Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison has officially launched a royal commission into the country’s disability sector.
The royal commission — Australia's highest form of public inquiry — will examine the violence, neglect, and exploitation of Australians living with disabilities across workplaces, educational institutions, disability care facilities, and the wider community. The $528 million AUD inquiry will be held over three years, with a final report due April 2022.
"We have to establish a culture of respect for people living with disabilities and the families who support, love, and care for them," Morrison told reporters at Parliament House. "Australians living with a disability and their families have spoken, and we are taking action.”
Violence, abuse, neglect and exploitation of people living with a disability is unacceptable and cannot be tolerated. It must be acknowledged, confronted and dealt with. That’s why today I’ve announced a Royal Commission into the abuse of Australians living with a disability. pic.twitter.com/M0pFPhg54F— Scott Morrison (@ScottMorrisonMP) April 4, 2019
Jordon Steele-John, a Greens senator and lead advocate for the commission, has welcomed the inquiry.
"We are dying in our homes, in our workplaces, in our educational spaces. We are being raped, we are being starved, we are being beaten," he told ABC News. “This commission is a great victory for the disability rights movement in Australia.”
Despite applauding the commission, Steele-John joined over 100 organizations involved in the disability sector Monday to express concern over two of the six selected commissioners overseeing the case.
In an open letter, the Disabled People’s Organisations Australia (DPO), Australian Federation of Disabilities Australia, and Disability Advocacy Network Australia demanded John Ryan and Barbara Bennett, two former senior public servants, be removed from the commission over “significant conflicts of interest.”
Our Joint Statement calling for Barbara Bennett and John Ryan to step down as Commissioners due to the real, perceived and potential conflicts of interest arising from their past roles has now been signed by over 120 people and organisations: https://t.co/XxTlHNDy3z— DPO Australia (@DPOAustralia) April 9, 2019
Ryan held a senior position in the New South Wales Department of Ageing, Disability, and Home Care in 2013, an agency that is expected to come under scrutiny during the inquiry. Bennett, a former deputy secretary of the federal Department of Social Services, worked on the roll-out of the National Disability Insurance Scheme, a component confirmed to be investigated.
“We want to make sure the royal commission is trusted by people with disabilities as a safe place to tell their stories,” said Matthew Bowden, co-chief executive officer at People With Disability Australia, a national disability rights organization that helped compile the joint statement. “Two of the proposed commissioners have very recent backgrounds working for the very institutions that will be examined by the royal commission. This is a direct conflict of interest.”
The commissioners will hand down an initial interim report October 2020.