It is New Year’s Eve 2022. Today is the last day that the Royal Commission into Violence, Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation of People with Disability (Disability Royal Commission) will receive written submissions.
By 29 September 2023, in nine months’ time, the Disability Royal Commission is required to issue its final report and recommendations.
The Disability Royal Commission was established in April 2019, nearly four years ago. Its first ceremonial sitting was held in Brisbane on 16 September 2019. That day the Chair of the Disability Royal Commission, The Hon. Ronald Sackville AO QC, set the tone and framework for the Commission’s pending work.
The Chair noted the hard and long struggle of the disability community to establish the Commission:
This Royal Commission is therefore the product of tireless and persistent efforts by disability advocates and many others who have long recognised that people with disability in this country are routinely subjected to violence, abuse, neglect and exploitation.
The Chair emphasised the engagement of the disability community in the formulation of the Commission’s Terms of Reference:
The Terms of Reference for the Royal Commission were finalised after a public consultation process which included a survey to which nearly 4000 people responded. In addition, 65 written submissions were received from organisations and individuals. About three quarters of the respondents to the survey were people with disability or parents, family members or carers of persons with disability.
The Chair acknowledged the ‘rights-based’ focus of the Commission’s Terms of Reference:
The Terms of Reference expressly recognise that Australia has obligations under the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities to promote the human rights of people with disability. …
The express recognition, in the Letters Patent, the Terms of Reference, of Australia’s obligations under the UN Convention means that this Royal Commission must have a rights-based focus. We must take as our starting point the rights under international law that Australia is required to recognise and protect.
The Chair also recognised the potential for investigative inquiries to also involve social policy recommendations:
Often, … [Royal Commissions] have been required to investigate forms of abuse or wrongdoing and to make recommendations on broad questions of social policy arising out of or connected to those investigations. Examples include the recent Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody … and the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety … . This Royal Commission is another example. It has both investigative and policy functions.
And significantly and rightly, the Chair recognised the opportunity and expectation for ‘transformational’ change for the disability community and Australian society presented by the Commission:
Let me now talk about the opportunities for change. Just as we are conscious of the magnitude of the task that the Commission faces, we’re also conscious that the disability community and their supporters, as well as the wider Australian community, have extremely high expectations of this Royal Commission. People want and expect real change. …
With the active participation of people with disability and the disability community at large, the Royal Commission provides an opportunity to achieve transformational change. It is a very large challenge, but it is one that should be embraced.
But now, and there has been for some time, real concern within the disability community that the Disability Royal Commission is not ‘the Royal Commission they wanted’ and that the Commission will not be true to the Chair’s ‘opening framework’ statements set out above.
Within the disability community, there are few things that are held more dearly than the threshold disability rights mantra: “Nothing about us, without us”.
Yet, whilst recognising the very significant role of the disability community and its advocates in the genesis of the Commission and its Terms of Reference, the Commission has apparently resisted, with no explanation, persistent demands by the disability community (through their Disabled Persons and Representative Organisations (DPROs)) for the proposed recommendations (or draft propositions) of the Commission to be released in draft form for comment – or at the least to be provided to the DPROs confidentially for their comment. This is notwithstanding that the two recent ‘investigative and policy’ based Royal Commissions, referred to by the Chair in the Commission’s ceremonial opening sitting as being similar in nature to the Commission, both released their draft recommendations for public comment.This refusal to release the Commission’s draft recommendations, if maintained, will further undermine confidence in the transparency of the Commission’s processes and particularly its capacity and willingness to deliver a final report with recommendations conducive to achieving the necessary ‘transformational change’ for people with disability and Australian society.
Given, as the Commission itself recognises, that the Terms of Reference mandate a ‘rights-based’ approach consistent with Australia’s obligations under international law, including its obligations under the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, there are (even more so than in the case of the two other recent Royal Commissions) objective standards against which the disability community may consider the Commission’s draft recommendations.
Transformational change can only be achieved by desegregation in all aspects of life for people with disability – which is a core objective of the UN Convention – and must (in particular as a broader society cultural matter) commence with desegregation in kindergartens and schools by implementing the fundamental human right to an inclusive education, whilst dismantling segregated ‘special’ school settings. In that regard, we ask the Commission receive this statement and our article ‘CRPD requires segregated education to be phased out: Expert opinion for Disability Royal Commission rejects Australian Government’s position’, endorsing the views of the Commission’s own legal expert, Professor Andrew Byrnes, as a written submission to the Commission.
Starting With Julius, 31 December 2022.
[Header image: Photograph of multi coloured fireworks against a black background, with the following words written across it “Happy New Year to the Disability Royal Commission – One last written submission before the deadline”.]