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Wednesday, 25 November 2015
Page: 9008


Senator MOORE (Queensland) (17:22): Chapter 1 of the Community Affairs References Committee report into abuse against people with disability in care actually begins with a quote. We have a mechanism in our reporting to ensure that the voices of the people who talked to the committee are heard throughout the report. Chapter 1 starts:

Violence against people with disability in institutional and residential settings is Australia's hidden shame … The evidence of this national epidemic is extensive and compelling. It is a deeply shameful blight on our society and can no longer remain ignored and unaddressed.

The reason we have committees in this place is to ensure that issues that need to be exposed and concerns that need to be shared with our parliaments are able to be expressed openly and safely, and then responded to from the parliament and the government of the day. This report gives us an opportunity not just in this parliament but in the community to respond to something which is truly a deeply shameful blight on our society.

All senators involved in this committee inquiry were deeply affected. You have heard that today from the contributions in this discussion, and I think you will continue to hear that because it will not just be a report being brought down this afternoon; this will go on and these discussions must continue. I have been involved in a number of reports in this place and they will always live with me. There is no table of one that is more important than others. When the committee was pulling this report together, we all agreed that this was one of the most confronting experiences many of us have had, and we have had extraordinarily difficult discussions and issues brought before us in the past.

Senator Siewert talked about why the committee felt there was an absolute need to make a recommendation about a royal commission. When we were pulling that recommendation together, we also thought that we needed to make it clear to the people reading the report and hearing the arguments that this was not something that we did easily. There have been a number of royal commissions in recent times and people value the work that is done by them. For the Community Affairs Committee to actually recommend a royal commission was a major step. The reasons for doing that were the people who gave us their evidence and talked about the horror—and there is no other word to describe it—of the abuse not just individually but systemically and across the country, abuse on those who are most vulnerable, abuse on those whose voices have not been able to be heard before.

I want to quote again from the report from some of the evidence received from people who were in the advocacy area. The need for effective advocacy came up consistently. One women said that one thing that affected her most deeply was when someone with a disability actually said to her: 'Do I have the same rights as everybody else? Do I have the right to talk about what happened to me?' No-one in our country should have to ask that question. The committee spent time in this report listing human rights declarations about why people with disability have rights, why countries—our own included—have signed up at the international level to say that we respect the rights of people with disability. We table that and say that: all the different conventions that have been signed, all the different agreements and all the different plans that have been put in place not just at the federal level but at the state level say that we will ensure that people with disabilities are being treated fairly in our country. That in itself is a challenge to us because we have all these rights. We have them itemised. We have programs and plans. But we also have the stories that came before the committee over the last six months. It is not historical. In the past, we have come to this place and talked about historical neglect and historical abuse. That needed to be exposed and those people needed to have support as to how they would live with that.

What came to this committee is abuse that is happening now—abuse in institutions, in group homes, in living areas, in areas where people are supposed to be safe when they are receiving care, where their country has said, 'This is a safe place for you to be.' They and their families accepted that because we told them that. Our nation, our parliament and our governments have told them, 'You will be safe and we will make sure that that happens.' But it did not happen. And it is not just in isolated cases. It is not in remote areas. It is not in areas that we cannot visit or see. The issues brought forward in this inquiry happened in the centre of our cities, in our suburban areas and across Australia. It is not good enough.

Senator Siewert spoke about the rose that we are all wearing today. The Perth hearing of this inquiry took evidence from a group known as the Bolshy Divas, an incredible group of sheilas—and I think you would enjoy meeting them, Acting Deputy President Bernardi—who work with disabilities and women and ensure that their voices are not silent. One of the very many confronting episodes was when the women came into the hearing and very quietly just read out the evidence—and I will talk further about that when we have the chance. They lay roses in front of the committee and told the account of a person with a disability who had been abused

The stories are confronting, tragic and overwhelming in many ways, but they are no longer hidden and they are no longer dismissed.

For this rose, thank you to the secretariat. We have said before that, for every piece of confronting experience that we on the committee have shared, the people working in our secretariat have done more so, because they have developed relationships with people who have been putting in submissions and they have shared relationships with people on the phone, working through the questions of how they come to give evidence, what they can do and, in fact, whether they have the right to be there. The Bolshy Divas made sure that in 40 cases—not individual cases but many groups of people—their names and experiences were put on record and everyone was represented by one of these roses. The secretariat very cleverly managed to salvage some of them from the room, something I did not think about. I did not think of gathering them together, but the secretariat did, and they provided them to us, so they will live with us as a remembrance of the experience that we have had through this committee.

So we had the challenges, and we will have the opportunity to talk about them more. I will put on record the issue of data, because the data should be there. It should not need a group of women to come into a committee with roses to ensure that the data is there about these cases, what caused them, where it happened and what the responses from the various state authorities were. The response to this inquiry will need the engagement of every state and territory with the federal government to work together to ensure that we can build an effective national safety framework that will make sure that this will not happen again, so that no longer will people have to ask whether they have the right to make a complaint and no longer will we have to ask what has happened in the state of Queensland, my own state. There will be effective data on where institutions have acknowledged abuse, what they have done about it and how the future operations will happen. At this moment we do not have that, and that is replicated across every state. So I will talk about data, because data is not just evidence that is put out—not just figures and numbers. Data reflects the lived experience of people who are in our system, and it does not matter whether it is about this issue or others. Data is the extraction of information that we can do better. So, if we can do one thing apart from having a royal commission, we must ensure that the data is accurate and maintained.

I seek leave to continue all of our remarks, because there will be many more opportunities to talk about this inquiry.

Leave granted; debate adjourned.