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Monday, 15 February 2021
Page: 479


Senator VAN (Victoria) (11:32): I rise this morning to speak on the Royal Commissions Amendment (Confidentiality Protections) Bill 2020. While I and the government won't be supporting this legislation, we very much take very seriously violence against and the abuse, neglect and exploitation of people with a disability. That is why the Morrison government established the disability royal commission in the first place. All forms of violence against and abuse, neglect and exploitation of people with a disability are abhorrent. We as a society cannot allow it to happen and we must take action to eliminate it from our society.

This bill from Senator Steele-John comes after issues were raised by the chair of the royal commission, the Hon. Ronald Sackville, regarding the confidentiality of information given to that royal commission. The requested amendments to the act are so that people with a disability have assurance that their information is protected both during the life of the commission and after it has concluded its work. I thank Senator Steele-John for bringing this legislation forward. His passion and interest for the disability sector are undeniable. There is no denying that Senator Steele-John had the best interests of those providing evidence to the royal commission at heart when he introduced this legislation.

While I respect the senator's intentions in bringing forward this legislation, the legislation proposed is, unfortunately, inadequate to deal with all the subsequent issues raised by Commissioner Sackville. However, while we are not supporting this legislation, the Morrison government are committed to amending the Royal Commissions Act. These amendments will address specific matters raised by the chair about the confidentiality of information given to the royal commission and other broader matters not captured in this bill proposed by the Greens.

The government has listened to people with a disability and their families and carers, as well as the broader Australian public, about the importance of ensuring people have the confidence to come forward and tell their stories. As a result of these consultations and the request from the chair of the royal commission, the Morrison government will introduce its own legislation. Our bill will ensure that people with a disability will be able to engage with the royal commission in the certainty that their information will be protected. People with a disability are equal citizens and have the right to the full and equal enjoyment of all human rights and fundamental freedoms, including respect for their inherent dignity and individual autonomy.

We established the Royal Commission into Violence, Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation of People with Disability in April 2019, following community concerns about widespread reports of unacceptable and abhorrent transgressions against people with disabilities. Such transgressions are not acceptable in a modern Australia; they never were and never are going to be acceptable. Since the royal commission was established, it has received more than 1,900 submissions and more than 7½ thousand telephone inquiries and has held 10 public hearings. An 11th public hearing commences in Brisbane tomorrow. It is clear from the evidence the royal commission has received that the Morrison government was right to call that commission.

The outcomes of the commission will be guided by people's lived experiences and its outcomes must be based on a true reflection of those experiences. In order for the royal commission to fully realise the scope of its inquiry, it is important that the Australian community feels comfortable and supported in fully engaging with the royal commission. It is critical that people sharing their experiences with the royal commission feel respected and that survivors of violence, abuse, neglect and exploitation have their experiences appropriately acknowledged, recognised and validated, and the Morrison government is committed to ensuring that the disability royal commission does just that.

Prior to being elected to this place, I had significant experience with royal commissions. I have advised governments and businesses through four royal commissions, so I know from firsthand experience that royal commissions already have strong protections in place and can ensure that people can engage with confidence about the protection of information and identity. These mechanisms include the use of private sessions or the use of pseudonyms in public hearings and reports of the royal commission, or through the making of do-not-publish orders.

The government has listened to the royal commission, advocates and disability supporters. We understand that the existing protections may not give people the necessary confidence to come forward and tell their stories. While there are extensive protections after a royal commission has ended, we understand there may be some concerns about the willingness of some people to come forward in this royal commission. For many people with disability and their families and carers, telling their story to the royal commission may be the first time in their life that they have disclosed their experiences of violence, abuse, neglect or exploitation. For others, it is the first time their story has been heard by someone in a position of authority. We want those people to come forward. We want people to feel confident that, if and when they come forward, they will be protected. It is for this reason that the Morrison government is making changes to the Royal Commissions Act 1902 to further these protections. These further measures will ensure that people with disability and their supporters, advocates and families will be able to recount their experiences and fully participate in the royal commission. The amendment of the Royal Commissions Act by the Morrison government is proposed for the autumn sitting of this parliament this year. These amendments will go a long way to ensuring participants in the royal commission feel the information given to the inquiry is confidential and protected.

The last thing I or the Morrison government want to do is leave the disability community concerned that, because we're not supporting this legislation today, this means we're not listening to your concerns. We are 100 per cent committed to ensuring that you are listened to and that you feel supported.