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Monday, 15 February 2021
Page: 481

Senator SIEWERT (Western AustraliaAustralian Greens Whip) (11:39): The Royal Commissions Amendment (Confidentiality Protections) Bill 2020 is extremely important. It addresses issues that absolutely need to be addressed in terms of being able to guarantee that people have privacy and their evidence is confidential.Senator Van has just said that he's had a lot of experience with royal commissions and that in fact people will be protected. Well, they won't be. Senator Steele-John has carefully articulated why they won't be so protected by the legislation under which people are covered at the moment if they are considering making a contribution to the royal commission. What we're trying to achieve with this bill is to ensure that people are guaranteed confidentiality and privacy in perpetuity so that they have the confidence to bring their accounts of what happened to them to the royal commission, because at the moment they do not have that confidence. This bill is absolutely essential to give disabled people the confidence to bring their accounts of their treatment to the royal commission.

I chaired the Senate inquiry into violence, abuse and neglect against people with disability in institutional settings, and the accounts that we heard during that inquiry absolutely broke my heart. There were accounts of the sort of treatment that people received not only in residential facilities but in their homes, in schools and on school buses. In fact, for every setting where a disabled person was receiving care, we heard accounts of the mistreatment and abuse—sexual, physical and verbal as well—that disabled people received. People need to feel confident that they will be protected, and they are telling us, in particular telling Senator Steele-John, that that's not how they feel.

Those on the other side should actually listen to disabled people to hear what they are saying about their lack of confidence, to hear them say they are, I think it's fair to say, afraid to give evidence. These people have already been subjected to violence, neglect and abuse—and retribution. We also heard during the Senate inquiry about the retribution and the threatening behaviour that occurs if they dare to speak out, particularly if they are still in the institutions, still being provided some level of care. If Senator Steele-John thought this wasn't important, he wouldn't have brought this bill to the chamber. He would not be asking us to debate this bill if he had not heard firsthand accounts from disabled people saying this sort of protection is necessary. Why would we waste the Senate's time in debating something like this? It is of such grave importance that we have brought it to this place as a private senator's bill. To address violence against and abuse and neglect of disabled persons in this country, this bill is considered necessary by the very people for whom the royal commission is being held. I commend the bill to the Senate.

The PRESIDENT: The question is that the bill be read a second time.