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Wednesday, 25 November 2015
Page: 9007


Senator LINDGREN (Queensland) (17:18): The Senate Community Affairs References Committee inquiry into the abuse against people with disability in care was started due to an urgent need for a better system of independent monitoring and better protection mechanisms for people with disability who are in institutions and residential care. As a signatory to the disability convention, the Australian government retains ultimate responsibility for ensuring that the treatment of people with disabilities in Australia is compatible with the provisions of the disability convention. It is for this reason that the committee examined the issue of violence, abuse and neglect with people with disabilities from a whole-of-issue perspective. This committee has taken on the very important role of reviewing one of the most significant social programs with great care and compassion. I commend Senator Siewert, the other committee members and particularly the secretary for showing sensitivity to those who had lived abuse and shared their stories.

The overwhelming evidence presented during hearings showed a systematic failure of systems to protect some of our most vulnerable people from violence, abuse and neglect. It also heard of the failure and lack of support for those who do not respond to the occurrence of violence, abuse and neglect. The committee heard very disturbing accounts of abuse from a range of people that included the victims themselves, advocates and supportive families and from staff who worked at a number of these infamous institutions. It is important to acknowledge the individuals who chose to open up and share their stories, no matter how unpleasant they were. As a member of the committee I heard many personal stories that sickened me. I consider myself to be a strong individual, but on a few occasions I struggled to contain my emotions. Many lived experiences were given, but one story in particular saddened me, and I will never forget it. This very brave lady gave her harrowing account of abuse. She described her abuser as a monster, and rightly so. She showed me the lengths that some of the abusers will go to to hide their heinous crimes. This lady and many others like her should be protected from predatory abusive behaviours. I say to the victim: thank you for sharing your story and being brave. I wear this rose for you today.

It is a challenging task to capture the full scale of the violence, abuse and neglect of people with disabilities. There is clear evidence to suggest that the abuse cases reported are not isolated but instead may be more prevalent than first thought. I acknowledge that there are some excellent initiatives out there as well as programs that seek to improve both service delivery and protective mechanisms. Some of these programs are having significant positive impacts. I congratulate those who are trying to assist people with disabilities to have a good quality of life.

Another big issue is around appropriate mechanisms that address low-level service complaint systems. This area is inadequate and does not appropriately address the victims' complaints, many of which are criminal offences. Reporting abuse is everyone's responsibility. Stopping violence is everyone's responsibility. A broader complaints system that has national consistency between jurisdictions rather than a silo approach is an imperative initiative.

As a coalition senator I feel very strongly about this matter, and I believe that further, deeper investigations are needed. I concur with the other members of the committee that there needs to be an overhaul of systems that include reporting and investigating frameworks across all jurisdictions. It is these failures that have not protected and still are not protecting the most vulnerable people with disability.