North East Citizen Advocacy

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.