissioner Ryan is here in the hearing room. His wave is a little less expressive than Commissioner Galbally's, but he still did try to wave. And I am the Chair of the Commission. We actually met outside.
JACK: Thank you for that, sir.
CHAIR: So thank you for coming to the Commission and telling us your story. I'll ask Mr Fogarty now to play the pre recorded material.
MR FOGARTY: Yes. Thank you, Chair.
MR FOGARTY: Good afternoon, Jack. Thanks for coming in. Can you tell me how old you are presently?
JACK: In my 70s.
MR FOGARTY: In your 70s. And the next topic I want to talk about is your current living arrangements, where you live.
JACK: So the simple one word answer to that is I live in Australia, and being too old for paid work, I go and volunteer on country properties, so all over Australia.
MR FOGARTY: When you're not volunteering in the bush, as I'll call it, where do you live? Do you have a place of your own or do you move around?
JACK: So sleeping in the trains, various spots around the city, and, look, there's some lovely people. One night, you know, I was bedding down not so far from here, and I with some guys and one of the guys said, "you need a blanket" and gave me his blanket.
MR FOGARTY: I guess for kind of reference, we're in the middle of Sydney, right, the CBD?
JACK: Yes. Yes. Yes.
MR FOGARTY: And do you consider yourself I'll use a label here; I might use a few today homeless, or a homeless person?
JACK: Yes. I use a lot of homeless services, like I just had lunch, you know, and, again, you know, they're really kind people. This morning I was walking on Park Street round about maybe 4 am this morning, and a fellow you can't see the picture, of course, but I suppose I do look a bit decrepit. That was before I had a shower too, and and I was collecting cans, which are still there, haven't cashed them in, and, no, very quiet and politely just said $50, and I burst into tears. And it's not unusual for people to give me money, but $50 is a really, and unless I don't sorry, might have some tears, and don't stop it that's alright, and I don't deserve it I mean, just because I'm collecting cans. It sets a tone, but you know and and that was one thing this morning. Just now, I went to a homeless service Matthew Talbot, Friday, anyone out there who wants lunch guys it's only guys, sorry girls wants lunch on a Friday, Matthew Talbot can guarantee Catholic fish and chips lunchtime. So I had my lunch, and they also have a a I suppose you call it a sick bay with nurses.
MR FOGARTY: Yes, so you use that.
MR FOGARTY: Can I ask you: how long have you well, what about public housing or boarding houses? Have you places that you've lived in or sought to live in?
JACK: And, yes, so if I was in public housing, I would feel guilty and people tell me I shouldn't, because I would be taking up a place in public houses when other people need it, and yep.
MR FOGARTY: You're obviously in a public place a lot of the time. What interaction with the police, sleeping on a train, for example, putting your I'm not going to impugn you here, but, you know, putting your feet on the seats or do you ever get how's your interaction with police over the years in your public living?
JACK: Occasionally, especially if we because we sleep on the train and then I come back early in the morning, yeah, and another passenger might might say something.
MR FOGARTY: Yeah.
JACK: I mean, yeah, well, one night I was on a Blue Mountains train and I was, you know, sitting forward a bit, and there was a fellow behind me, and the ticket inspectors came through and and asked a couple of questions, checked and, you know, he was obviously sleeping. The ticket inspector said, "well, you're sleeping on the train. We'll try not to wake you up again." I yeah, usually depending which trains, but a couple of trains that are really good, you know, they go to the end of the line and we're allowed to stay in the train.
MR FOGARTY: Yeah, right.
JACK: Most of the stations, though, kicked us out, even if the train's just waiting there to go back. Yeah, people sleep in Central Station. The police at Central have warned me, you know, that they because like, well, homeless people sleep down along Eddy Avenue underneath Central Station and the police have said to me, well, it's not too to it's not good to go down there. Where I am at the moment, you know, with no electricity and and it was rightly described to me the other day as being a squat. I feel safe and secure, and the various services ask me, you know, am I warm, comfortable, and
MR FOGARTY: Yeah.
JACK: Tonight I've got 50 bucks
MR FOGARTY: And that property is outside of Sydney. I don't necessarily need to talk about where it is. Yeah, and how long have you lived in there, a while or?
JACK: So trying to be truthful, I don't know.
MR FOGARTY: Yeah.
JACK: But guessing, ten years.
MR FOGARTY: Yeah.
JACK: Perhaps more.
MR FOGARTY: Where do you keep your possessions? Do you travel with your key possessions and leave some there?
JACK: There are a couple of services in the city well, particularly in the city and although there are any number of homeless people about, very rarely is there a problem.
MR FOGARTY: Yeah.
JACK: I in fact, I was there earlier in the day and my bag, one of the bags I have there which has some new op shop clothes today, because I'm still and I felt quite comfortable leaving the bag there with a whole lot of other people's bags. And you know, I haven't checked it thoroughly but it certainly seems very full like it was when I left it, and I would be surprised if anything's
MR FOGARTY: One issue and I'll use a label homeless people, have as I understand it, is problems with ID if they need to go to a bank or they need to engage. Has that ever been a problem for you?
MR FOGARTY: And how do you go around it how do you get around it?
JACK: That's right. One always look on the bright side of life. One of the homeless services thought I needed a mobile phone. That's very kind of them. And and then and then they hooked it up to the telecommunications using their address.
MR FOGARTY: Oh.
JACK: The girl who hooked it up for me, you know, set some operator on the other end of the phone use that address. So, yeah, and I have a post office box.
MR FOGARTY: Another topic I meant to ask you about is what is camaraderie. You talk about, you've got a mate, I think, who goes volunteering with you. Have you found camaraderie among those who you hang out with?
JACK: Another mate. A whole lot more couple of stories.
MR FOGARTY: But are these mates you've met in your travels?
JACK: Volunteering, yeah.
MR FOGARTY: Are they I'm going to use another label but are they homeless people as well?
JACK: In a way, yes. I mean, one of the fellows, he has four children, two girls and two boy twins. And he went to school with Prince Charles but lives in a caravan. And the other fellow, you know, is he's a fellow in his professional organisation but, yeah, he's comfortable. He has a one bedroom flat. I think he tells me that I I think at one stage he told me I'm the only other person that's ever slept there not obviously with him but in his flat on his lounge, which he made into a bed, comfortably. Yeah, so but this will sound crazy, but if I was ever brave enough to take on I mean, I was well into my thirties I was about 35 when I married. So I'm disappointed that I that the marriage failed because my parents were also divorced and I hoped that I wouldn't impose that on I hope that wouldn't happen with my children, and one of the reasons I'm disguised today is because I'm ashamed of my situation.
MR FOGARTY: Yeah.
JACK: Doesn't fit in with life and I would be embarrassed if that the particularly my family and the thousands of people who, through work
MR FOGARTY: Yeah, might identify you.
JACK: Yeah and I'm going to burst into tears, and I'm sure if they knew, they they would welcome me, but I
MR FOGARTY: You feel that shame?
JACK: Yeah. Yeah. That's a good word.
MR FOGARTY: Some final topics: number one, are there changes for homeless people you think would be helpful? Even if it's not your own experience. It might be things you've observed, whether it be more funding, different services, training I don't know. It's a broad topic.
JACK: Yeah, I so so, identifying as a slow learner, shy, you know, I tend not to answer, but I try to be a gentleman, taught to be a gentleman which means that just doesn't fit in with the legal system. So maybe if there was a and I don't know whether you might call them a broker, who a new and naive, you know, person in need of legal assistance could go to.
MR FOGARTY: So you think that translates to other homeless persons and the needs they may have as well, in terms of legal needs and legal access?
JACK: Through the Homeless Persons' Legal Service.
MR FOGARTY: Can I ask you one last question. It's my last question. You might have already answered it, in substance. But if you had a magic wand and you could change your living circumstances, would you change them, and if you would, how would you change them?
JACK: Can I give you two answers.
MR FOGARTY: Yes.
JACK: Then I can explain yes and no. I suppose one advantage about moving from one moving around the city, you know, from one side of the city to the other, what do they say, a change is as good as a holiday.
MR FOGARTY: Do you think you will be
JACK: Yes, well, I hope so.
MR FOGARTY: I think, Chair, that may be the end of the that would be the end of that.
CHAIR: That would be the end.
MR FOGARTY: Thank you. Thank you, Chair. Jack, thank you for sharing that story, and I can see a trace of emotions for you. Please, if you need a break, or what have you, in the next couple of moments when I ask you a question or two and I know there's something important you want to say and I'll ask you about that. Please let me know. The one question I had from what we talked about in July was around the homeless services you used. You talked about Matthew Talbot. How have those services assisted you? How have they helped make a difference to you?
JACK: I guess, one word answer which has two words, a lot. And yeah, I mean, the as you've said, the message that I want to say is thank you to so many people, including the homeless services. I mean, I had a shower and breakfast this morning, no questions, you know. Very accepting. Very tolerant. I'm reluctant to name the homeless services because I'll probably forget one, but
MR FOGARTY: You access them in Sydney, and anywhere else you access them, Jack, outside of Sydney as well, from time to time?
