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Wednesday, 25 November 2015
Page: 9005

Senator SIEWERT (Western AustraliaAustralian Greens Whip) (17:08): I present the report of the Community Affairs References Committee on the treatment of people with disability in institutional and residential settings, together with the Hansard record of the proceedings and documents presented to the committee.

Ordered that the report be printed.

Senator SIEWERT: I move:

That the Senate take note of the report.

This time last year, Four Corners had a report that, I think it is fair to say, shocked Australia. The report was on the violence against and abuse and neglect of people with a disability. It contained some very shocking revelations. There was an outcry from the community, but unfortunately the government refused to heed the calls for a national inquiry. So the matter was referred—in fact, by me—to the Senate for an inquiry. I have just tabled the report of that inquiry.

I urge every senator and every Australian to read this report because it contains shocking information that Australia needs to understand and take action about. We heard honestly heart-rending evidence of violence, abuse and neglect against people with disability around Australia. We heard detailed accounts of abuse.

At the Perth hearing the Bolshy Divas, a group of outspoken women in my home state of Western Australia, told us of multiple accounts of people experiencing abuse, and for each account they tabled a rose. There were many roses on the table by the time they had finished their accounts. We kept some of those roses to remind us of those accounts, and each committee member here today has one of those roses.

I would like to thank and acknowledge the strength of the people with disability, their families and their advocates who presented evidence to our inquiry. It truly was heart-rending, moving, shocking evidence that we heard during our inquiry. It took great strength from people with disability to share their lived experience. People talked of their shame and of their trauma. And in fact giving evidence—and it breaks my heart to say it—retraumatised people. But, as we said to people when they were presenting their evidence, it was through their strength in recounting their experiences that we could understand the depth and the breadth of what is going on.

There is absolutely no doubt in our minds, and the evidence clearly shows, that there is widespread violence against and abuse and neglect of people with disability around Australia. This is not confined to one state. It is not confined to limited experiences. It is, without doubt, widespread and needs further investigation. That is why the No. 1 recommendation of the inquiry is to call for a royal commission.

Virtually everybody who spoke to the inquiry or who presented written submissions—and we had over 150 submissions—called for a further inquiry. They called for a royal commission. And the majority report supports the call for a royal commission. It is only with a royal commission that we can fully understand the extent of violence, abuse and neglect against people with disability.

One of the issues that is really clear is that we do not have good data around prevalence. We do not collect this data. We do not ask the questions. Yet that is the only way that we can understand what is going on.

People shared their experiences and their accounts of their lives so that Australia could listen and take action. To my mind, we will not do justice to the fact that we retraumatised people by the fact that they were recounting their experiences if we do not take action. If we do not have a royal commission and if we do not implement the 30 recommendations that we make in this report then that retraumatisation will have been for nothing.

We heard accounts of violence, abuse and neglect in institutional settings, in residential conglomerate settings, in schools, in aged care—across the board. Nobody at all in this country can say that this is not happening. This report clearly articulates that.

There were a number of headline issues, I would call them—and we call them that in the report—that came up during this inquiry: the call for the royal commission; a truly national disability complaints network. People were calling for and we are recommending the establishment of an independent statutory national protection mechanism that has broad functions and powers to protect, investigate and enforce the findings in relation to violence, abuse and neglect against people with disability, including investigating system issues. The other issue that came up really strongly and repeatedly was the need for national workforce and workplace regulation to address some of the systemic workforce and workplace issues that increase the prevalence of violence, abuse and neglect. There is a need for ongoing training, so we are calling on the government to consider the implementation of such a process.

One of the key things here was access to justice and the denial of justice for people with disability. Not only were people scared to report assault, abuse and violence, but when they had the strength to and could report it they were not believed by the police, by the service provider, by the judicial system. People were told: 'No, this would never stand up in court. People wouldn't believe you as a witness because you've got a disability,' and this was particularly so for those people with a cognitive impairment. So, even when people could report it, they were not believed. Evidence we got from South Australia shows that the changes that have been made through their Disability Justice Plan are really positive. We have evidence that it is not perfect, but it is a substantial improvement. The fourth headline issue is access to justice and taking a just approach to ensure that justice is achieved. We need to be working at a national level, and our states and territories also need to be working on this issue. I will come back to the issue of data because it came up again and again. I am sure Senator Moore will also address the issue around data, because it comes up for us again and again.

I will quickly go back to the issue about the royal commission and reinforce the fact that we would not call for a Royal Commission if we did not believe it were necessary. You do not call for them lightly. There are very significant issues that require royal commissions. But this one does. We have to shine a light on these instances across Australia because this committee has only been able to scratch the surface.

Before I finish and hand over to my colleagues, I would like to once again thank all those who appeared at the committee, who gave evidence and who wrote submissions. I would also particularly like to take the opportunity to thank the secretariat of the Community Affairs References Committee, who are outstanding and have done an outstanding job. I would like to particularly thank our committee secretary, Jeanette Radcliffe, who has done an outstanding job; and Kate Gauthier, our principal research officer, who has done the most amazing job pulling this report together. I thank them most sincerely for the work that they have done. I thank my colleagues for the work that has been put in, because there has been an outstanding amount of work put into this. I urge you all to have a read of it and I urge the government to implement the recommendations.