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Wednesday, 25 November 2015
Page: 9043

Senator MOORE (Queensland) (19:29): This afternoon, the Community Affairs References Committee brought down its report on violence, abuse and neglect against people with disability. As I said in my contribution this afternoon, this particular report covers such a wide range of issues that I am going to take the opportunity on a few occasions to touch on some of the issues that we found and also some of the people that we met in the hearings and the evidence that we received.

The committee agreed that, throughout the inquiry, the evidence presented from people with disability, their families and advocates showed that the root cause of violence, abuse and neglect of people with disability begins with an actual devaluing of people with disability and permeates the attitudes of individuals, organisations and people in society who just do not know how to talk to someone with a disability and, more importantly sometimes, do not know how to listen to someone with a disability. The devaluing takes many forms. We pointed out that people with disability are often communicated 'about'—not 'with' or 'to'—and are frequently denied the right to make the most basic decisions about themselves.

One of the chapters of the report talks about the very important issue of advocacy. It consistently came out that, because of the problems with communication and the problems of understanding, people with disability are very often voiceless, whether they have the ability to speak or not. Indeed, that has been universally recognised. The various universal declarations to which Australia is a signatory consistently talk about the rights of people with disability: their rights to have the same chances, the same opportunities and the same risks as the rest of us in the community.

One of the key aspects of that is to have access to advocacy. In 2008, the Australian state and territory disability ministers endorsed the National Disability Advocacy Framework. The advocacy framework sets out principles to guide the provision of advocacy services for people with disability so that they can achieve the long-term goal of ensuring that they have effective disability advocacy that promotes, protects and ensures their full and equal enjoyment of all human rights enabling full community participation. It is very straightforward. But what we heard over the numerous days of evidence was that people were not always able to access these basic rights.

The whole role of advocacy in our community is under review. The Department of Social Services is currently conducting a review of the advocacy framework, which is critically important because we need to know how best advocacy works. Just because something was done one way in the past does not mean that is the way it should be done in the future. We are awaiting the outcome of that particular review, and I think that will be the basis on how we can plan effectively in the future, particularly as the full rollout of the National Disability Insurance Scheme continues around the nation. What has been consistently identified in the rollout of the NDIS is the need for effective advocacy for the people involved in the process. When the Community Affairs Legislation Committee looked at the introduction of the framework legislation that set up the NDIS, one of the core recommendations was that we understood, implemented and resourced effective advocacy in the process. And that demand continues, because increasingly we see that people do not know their rights and, if they do begin to understand that they do have rights, they are not quite sure what to do about it. They do not know from where to seek support. They do not know where they can discuss exactly what their situation is and how they can make complaint if, in fact, complaint is needed.

The Australian government does fund advocacy networks. In the last funding round, in February 2015, DSS announced direct funding for five national advocacy organisations: People with Disability Australia, Children with Disability Australia, First Peoples Disability Network, National Ethnic Disability Alliance and Women With Disabilities Australia. DSS told us that these organisations had been funded to:

… work independently on behalf of their members, and collaborate on national and common issues as the National Cross-Disability Alliance (the Alliance), focusing on improving the lives of all people with disability.

Certainly, these organisations did come and talk to our committee about the way they felt that they could best provide the kind of advocacy needs that people needed in the community.

One of the things we know is that, for many people and people with disability, the best and strongest and most resilient advocates they have are their family members. There are whole sections of our report that point out that family members continue to advocate strongly for their person with disability. However, the stories we heard about where things had gone wrong ended up with not only the person with the disability being excluded or disadvantaged but also their family member, who was working to improve a situation or a grievance in their care or the support networks they were receiving, being isolated and sometimes abused. In the worst cases, where the state stepped in to remove the guardianship of the person with disability from their parent, we actually saw the system working against the family member who was working to ensure that they got good treatment. This shows the worst impact of a system which does not recognise the need for support or help.

I will not go through any of the particular cases in this particular contribution, but what I will talk about is the fact that the people in the advocacy organisations are desperately in need of effective resourcing. Hopefully, out of this 2015 review that is currently underway by the department, the real resource needs of advocacy will be clearly identified and there will be an understanding in the system that, if we are going to work effectively to ensure that people do have their rights acknowledged and supported, advocacy organisations need to be well trained, accessible and have the appropriate resources to work across a range of areas, not just geographical locations but also situations and individual needs.

As I said this afternoon, one of the most poignant elements for me in the inquiry was evidence given by Ms Christina Ryan for Advocacy for Inclusion. I have known Christina for many years, and I know what a strong advocate she is. In her evidence to us, she said:

One of the most wrenching things for me—because we do the training for people in self-advocacy and human rights—is when people ask us: 'Do I have the same rights as other people?' They know they are cut off from the world and they know they are shut off. What they also know is that everybody else has rights and they do not. Every time we talk about delaying things, every time we do not respond, every time we do not have enough advocacy funding and every time the national plan to reduce violence against women does not actually do much for women with disabilities, we are reminding people with disabilities that we do not have the same rights. We do not matter. It is as simple as that.

Well, it should not be as simple as that, but we can do things better. We know so. Through the committee, we saw a range of self-advocacy groups and organisations that were effectively providing the voice of people with disabilities into the system so that they would have the same rights as everyone else, so that if something were being done which harmed or hurt them they would be able to have that identified, have their grievances effectively listened to and then have action taken to ensure that they were made safe and, in the cases where there was hurt done to them, their perpetrators would be brought to justice. That would seem something that we as a society should be able to achieve.

We know that there are systems in place that can respond effectively with advocacy and that one size does not fit all. Too often, governments are seeking one model and only one model that will work. What became clear in our committee was that that will not work. That would ensure that people remain isolated and remain without support. I will continue to talk about this particular report into the future, but I want to quote from DANA:

Time and time again, what the advocates are telling us and what they see is that people do not complain—for many reasons.

We need to respond to that complaint. (Time expired)