The chair of the disability royal commission has asked the prime minister for an extension of time to deliver its final report.

The report was due next April but Chair Ronald Sackville has asked for it be extended until September 2023, saying the terms of the royal commission are “extraordinarily broad” and describing it as ‘not a sprint but a marathon’.

“There are no quick fixes for the endemic and deep rooted issues we have identified and explored,” he said as he tabled the commission’s interim report.

The extension means the commission will have been doing its work for four and a half years by the time the report is handed down.

Ronald Sackville QC at a December 2019 hearing.

Release of interim report

The Royal Commission into Violence, Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation of People with Disability released its 560 page interim report last Friday, based on public and private hearings, workshops and more than 1,200 submissions.

The report doesn’t contain any recommendations but Mr Sackville says it is designed to identify issues, raise questions and point to the way ahead.

It also contains 36 examples of personal stories, including children being bullied and restrained in education settings, serious neglect and misdiagnoses of people with cognitive disability by the healthcare system, physical and sexual abuse of people living in supported accommodation by staff, and discrimination in the workplace.

Lack of data

Mr Sackville said there is no nationally consistent data on neglect or exploitation experienced by people with disability and the report indentified the lack of “useful data” as a major theme.

“This absence of data means that nobody can estimate with confidence the levels of violence, abuse, neglect and exploitation experienced by people with disability,” it says.

However, Mr Sackville said almost two-thirds of people with disability have experienced violence in their lifetime, and people with disability are twice as likely as people without disability to experience violence in a 12-month period.

Women with disability also experience twice the rate of sexual violence as women without disability in the same time frame.

The report identifies at key themes and issues including the need for choice and control, negative attitudes towards disability, segregation and exclusion, restrictive practices, supports and services, advocacy, oversight and complaints and funding.

It also foreshadows areas for further inquiry including the use of restrictive practices in schools, the safety and quality group homes, health care for people with cognitivie disability and improving data.

Emerging themes include the role of family and advocates in preventing violence abuse neglect and exploitation, poverty, unemployment and the experiences of people with disability with the justice system.

The report also contains a section on First Nations people with disability.

The Royal Commission will this month publish a report arising from hearings into the Commonwealth response to COVID and how the pandemic affected people with disability, Mr Sackville said, and containing findings and recommendations.

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