eBlast: Summary of First Hearing of Royal Commission into Violence, Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation of People with Disability held on Monday 16 September 2019

The first Public Sitting of the Disability Royal Commission was held in Brisbane on Monday 16 September. This marked an historic moment in time after many years of advocacy to get a Royal Commission so the voices of people with disability could be heard in relation to their experiences of violence, abuse, exploitation and neglect. The following provides a summary of the meeting:

 “We have to ensure that the voices of people who have been unheard, can finally be heard”.

“The Royal Commission is an opportunity to achieve transformational change. It is a very monumental challenge but one that should be embraced”.

– The honourable Ronald Sackville AO, QC, Disability Royal Commission Chair

The Hon Ronald Sackville AO QC has been appointed as Chair of the Royal Commission. Mr Sackville will be supported by six other Royal Commissioners:

  • The Hon Roslyn Atkinson AO
  • Ms Barbara Bennett PSM
  • Dr Rhonda Galbally AC
  • Ms Andrea Mason OAM
  • Alastair McEwin AM
  • The Hon John Ryan AM

Acknowledgement of Country – by Andrea Jane Mason OAM


It was acknowledged that best practice and decision making includes people with disability. A focus of the Royal Commission will be on what the Australian Government, institutions and communities can do to prevent abuse, neglect and violence of people with disability.

Terms of Reference

The Terms of Reference were read out. The Commissioners will look at all of the groups that provide services to people with disability. The Commissioners will find out how these groups can protect people with disability. The Commissioners will also look at how society can be better for people with disability and to understand the best ways of working with and supporting people with disability and to make our society more inclusive. This includes protecting everyone’s right to live a safe and independent life. The Commissioners can look at all areas.

Click here to view the Letters Patent that outlines the Commission’s terms of reference.

For an easy read version please click here.

Opening Statements

Opening statements were made by Andrea Jane Mason OAM, Honorable Ronald Sackville AO, QC Disability Royal Commission Chair and Alastair McEwan AM

Key points:

  • First Nations people are twice as likely to have a disability as other Australians;
  • The Terms of Reference have been finalised. To date, the Commission a received 65 submissions from the public consultation with 25% from people with disability, carers and family members. The Terms of Reference are extremely broad and cover all settings and individual experiences. They have a rights based focus including the Convention of the Rights of Persons with Disability including civil, political, and cultural rights;
  • The purpose of the Royal Commission is to promote an inclusive society and the rights of people with disability to be educated in general education, access work opportunities, free health care services, access to justice, and choice as to where they wish to live within the community;
  • The Royal Commission will be accessible for all including strategies to reach out to people in rural and remote areas, those in closed settings, regardless of age, sex, gender identity, inter-sex, ethnic origin or race;
  • The Royal Commission acknowledges the international disability mantra – nothing about us without us.

The purpose of public hearings were explained. They are to:

  1. Allow people with disability to tell their story;
  2. Expose examples of abuse, violence and neglect;
  3. Expose systemic failures;
  4. Safeguard against wrongful conduct;
  5. Promote improvements to policy; and
  6. Explore measures the community can take.

There has been an amendment made to the Royal Commission Act 1902 so the Royal Commission can hold private sessions for people with disability to tell their story. These sessions will not be under oath, and will not be included in official records, but the information will be used to inform the work of the Commissioners. People with disability can give evidence in public settings if they choose.

Rebecca Treston QC Senior Counsel Assisting made introductions of counsel and gave the following definitions of key terms:

  1. Violence & abuse is termed as – assault, restrictive practices including physical and chemical, humiliation and harassment;
  2. Neglect is termed as physical, emotional, passive and wilful deprivation of food, water, shelter, access to mobility, education, medical care and treatment;
  3. Exploitation is termed as improper use of another person’s labour, resources, employment and demanding sex or sexual activity as payment.

Submissions to the Disability Royal Commission opened on the 29 July 2019. There is a guide on the website in multiple formats on how to make submissions.  To view the guide click here.


The Commission will also have focused hearings around the following domains:

  • Homes and living, relationships, education, learning, health, justice, self-determination, autonomy, right to the dignity of risk, economic participation;
  • Next submissions have the focus of the domains of education, learning, homes and living – and to include Restrictive Practices, exclusion of students, and housing.

Advocacy & Support during the Disability Royal Commission

Advocacy services funded under the National Disability Advocacy Program (NDAP) have been given additional funding to support people with disability during the Disability Royal Commission. Information about the program can be found at National Disability Advocacy Program (click here to view) along with a Disability Advocacy Finder tool to help you locate a service provider near you (click here to view).  Alternatively, you can contact the Disability Royal Commission Hotline on 1800 517 199 or email DRCEnquiries@royalcommission.gov.au and they can assist you to find your nearest advocacy service.

National Counselling and Referral Services

A free national telephone counselling and referral service for people who are affected by the Disability Royal Commission will be available from October 2019.

If you need counselling right now, you can call Lifeline on 13 11 14 at any time, 24 hours a day.

How to Get Involved:

  • You can call the Royal Commission on:1800 771 800;
  • Click here to sign up to the Commission’s website for updates;
  • Click here to view the draft accessibility strategy;
  • Workshops will be offered and regular community forums.

Other Useful Links:

  • Click here to view the webcast of the First Public Hearing of the Disability Royal Commission;
  • Legal support – National Legal Aid (NLA) together with the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services (NATSILS) will provide a free, national legal advisory service for people engaging with the Royal Commission into Violence, Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation of People with Disability. The legal advisory service will be an independent, trauma informed and culturally safe service that will be delivered nationally. You can contact NLA on 1800 771 800 between 8.30am-5pm AEST. An interim website will be available at legalaid.nsw.gov.au from Monday 16 September.

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