Update on the Disability Royal Commission: Safeguarding vulnerable Australians

The Disability Royal Commission has recently released its fifth Progress Report, summarising key themes arising from its investigation into violence, abuse, neglect and exploitation of people with disability in Australia.

In 2019, the Federal Government announced a Royal Commission into Violence, Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation of People with Disability (Disability Royal Commission). The Royal Commission has been authorised to inquire into how to effectively prevent harm against people with disability, and achieve best practice in investigating and responding to reports of harm.

The Disability Royal Commission will ultimately result in recommendations for how to improve laws, policies, and practices to ensure a safer, and more inclusive society for people with a disability.

What is a Royal Commission?

A Royal Commission is the highest independent investigation into a matter of public concern, established by the Governor-General of Australia under the Royal Commissions Act of 1902 (Cth). Royal Commissions have broad powers, including powers to hold public hearings and compel people to participate and give evidence. When a Royal Commission has finalised its investigation and gathered its evidence, it will prepare a report and recommendations for presentation to Parliament, which often leads to significant changes in legislation and policies, and cultural change within society.

The Royal Commission’s Fifth Progress Report

The Disability Royal Commission has recently released its fifth Progress Report, covering the progress of the Royal Commission during the period from 1 July to 31 December 2021 (Reporting Period). During the Reporting Period, the Royal Commission held eight public hearings, and 400 private sessions. It also produced a number of reports. Themes emerging from the 878 submissions received during the Reporting Period include:

  • Alarming rates of violence, abuse, neglect and exploitation, arising in a variety of settings including schools (10.1% of accounts), state and federal services (35%), the workplace (6.6%), health settings (21.3%), group homes (15.6%) and family and domestic settings (24.2%).
  • The perpetration of violence, abuse, neglect or exploitation by support workers, family members and medical professionals. Of the accounts, 49.4% reported incidents of neglect, 49.4% reported abuse and violence, 78.2% reported systemic abuse or neglect and 10.1% exploitation. Many of the accounts discussed multiple incidents of types of abuse and harm.
  • Unsatisfactory outcomes when violence, abuse, neglect or exploitation has been reported, including significant barriers to reporting. People with a disability reported feeling that their complaints would not be heard or appropriate action taken.
  • Difficulties accessing the NDIS and navigating the NDIS appeals process.
  • Discrimination in the education system, with schools and tertiary institutions failing to accommodate students with disability.
  • The disproportionate impact of COVID-19 restrictions on people with disability.
  • Experiences of racism by First Nations people with disability.
  • Financial exploitation of people with disability, including misuse of NDIS funds.

Public Hearing 13 – Preventing and responding to violence, abuse and neglect and exploitation in disability services was the first public hearing that examined the conduct of a Disability Service Provider, Sunnyfield Disability Service. Recommendations and key themes from this public hearing were identified and further investigation into these themes will be considered by the Royal Commission.

The Disability Royal Commission will continue to investigate and report on experiences in all settings and contexts, including schools, workplaces, secure facilities, family and group homes, hospitals, and day programs. It will release its Final Report by late 2023.

On 3 December 2021, the Australian Government published Australia’s Disability Strategy 2021-2031, which is based on the Royal Commission’s interim report and recommendations. The Australian Government has committed to reviewing the strategy in 2023 following the release of the Royal Commission’s Final Report.

What is safeguarding?

Safeguarding is the action that an organisation takes to promote the safety and welfare of vulnerable people, including children, people with disability, and elderly people. Safeguarding measures can involve the implementation of strategies, policies and procedures, training and screening mechanisms for new staff or volunteers, identifying and mitigating risks, and investigating and responding to concerns and complaints.

The NDIS Commission is empowered to undertake enforcement action to hold organisations accountable for failing to adequately safeguard people with disability from harm and abuse.

How we can help

At Moores, we provide a broad range of safeguarding services to assist organisations to comply with regulators, mitigate risk, and respond appropriately and comprehensively to safety concerns. We have expertise in harm prevention in the disability, aged care, and child safety sectors, and work closely with regulators, stakeholders, complainants and survivors to strategically advise clients. We assist organisations to model best practice in their safeguarding strategies, and to hear and respond to concerns in a trauma-informed manner.

Our safeguarding team can assist with training; reviews and audits of current systems and operations; ensuring compliance with laws and regulations; development and implementation of policies and procedures; quality improvement; and complaints management. Our Education and Workplace Relations teams are also equipped to advise on discrimination matters, and the obligations of employers and education providers towards people with disability.

Contact us

If you or your organisation would benefit from assistance with safeguarding vulnerable people within your organisation, please contact us for more information.

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