House debates

Monday, 18 February 2019

Resolutions of the Senate

Disability Services; Consideration of Senate Message

4:03 pm

Photo of Linda BurneyLinda Burney (Barton, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Preventing Family Violence) Share this | Hansard source

We need a royal commission not to hear the voices of people in this chamber but to hear the voices of the people who are sitting in the galleries and the many thousands like them. We need a royal commission to hear the voices of people with disabilities, and their families, carers and advocates. To the people here in the chamber today, I say: welcome to you all.

On Saturday just gone, the Leader of the Opposition and I met with people with a disability and their families, who told us yet again why a royal commission is needed. There was Paula and Peter Curotte, who told us how their son Alexander was smothered under a blanket and as a result has hypoxic brain injury and can no longer walk. We met Mark Modra, who told us that the abuse suffered by his son, Luke, still haunts him years and years later. We met Debra Frith, who told us how her son was locked in a cupboard at school, and, just recently, tied up with rope, and was being denied an education. We met Danny, a remarkable young man, who told us what it was like to be bullied at school, to have things thrown at you and to be called terrible names—and, most heartbreaking of all, for nothing to be done about it.

We need a royal commission to hear these stories. It is essential to healing the past and making much-needed improvements for the future. It is a national shame. As the Leader of the Opposition has said, a royal commission is the 'king of all inquiries', and nothing less will do. A royal commission is necessary because it will provide people with disability, like you, and their families and carers with an opportunity to tell your stories at the highest level, and seek justice. A royal commission becomes part of the national healing process. A royal commission will improve services and supports in the future, including fixing some of the problems with the rollout of the NDIS. It must be a dedicated royal commission. It must be broad ranging, covering education, health, mental health and justice, and it must be able to inquire into historic abuse as well as make recommendations for improvements for the future—and the terms of reference will be worked out with you.

We know that people with disability experience much higher rates of violence than the rest of the community. It is 80 to 90 per cent for women with disability, and it is more than three times more likely for children with disability. But people with disability are often treated as unreliable witnesses, and, too often, perpetrators have been allowed to continue to work with vulnerable people. A royal commission will expose this, and a royal commission can stop this. In 2017, 163 community groups, including St Vincent de Paul, Anglicare and Amnesty International, called on the Liberals to establish this royal commission. I won't go through the history; I think it has been well documented.

In these last few minutes of my contribution, I want to recognise shadow minister Carol Brown, from the other place, who has done remarkable work on this issue over many years. Thank you so much, Carol. I know the community thanks you as well.

I say to people with disability: we believe you, we need to hear your stories, and thank you for making the journey today. Not only do we need to hear your stories; the country needs to hear your stories. You have been brave, you have been powerful and you have led the way for establishing this royal commission. This royal commission must be broad ranging, it must look into historical abuse and it must cover not just institutions but also homes and other places you are, and that's what we are committed to. We are committed to a proper, full, standalone royal commission because this issue, and you, deserve nothing less.

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