North East Citizen Advocacy

Disability Royal Commission

The Disability Royal Commission has release a Statement of ongoing concern on the impact of and responses to the Omicron wave for people with disability.

There are ten highlighted areas of concern including:

  • Overall de-prioritisation of people with disability and lack of regard for their health and wellbeing, indicating a lack of systemic preparedness and service coordination.
  • Concerns with managing COVID-19 in the home for people with disability.
  • Lack of adequate and meaningful consultation with the disability sector and people with disability to inform this phase of the pandemic response.
  • Fears and isolation for people with disability, needing to shield at home for extended periods, with anxieties about both potential infection from those providing critical support to meet basic needs, and, conversely, a lack of access to these critical services.
  • Severe disruptions to disability services and essential supports.

This follows from the initial Statement of Concern in March 2020; the Commissioners’ report on Public Hearing 5 “Experiences of people with disability during the ongoing COVID-19 Pandemic” on 26 November 2020; and the Commissioners’ report on 21 October 2021 following Public Hearing 12 on“The experiences of people with disability in the context of the Australian Government’s approach to the COVID-19 vaccine rollout.”

The Disability Royal Commission will be releasing an Issues Paper in early March which will provide further detail on issues identified.

Disability Royal Commission

Report: Public hearing 12 – Australian Govt.’s approach to the COVID 19 vaccine rollout. Commissioners’ draft report.

The Royal Commission has released a draft report on the experiences of people with disability, in the context of the Australian government’s approach to the COVID 19 vaccine rollout.

The draft Commissioners report contains 17 findings and 7 recommendations for the Government.

It focuses on evidence from Public Hearing 12 held in May but also incorporates developments since then.

The report considers ‘3 core problems’ with the rollout for people with disability:

  • Department of Health’s (DoH) failure to consult people with disability, workers, providers and representative organisations
  • DoH’s lack of transparency in decision-making
  • Failure to provide accessible information

Some key findings:

  • The decision to prioritise aged care residents over people in residential disability accommodation was made without consultation with the disability community, and that this decision was not made public until it was revealed to the Senate Select Standing Committee on 20/4/21.
  • In framing the vaccine roll-out; Aust. Govt did not genuinely consult or seek advice for People with Disability (PWD) or disability representative organisations
  • Lack of transparency & failure to provide clear information by the Aust. Govt on roll-out of vaccine damaged credibility and trustworthiness of the Aust. Govt among PWD.
  • Govt did not conduct the rollout in accordance with the COVID-19 Vaccine Rollo-out Strategy released on 7.1.2021.

Summary of the Recommendations:

  • Govt should continue to prioritise access to vaccinations for PWD in residential settings
  • Govt should continue to prioritise access to vaccination for all disability support workers.
  • Govt should ensure all people with intellectual disability are eligible for vaccine and support them gain urgent access to the vaccine.
  • Govt should ensure that no state of territory significantly ease restrictions when the threshold of 70% of the population are fully vaccinated unless all PWD have had the opportunity to be vaccinated and all disability support workers have been fully vaccinated.
  • Govt should prioritise consultations with disability representative organisations.
  • Govt should review language it uses in publications to describe or refer to PWD & their circumstances.
  • Aust Govt should prioritise clear and accessible communications for PWD and the sector concerning the vaccine rollout & the importance of vaccination for PWD.

The Government will have a chance to respond to the draft report before it goes to the Governor General at the end of the week.

The draft report notes the Royal Commission may continue to follow up the vaccination rollout through a roundtable or a one-day hearing in November.


Disability Royal Commission

Public hearing 13: Disability services (a Case Study)

The Royal Commission’s 13th Public Hearing was held between Monday May 24th and Friday May 28th. The purpose of this hearing was to examine the experiences of people with disability who are NDIS participants and who live in a disability residential setting managed by the service provider, Sunnyfield Disability Services.

A case study detailed the experiences of Melissa, Carl and Chen (names altered to maintain confidentiality) who, since 2017, have been living together in Western Sydney in supported residential accommodation, managed by Sunnyfield  Disability Services. Sunnyfield is a member based, for purpose, not-for-profit registered charity, providing support services for over 1,200 people living with disability in New South Wales and the ACT.