JACK: Yes. I'm a little bit reluctant to talk about this, because I've actually emailed and said thank you to this group, and I've also said that I'm a bit concerned about advertising exactly it would be great advertising for them, if I tell you who they are. But I'm
CHAIR: Don't say it if you don't want to.
JACK: No, I'm concerned they'll get overwhelmed with, but I need to say thank you, and if I burst into tears that's okay. I I took a computer and asked could they fix it, and what they did was give me a $2,000 new computer. Now, as I said $50 I mean, here I am, silly old homeless bloke, you know, divorced family, shattered family. How can I deserve that? But, yeah, so that the message is I did have two messages but this is one of them anyway. The message is thank you. There's just so much help and assistance.
MR FOGARTY: Yes.
JACK: I've I don't need to come back tomorrow, but I might well, and I could walk round the city and probably choose what sort of meal I want tonight.
MR FOGARTY: Yes.
JACK: And yeah, the and then in the morning there are, well, two places for, you know two to have a shower and, yeah, the services are there. There's plenty of homeless services.
MR FOGARTY: And I think you wanted to thank and you spoke about it when we did our pre recording the individuals who see you in the street and come up and overwhelm you with generosity?
JACK: Yeah, and show and tell story. And even today the staff here who
MR FOGARTY: Can you lean forward in a bit, Jack.
JACK: Sorry. Even today the staff who have donate to me bottles. And I whoops this is good environmentally. The ten cents help as well.
MR FOGARTY: Yes.
JACK: Feel like it can be doing some good. Now, just half a minute while I
MR FOGARTY: Any other thank yous you wanted to say? You don't need to name names.
JACK: Look, lots and lots. Just particularly one that was mentioned on the recording there. I was sleeping down, and there were three or four other blokes and, as mentioned on the recording, one of the blokes said, "oh, you need a blanket", gave me a blanket. Now, the blanket he gave me was not the blanket he was using. It was a brand new blanket, still in its plastic wrapping. And of course, it was summer so I used to as a pillow and gave it back to him in the morning. There's just so much kindness
MR FOGARTY: Yes.
JACK: And especially around the city. This company that, you know, gave me a computer, actually, in Newcastle people around Newcastle to get a free computer. Yeah, I mean, just thank you, thank you, thank you. Thank you for having me today. I mean, nearly all the churches the Catholic Church, obviously; the Salvos, well known; the Orthodox Church from Bexley comes in on Saturday morning and gives a great lunch, you know. The famous Bill Crews from Ashfield comes in every night of the year except one night, except New Year's Eve.
MR FOGARTY: These are all services you
JACK: These are all services. And, I mean, washing, Orange Sky, couple of young people who set up a washing system who now have lots and lots of vans, you know, around the city, around Central Coast, around Newcastle.
MR FOGARTY: And these services have all made a massive difference to your life and wellbeing?
JACK: Yeah. Yeah. And I mean, it yeah, we can almost pick and choose, you know, which ones we want. And, yeah, look I need to lose weight, you know, so sorry, so I'm glad this screen's here. I'm waving. I'll start singing. And I mean, look, this is what life has dealt, whatever, and, yeah, try to live with it. Lots of famous people live with it. Now, the other now, it's slipping my mind. The second thing that I was going to say was here we go. Here we go. Great, great. Yes, here I know. I think you asked how can the Royal Commission what can the Royal Commission do to assist.
MR FOGARTY: Yes. Good.
JACK: And the legal system. Don't know if you'll agree. I how do I say? Anyway, yeah, I would stand in front of hundreds of people and in my job and say I'm a quiet shy, little person and they would laugh, but I was being honest. And I guess that's why I'm a bit hidden here. But I see myself as quiet and shy, and and that's why I have problem and, you know, I'm not old and slow thinking, and I mean, you obviously cut out of the recording my school history which was total failure at the end of school, yet, you know, persistence, persistence, persistence, and managed to end up with a uni degree, and yes. So
MR FOGARTY: So the change you're talking about, the support that we talked a little bit about, for those who might need that proactive support to access the legal system?
JACK: Yeah, I mean, the you probably whoops all you people know the legal system much better than I do, but we seem to have a very adversarial system, and there is an alternate alternate dispute resolution, I think. And, yeah, and I'm pleased to hear I hope I can say it I'm pleased to hear, I think, the Commission is looking at
MR FOGARTY: As a means of resolving things.
JACK: Yeah, ways of resolving things rather than days and days in the Family Court which costs a fortune and, yeah, as I say, I'm no good at answering questions, you know, quickly, thinking quickly, so
MR FOGARTY: Thanks, Jack.
CHAIR: Jack, you've done pretty well.
JACK: Thank you, Chair.
MR FOGARTY: Commissioners, those are the questions I had, Chair. So I'll hand to you and the other Commissioners if they have any other questions.
CHAIR: Jack, when Mr Fogarty asked you where you lived, you said in Australia.
JACK: Yes, sir.
CHAIR: And you're an Australian citizen.
JACK: Yes, sir.
CHAIR: Yes. And you said you've retired so that you've worked in the past.
CHAIR: Why do you say that you don't think you deserve to have public housing?
JACK: Yes, that's true, and why. For example and this is a little dated, but you realise when some time ago, the deal was that we went to this particular property I travel around Australia to various properties and basically volunteer on country properties. We went to this particular property for a month and and then this will date it and then the COVID lockdown come on, so we actually stayed on that property for nine months. Now, if I was in public housing, number one, I would be kicking someone else out of it and I would feel guilty and bad about that. And a number of times that's happened. I mean, I came to the city for a day, and I think I ended up being here we went to a property for three months. So I suppose the advantage of public housing is that as Dawn has said earlier, would be stable housing, somewhere to stay.
JACK: But if I'm not going to be there, how do I I suppose it's not for me to ask the Commissioners questions, but how do I avoid feeling guilty
CHAIR: Well, by arranging with the landlord, who might be the Public Housing Authority, maybe to have somebody come into the house temporarily who needs emergency accommodation so the accommodation isn't wasted.
JACK: Well, yeah yes, sir, that's a good idea, except that, as I say, I can think of a month
JACK: And then the month hopefully we're not going to get more COVID lockdowns but the month becomes nine months. Yeah, and by volunteering I started volunteering back in 1960s, early 1961 I think. May May 1961 and virtually been volunteering all through school and ever since, and yes, so I don't know if I
CHAIR: You've done your bit for Australia.
JACK: Well, that's kind of you. Well, that's kind of you, sir, and yeah. Yeah, I suppose another thing is that if I was in public housing, would I feel don't know what the word is locked into it? Would I yeah, I mean
CHAIR: That's fine. Thank you. I think you've answered my question.
JACK: Thank you. Yeah, yeah, yeah I
CHAIR: Thank you. I'll ask Commissioner Ryan now whether he has questions for you.
COMMISSIONER RYAN: Jack, first of all, thanks for coming to the Royal Commission. Can I ask, when you need to go to the doctor, how do you organise that? Do you just go to any doctor, or have you got one you go to?
JACK: I don't know if it's unfortunately or if it's caring, in a way. Once we get to 75 and one of the things I do I drive fire trucks, you know, an ambulance, because one of these properties had a lovely Mercedes ambulance, cruise control it was great to drive. And so I actually have a truck licence, and and so to keep that and to keep any licence, once we get to 75, we need to have an annual medical check. So the the RTA which is now called the RMS, I think, make sure that I go and see the doctor at least once a year.
COMMISSIONER RYAN: Do you go to the doctor if you feel sick?
JACK: Yeah, well, hopefully I don't feel sick, but, yes, I mean, I'm not adverse to going to the doctor, and obviously I have to go at least once a year. And and one example was living up in the Blue Mountains and the doctor said, "oh, you know, I think, you know, I'd like to send you to see a specialist in Macquarie Street" and then explained you probably know the Blue Mountains are here and the Sydney train terminate at Central. So he said, "you could just hop on a bus and go down to Macquarie Street." And I said, "oh, if it's Central to Macquarie Street, I'll just walk." He said “not many of my patient would walk Central to Macquarie Street. You don't need to go and see the doctor in Macquarie Street.” So trying to be it's I mean, there are many advantages in the country. I mean, fencing and, you know, weeds can be over my head, you know, keeps us healthy, hopefully fit, yes. But, yeah, I and not and, as I say, I'm not adverse to going to see the doctor and the RMS make sure I go at least once a year.
COMMISSIONER RYAN: And how do you do banking, for example? Do you have a card that you pay for things or do you have a bank account?
JACK: Yes, I suppose, yes, without being flippant. The yeah, the yeah. And despite what Scott Morrison said, the post office have a great banking service all over Australia, and, yeah, three of the major banks and I think many of the minor ones are accessible through the post office. So banks are readily available. Even Saturday morning, in some instances.
COMMISSIONER RYAN: So if you lost your card, how would you get it again? Does somebody help you with that, or how do you do it?
JACK: I mean, I don't mean to be flippant but
CHAIR: You haven't lost your card.
