Monday, 18 February 2019
Resolutions of the Senate
Disability Services; Consideration of Senate Message
That the message be considered immediately.
Question agreed to.
That the resolution of Senate be agreed to.
I take the issue of abuse and neglect of people with disability very seriously and so does the government I lead. We take it seriously because abuse and neglect of our most vulnerable is abhorrent. As we've seen in other areas, institutions we expect to provide care and support have often failed in providing that care. In the past, all too often we thought abuse or neglect in institutions were isolated occurrences; instead, we discovered it was systemic failure, as we noted last year in relation to the National Apology.
So we must be vigilant in ensuring the standards of care for people with disabilities are at their absolute highest. That is why our government are undertaking substantial reform to improve the treatment of people with disability. We have established a royal commission into abuse and neglect in aged-care facilities, including young people with disabilities in aged-care facilities. We were able to establish this quickly as the Commonwealth has responsibility for the funding and legislation of aged care. As well, there have been a number of inquiries looking into abuse and neglect of people with disability at both federal and state levels. These inquiries have identified many issues relevant to the disability sector and have been incorporated into the NDIS Quality and Safeguarding Framework.
As members know, the focus of the government has been on rolling out the National Disability Insurance Scheme as well as establishing a new national quality and safeguard system to support people with disability. As part of that, the government has established new, significant and comprehensive safeguards to prevent abuse and neglect of people with disability under the NDIS. The Commonwealth provided $209 million to establish the NDIS Quality and Safeguards Commission to regulate the delivery of services under the NDIS and to protect the rights of people with a disability. The NDIS Commission has a number of critical functions, including registering providers, handling complaints and reportable incidents, enforcing a code of conduct for NDIS providers and workers, and national policy settings for consistent worker screening. It also has strong investigation and regulatory powers and can take tough, appropriate action including deregistration, banning orders and civil penalties. The NDIS Commission has extensive powers over both registered and unregistered providers. The NDIS and the associated quality and safeguarding arrangements are still in the process of being rolled out across Australia The NDIS Commission commenced operations in New South Wales and South Australia on 1 July 2018 and will commence in the Australian Capital Territory, the Northern Territory, Queensland, Tasmania and Victoria on 1 July 2019 and in Western Australia on 1 July 2020. This means the Commonwealth currently has very limited jurisdiction in regulation of disability services.
On Friday, I received correspondence from Senator Steele-John, which contained a draft terms of reference for the proposed royal commission into disability services. I thank him for doing so and I appreciate the very concrete and very detailed suggestions that he has been able to provide to us on this issue. They, of course, will be of assistance as we consider now this motion and move forward on this matter. I note his terms of reference seek to look into the experiences—rightly, I should stress—of people directly or indirectly affected in institutional, residential and other contexts.
As the Attorney-General noted on the weekend, a royal commission looking into past issues, backwards, into disability care is essentially then a royal commission that would look into state facilities and, at the very least, require consultation and agreement with the states and likely letters patent from the states. We understand this to be true. This should not be a royal commission that only looks at the narrow area of responsibility that has only become part of the Commonwealth's responsibility in recent times. The issues that are relevant here go back over some period of time, certainly back a decade. They principally involve the conduct of state and territory governments in the delivery of disability services, and they should, obviously, be considered in any royal commission held into this area.
I do note though, as I did in question time today, that the establishment of a royal commission was previously discussed through the Council of Australian Governments and the COAG Disability Reform Council and, at that time, states and territories did not indicate support for a royal commission. So these are hurdles that would have to be addressed. I want to keep all Australians safe and to use whatever powers we have to do so. But this work often requires us to work in partnership with the states and territories, and that's what we will have to address ourselves to going forward. Violence, abuse and neglect of people with disability outside service settings, such as at home or in the community, is mostly covered under state and territory law, so working with the states and territories in this area, looking at matters in the past as well as looking forward, will be absolutely essential. I will be seeking further advice from all states and territories to discuss this important matter of establishing a royal commission, as well as consulting directly and extensively with stakeholders about what the precise terms of reference might be and what other royal commissions, in particular the aged-care royal commission, might be able to offer as a way to address these issues.
These are the options before the government. As the House knows, calling a royal commission is a matter for the executive government. The Senate has put forward a motion and it won't be opposed by the government. It will be supported by the government. But it will be the government that then will take that matter into consideration and work through all the necessary issues to be able to do something positively in this area and to act on these issues. That's exactly what we'll do. We have no interest in making any partisanship of this issue. One of the reasons I decided to establish the royal commission into aged care is that I believed the royal commission into aged care would provide a fact base, a new platform, to support a further decade of bipartisanship on action on aged care, because I was concerned that that bipartisanship was waning. I sincerely hope that that is not the case in relation to disability care and to be able to go forward with this issue. That is the good faith in which I will engage with the issue and seek to lead the issue forward.
I will report back to the House when we have further advice on these matters and make announcements as and when the government is in a position to do so. With that, I move:
That the resolution of the Senate be agreed to.