Royal commission report makes hundreds of recommendations.
Disability advocates have welcomed the release of a royal commission report and 222 recommendations. Image by Jacob Shteyman/AAP PHOTOS
  • inquiry

‘Harrowing’ disability report reveals need for change

Kat Wong September 29, 2023

Australians with disabilities are more likely to experience violence, abuse and neglect, with “transformational change” needed to improve their lives.

After more than four years of public hearings, private sessions and written submissions, a federal disability royal commission’s final 12-volume report and 222 recommendations were made public on Friday.

The proposals aim to address a range of areas including human rights law, disability advocacy, guardianship, schooling, employment, the justice system and housing.

Commissioners produced findings after hearing often-shocking stories from about 10,000 Australians.

“Our vision for an inclusive Australia envisages people with disability living free from violence, abuse, neglect and exploitation in a more inclusive society in which human rights are protected and respected,” they wrote.

“For people with disability in Australia today, this remains a vision rather than a reality.”

About one in five Australians, or 4.4 million people, identify as having a disability, Australian Bureau of Statistics data shows.

They face increased systemic barriers to education, employment and housing. 

Many live in homes that do not accommodate their disabilities, others experience chronic homelessness and those who work are often paid below minimum wage.

Children with disabilities also face multifaceted issues such as exclusion from schooling environments where they can be discouraged from attending, socially shut out, overlooked by teachers and deprived of necessary educational resources.

Those placed in youth detention are more likely to become enmeshed in the justice system, especially if they live with a cognitive disability. 

National Disability Services CEO Laurie Leigh said the “deeply distressing” report offered an important opportunity for disability providers to address shortfalls.

“Whilst we know there are thousands of committed and dedicated people in this industry providing excellent service and support, the royal commission has shown many examples of poor practice, which must be addressed,” she said.

The report calls on the government to enact a Disability Rights Act to enshrine the international human rights of those with disabilities in domestic law.

Commissioners also recommended raising the age of criminal responsibility to 14 and establishing laws so workers with disabilities are paid at least minimum wage by 2034.

They also want a ban on non-therapeutic and non-consensual sterilisation of people with disabilities.

First Nations people are uniquely marginalised with many reluctant to identify with disability, prompting commissioners to recommend forums and plans for Indigenous Australians. 

However the report’s authors disagreed on whether governments should phase out settings for people with disabilities.

Commissioners Rhonda Galbally and Alastair McEwin – who both live with disabilities – alongside Barbara Bennett, argued that the settings separated Australians with disabilities from the wider community.

They called spaces like special education schools, and certain employers, a form of “segregation” incompatible with international human rights law.

Commission chair Ronald Sackville and commissioner John Ryan say the criticisms create a false binary between wholly separated and inclusive settings, and the reality of those spaces are more nuanced.

Social Services Minister Amanda Rishworth said the federal government would carefully consider the “harrowing” report.

“We recognise the hurt and trauma people with disability have experienced and are committed to a safer, more inclusive Australia for all people with disability,” she told reporters on Friday.

The government will establish a Commonwealth task force to co-ordinate its response to the findings but it will not provide a response to any specific recommendations. 

“It would be disingenuous to suggest that the government could respond quickly,” she said.

“We need to make sure that we consider all recommendations thoroughly, we need to ensure that any implementation of our report or elbow response is done in consultation with people with disabilities.”

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