The Disability Royal Commission Breakfast Seminar: breakfast with a viewpoint.

This morning before work, I attended a breakfast seminar regarding the Royal Commission into Violence, Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation of People with Disability.

Now anyone who knows me reasonably well knows that I must have been seriously interested to get up that early and pay money to not be able to eat the food provided (anything more than coffee before 10am is too much).

The seminar was hosted by a law firm who represent several NFP organisations, and who have been involved in advising organisations during the Child Abuse and Aged Care Royal Commissions. It was directed towards Service Providers, telling them what to expect as the Commission unrolls, and it was a fascinatingly different perspective for me.

Now – I am a Service Provider within the disability community. But primarily in this space, I identify as an Autistic woman. I felt a little dubious and guarded, settling myself into the tall office chairs and balancing a coffee and my collected documents on my lap, surrounded by networking strangers.

The Powerpoint notes provided didn’t give much away. They were bare fact, and mostly things that are generally well known.

When the speakers got up, though, I was quite surprised at how strongly they spoke in favour of the Royal commission and its goals, and by the type of information and advice they were sharing with the service providers.

Their main message was this:
The Royal Commission *will* change things, and it’s right that it should.
Don’t be caught unprepared.

“The Disability Industry has no idea the tsunami that is bearing down upon it.”

The advice they provided was also a little surprising to me, cynically expecting abuse apologists and evasion:

  • List everything you may be called upon to address upfront and voluntarily, don’t make them dig for it;
  • Acknowledge everything openly and honestly; don’t try to excuse yourself;
  • They will require a high standard of evidence to demonstrate change in both policy and practice so past issues won’t arise again – * actually changing* is the surest way to be able to provide that evidence.

They also gave general information about the Royal Commission; most of this is available from the main Royal Commission website.

It is anticipated that the Commission will take 5 years to run its full course.
1 year setting up
3 year period for hearings
1 year wrap up.
The Interim Report is due on 30th Oct 2020, and the Final Report 29th April 2022.

The Disability Royal Commission has six Commissioners appointed. Two of those are somewhat controversial, as their past professional roles within Government Departments addressing disability issues may put them under something of a Conflict of Interest. The composition of the Commission may change, but the number is unlikely to.

For comparison, the Aged Care Royal Commission employed two Commissioners and 100 barristers. Nobody knows yet how many lawyers will be employed.

Terms of reference:

Four broad Terms of Reference have been determined, based on consultation with the public earlier this year, with a special request for people with disabilities to provide input. These terms are:

  1. What should be done to prevent, and better protect, people with disability from experiencing violence, abuse, neglect and exploitation?
  2. What should be done to achieve best practice in reporting and investigating of, and responding to violence, abuse, neglect and exploitation?
  3. What should be done to promote a more inclusive society that supports the independence of people with disability and their right to live free from violence, abuse, neglect and exploitation?
  4. Any matter reasonably incidental to these matters

The fourth Term of Reference means there is very little chance of any challenge being raised through an investigation being “out of scope”. In fact, there is no real limit on the scope of enquiry – including no time limits since abuse occurred, no limits to what areas they may investigate. 

In fact, the Commission documents state that, “The inquiry will cover all forms of violence against, and abuse, neglect and exploitation of, people with disability, in all settings and contexts.”

The only caveat is for matters already under enquiry via the Aged Care or Child Abuse Royal Commissions

The Court of Public Opinion

During the course of the Royal Commission, all proceedings, including all information uncovered in the course of the inquiry, is subject to public scrutiny. It will be live-streamed and many of the real decisions will be made with or even by the Public. This can have a significant impact on the lives and livelihoods of people and organisations investigated, particularly as the Royal Commission is not governed by laws of “evidence before inquiry”. Many old charges will be re-litigated, and even where the caveat applies, this doesn’t mean that incidents or rulings won’t be used as evidence in the inquiry.

Goals:

In addition to exposing issues with abuse and the quality of care provision, the Royal Commission intend to determine and define best practice, and have a strong regard to effecting policy change.

They expect to explore issues beyond traditional concepts of violence, abuse, neglect and exploitation – they anticipate deep enquiry into funding, especially NDIS, staffing, access to health services, and governance/policies governing care provision, and will most likely recommend increases to funding and changes to the funding model, better laws regarding complaints and protection of disabled care recipients, and the establishment of a statutory body to independently investigate and support future claims.

Warnings and Advice to Service Providers:

* Do Not Delay. Provide all information “voluntarily” when first invited to respond.
* Know where your likely vulnerabilities are, and where the information is to respond to issues arising.
* Be prepared for significant media and stakeholder scrutiny, unbalanced reporting, misinformation, and panic.
* Be prepared also for significant follow-up litigation.
* Be aware that there will be a significant emotional toll – on Boards and business leaders particularly. But also remember that any emotional or emotive response is probably the wrong one.
* There will be an immense distraction from your “business as usual” – ensure you are resourced appropriately to respond by creating a designated “response team”
* Organise your external legal team, and evaluate your insurance position.

Final thoughts:

As a disabled person playing the role of “fly on the wall” in this seminar, I was surprised at how seriously and even powerfully the disabled community were being represented by these lawyers, who clearly wanted to impress on the guests that *any* powerless and marginalised group of people have more power in numbers – and with a Royal Commission behind them – than those who are the subjects of the inquiry have previously paused to consider.

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