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Our Stories - The Disability Royal Commission

The Australian Government has had the power to appoint Royal Commissions since 1902. And while it may seem that we have more Royal Commissions now than ever before, that is not true! A bit of trivia for you - we have had on average almost one every year since 1902! Early in the 20th century, there were Royal Commissions into all sorts of weird and wonderful topics, relevant at the time like the butter industry (1904 - 1905) and postal services (1908-1910). Over history, they have considered the issues of most significant concern to the Government and the community. In recent times, they have become a common response in the social justice space inquiring into youth justice, aged care, child abuse and of course, most recently, disability. 


Two weeks ago, the Disability Royal Commission announced that they will now take submissions. People know it is exciting news, but the excitement is quickly followed by “sorry, what does that mean for me, my organisation or my loved one?”. If you already know that you want to make a submission, head over to the website and check out the different ways in which you can make a submission.


But why do we have this Royal Commission? And why are submissions important to the disability community?


Read on, friends!

The Disability Royal Commission


Officially, the Royal Commission into Violence, Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation of People with Disability (‘Disability Royal Commission’) was established on 4 April 2019. There is a Chair of the Royal Commission, the Hon. Ronald Sackville AO QC and five Commissioners:

  • Ms Barbara Bennett PSM

  • Dr Rhonda Galbally AC

  • Ms Andrea Mason OAM

  • Alastair McEwin AM

  • The Hon John Ryan AM


The Disability Royal Commission has the power to inquire into the matters described in their terms of reference. The terms of reference are quite broad and focus on hearing the stories of people with disabilities and their families who have experienced violence, abuse, neglect or exploitation but also look to the ways systems and services can be improved.


The Disability Royal Commission will write a (probably very long) report and make recommendations to the Government.


Why did the Royal Commission come about?


People with disabilities, their families and advocates, called for a Royal Commission long before it was announced in April this year. When Prime Minister Morrison announced the Royal Commission he wanted the Commission to recognise the experience of violence, abuse, neglect and exploitation of people with disability and to create a culture of respect for people with disability. You can see this motivation in the broad terms of reference which look to the past of what has happened, but also the future of how that culture of respect will be grown and nurtured.


The Royal Commission will not be the first time the Australian Government have heard about the violence, abuse and neglect of people with disability. In 2015, the Senate Standing Committee on Community Affairs conducted an Inquiry into the “Violence, abuse and neglect against people with disability in institutional and residential settings, including the gender and age related dimensions, and to the particular situation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people with disability, and culturally and linguistically diverse people with disability”.  Phew, what a title! This was one of many reports that were stacking up on the Government’s desk, screaming out for help to end the violence against people with disabilities. Sensibly, the Royal Commission will establish appropriate arrangements if people have shared their story with past inquiries. This will avoid unnecessary duplication, improve efficiency and most importantly stop unnecessary trauma to witnesses (see clause (o), Terms of Reference). 


Importantly for this Royal Commission, there will be an inquiry into “all forms of violence against, and abuse, neglect and exploitation of, people with disability, whatever the setting or context”. This is super important because we, the disability community, know that these incidents can happen anywhere. They can happen as much in group homes and institutionalised settings as they can at school or in public places. 


So, to take the legal jargon and public policy waffle out of the explanation of “why does the Australian Government want to know more about the violence, abuse, neglect and exploitation of people with disability?” the answer is:

  • To find out what has been happening, and

  • What should be done better to make people safe in all settings? 


Your stories


So, here comes the important part! 


The Disability Royal Commission will hear your submissions from you. Stories from the disability community will be heard about the way people were treated, where things went wrong, and how we thought they could have been better. 


A lot of these stories will not have been told before. People might not have known where to tell their stories, or might not have seen the point in doing so. The beauty of a Royal Commission is it creates a specific place for people to come forward and share their experiences. Those experiences will identify systemic issues, patterns and trends of what life has been like and what it is like, for people with disabilities in Australia. 


It is a historic occasion for people with disabilities to be heard. And, it is important to remember that a lot of Australia will not have heard this before. I think they’re in for a shock. The violence, abuse, neglect and exploitation of people with disabilities will finally have a voice in mainstream conversations.


It is time for Australia to wake up to these issues and for people with disabilities to be heard. 


So, you want to tell your story - here’s how


If you have been thinking about making a submission to the Disability Royal Commission, the official information on how to do it is here.


I think there a few good take-home points on making a submission:

  • It is free to lodge a submission

  • You can write your submission yourself, or if you need some help, you can contact an advocate or lawyer (more details on funded legal services to come from the Royal Commission will be announced soon).

  • Making a submission does not mean you cannot pursue legal action for what has happened to you


The Royal Commission is making sure the submission process is accessible and offered in many different formats. 


I am sure there will be many more blog posts on what we see come out of the Disability Royal Commission, but for now - let’s start telling our story! 

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