Melissa and her sister/guardian Eliza experienced ongoing tension and conflict with Sunnyfield regarding Melissa’s tenancy in supported accommodation. In June 2018, Sunnyfield alerted Eliza that it would terminate Melissa’s services, based on concerns for staff wellbeing, as well as in the best interests of Melissa herself. Eliza was told that by September, she would need to source new accommodation for Melissa. After complaint to the NSW Ombudsman and the NDIA Quality and Safeguards Commission, Sunnyfield agreed to continue to provide support services for Melissa until alternate accommodation was sourced

Over the past two years, Eliza had been unable to find suitable accommodation for Melissa, with the constant threat of eviction looming over theirs heads, as this notice of termination was never withdrawn by Sunnyfield. The communication between Eliza and Sunnyfield was described by the latter as hostile, passive aggressive, highly demanding, and “unhinged”. Eliza reports that her proactive checking in on the care being provided to Melissa, questions and clarifications posed to Sunnyfield staff, and desire to be proactively involved and consulted in decision making processes was motivated by and understanding of Melissa as someone who requires complex and highly skilled care. Eliza also expressed that she felt the decision to evict Melissa was due to spite, as a result of the tense relationship between Eliza and Sunnyfield staff.

Carl and Chen:

Sophia, Carl’s mother had noticed that the support workers often seemed stressed within the residential accommodation. In May 2019, Carl began to display anxiety around one particular support worker, referred to in the account as SP2. Sophia has also received feedback from other staff about concerns for Carl’s safety. She also learnt that during a few months prior, shortly after the Christchurch mosque shooting, another support worker (SP1), was heard saying they “would have shot them all.” It should be noted that Carl is of Middle Eastern heritage. After two instances of Carl being injured under Sunnyfield’s care, it was reported by an anonymous source, as well as by Sophia herself directly to the manager of Sunnyfield and the Quality and Safeguards Commission, that SP1 and 2 had behaved aggressively and violently towards Carl and his co-resident Chen.

Both workers were suspended and independent police investigations were arranged. Both workers were charged with multiple cases of assault, but these charges were dropped in court. During independent investigation, 6 of the 25 allegations concerning SP1’s treatment of Carl and Chen were sustained;  two of the 25 allegations concerning SP1’s treatment of Carl and Chen were partially sustained; and 17 of the 20 allegations concerning SP2’s treatment of Carl and Chen were sustained. During this investigation, a worker reported to the police that SP2 also physically abused Melissa, dragging her naked down a hallway by her wrists.Systemic issues were also identified during this investigation; Racial vilification amongst staff, a lack of understanding about the importance of reporting, and a culture of fear amongst staff members about the process, and a lack of understanding about what constitutes violence, neglect, abuse, and exploitation.

The findings of the hearing include the following points:

  • The importance of internal management in residential services that addresses issues head on, takes accountability for mistakes, aims to work collaboratively.
  • The importance of internal policy that reflects the aforementioned point. Clearly laid out communication procedures for complaints, including timely responses,
  • The need for advocate who can also take on a coordination role. This takes time when the person has very complex needs.
  • That the absence of a case management system places a burden on families to step in to this role.
  • That without proper training and supervision around identifying reporting violence, abuse, neglect, and exploitation, staff culture can easily develop around uncertainty and fear around following through on best practice.
  • The importance of background checks and investigating the basis for worker’s past terminations of employment.
  • An important conversation was had about the potential presence of CCTV cameras in the house in communal spaces. The ethics of this were discussed. It was highlighted that the presence of cameras would have potentially added accountability. Melissa and Carl particularly can’t verbalise what did or didn’t happen to them, footage of the abuse and violence would have assisted in charging the perpetrators. Privacy of workers and residents was highlighted as an ethical challenge.
Disability Royal Commission

Hearing 10, Education & training of health Professionals

Hearing 10 “Education and training of health professionals in relation to people with cognitive disability” took place in Sydney from Tuesday 15th to Wednesday 16th December 2020 and was the last hearing to occur for this year.  It was closed to the public, but available for streaming on the DRC website.

Hearing 10 sought to explore the ways in which curricula at undergraduate and postgraduate medical study addresses the needs of people with cognitive disability, and how these considerations inform accreditation and oversight of education and training programs. Practice standards and the measures of professional competencies were also discussed.

Key themes to emerge from the hearing were:

  • The prevalence of diagnostic overshadowing and misdiagnosis where medical care for people with cognitive disability are concerned
  • Attitudes and assumptions about people with cognitive disability as they pertain to notions of quality of life, and how these in turn affect service delivery. Low expectations are a common issue.
  • The importance of actively involving people with disability and their families/carers in decision making around training and education for healthcare professionals.
Disability Royal Commission

Hearing 9, Pathways and barriers to open employment

Hearing 9 “Pathways and Barriers to Open Employment for People with Disability” took place from Monday, 7th December 2020 to Friday, 11th December 2020 in Brisbane. he hearing was not open to the public due to the pandemic, but was available for streaming on the DRC website.

Hearing 9 sought to explore the barrier to employment experienced by people with disability. These barriers were identified as being attitudinal, physical/environmental, organisational and structural in scope. The extent to which these systemic barriers contribute to violence, abuse, neglect and exploitation of people with disability was also a point of investigation.

