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Wednesday, 28 February 2018
Page: 2313


Ms TEMPLEMAN (Macquarie) (17:23): When people with complex and serious disabilities come to see me at my mobile office or at my Windsor office, it's often easy to see the warm relationship that exists between them and their carer. I'm also regularly reminded of the trust that's put in the carer's hands. Whether the person is in a wheelchair, whether they have an ongoing mental health condition or whether they have an intellectual disability, it is clear that the character of the carer is vital. But it's also, sadly, not unusual or unheard of to have a family whose experience has been difficult and challenging in finding carers whom they can trust to deliver the level of care that they or their loved one deserves. But the tools to be able to ensure that an individual is the sort of person who should be given the responsibility of caring for a person with a disability simply haven't been there.

I support this bill, the Crimes Amendment (National Disability Insurance Scheme—Worker Screening) Bill 2018, which makes it possible for criminal history data held by the Commonwealth to be accessed for the purposes of conducting an NDIS worker screening check and clearance. The Crimes Act prevents disclosure of spent, pardoned or quashed convictions, except in limited circumstances. While exceptions already exist, they haven't applied to the disability sector. I always thought it was strange that there was an exemption in the Crimes Act for checks on people who were working with children or applying for a job, even as a consultant, or with a law enforcement agency or an intelligence agency. When you were working for someone with a disability, it didn't qualify.

History has shown us—in fact, I think the ABC's 7.30 revealed some of the dreadful details late last year—that people with a disability experience higher rates of violence against them than the rest of the community, often at the hands of the people who are supposed to be caring for them. So I was pleased to see it was agreed at a COAG meeting in December 2016 to deliver a nationally consistent worker screening program. This bill certainly extends the exception to the rule so information held by the Commonwealth about a person's criminal history can be taken into account when deciding whether it's appropriate for someone to work closely with a person who has a disability. A nationally consistent worker screening check is going to make it more difficult for people with poor records in one state or territory to move to another and to continue to put people with a disability at risk of harm. It's appropriate that the state and territory based worker screening units get that full history. We are certainly satisfied with the safeguards in this bill to protect rights to privacy by ensuring the information can only be disclosed for the purposes of undertaking the NDIS worker screening check and will be overseen by the NDIS Quality and Safeguards Commissioner from 1 July this year.

We welcome these changes because we are serious about the safety and wellbeing of Australians who have a disability. They and their families deserve peace of mind about the people caring for them. But, of course, these changes only apply to people covered by the National Disability Insurance Scheme. The protections for people with disabilities in a whole range of other environments outside the NDIS remain a problem. For example, the ABC's 7.30 program showed there had been more than 200 allegations of abuse against children with a disability in New South Wales schools alone in the previous two years. I know, and I hope, that these instances are the exception rather than the rule.

My mum was a teacher in a school for profoundly disabled students in Sydney's western suburbs for many, many years. I saw firsthand the wonderful care and the quality environment that those children had. It was a place full of music and laughter. Sadly, the ABC report tells us that that isn't the experience for every student with a disability. That's one of the reasons I'm disappointed that this legislation doesn't establish a royal commission into violence and abuse against people with a disability. According to Disabled People's Organisation Australia, 92 per cent of women with an intellectual disability have been sexually assaulted at some time in their life. Sixty per cent of those assaults have occurred before they turn 18. Children with a disability are at least three times more likely to experience abuse than other children. Those statistics are chilling.

The individual stories are harrowing. I have had distressed medical professionals walk me through the process that they've been forced to take to try and get police to take action to investigate allegations of sexual assault of people with disabilities, and I've spoken to those same police to try and get action taken. The Prime Minister says investigating assaults is a state issue. But it is clear to me that the reasons and circumstances of assaults and violence against people with disabilities go beyond state boundaries. I'm not alone in believing that this is an important issue. Only last year, 163 community groups and 380 individuals got together calling for a commission to investigate these types of assaults and neglect. We're talking about people like St Vincent de Paul, Anglicare, Amnesty and the National Congress of Australia's First Peoples—organisations that really understand what is happening in our communities and are privy to some of the dreadful stories.

Carolyn Frohmader, from Disabled People's Organisation Australia, said that, as an advocate for more than 20 years, she had heard repeated, horrific stories across all settings. She described it as an issue of critical, urgent national significance. She said assaults were at epidemic proportions and a royal commission was needed to unify a mishmash of regulatory bodies in the states and territories. It is awful that she thinks things are getting worse, not better.

If the Prime Minister was really serious about protecting the rights of all Australians with disability, he would not only take the action this bill does to prevent these sorts of things but take action to prevent harm being done in the future and he would correct the injustices of the past. Only a royal commission can do that. That is why, last year, we announced that a Shorten Labor government would establish a royal commission into violence and abuse against people with disabilities.

I note that, in 2006, a Victorian parliamentary inquiry into abuse in disability services recommended that the state lobby for this sort of royal commission. In 2005—we're going back three years—the Senate Community Affairs References Committee recommended that a royal commission be established following their inquiry into violence, abuse and neglect against people with disability in institutional care. The government didn't respond to that recommendation until 16 months after the report was released. What was their response? It was to reject a royal commission.

I wish I could share the view the Prime Minister has that the quality and safeguarding framework will be enough to protect people with disability, but all the evidence tells us that it won't be and that we need to have out in the open what the dangers are and what the experiences are so that we can come up with ways to prevent them in the future. It is actually cruel not to take action and to ignore the crimes committed against people with disability in the past. It is unforgivable not to be finding ways to prevent these things occurring in the future. The voices of people who have been abused must be heard. If the Prime Minister were serious about protecting people with a disability, he would join with Labor and commit to a royal commission.