JACK: Well, hopefully not. I'll go and make sure. Go and apply for a new one. You know, it but that would be a problem, and depending where I am, but a lot of the volunteering has been up and down the Murray River, so the towns, Mildura, go in and last time I was there, well, the major banks were there and might have been Bendigo Bank and yeah.
COMMISSIONER RYAN: The banks are happy with your post office box, then, as an address?
CHAIR: I'm not sure Jack can answer a question about the degree of contentment of our major banks, but do your best.
JACK: Yeah. Well, thank you, sir. Yeah.
COMMISSIONER RYAN: But you don't have an address so I take it your post office box
JACK: Is the address.
COMMISSIONER RYAN: provides you with the address; is that right?
JACK: Yeah. That's right. Yes, and, yeah, that the bank statements go there so far and, of course, with the internet now, internet banking. Yeah, let's hope I don't lose the card, yeah.
COMMISSIONER RYAN: Well, thank you. You've explained some very important things to us, and I have learnt some things in listening to you, so I'm very grateful that you came to the Royal Commission.
JACK: All right. Just in relation to address, a number of the service organisations provide a postal service, so they're happy to care for us in that way.
CHAIR: I'll ask now Commissioner Galbally if she has any questions.
COMMISSIONER GALBALLY: Thank you so much, Jack. No, I have no questions. Thank you, though.
JACK: Thank you. But Melbourne people are special, because up and down the Hawkesbury River the wrong river, the Murray. Of course, you're much the Murray is much closer to Melbourne than Sydney so people there tend to relate to Melbourne, and from the Murray, being the odd day and wet day when we've actually driven from the Murray to Melbourne and back in a day.
COMMISSIONER GALBALLY: I think I agree with you.
JACK: And Melbourne has yes, and Melbourne has those lovely hundreds of trams.
COMMISSIONER GALBALLY: Yes. We're very
CHAIR: I'm glad you said that, Jack, because I was born and raised in Melbourne, so I'll take that as a compliment from you.
JACK: Yes, and actually Melbourne was good to me, I suppose. I went to Melbourne to study.
CHAIR: Did you?
JACK: At RMIT, so not part of the university but at RMIT.
CHAIR: In Swanson Street.
JACK: In Swanson Street, yes, and
CHAIR: If you looked very careful in those days you would have seen a company called John Sackville and Sons Limited just a bit further up on Swanson Street on the corner of Queensbury Street.
JACK: Yes, yes. And the library on Swanson Street. And yes.
CHAIR: Swanson Street all true. And did you have a team, a football team?
JACK: My wife in those days, that's the first thing they asked her. Didn't ask me so much but they asked her when she arrived, and so they gave her Collingwood. My choice
CHAIR: I'm very sorry to hear that.
JACK: Carlton maybe, the Blues, no? This is years ago so there were no Swans. So we couldn't have Sydney Swans.
CHAIR: There were Swans. They were just called South Melbourne.
JACK: Well, that's yes, that's right
CHAIR: Absolutely. All right. I'd better not reminisce about South Melbourne. That will take us back quite a few decades. Jack, thank you very much for coming. And thank you. And, if I may say so, you had no difficulty answering our questions and, thank you very much for giving us the information we have, which we very much appreciate and for which we are most grateful. Thank you.
JACK: You probably have the last word, but if I I could just say thank you for listening to me and thank you to all those services, so individuals that shake hands and just give me $2, $10, once $50 and now last week a computer. $2,000 worth of computer. Thank you.
CHAIR: Jack, it's a pleasure. Thank you. Thank you for thanking that. Mr Fogarty, are we going to take a little break?
MR FOGARTY: I understand five minutes, Chair, and then
CHAIR: It's just before five to three so we'll resume at 3 pm.
ADJOURNED 2.53 PM
RESUMED 3.01 PM
CHAIR: Mr Fogarty.
MR FOGARTY: Thank you, Chair. The next witness is ‘Colin’, a resident of Lismore since he was a teenager, including this year during the February floods. ‘Colin’ has provided a statement dated 5 August 2022 for this Public hearing. It's behind Hearing Bundle A1, tab 4. There's also some documents associated with ‘Colin’s’ applying for the NDIS and being an NDIS participant and some photos of his experiences during the flood. And those for reference can be found behind Hearing Bundle A1, tabs 5 to 7 and A3, tabs 6 to 13.
CHAIR: Yes. ‘Colin’, thank you very much for coming to the Royal Commission
COLIN: That's all right.
CHAIR: to give evidence. And thank you very much for preparing the statement which we have and which we have read.
COLIN: All right.
CHAIR: So thank you for that information which is very helpful to the Royal Commission. I'll just explain where everybody is. You can see Commissioner Galbally on the screen in front of you.
CHAIR: Or on the left. She's wherever you look, in fact, there she is. And she's in Melbourne participating in the hearing remotely. Commissioner Ryan is on my left in the Parramatta hearing room.
CHAIR: And I'm the Chair of the Royal Commission and of, course, Mr Fogarty, who will ask you some questions, is also in the same room.
CHAIR: So we very much appreciate you coming to the Commission to help us, and we look forward to hearing your evidence. Thank you.
COLIN: Right. No worries.
MR FOGARTY: Chair, I understand ‘Colin’ will require an affirmation.
CHAIR: I'm sorry.
MR FOGARTY: Sorry, Chair.
CHAIR: I understand you will take an affirmation.
CHAIR: If you will be good enough to follow the instructions of my associate, who is just there, and he will explain to you what you need to do.
<EXAMINATION BY MR FOGARTY
CHAIR: Thank you very much, ‘Colin’. Now Mr Fogarty will, I think, ask you some questions.
MR FOGARTY: Thank you, Chair. ‘Colin’, you've lived in Lismore since you were a teenager.
MR FOGARTY: And you moved there with three siblings, growing up.
COLIN: Yes. Yes.
MR FOGARTY: Three siblings of yours. And you also run a business there.
COLIN: I did do for many years, yes.
COMMISSIONER ATKINSON: And that was a radiator
COLIN: Radiator shop.
MR FOGARTY: Right. And you have family still there; is that right?
COLIN: I've got a sister.
MR FOGARTY: All right.
COLIN: A sister, two nieces and now a daughter.
MR FOGARTY: And they all live in Lismore area?
COLIN: In Lismore, yes.
MR FOGARTY: You finished your radiator business in is it 2017 or so?
COLIN: Yes, roughly, 2017, yes.
MR FOGARTY: After that, can you tell the Commission what you did in the years after that.
COLIN: Basically just went to Europe for a holiday, sort of liked it, came back here, sort of thought it was all right, so I went back again for a couple of months. And then I just when I got back to Lismore, I got as a disability worker, support worker.
MR FOGARTY: Yes.
COLIN: Local school as a greenskeeper and just driving the odd taxi here and there.
MR FOGARTY: I see. You use a wheelchair currently.
COLIN: I do now, yes, since the flood.
MR FOGARTY: And you have a diagnosis of muscular dystrophy.
MR FOGARTY: That has muscular dystrophy has affected your siblings as well.
MR FOGARTY: Can you tell the tribunal, if it's not too difficult, to talk about how it affected your siblings.
COLIN: My elder brother and sister passed away.
MR FOGARTY: Take your time, ‘Colin’, and if you need a break, let me know, or if you want me to move on, tell me to move on.
COLIN: No, that's alright. And my sister has had it now for probably 15 years.
MR FOGARTY: This is your younger
COLIN: My younger sister, but she's at that stage now she sort of can't get out of bed, can't go to the bathroom, can't make a cup of tea, so she's got a lot of support work. We just hoist her in and out of bed.
MR FOGARTY: And she lives in Lismore.
COLIN: She's I've lived with her for the last few years.
MR FOGARTY: And that's where you were.
COLIN: That's where I was living. I moved in to look after her a bit.
MR FOGARTY: In 2021, you started receiving a Disability Support Pension.
MR FOGARTY: You've worked all your life. Is that something that was difficult for you to come to terms with?
COLIN: Yes, that sort of happened, I suppose.
MR FOGARTY: In the statement you've provide, you talk about, in my words, being in denial about muscular dystrophy for a while.
COLIN: I have been forever, yeah. Just rather not know about it.
MR FOGARTY: And what precipitated you in recent years I guess my words here coming to terms with that.
COLIN: The way I walk. I've got a funny walk and I broke my foot. I just broke a bone in the side of my foot. And I just thought it was because of the way I was walking, putting too much weight on it, so I went to a doctor’s, and they said go to a physio. I went to a physio, had to go to the podiatrist but it kept putting my back out, so, in the end I sort of told her a bit about the family history and she done some tests and I've got the same thing.
MR FOGARTY: And is this 2020, 2021?
COLIN: Roughly 2021, yes.
MR FOGARTY: Okay. And you have some savings from your businesses and
COLIN: Yes, business, sold a house and what have you.
MR FOGARTY: You've never yourself lived in public housing.
MR FOGARTY: All right. Can I take you to the time of the floods. And I think you said at the time you were living at your sister's.
