Disability royal commission puts spotlight on COVID

No group has been more profoundly affected by COVID-19 than people with disability, the chair of the disability royal commission says.

disability covid mask

The disability royal commission will examine the impact of COVID-19 on the lives of people with disability when it resumes public hearings next week.

Ronald Sackville QC

The four-day hearing will open on Tuesday August 18 and is expected to hear phone and video evidence from up to 40 witnesses.

Commission Chair Ronald Sackville QC warned some evidence would be extremely distressing.

“The hearing will examine, among other things, the extent to which people with disability have experienced violence, abuse, neglect or exploitation as a consequence of any lack of coordinated action to address their particular needs in this time of crisis,” Mr Sackville said in a statement on Tuesday.

The NDIS Commission has been notified that five NDIS participants and one worker have died from COVID-19 since March.

Those figures don’t include disability sector COVID deaths that may have occurred outside the NDIS.

“The focus of the NDIS Commission is to work with the NDIA to respond to the needs of NDIS participants during this crisis and ensure that they continue to have access to the support they need,” the spokesperson said.

Looking at diverse groups

The hearing will explore the impact of COVID-19 on people with disability including First Nations people, culturally diverse people and women.

It will also focus on what needs to be done to promote the inclusion of people with disability during the pandemic.

Witnesses will include experts, service providers, advocates and government representatives including from the NDIA and the NDIS Quality and Safeguards Commission.

It comes after the Royal Commission released a Statement of Concern in March.

In a progress report released on Tuesday showing the inquiry has received 1,137 submissions, Mr Sackville said the commission’s schedule of work had been interrupted by COVID-19 “in ways that no one in Australia could have foreseen”.

He said no group has been more profoundly affected than people with disability, especially those living in closed environments or who rely upon service providers or support workers for the essentials of life.

Despite this, he said the commission had made considerable progress and had been able maintain engagement with people with disability thanks to technology.

“As the recent resurgence of COVID-19 in Victoria demonstrates, neither people with disability nor the Royal Commission can be sure of when the pandemic will be over or even under control,” he said.

“In the meantime the work of the Royal Commission must continue.”

Lack of witness protection

Greens disability rights and services spokesman Jordon Steele-John said the progress report showed a lack of witness protection was affecting the commission’s work.

Jordon Steele-John

“It makes it clear that the limitations of confidentiality provisions are impeding on people’s willingness to speak with the Commission,” he said.

“The failure of the Morrison government to strengthen witness protections is risking the loss of vital evidence and will ultimately weaken the Royal Commission’s findings, and therefore recommendations.”

He said significant work still has to be done to engage with WA, SA and the NT with data showing that three quarters of submissions had come from individuals and organisations in the eastern states.

The commission is scheduled to deliver an interim report by October 30.

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