Royal commission calls grow as disability campaigners tell stories of abuse and trauma
Pressure is building on the Federal Government to establish a royal commission into abuse within the disability sector.
- Disability campaigners have outlined their stories of trauma and abuse within the sector
- The Lower House is expected to support a Greens motion calling for royal commission
- The Coalition will support the motion but is yet to announce if it will establish an inquiry
The Coalition is set to support a motion from the Senate calling for the establishment of a royal commission but it remains unclear if it will act upon those calls.
Ahead of the vote, disability advocates have descended on Parliament House to highlight the trauma they have received and lobby the Government for a royal commission.
“At a rehab facility, a nurse used to come and set fire to my hair at night, in a church setting where I broke my arm I was not offered any pain relief for that and also not offered any medical attention,” Craig Wallace, campaigner and former president of People with Disability, told AM.
“At the time you weren’t kind of believed that this was happening to you, and there was a kind of culture of hushing these things up, of not making waves, a feeling that if you did so you might be punished in some way.”
Mr Wallace said the abuse he received happened as a child at the hands of carers, teachers and his church community.
The motion from Western Australian Greens Senator Jordon Steele-John passed the Senate last week and was expected to arrive for debate in the Lower House on Thursday.
Government ministers have admitted to using parliamentary tactics, including allowing for the longest ever Question Time, to avoid dealing with the matter amid fears it was set to lose a second vote in the Lower House.
The Government then later said it would support the motion when it came up for debate.
Royal commission should be established after the election
Mr Wallace said that he was far from alone in having endured trauma in the disability sector.
He said he had been told about abuse of people with disabilities were enough to “make your hair stand on end”.
“Just about everybody I know has stories like mine or worse from that time,” he said.
“There is bullying, there is violence, there is rape, there is everything up to murder.”
Graeme Innes, a former disability discrimination commissioner and a supporter of the royal commission, told the ABC that while there was a pressing need for an inquiry, it would be a job best left to the next government.
“It would be complex and it would involve work to be done with state governments,” he said.
“I think it wouldn’t be the best thing to negotiate in the febrile environment in the lead up to the election.”
Mr Innes said it was essential that any inquiry not be solely constrained to institutional abuse.
“Any inquiry does need to be focused that’s absolutely true, but we have to be very careful that we don’t limit this inquiry to accommodation settings or institutional settings where significant amounts of this abuse have occurred and that we broaden it to ensure it covers education settings, rehabilitation settings.”
Politicians battle over the merits of a royal commission
Senator Steele-John has been a high-profile campaigner for a royal commission since he arrived in the Senate in 2017.
He called on the Government to not “play politics” with the debate.
“It seems clear to me that the Government simply plans to not vote against this motion in the house today and then to send the [Attorney-General] out there mumbling some nonsense about a need to consult with the states between now and the federal election,” he said.
“That is not good enough.”
Responding to comments from Attorney-General Christian Porter on Insiders that the states and territories would need to be consulted prior to calling a royal commission, Senator Steele-John labelled the assertion “100 per cent wrong”.
“There is much state and federal overlap in the aged-care space, [and within] 24 hours we got ourselves a royal commission,” he said.
“Institutional responses to child abuse, those were almost entirely conducted within state based systems yet it did not stop the Gillard government clearly saying that they were pursuing a royal commission.”