Hearing 9 also focused on how employers can embed principles of inclusivity and accessibility into workplace culture, as well as how they can promote employment opportunities and allow for adjustments in the processes of people with disability finding, maintaining, and returning to employment.

Takeaway findings include:

  • The complexity of balancing need for reasonable adjustment and recognising the extent to which people with disability face barriers in the workplace, and the principle of treating everyone “the same” and affording equal opportunity.
  • Stronger regulation and support for employers to shift attitudes around people with disability in the workplace were highlighted as necessary.
  • That low employment of people with disability must be understood alongside other structural issues faced such as accessing support services, housing, public transport, etc. The intersections of these issues are key.
Disability Royal Commission

Royal Commission Update – Brisbane Hearing

Hearing 8, “The experiences of First Nations people with disability and their families in contact with child protection systems” took place in Brisbane from Monday 23rd November to Friday November 27th. The hearing was not open to the public due to the pandemic, but was available for streaming on the DRC website.

Hearing 8 was the first to specifically examine the experiences of First Nations people with disability. Takeaway findings include:

  • The specific experience of First Nations parents with disability who are in contact with child protection systems has, until now, been under-explored.
  • First Nations parents with disability navigate three different “worlds”; First Nations world, the disability world, and the world of being “Australian”. This combination means they are more likely to both experience racism and ableism. colonisation, poverty, chronic health conditions, racism, intergenerational trauma, and a lack of culturally appropriate services.
  • The Australian Institute of Health and Wellbeing reports that in 2018-2019 First Nations children were 8 times as likely enter child protection services than non-Indigenous children.
  • Due to incomplete data and limitations in recording and reporting parental disability status in child protection systems, it is not clear on a statistical basis, whether children of parents with disability, including First Nation parents, are more likely to be over-represented within those systems.
  • There are cultural differences in the ways that mental health, intelligence, functionality, and disability are conceptualised in First Nations communities, that are essential to providing culturally safe and appropriate support.
  • The importance of recognising the effects of intergenerational trauma, ongoing dispossession, and the prevalence of systemic racism when understanding the health and wellbeing of First Nations communities. Furthermore, understanding that a mistrust for government systems held by many First Nations people stems from the direct role these systems have played, and continue to play as the direct perpetrator of these acts.
  • Recognising that poverty as a result of dispossession and displacement acts as an intersecting factor when understanding the relationship between Aboriginality, disability, and child protection systems. 
  • First Nations communities advocate for children to be left with their families in culture, regardless of disability or otherwise. Culture is a lived experience and integral to First Nations models of health and wellbeing.
  • A refocus and reinvestment away from child removal to preventative, community-led services which empower families is recommended. The necessary characteristics of these suggested services are: trauma-informed, strengths-based, culturally safe, wholistic, and replacing a “one size fits all” model in favour of the one that recognises the diversity of lived experience and culture amongst First Nations communities.
  • Access to and engagement with individual advocacy was highlighted as a key protective factor for First Nations parents with disability navigating the child protection system.

Disability Royal Commission

Progress Report Published

The Royal Commission has released a Second Progress Report summarising the work carried out between 1 January 2020 and 30 June 2020.

The Progress Report provides an update about the submissions the DRC has received so far and about private sessions that have taken place.

The report also details plans to engage with people with disability in closed institutions, such as prisons and youth detention centres and other closed environments.

Disability Royal Commission

Schedule of Hearings released

The Disability Royal Commission has released a schedule of hearings for the rest of 2020.

Due to COVID-19 restrictions it is anticipated that most witnesses will appear by video.

The next hearing in Sydney from 18- 21 August, will investigate the experiences of people with disability during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

For further details on Disability Royal Commission’s Our Schedule page.

September (Week beginning 21): Public hearing, Sydney – Psychotropic medication, behaviour support and behaviours of concern

October (Week beginning 12): Public hearing, Brisbane – Barriers experienced by students with disability in accessing and obtaining a safe, quality and inclusive school education and consequent life course impacts

November (Week beginning 16): Public hearing, Brisbane – Long term, including indefinite, detention and interactions with the criminal justice system experienced by people with disability

November (Week beginning 23): Public hearing, Brisbane – The experiences of First Nations people with disability and their families in contact with child protection systems

December (TBC):  Public hearing, Sydney – Training and education of health care professionals in relation to people with cognitive disability

December (TBC):  Public hearing, Sydney – Systemic barriers in the pathways to employment for people with disability

Disability Royal Commission

New Public Hearing Announced

The Disability Royal Commission’s next hearing will be in Sydney, starting Tuesday the 18 August.

It will investigate the experiences of people with disability during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

The hearing will look at government responses to the pandemic and the impact on people with disability.

You can find out more on the Disability Royal Commission webpage here.