MR FOGARTY: Now, your sister had at the time, didn't she, or thereabouts a lease on that property. It was an ex partner's property, was it?
COLIN: She lived in a unit over at East Lismore, so I lived with her there for a little while. So the house she was sort of grew up with her kids in, her and her ex husband they're not married, her ex partner had a house. He's moved out, so she moved into that house. She's got a lease on that house, and I moved in to live with her and that gave the two girls, the daughters, I suppose, an opportunity to get on with their lives.
MR FOGARTY: One of the daughters, so your niece, her daughters, they subsequently bought that property.
COLIN: They bought the house two weeks before the flood.
MR FOGARTY: I see. All right. And was that for security for their mum?
COLIN: Yes, for me basically, my the two girls moved out of home. I stayed there to look after my sister to sort of help care for her a bit. Then the floods came. One daughter bought the house two weeks before the flood, to give security for her mum, I suppose, but since the flood now they've lost all the houses, so they've all moved back into that house.
MR FOGARTY: Because it was in and we will come to that, won't we, and I know you've provided a photo for the benefit of the Commissioners a photo of the property at the height of the floods.
COLIN: The property, yes.
MR FOGARTY: She is an NDIS participant as well.
MR FOGARTY: The house, when you were living it in February, it was accessible for you.
COLIN: It was good for me because my sister lived there. She had what they call a wet bathroom, a wet room, everything was open, easy wheelchair access. There was a back deck with much ramps. So while I've lived there, it was handy for me.
MR FOGARTY: You were able to use it. Is it one level or two levels?
COLIN: No, it's, like, six foot in the air. You can park underneath it.
MR FOGARTY: It's raised off the ground.
COLIN: Your house is up on on stilts.
MS FOGARTY: Like a number of houses.
COLIN: Yes, like all of them are, yeah, pretty well.
MR FOGARTY: How far off the ground would the floor of the kitchen be.
COLIN: I can stand up underneath it, so six, seven foot.
MR FOGARTY: All right. In 2021, you applied to become an NDIS participant.
MR FOGARTY: Around February, March.
COLIN: Yes, it was early in the year, yes.
MR FOGARTY: Do you recall how long it took to get confirmation.
MR FOGARTY: November. All right. And you describe in your statement process of doing that. How did you find firstly how did you know about did you know about NDIS from your sister.
COLIN: I knew about NDIS because of my sister. But how to get onto it, I wasn't sure, because there was COVID around. So I done everything by telephone. And I think it might have been November, probably September, October I was approved, and then I had a first after I got approved they said you've got to get an OT and a plan manager. So I got a plan manager, I got an OT, they come round to sort of check on me, I suppose, see what was wrong with me.
MR FOGARTY: Where are you living then?
COLIN: With my sister.
MR FOGARTY: With your sister.
COLIN: And she realised then that the funding, or whatever, for me was just not suitable. So that's sort of been getting mucked around with all sort of November, December, January.
MR FOGARTY: At that time, and just probably stepping back a bit, were you using a wheelchair?
COLIN: No, I still I had my sister's scooter. At that time, I just thought I had a broken foot. I had a broken foot in November, and then I broke it again in December. And the OT
MR FOGARTY: 2020?
COLIN: Last year.
MR FOGARTY: Okay.
COLIN: Yeah, only last year.
MR FOGARTY: Only last year. November 2021.
COLIN: Yea, I think it was only last year, I got on the NDIS, I think it was. Beginning of last year.
MR FOGARTY: So you didn't have a wheelchair then
COLIN: No, I just used my sister's scooter because she doesn't use it any more. She now can't sort of get on the scooter. So her scooter sits so I used to use it just to jog around the house and just ignored my own problems because I thought, I've got the scooter, I can scooter down to the car and go do what I've got to do.
MR FOGARTY: I see. Did you have any face to face contact in applying for the NDIS?
MR FOGARTY: All right. And you talked about a plan manager. Did you have face to face contact with them. Were they in the region?
COLIN: No. When they say that you've got a plan for NDIS whatever it is, I got to get a plan manager which is the lady that pays the bills, if I get a support worker. And I had to get an OT to do an occupational therapist sort of to do a report on what my disabilities are, and that's the only lady I met, was the OT.
MR FOGARTY: The OT. And they were in the region?
COLIN: She lived at Suffolk Park, 20 minutes away.
MR FOGARTY: All right. Your first plan was, I think, in October last
COLIN: September, October, yes.
MR FOGARTY: September, October. And do you recall in it for the benefit of the Royal Commission, a copy of it is behind Hearing Bundle A3, tab 9. Do you recall in that document or prior to that talking to the NDIS people you spoke to about your goals?
COLIN: Yeah, I really only spoke to my OT. She's the one that does the plan, find out what my goals are then find outs what sort of funding I need to reach it, I suppose.
MR FOGARTY: Can I read you an extract from that document which is your first plan, which, for reference, is dated the document is dated 2 October 2021:
"My goals, medium or long term goal. During this plan I would like to look for suitable housing options so that I can work towards living independently."
MR FOGARTY: Does that sound
COLIN: That's exactly true. I had three goals: Stay independent, find somewhere to live and stop smoking.
MR FOGARTY: All right. In the same document, there's a part and it's the page before this that talks about ‘My Profile’. If I can just read it to you, and, again, is this a good summary of the context at the time:
"I live with my sister..."
"...in her privately rented home in Lismore, northern New South Wales. My daughter lives locally. She supports me to access the community for activities like grocery shopping and appointments. I have lots of friends in the community with whom I attend community events and enjoy spending time."
MR FOGARTY: I will come back to that, but the community and family and connection with Lismore is something very, very important to you.
COLIN: Yes. Yes. Yep.
MR FOGARTY: Because you've been there 40 odd years; am I right?
COLIN: Just my life, everything's there.
MR FOGARTY: You were allocated a support coordinator once you were on the NDIS plans; correct?
COLIN: Once I got the plan review they got the very first plan. The OT done a review. That wasn't acceptable so I got a new plan and that's when I got a support coordinator.
MR FOGARTY: Did the OT review it and think that you needed that some
COLIN: I didn't have the funding there for a support coordinator. So I was going to manage it all myself but I didn't know how to. So, when she done the review, she got funding for a support coordinator, and that's who I go through now.
MR FOGARTY: Right. In your statement, you say you're unhappy with the support coordination.
COLIN: Absolutely, yes.
MR FOGARTY: Can we talk I'll split it up here. Pre flood I might be saying pre flood, post flood.
MR FOGARTY: But prior to the floods, what were you unhappy about?
COLIN: There's nothing to really be unhappy about then because I'd only just got on the NDIS. They said they'd get me a scooter because my sister's scooter that I was using was breaking all the time. They'd organise a scooter, they'd organise a few things, and I didn't have to worry about people coming, because I can't stand up at all. I've slowly gotten worse. I can't stand up and make a cup of tea. But I can manage it. Like, I can sit in the wheelchair. It's just things like meals and stuff like that. Someone would come in, say, one night a week, but I never really used it because I lived with my sister. I didn't need it. So up until the flood I was pretty right. I could sort of get around the house. I could use the bathroom. I can use the kitchen. Once the flood came, there is just no support.
MR FOGARTY: Right.
COLIN: Absolutely none. I haven't had a physio this year. I'm supposed to go every week.
MR FOGARTY: And what contact have you had with the support coordinators since then.
COLIN: None. They ring me and it's just, "can't help you". They just do nothing.
MR FOGARTY: Do they offer anything to catch up or what have you?
COLIN: No, I'm still waiting on appointments there for a hydrotherapist I booked in February.
MR FOGARTY: I think you talk about that in your statement. There was a hydrotherapist you got referred to.
MR FOGARTY: Can you tell the Royal Commission about that?
COLIN: I went to the hydrotherapist up at the place they call GSAC, the Goonellabah Sports and Aquatic Centre. And I got up there to meet somebody I think his name was let's say Terry, for example. When I got there there's no such bloke. I spoke to another bloke who was only a young fella, and he said, "Terry's just an office worker." And my idea was to find out what they wanted to do with me, like, do I go in the swimming pool in a group or do I go by myself? Does he get in with me or sit on the side line or and he sort of didn't give me much confidence he knew what he was doing. So I asked him, I said, “what experience have you got with muscular dystrophy and what exercises would you be giving me for my back?” And his answer was, "I don't know. I'll google it." And so I lost faith instantly. I didn't go.
MR FOGARTY: And was that appointment set up by
COLIN: Through my planners. Yes.
MR FOGARTY: And that was prior to the floods.
COLIN: That was prior to the floods. That was in February. I then left there and went to the university, because they've got, like, a fitness place there, and I thought “well, I'm not going to go there. He's not going to give me exercises. It's going to do more damage. I'll go to this place at the uni and I'll just do it myself." But when I got there, it's just a big deep pool, and I'm a bit worried. I'm not a good swimmer, so I went back to my providers, my support coordinator, and sort of asked her to book me in places and see what she can find, and I've asked probably four or five times now.
MR FOGARTY: You're still waiting.
COLIN: I even said I stayed in Ballina for a week or two, maybe someone in Ballina can get me in. I've never had a phone call from them.
