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Tuesday, 10 September 2019
Page: 1726

Senator WATT (Queensland) (12:05): Labor is pleased to support this amendment. The amendment would remove the ability of a royal commissioner to delegate to a senior staff member the power to receive evidence in a private session. This amendment addresses a concern that was raised with Labor by Senator Steele-John and disability advocates in relation to the Royal Commission into Violence, Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation of People with Disability—concerns that we then raised with the government.

While there may be circumstances where it is appropriate for a senior staff member with particular skills to receive evidence in a private session in the context of some future royal commissions, Labor agrees that it would not be appropriate in the context of the disability royal commission. Labor recognises that survivors of abuse should have the opportunity to have their stories heard by a commissioner and not by a senior staff member, however qualified that person may be. While there was no suggestion that the chair of the disability royal commission would in fact delegate to senior staff members the power to hold private sessions, the existence of such a power caused understandable anxiety for some in the disability community. We thank Senator Steele-John and disability advocates for raising their concerns with Labor on this issue. We also thank the government for working with Labor to positively and constructively respond to those concerns by moving this amendment.