Ronald Sackville
Ronald Sackville says the report's impact depends on all governments and the wider community. Image by Bianca De Marchi/AAP PHOTOS
  • inquiry

Disability inquiry calls for urgent government response

Callum Godde September 15, 2023

All Australian governments have been urged to enact long-overdue reforms as the disability royal commission prepares to hand over its final report.

The long-running inquiry held a ceremonial closing sitting in Sydney on Friday ahead of delivering its final report to the governor-general on September 28.

Chair Ronald Sackville KC did not discuss the report’s contents but emphasised its impact would depend on the responses of governments, businesses and the wider Australian community.

“The abuses exposed by the royal commission demand an urgent and comprehensive response from all Australian governments,” the former Federal Court judge said.

“I cannot claim that the final report covers every conceivable issue within the scope of the terms of reference. That, as a practical matter, would have been impossible.

“But we have attempted to provide a blueprint across a range of areas that fulfil our mandate.”

Mr Sackville and his five fellow commissioners used the event to reflect on the inquiry’s work and acknowledge the almost 10,000 people who shared their experiences of violence, abuse, neglect and exploitation.

Commissioner John Ryan said the thousands of people with disability who gave submissions had bolstered their recommendations with an “invincible wall of unambiguous credibility”.

“Governments and organisations who receive our recommendations will understand that this is not our voice calling for change, but yours,” he said.

Reflecting on one of its 1785 private sessions, commissioner Barbara Bennett focused on a woman who recalled living in a group home from age 18 where residents were stripped of their rights.

“She said it was like a prison. I believe we can do so much better than this,” Ms Bennett recounted.

Commissioner Alastair McEwin said a recurring theme was the failure of the mainstream education system to include disabled children in their schools.

Through Auslan, the former disability discrimination commissioner raised the case of a disabled child and his family who were told by a school he would slow down the class.

“I have a vision of Australia having a fully inclusive education system where there is only one education setting,” Mr McEwin said to applause.

Thirty-four blocks of public hearings have been held across the country since the inquiry was established in April 2019, including virtual hearings during the early years of the COVID-19 pandemic.

It was one of the reasons the commission was granted an extension of its initial final reporting date of April 29, 2022.

Award-winning poet Andy Jackson, who lives with Marfan’s syndrome, debuted a poem entitled ‘listen’, which he dedicated to those who testified and those who could not.

“Enough of the stories of tragedy and compensation wrapped around our bodies so tight it is hard to breathe, and enough with the applause for simply breathing,” he read.

Video montages of people with disabilities, carers, experts and advocates giving evidence across the public hearings were also aired during the sitting.

In one, Peter Gibilisco said he simply wanted to live his life on his own terms after being diagnosed with Friedreich’s ataxia, a progressive neurological condition.

“I am happy and even eager to play the best hand with the cards I’ve been dealt,” the University of Melbourne honorary fellow said through a voice generator program.

The commission’s final report will recommend ways to improve laws, policies, structures and practices to support people with disabilities to live free from violence, abuse, neglect and exploitation.

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