MR FOGARTY: I see. There's a part of your statement. I want to read it to you, because I think it encapsulates probably the frustration that you're expressing. At paragraph 100, for the benefit of reference, you say tell me if this has changed:
"I don't understand how the NDIS works. I don't know what to ask for."
COLIN: Totally, got no idea.
"I don't know what they can help me with or provide."
"I don't need a scooter because I've got nowhere to go."
That's now correct?
"I don't need a mattress because I've got no bed to put it on."
"I don't need my bathroom fixed because I've got no bathroom to be fixed. I need a place to live."
COLIN: Yes. That's it.
MR FOGARTY: You say ‘that's it’.
COLIN: Well, it would be a good start.
"If I had a place to live, then my support coordinator could probably help me."
"She could help me make my bathroom accessible, get me a scooter, get me some technology to assist whatever I need for my disability, but until then I don't see the point in meeting her."
COLIN: Yes, if I was in my own place, I could get someone to come and cook two nights a week, prep meals and put them in the freezer. But I don't even have a freezer.
MR FOGARTY: Do you have in your NDIS plan, to your knowledge, funding for those sorts of supports at the moment?
COLIN: I'm not from what I'm aware of, no. I've got a new review being done now. Because after the flood, they were supposed to do a change in circumstances. That was in February. I only just nagged my support worker the other month, and it finally got done probably four weeks ago.
MR FOGARTY: A change in circumstances.
COLIN: Apparently it's getting done.
MR FOGARTY: All right. Did you have to chase up about that? How did you find
COLIN: I've had to do all of it. They've just done nothing. I actually found other people with other services that told me about it, so they've done it for me.
MR FOGARTY: Right. You've learned it that way. In 2017, you were in the floods in Lismore.
MR FOGARTY: And so you had I guess, working up to these floods, but you had an expectation then about what a flood might look like.
COLIN: Yes, I've been through lots of floods in Lismore.
MR FOGARTY: Yes. In preparing for in the days or so before this flood, you were at your sister's in South Lismore.
MR FOGARTY: Both you and her were you using a wheelchair at the time?
COLIN: No, I didn't have one. Just a scooter.
MR FOGARTY: Your sister, though
COLIN: She was fully can't move.
MR FOGARTY: She used an electric wheelchair?
COLIN: She's got an electric wheelchair. We hoisted her in and out of bed and.
MR FOGARTY: You talk your statement about Fire & Rescue or the SES coming along down the street. Was it Fire & Rescue or SES?
COLIN: Both fire there was fire engines and SES people. I'm used to the floods. I'm on the other side of the river. And the be 12 metres. I sort of know how deep it's going to get. This time, I'm over at my sister's place, and we're unaware. And in 2017, they got a floor. It sort of it hit the bumper bars on the car. That was in 2017. This year coming along and I'm actually in South Lismore when the flood's coming. I thought this will be sort of a bit exciting, like, you know, water everywhere. The firies and the SES come along, and they're asking if people are staying in the house or are you evacuating. And I said "we're staying." Because they put a ribbon on my letterbox and I said, "what's that for?" And they said, "so we can come down and see if someone's living in the house, they've got a ribbon on it. If it's no ribbon, it means the house is empty. We don't have to go check on them." So we figured because they're putting it on the letterbox, the water can't be getting any deeper than that or they won't be able to see it.
MR FOGARTY: Did you speak with the
COLIN: I spoke to the blokes, yes.
MR FOGARTY: Was there any discussion about other evacuation or any other plans?
COLIN: No, basically, are you staying or going. And I thought, well, if the water is going to get that deep, and I'm six foot, seven foot there, why would we leave.
MR FOGARTY: That was what you were thinking at the time.
COLIN: That's what we were thinking. I just moved my car over to higher ground and went over
MR FOGARTY: That's what you did, didn't you?
COLIN: That's what I done.
MR FOGARTY: You moved it up. Can I take you to the night of the floods and, again, if it gets difficult
COLIN: Yeah, that's all right.
MR FOGARTY: and you don't want to answer a question, please.
MR FOGARTY: This is about you and your evidence, not my questions to you. In your statement, you talk about waking up at about 2 am. Your sister pressed her alert button.
COLIN: Yeah, my sister's got like a door button like you buy from Bunnings, a doorbell where the the ringer goes somewhere else in the house. So if she's in trouble because she's on a machine to breathe. If the power goes off or even if the mask falls off, she can't breathe, I suppose, so she presses a button, we run to her help. The night of the flood, that goes off, so I jumped up to see if she was, alright, and she was having a panic attack because her niece or her daughter lives up the hill saying, "Mum, you've got get out. There's going to be a big flood."
MR FOGARTY: She was texting and ringing.
COLIN: She was texting and ringing. And me and my sister were there thinking, "It's only going to get this deep. She's just being young and childish." So we didn't worry about it.
MR FOGARTY: Just for context, her ex partner was living out in a bus.
COLIN: He's got a bus in the back yard.
MR FOGARTY: At that time, could you see where the water was?
COLIN: Well, I went up to my sister. I said, "What's up?" She says, "I'm just having a panic attack." I said, "Do you want me to make you a cup of tea?" She goes, "I can't." Like, she can't have a cup of tea. But I said, "I'll get you up, we'll have a cup of tea anyway." So I went and put the kettle on, went out the back and had a look, and there was water on the grass. I thought, geez. I didn't expect to see probably only so deep. Went inside, got my put the kettle on, got my sister out of bed, got her into the kitchen, made a cup of tea, went out the back and the water was about that deep in a matter of
MR FOGARTY: In a matter of, what, one and a half to two
COLIN: 10 minutes, maximum.
MR FOGARTY: 10 minutes.
COLIN: Boil the kettle, get her out of bed. It was sort of that deep. We had, like, a six foot Colorbond fence. It was probably that far from the top of it.
MR FOGARTY: A foot or so.
COLIN: In about of 15 minutes.
MR FOGARTY: And I think, again, for the benefit of the Royal Commission, you provided a photo of your sister on the bench.
MR FOGARTY: You and her ex partner eventually, water comes in side. Correct?
COLIN: Yes. Yes. It got inside.
MR FOGARTY: And you put her on the kitchen bench.
COLIN: Put her on the kitchen bench, opened up the knife and fork drawer to stick her feet in and just kept ringing for help.
MR FOGARTY: In your statement, you said you tried calling the SES.
COLIN: Heaps of times.
MR FOGARTY: Did you get through?
COLIN: No, not the SES. We tried 000. We got through to them.
MR FOGARTY: And what did they say to you when you got through to them?
COLIN: Put my sister on the roof. That was it. You've got to get her up on the roof. Get to get up on the roof. I said, "I can't. We're in a wheelchair”. We just rang over and over and over.
MR FOGARTY: 000? And did you speak to them another time?
COLIN: Heaps. They just said you've got to wait we'll talk you through to the day.
MR FOGARTY: Yes. Are you alright, ‘Colin’?
COLIN: Yeah. They just said, "we'll keep you company to the end" while she sat on a cupboard.
MR FOGARTY: So there was yourself, her ex partner and obviously your sister now.
MR FOGARTY: You contacted your niece or your sister.
COLIN: I contacted my niece and because we were ringing up just trying to get help, like, we ripped doors off the house and put across the verandas on the railings just to try to get something to get higher
MR FOGARTY: Boarded up to the up to the rails.
COLIN: Yes, and I just rang up my niece and said you've got to go down to the waterline, wherever the help is and just go stupid, just like you've never seen ever, because we're going under. Sort of the wheelchair's under water. It's coming up to this deep.
MR FOGARTY: And her CPAP machine, her breathing machine, was
COLIN: It's stuck up on the microwave, trying to keep it dry.
MR FOGARTY: Because she still needed it.
COLIN: Yes, she can't breathe without it.
MR FOGARTY: Then you are rescued.
COLIN: Eventually, yes, a bloke in a little boat a little tinny, sorta he's going around Lismore. There's only one boat in the whole of South Lismore, a little boat with about a eight horse power motor on it. I don't know, he must live over near my niece because my niece is up on the roof of her house, and she's screaming at him, "Go and get my mum. She's in a wheelchair." And he come looking for us and couldn't find us. Then he went back and she's yelled at him again, and he's come round the back in the boat, put my sister in it, got her to the school and he just went round all night.
MR FOGARTY: The school was the evacuation point, was it?
COLIN: No, it was just the only place, because it was high. So we just kicked the doors open, and he just went from one house to the next just picking people up.
MR FOGARTY: And did you stay behind while that
COLIN: They took my sister first and one of the blokes there was two boats in the rescue boat, just a little tinny. One bloke stayed with me. My sister and her ex boyfriend went around to the school, then the bloke come back to get his partner, so I've jumped in the back and they've took me around there as well. But that's the only boat in the whole of South Lismore, pretty well, until sunrise. That's 2 in the morning to about 6 in the morning
MR FOGARTY: At the time your foot was broken.
MR FOGARTY: I think in your statement you say you had no wheelchair, no crutches, no nothing. Your mobile phone, I think, was gone.
