You may remember that DANA, with other National disability peak organisations, sent a joint letter in September to the Hon. Christian Porter MP to express concern about the lack of long-term legislative protections for confidentiality. This followed from original correspondence in May.
In February 2020, the Hon. Ronald Sackville AO QC, Chair of the Disability Royal Commission, requested the Australian Goverment amend the legislation to extend the same privacy protections available under the Royal Commissions Act for the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses into Child Sexual Abuse to the Disability Royal Commission.
The Attorney-General published a media release on 20 October announcing these amendments will be made, indicating that: “I have instructed my department to work swiftly on the amendments, with the aim of introducing in the Autumn sittings of 2021.” No draft amendments has yet been shared.
The lack of confidentiality protections may also have led to a higher demand for private sessions, and the currently long waiting list.
DANA has been hearing from advocates that this lack of assurance is adding uncertainty and complexity to the process of making submissions or deterring people from sharing their story:
“People do not want to tell their story if it cannot be made confidentially.”
“The main problem is the lack of assurance of confidentiality. It comes up as a major issue for every single person I have assisted so far. It is also the main reason given for people who ultimately decide that while they have experienced trauma or abuse, they don’t feel safe telling the Commission about that until the legislation is changed.”
Others advocacy organisations have made public comments in support of the open letter to the Attorney-General:
“People with disability have waited a long time, some even decades, for the opportunity to give evidence to the Disability Royal Commission of distressing and traumatic incidents of violence, abuse, neglect and/or exploitation, including current incidences still happening NOW. … Without such enduring protections, this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for many damaged people with disability, their families and friends – may result in watered-down stories … or worse, some voices remaining silent.”
“Ensuring the privacy of people sharing their experiences in the Royal Commission is imperative for their safety and wellbeing. Without this assurance, people will fear backlash and exposure and will be less likely to come forward and tell the Commission what it needs to know about the violence, abuse, neglect and exploitation experienced by people with disabilities.”
“We are hearing first-hand that people living with disability are afraid of retribution.”
“#MakeItSafeToSpeak – People with disability deserve protection when making submissions to the Disability Royal Commission. Without protection people with disability, their family and friends may be reluctant to make submissions and therefore this Royal Commission cannot be as effective as possible.”
Thank you to the many advocates and advocacy organisations around the country who contributed their support and added their names to the #MakeItSafeToSpeak campaign.
To find out more about this campaign, visit the DPOA website.
To find out more about current confidentiality protections, visit the Your Story Disability Legal Support website, and check out the resources for people with disability, including a number of useful factsheets: