Time needed for people with disability to tell their stories

Since the commencement of the Royal Commission into Violence, Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation of People with Disability (the Disability Royal Commission or DRC), DANA has been engaging with the advocacy sector on the delivery of DRC advocacy support.

Disability advocates on the ground have told DANA:  

  • People with disability need time and support to tell their stories safely; and
  • That disruptions due to COVID-19 and delay in making legislative amendments to confidentiality have had a massive impact on the already complex and demanding challenges of engaging and supporting people with disability to share their stories with the DRC.

To truly reap the benefits of the substantial public investment in this historic Royal Commission, granting the requested 17 month extension is essential. This extension must include extended funding of DRC support services including individual and systemic advocacy and counselling (through DSS) and legal support (through the Attorney-General’s Department) for people who have experienced disability violence, abuse, neglect and/or exploitation.   

Advocates from around Australia have emphasised the immense value of people with disability being provided with practical support to tell their stories:

     “People feel listened to – maybe for the first time – and that their story has value…” (South Australian Advocate)  

     “I think it’s providing a much needed support for people who have a story to share but are overwhelmed or unclear on the processes involved. For some people, a single point of contact to assist them to talk through their story, write it up, and source legal support (or counselling) if necessary, is what is required for them to go through with it.” (Victorian Advocate)

Advocates have identified concerns around confidentiality as a key barrier:

     “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.” (Queensland Advocate)

     “…it’s being able to say to families that this is completely confidential and to be able to guarantee that and at the moment you can’t guarantee that, can you?… I think [amending legislation is] really important and it will help people come forward.(Western Australian Advocate)

We have heard that COVID-19 has severely hampered building momentum and community engagement:

     “…the COVID pandemic has made it an exceptionally difficult time for all advocacy offering DRC assistance. Many people who may have come forward are dealing with difficult times, they are dealing with this chaos rather than the submission.” (Queensland Advocate)

     “…with COVID it has been hard to get out and talk to people about the DRC.” (Victorian Advocate)

     “…Difficulty with carrying out effective community engagement activities under COVID-19 safety restrictions…” (Tasmanian Advocate)

This is particularly the case in jurisdictions where no hearings have been held, due to the lack of local media coverage:  

     “I am trying to get out there and promote it and put posters up, but it is like pushing water up a hill…” (Western Australian Advocate)

DANA has also heard that providing advocacy support for people to tell their story to the DRC is labour-intensive and time-consuming. It requires building strong relationships across complex environments. A 17 month extension would allow time to continue raising awareness, to build trust with clients and to support as many people as possible to make a submission.  

We urge the Commonwealth Government to ensure that Australians with disability have the opportunity to have their voices heard.

DANA joins with other Disability Representative Organisations, who have also called for an immediate extension:

Women With Disability Australia – WWDA calls for urgent action on request to extend Disability Royal Commission 

First Peoples Disability NetworkMedia Release: Urgent DRC extension needed to stop violence and abuse – FPDN

People With Disability Australia  – Media Release: The Disability Royal Commission needs more time to stop violence and abuse of people with disability