COLIN: I did have a mobile, but it was flat.
MR FOGARTY: You say:
"I just sat at the bottom of the hill. I didn't know where to go."
COLIN: Well, that's after we got out of the school. There was another drama then with rescue boats.
MR FOGARTY: Where did you go after the school?
COLIN: The police just basically put on the radio, "we need help". People turned up from everywhere, boats, jetskis.
MR FOGARTY: Your sister went to the hospital, did she?
COLIN: Yes, we jumped in at the school, went past her house to pick her next door neighbour up, because we saw her on Facebook saying goodbye. She was on a stepladder up to about here in water.
MR FOGARTY: Up to her neck, yes.
COLIN: Facebook, and she's saying goodbye to everybody. She's about to step off the ladder. Got my sister to the bottom of the school, after we had an incident, the boat got swept up into a tree.
MR FOGARTY: You talk about this in your statement, how a jetski, I think, almost crashed into you.
COLIN: Yes. He crashed into us as well. We got to the bottom of the hill and they dragged my sister out and put her into a I don't know, some four wheel drive and just took off to hospital, and I just sat at the bottom of the hill with a bag with some clothes in it and a sore foot.
MR FOGARTY: Are you alright?
COLIN: Yeah, yeah.
MR FOGARTY: Your statement, you talk about you say:
"The first six weeks after the flood are a bit like a blur."
COLIN: Yeah, I can't even tell you where I was staying half the time.
MR FOGARTY: You had contact with a recovery centre.
COLIN: Yes, that's where everyone was saying, go to the recovery centre.
MR FOGARTY: Were you able to get support from them? Or what did they recommend?
COLIN: No, it took me a couple of days to get there because I was just struggling to get around, sleeping in my car.
MR FOGARTY: You had your car.
COLIN: I had my car because it was out of the flood. I borrowed some clothes off a mate of mine. You go to the recovery centre, and it's just I ended up getting crutches. It's all a blur now. I know I got my wheelchair on about the 9th because my OT turned up.
MR FOGARTY: The OT helped you out.
COLIN: I was supposed to get one in December and it never I never got one. And then because of the flood come, I had no crutches. I went to the hospital and got crutches. My OT rang and said, "I've got you a wheelchair" but that was on the 9th so prior to that I don't really know how many times I went to the rescue centre. Or the it's not a rescue centre.
MR FOGARTY: Recovery.
COLIN: Recovery centre at the uni.
MR FOGARTY: Did they they referred you to the university for
COLIN: No, that was my support coordinator help because no, she didn't ring me first. It took probably week before I spoke to her.
MR FOGARTY: Was that you ringing her or they rang you?
COLIN: I was ringing her at the end. Her advice was just go sleep at the uni, because they've just got, like, a basketball stadium with mattresses all over the floor.
MR FOGARTY: What did you find when you went there?
COLIN: No room to move, just people scattered everywhere.
MR FOGARTY: What about facilities, bathrooms, showers?
COLIN: I couldn't get to them. There was just it's like here with 50 mattresses thrown on the table, but 10 times bigger. I don't know where the bathrooms were there. I couldn't get through to the place.
MR FOGARTY: I see. So that wasn't somewhere you could stay.
COLIN: No, I couldn't stay there. And then COVID broke out there within two days later anyway.
MR FOGARTY: I think you were even talking with Service New South Wales and asking if you could sleep there.
COLIN: I asked if I could save time and sleep in their offices, but they threatened security, and just pushed the wheelchair out.
MR FOGARTY: You were desperate.
COLIN: I was desperate. And I offered to go to hospital and push down the steps just to get somewhere to sleep.
MR FOGARTY: In early April, you got wind that the Premier was coming to Lismore.
COLIN: Yes. I didn't know he was coming, but I found him in Lismore.
MR FOGARTY: And you approached him, didn't you, and
COLIN: Yes. I was trying to get all this help and there's a lady by the name of Janelle Saffin. She's sort of some local Member of Parliament up there. There's a few up there, so I went looking for her. And I went past the old Lismore post office and saw a couple of real flash expensive Range Rovers there and people in suits. And one was Dominic, so I went and had little words with him, yes.
MR FOGARTY: And what happened as a result of that conversation.
COLIN: I wasn't real polite to him but that night I got a motel room to sleep in.
MR FOGARTY: Who organised that, do you know?
COLIN: His secretary.
MR FOGARTY: We're talking now, aren't we this is early April, about the week before Easter.
COLIN: This was probably five weeks after the flood, yes. It was Easter, I think, because that's the day I found out, everybody was staying in the pubs and sort of like they all got motel rooms to stay in, up in Goonellabah, Ballina, and because it was holiday season, they had to move them, so they sent them all up to the Gold Coast. They gave them all petrol money, spending money, to go up the Gold Coast.
MR FOGARTY: When you say holidays, is that because, as you understood, it
COLIN: Because the holiday rentals in Ballina like, for someone to book the motel room, all of a sudden there's a flood victim living in there, well, they had to get out. So the government or I don't know, someone organised to send them all up to the Tweed Heads and give them all motel rooms and give them all spending money to get up there. And I'm struggling to find somewhere to sleep. So that's when I went downtown and saw Dominic.
MR FOGARTY: Can I at the time, is it right in terms of you had some ability to stand for a little bit and walk?
MR FOGARTY: Some steps.
COLIN: I still can. I can probably get to the door but I wouldn't go much further than that door
MR FOGARTY: All right. You've provided this to the Solicitor Assisting. I'll walk through it but to get a picture of the temporary accommodation and where you lived from that date, am I right that you were first in Tweed Heads; is that right?
COLIN: First in Tweed Heads.
MR FOGARTY: For 18 days.
COLIN: Approximately 18 days, I'd say, yep.
MR FOGARTY: You might know this off the top of your head, but Ballina next for a week.
MR FOGARTY: Ballina Caravan Park.
COLIN: That was into a properly disabled place.
MR FOGARTY: That was accessible.
COLIN: That was perfect.
MR FOGARTY: 26 days.
COLIN: 26 days or 28 days. That was it.
MR FOGARTY: Was that where you couldn't find anywhere to cook, though?
COLIN: holidays sorry?
MR FOGARTY: Was that where you didn't have cooking facilities.
COLIN: No, all the other places, I had no cooking facilities. They put me up in Tweed Heads, steps, bathroom I couldn't use, no cooking facilities. So they moved me from there to another place in Ballina, nowhere to cook. They had a fridge but the fridge is like, only this big. Then they put me into a disabled cabin in Ballina for 26 days, I think it was, which is perfect but holidays coming so I had to get out again.
MR FOGARTY: Then I think after that, for a week you were at a hotel in Ballina.
COLIN: Week in motel in Ballina. Then they moved me from room 7 to room 10.
MR FOGARTY: So still same motel.
COLIN: Nowhere else to stay. Then they moved me another motel down the street for probably six days. Then they move me down to Evans Head.
MR FOGARTY: Evans Head, 10 days.
COLIN: 10 days. Then I had to move back to Ballina for well, I thought it was another week, but when I got there, the booking was cancelled.
MR FOGARTY: Can I pause you there for a minute. You were being contacted by someone to tell you where next to move or did you ring? How did you know where to go?
COLIN: After I slept I don't know. When I got to Tweed Heads, I kept coming down to Lismore to see my sister because she was put straight into hospital after the floods. And I just kept going to this rescue centre, whatever you call it, like for the recovery centre.
MR FOGARTY: Recovery centre.
COLIN: And they said ring up four days before you are due to get out. So I had to get out of that place in 18 days. So on the 14th day I rang them and they said they they could extend it. He said, no, they couldn't extend it. They just kept moving me.
MR FOGARTY: They'd tell you where to go.
COLIN: Yes, and when I went to Evans Head they said you've got a week in this hotel, six days in this motel, you go to Evans Head for a week, and then this motel for a week. At the end of that, I'd just ring up again, I suppose. I don't know where I'm going next.
MR FOGARTY: So where are you now?
COLIN: I'm at Lennox Head at the moment. I'm there till the 9th. After that, I've got no idea.
MR FOGARTY: 9 September?
MR FOGARTY: How long have you been there?
COLIN: I was there for 24 days but because I was coming here I rang up early and they got me for another until the 9th. I was supposed to be out well, I got a next message yesterday saying hope I enjoyed my stay so I'm hoping all my stuff is still in the room when I get back.
MR FOGARTY: Alright. And I think there was another Tweed Heads property in between for 10 days
COLIN: There's was one not long ago, yes.
MR FOGARTY: Prior to that?
COLIN: And then it's got there's bathrooms I can't even use. That way my last time at Tweed Heads I was there 14 days with no showers.
MR FOGARTY: And are they places, obviously none of them are in Lismore?
MR FOGARTY: But are they you know people in those areas or families?
COLIN: No, nobody.
MR FOGARTY: And then has that been a struggle for you?
COLIN: Well, I've got no support, I've got nothing. I've got no way of cooking food. There was no kitchen in any of them. They've got a fridge the size of that, like the freezer is the size of that. They've got a bathroom I can't use. There's just nothing there.
MR FOGARTY: Did you ask your support coordinator to assist the purchase of an air fryer on one occasion?
MR FOGARTY: What happened then?
COLIN: Refused, it's not in my funding.
MR FOGARTY: Why did you ask for that though?
COLIN: So I can eat. I'm sick of living on LCM bars and sandwiches.
MR FOGARTY: In one of those temporary accommodations?
COLIN: In one of these motels. All I got is a microwave, a kettle and a toaster. So I'm sick of eating sandwiches. So I asked for an air fryer and they said no, it's not in my funding. But what she will do is send someone all the way up from Lismore to cook for me and go all the way back home again. So it's an hour's drive, cook me for over an hour, then drive home. Three hours. They're willing to pay someone three hours but couldn't get me an air fryer. I said, well I'll do that then, but I don't know where you're going to send this person up to cook. There's nowhere to cook.
MR FOGARTY: And that was part of the funding? They said that was
COLIN: I'm entitled to get someone to cook for me, yes. But they they're willing to send someone on a three hour journey to my place to cook me food when I don't even have an oven but they wouldn't let me get an air fryer.
MR FOGARTY: There are some emergency pods that are being built in various areas. Some in Wollongbar.
COLIN: One in
MR FOGARTY: What do you know about those?
COLIN: I've applied for it all but there's none for disabled people, people with what they call special needs.
MR FOGARTY: And who informed you of that?
COLIN: New South Wales services. They sent me text messages.
MR FOGARTY: To your understanding you're still on a waiting list or you don't know?
COLIN: I'm pretty sure I'm on a waiting according to the last text message I got from them, I'm on a waiting list.
MR FOGARTY: I'd like to ask you some questions about some statements that some of the government agencies have provided. I'll read them to you.
MR FOGARTY: I'll try and put them on the screen just to see and ask you a question about your experience. The first one, for the benefit of reference is it's from the State government Department of Communities and Justice, just for your reference. It's behind Hearing Bundle A2, tab 16, and it's page 38 of 46 which is paragraph 195. Let me read you parts of this and just ask you whether it's been your experience.
"The department provides and manages a suite of housing assistance options to support those affected by the floods which include, one, initial 28 days emergency accommodation for any persons displaced by the floods with consideration for an additional 28 days dependent upon the person's needs and circumstances."
It sounds like, once you spoke to the Premier, that perhaps something like that has
COLIN: That was 28 days and if I need it they'll extend it for another 28 days. That's never happened to me yet but I did I'll say I got the 28 days once I spoke to the Premier, yes.
"Rent start assistance, up to four weeks, bond loan and two weeks advance renting into the private rental market."
COLIN: Got no idea what that is.
MR FOGARTY: On that topic of the private rental market, you're on the DSP, Disability Support Pension.
COLIN: Yes, yes.
MR FOGARTY: How much is that for you every fortnight, roughly?
COLIN: Nine hundred and forty something dollars a fortnight.
MR FOGARTY: And if you currently, have you looked at whether private rental is an option for you?
COLIN: There is absolutely nowhere. There would be nowhere in Lismore. There would be nowhere on the North Coast. And costs you $250 just for a bedroom in a house. I couldn't afford that now.
MR FOGARTY: Alright:
"3. Short term accommodation at sports and recreation camps in three locations, Camp Koinonia, Lake Ainsworth Short Recreation Centre and Camp Drew, all approximately 40 kilometres from Lismore."
Have you been to any of those?
COLIN: No, but that one you just read it, Lake Ainsworth, since they found out I was coming to the Royal Commission everyone's jumping up and down trying to help me now, and they rung me up and talk about that place.
MR FOGARTY: When you say "they" do you know
COLIN: Department. I've got my phone, it's Department of Housing.
MR FOGARTY: Department of Housing?
COLIN: It's Department of Housing, yes.
MR FOGARTY: I see. When did you receive that call?
MR FOGARTY: Thursday?
COLIN: Thursday this week, four or five days ago. The problem with it is, but it doesn't it's not suitable. I don't know how to say no to them.
MR FOGARTY: Right.
COLIN: I can't say no and be ungrateful but there's I can't stay there.
MR FOGARTY: You speak in your statement to I won't take you to the parts of that but there are some other parts, in fairness to the department. You talk about, at the recovery centre seeking their assistance and then make some calls. You talk about them referring to you as a person with special needs.
MR FOGARTY: Can you tell us about that?
COLIN: I've asked them so many times not to.
MR FOGARTY: Why is that?
COLIN: As soon as they say special needs you don't get looked after. "Oh, you can't stay in " I say to them, "Just give me anywhere, I don't care. I'll make do", but they don't because you've got special needs. You've got to have a ground floor. They're talking about sending me to Dorrigo. That's a three and a half hour drive and I've got what did you do in Dorrigo? I've got no support, I've got no transport, I've got absolutely nothing. As soon as they say special needs, it's you've got to have this, you've got to have that.
MR FOGARTY: So you're kind of you're caught you're in a narrower gap?
MR FOGARTY: Yes. ‘Colin’, one question in terms of the NDIS since the floods. Have you been referred or have you heard of the phrase "complex support needs pathway". Is that something that's come up for you?
MR FOGARTY: Alright. That's not something your support coordinator has talked to you about?
COLIN: I don't talk to my support coordinator. I ring her up, I never get through to her, and she never rings me. I've now been I had to ring up the support coordinator the other day concerning some stuff and they put me through to a new person. I said, "Are you my support coordinator? I'm just helping out the other one." I said, "I'd prefer to stick with the other one so she can do her job" but I don't know at this moment who my support coordinator is. They just push me aside.
MR FOGARTY: You describe in your statement that you feel like you've been living in limbo. Do you still feel like you're living in limbo?
COLIN: Yep, yep.
MR FOGARTY: Because you don't know where you're living after
COLIN: I don't know if my stuff's still in the place where I was living three days ago or if it's packed in the car ready for me to leave.
MR FOGARTY: If you could wave a wand and seek some suitable long term housing
MR FOGARTY: what would you do at the moment? What have you thought of doing?
COLIN: I'd like to buy a place but you can't get a loan. I'm in a wheelchair and I'm on a pension so I can't borrow money, I suppose.
MR FOGARTY: Because you have some savings?
COLIN: I've got some savings. If I could borrow $50,000 I'd be off the system. I'd have my own place to stay, I could do it and I can pay the loan off. It's just
MR FOGARTY: You can't get a loan?
COLIN: Can't get a loan. Yeah, I've got enough money almost to buy a unit. If I can borrow $50,000.00 I can set myself up, I'm off the system, I'm on NDIS. I can sort that out and hopefully get some support. I'm off the system and I'm all good, but until then I'll be still doing this in a year's time.
MR FOGARTY: That's your fear?
COLIN: I've got no doubt if I can't get the money I'll be just living in my car or living in caravan parks.
MR FOGARTY: Before I hand over to the Commissioners to ask you questions, in your statement you've shared some recommendations and ideas for reform. I just want to walk through those with you.
MR FOGARTY: Firstly, you say better emergency planning and first responding for people with disability during and after a natural disaster or public emergency; is that so?
COLIN: Yes, definitely.
MR FOGARTY: You didn't feel there was adequate
COLIN: I got nothing. I didn't get a phone call for about seven days.
MR FOGARTY: That's responding after?
COLIN: That was after the flood and that was just from the support worker basically. I don't think I'm not even sure did she ring me or did I ring her, but it was at least a week later before I spoke to a support coordinator and that would have been the only person.
MR FOGARTY: Recovery centres need to be accessible and staff need training on helping people with disability.
COLIN: Yeah, it's ridiculous. It's I went to one bloke up there. They had sort of like as you walked in they had the Red Cross, then they had Department of Housing, then they had some busy ability people, and that was people for disability people. So I went up and asked them for some help and I mentioned my OT. They didn't even know what an OT was, and he's supposed to be in the NDIS. I went to the Housing Department area, filled in all the paperwork, went there two days later, they sent me out the back to fill the paperwork in. Apparently, it hasn't been done. To this day it still hasn't been filled in. I've done it probably four times. I've got to ring about this week to fill in the application for the Department of Housing and I done that in February.
MR FOGARTY: Yes. I think you also, at one point you talk in your statement about a form for a grant to assist the South Lismore home.
MR FOGARTY: What happened with that?
COLIN: I got the paperwork to fill in. Because I had no glasses I was struggling to read it. I asked a lady at the thingamabob if I can borrow her glasses.
MR FOGARTY: The recovery centre?
COLIN: At the recovery centre, and she goes, "Well, I need them but we'll get this bloke to help you", he was a paramedic, off duty paramedic, helping people do the forms. We filled it in, got to the next page, and he said "You got money in the bank?", I said "Yeah.” He just threw it. He said, "You're wasting your time." He sent me to legal aid to appeal against it before it was denied. He said, "You will not get approval." So they've sent me then to legal aid because they were going to reject it. I said, "Well, I can't go until they've rejected it", like. But I had money in the bank so I'm not allowed to ask for any.
MR FOGARTY: I see. You also suggest recommendation that after a natural disaster emergency NDIS should have the capacity to know which participants have been affected.
COLIN: They should know that already, I believe.
MR FOGARTY: Should contact them?
COLIN: They should know that already. They should know who they knew people live in South Lismore.
MR FOGARTY: And your experience is that your impression is they haven't with you?
COLIN: No, they've done nothing, no.
MR FOGARTY: You say also that NDIS should commit more flexible use of funds, posters after emergency.
MR FOGARTY: And again, that's reflective of your experience?
COLIN: Just some way of cooking food.
MR FOGARTY: Yes. You say support coordinators should be proactive?
MR FOGARTY: And more accessible emergency housing accommodation for people with disability?
COLIN: I don't know how you fix that problem but there's definitely nothing out there for them.
MR FOGARTY: That's the starkest for you at the moment.
MR FOGARTY: Then also the last recommendation your statement is essentially that there should be a designated person to help a person with disability after a natural disaster or public emergency?
MR FOGARTY: To navigate the systems.
COLIN: It would be nice if someone I know I've got a support worker or a support coordinator. I should be able to ring her up and say, "I need help with all this paperwork," and send someone that can help you, sort of guide you through it because the paperwork is impossible.
MR FOGARTY: Have you asked them for that before?
COLIN: I have actually, yes. They sent some lady down the on the mobile phone. So she got paid for three hours for 40 minutes work.
MR FOGARTY: ‘Colin’, that's the list of recommendations. I don't want to run out of time.
COLIN: That's alright.
MR FOGARTY: I'm sure they will have some questions. Thank you so much for sharing that and assisting the Royal Commission.
COLIN: No worries.
CHAIR: ‘Colin’, yes, thank you very much. If it's okay with you I'll ask my colleagues if they have any questions for you.
CHAIR: I'll first ask Commissioner Galbally who you can see on screen whether she has any questions. I think you might be on mute, Commissioner.
COMMISSIONER GALBALLY: ‘Colin’, thank you very much indeed. It's
COLIN: That's alright.
COMMISSIONER GALBALLY: It's harrowing hearing what happened and the complete lack of any response to you. So just, I'd like to ask you more about the loan that you feel would make you completely independent. So you've been to banks?
COLIN: I haven't. You just sort of know they're you've got to be able to sort of be able to pay the loan back. That's the biggest problem. If I go to buy to rent a place, I can get rent assistance and I could probably get a place to rent for what, $200 a week? The rent assistance will pay the rest of it. If someone can just give me that and I'll pay them back $200 a week. It's just that there's no loans out there for people that don't work.
COMMISSIONER GALBALLY: Yes. So would that go into your list of recommendations too?
COLIN: That would be
COMMISSIONER GALBALLY: Because you could pay the loan back, as you said.
COMMISSIONER GALBALLY: You can pay the loan back but that you just
COLIN: I can pay the loan back but if I could get one, and until I get one I'm just going to be on this bandwagon.
COMMISSIONER GALBALLY: Yes. Thank you very much. Thank you.
COLIN: That's alright.
CHAIR: I'll ask Commissioner Ryan whether he has any questions.
COMMISSIONER RYAN: Thanks, Mr Chair. ‘Colin’, can I ask you about your support coordinator. Are they operating on their own or are they part of a larger organisation?
COLIN: They're part of a very large organisation.
COMMISSIONER RYAN: How did you find them and choose them?
COLIN: I worked for them for five years and thought they were brilliant until I got into trouble, and they're absolutely useless.
COMMISSIONER RYAN: When you engaged them, did you have to sign a contract or something?
COMMISSIONER RYAN: Did they have a meeting with you to sign the contract?
COLIN: I had a meeting with a support coordinator, and just so, like, when I first went there my plan wasn't actually done. I had a plan done and then my OT saw me and said, "This plan is not good enough, we're going to have to do a review." So she done a review for a new plan and she said, "We're also going to put in for a support coordinator because you've got no funding there for a support coordinator." So I went to this company and the support coordinator there said that she'll do it pro rata until this is approved. So it was probably a month later I then signed the paperwork.
COMMISSIONER RYAN: So as a side matter they assisted you in changing your plan but pretty much only to the extent that they got funding for themselves?
COLIN: They do all they do the funding, the spending, the paying of the bills. My support my support coordinator company does the plan management, they do everything.
COMMISSIONER RYAN: Now, I want you to try and remember whether you signed a contract with them. Did you sign a contract with them?
COLIN: I believe so, yes.
COMMISSIONER RYAN: And do you remember doing it?
COMMISSIONER RYAN: Did they explain to you what services they provide, how the contract works, how you can phone them up for assistance, what a support coordinator does?
COLIN: No. I thought I knew so I sort of didn't really ask the questions. There was a couple of things I just asked questions about for curiosity, but I thought I knew how it went. I worked with them for ages. So, if I need someone to cook I should be able to organise this or whatever, but I already have my support coordinator and I don't know if it's me just not knowing enough or expecting something I'm not entitled to, I don't know, but I get no help. I think just a phone call would be nice.
COMMISSIONER RYAN: So they didn't explain to you what services a support coordinator could provide?
COLIN: Not entirely, no.
COMMISSIONER RYAN: You said to us that you frequently ring them up and they never get back to you.
COMMISSIONER RYAN: Do they ever invite to you make contact with them by email?
COLIN: Well, they know I don't do emails because I'm sort of not real good with the telephones, but I ring up and I speak to one person, oh, that's I ring up and an answering machine, she doesn't work Mondays or Fridays. Okay then, I'll ring up my Team Leader. I ring up my Team Leader. No, you're going to have to see your support coordinator about that. Alright, leave it to tomorrow. Next day I ring up my support coordinator. No, no, no, I've spoken to your Team Leader about that, she'll sort that out and it's all over nothing. It's five phone calls, six phone calls just to talk to somebody. And I can say my support coordinator has rung me no more than four times probably since the flood and I've been on the phone begging, in tears, for help. She's even wrote a letter back to me to ask me if I was threatening suicide or self harm, she was that concerned. The very next thing the phone's down, I never hear from her again. There's no follow up, there's no duty of care, there's nothing.
COMMISSIONER RYAN: Thank you, ‘Colin’. I think that's very important information you've given the Royal Commission and speaks for itself.
COLIN: I've had lots of hassle since the flood and it's just basically the flood and NDIS.
COMMISSIONER RYAN: Thank you for coming to the Royal Commission and telling us a very important story. I appreciate it.
COLIN: No worries.
CHAIR: ‘Colin’, I think you mentioned that your sister had gone to the hospital?
CHAIR: And that she was there. Is she still there?
COLIN: No, she's out now. She's back in the house.
CHAIR: So she's got accommodation for herself?
COLIN: Yeah, that's well, my niece, her daughter bought the house just before the flood. It's now sort of been fixed up and my sister is back in there now.
CHAIR: So the house has been restored?
COLIN: It's been fixed good enough for her to live in, yes.
CHAIR: Is it possible for you to go back there?
COLIN: There's no room. She's got both kids and her grandkids living there now.
CHAIR: There's no room for you?
COLIN: There's no room, no.
CHAIR: I understand. You mentioned that you had some savings?
CHAIR: Have you thought about or did you think about whether those savings could be used, at least for a while, in the private rental market or was there a problem?
COLIN: I would use it there but there's nowhere to rent.
CHAIR: I see.
COLIN: There is nowhere. There's absolutely nowhere. The Department of Housing couldn't get you a motel room for one night in Lismore.
CHAIR: So there's simply nothing.
COLIN: There's nothing. They're talking about moving me to Dorrigo because there's no motels in the area for emergency accommodation.
CHAIR: How far away from Lismore would you have to go to get rental accommodation?
COLIN: I don't know. I really couldn't tell you because there's nothing. It's just a massive big shortage up there. All the way up to Tweed Heads went under water, like, there's people at Tweed Heads that are homeless. Everything sort of
CHAIR: So the short answer is there's simply no accommodation suitable?
COLIN: There's nowhere. That's why I can't be ungrateful if they put me in a place with a bathroom I can't use I'd just take it. It's either that or sleep in a storage shed or something.
CHAIR: I join with my colleagues in thanking you very much for giving evidence. You've given a very graphic account of what happened during the floods and your experiences afterwards, and I know that's not an easy thing for you to do.
COLIN: No, it's not.
CHAIR: And we appreciate very much that you've been prepared to do that, give us a detailed statement and answer the questions that Mr Fogarty and the Commissioners have put to you. We're very grateful.
COLIN: That's alright. No worries.
CHAIR: Thank you so much. Mr Fogarty, does that conclude the proceedings for today?
MR FOGARTY: It does. Thank you, Chair.
CHAIR: So we should adjourn until 10 am tomorrow.
MR FOGARTY: Thank you.
CHAIR: Thank you again.
COLIN: That's alright. No worries.
CHAIR: We'll adjourn until 10 am tomorrow.
ADJOURNED 3.52 PM