Royal Commission: Analysing the recommendations on independent disability advocacy

The Final Report on the Disability Royal Commission (DRC) runs to 12 volumes, 5000 pages and 222 recommendations. The important role of independent disability advocacy is reflected throughout these volumes, in many references to submissions made by, or with the support of, disability advocacy organisations and the many ways disability advocates defend human rights, promote safety and support inclusion in the daily lives of Australians with disability. As in the Interim Report, the DRC credits disability advocates as fundamental to this Royal Commission being established, through tireless and persistent efforts. (See DANA’s blog post from November 2020).  

The DANA team is very interested to read and digest the full report, as there will be many opportunities to coordinate advocacy efforts across the sector for stronger laws and policy and improved systems to respond to and prevent violence, abuse, neglect and exploitation of people with disability.  We are especially interested in analysing the report’s findings in relation to safeguarding, supported decision making and emergency response and preparedness.  

But first, recommendations for independent disability advocacy

To begin our analysis, we have focused on the sections and recommendations specifically concerning independent disability advocacy, (where we see some reflection of the urgent and medium-term recommendations that DANA made in our December 2022 submission and other evidence and submissions by advocacy organisations), in the following DRC recommendations:  

  • 6.21 – Additional funding for advocacy programs  
  • 6.22 – Improved data collection and reporting on met and unmet demand for disability advocacy  
  • 6.23 – Culturally safe disability advocacy  

Volume 6 (Enabling autonomy and access), Chapter 3 focuses on “Advocacy and informal supports”, and speaks of the positive, enabling, critical and essential role of advocacy and advocates. We are pleased to see that the DRC concludes, as DANA has long argued, that “immediate action is needed to address the shortfall in funding” as despite the limitations of available data about the levels of demand, the Commissioners “have taken into account the powerful evidence demonstrating the critical role of advocacy for people with disability and the extent of unmet demand for advocacy services.” (p289)   

Additional funding 

As many previous government and parliamentary inquiries have also concluded, there is clear acknowledgement by the DRC that national advocacy funding is not meeting demand and crucially a recommendation for additional funding – the amounts for additional funding being set at $16.6 million per annum for the National Disability Advocacy Program and $20.3 million per annum for the National Disability Insurance Scheme.  

Importantly, Recommendation 6.21 also asserts that these amounts should be indexed to maintain their value in real terms from year to year and that both the Federal and State and Territory governments should ensure long-term and stable funding for disability advocacy programs to meet demand. This section of the report is informed by modelling the DRC commissioned by Taylor Fry and the Centre for International Economics (CIE) – See Increased funding to meet demand for disability advocacy services).   

Any increase of funding for advocacy in response to evidence of unmet demand is a step in the right direction that DANA would welcome from all Australian governments. However, DANA will be arguing in our Pre-Budget Submission that these amounts would be insufficient to address the current magnitude of unmet demand, according to indications from across the advocacy sector, particularly for organisations operating in rural and remote locations that we have consulted with recently.  Nor would these amounts address unmet need for independent disability advocacy, which includes people who have not approached an advocacy organisation but need help with an issue and require targeted and assertive outreach (and in-reach into closed settings) to ensure they are aware of and can access independent disability advocacy when needed.  

Improved data collection and reporting on met and unmet demand  

DANA is pleased to see a recommendation that the funding increases recommended in 6.21 be informed by improved data collection and reporting on met and unmet demand for disability advocacy across jurisdictions, and that data should be collected and published on an annual basis. This is one of the priorities for our colleagues in the National Centre for Disability Advocacy (NCDA), with one of the NCDA’s main functions being to address the issue of unmet need and unmet demand through the analysis of data to help demonstrate the capacity of the sector.  

Currently there is a strong need for investment in data remediation before any modelling can adequately predict current and future demand. We are confident that improved data would strongly evidence the need for considerably higher levels of funding to meet both demand and need for independent disability advocacy. It would also provide more consistent and reliable insights into areas of currently unmet need if as Recommendation 6.22 proposes, the data were to, at a minimum:  

  • be collected and published on an annual basis;
  • include demographic indicators that show geographic location, First Nations and culturally and linguistically diverse status; and
  • identify, where possible, whether a request for disability advocacy is from or concerns a person with disability who lives in supported accommodation or is in prison or juvenile detention.

We are also pleased that the DRC calls for data collection and reporting to be included as a priority area for intergovernmental collaboration through the Disability Advocacy Work Plan under the National Disability Advocacy Framework 2023–2025 (NDAF).   

Cultural safety  

The third recommendation in this chapter concerns the provision of advocacy to some of the specific populations at higher risk of experiencing violence, abuse, neglect and exploitation and calls for increasing capacity and training for disability advocacy organisations to provide culturally appropriate and accessible advocacy services for culturally and linguistically diverse, LGBTIQA+ and First Nations people with disability. Along with the current Disability Advocacy Work Plan’s inclusion of “supporting access for First Nations people” as a priority work area, the DRC has recommended culturally and linguistically diverse and LGBTIQA+ people with disability also, including through training led by people from these groups and their representative organisations.       

DANA’s Submission on independent disability advocacy also explored the need to better address cultural diversity and safety and increased complexity and risk among culturally and linguistically diverse, First Nations and other specific populations, notably in Recommendations 1.b and 2.b.  We support the DRC’s recognition of both the important and responsive work of specialist advocacy providers focused on disadvantaged and often under-served populations and the need for sector capacity building to improve cultural competency and cultural safety of generalist advocacy organisations.  

Other advocacy discussions 

We are still delving into the report to identify all the sections that contemplate a role for disability advocates and disability advocacy organisations in the implementation of the recommendations. However, a number of other recommendations anticipate the involvement of independent disability advocacy in a range of domains – for example: the NDIS, group homes, supported employment and education. 

We will post with more analysis shortly.