Tuesday, 10 September 2019
Royal Commissions Amendment (Private Sessions) Bill 2019; Consideration of Senate Message
That the amendments be agreed to.
I would like to thank the Senate for their consideration of the Royal Commissions Amendment (Private Sessions) Bill 2019. The private sessions framework made an important contribution to the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. Subject to passage of this bill, the government proposes to recommend to the Governor-General that private sessions be made available for both the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety and the Royal Commission into Violence, Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation of People with Disability. The government moved amendments in the Senate so that only royal commissioners may hold private sessions. It is important that individuals who may share highly sensitive and personal information in a private session feel confident in the process.
I would like to acknowledge the bipartisan support that the amendments have received from the opposition. I also note the amendments that were flagged in this place by the member for Mayo that were not proceeded with in the Senate, and I look forward to working with her over the next six months or so to begin consideration of the issues that were flagged.
Labor is pleased to support these amendments. These amendments would remove the ability of a royal commissioner to delegate to a senior staff member the power to receive evidence in a private session. The amendments address a concern that was raised with Labor by Senator Steele-John and disability advocates in relation to the Royal Commission into Violence, Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation of People with Disability—concerns we then raised with the government. But while there may be circumstances where it is appropriate for a senior staff member with particular skills to receive evidence in a private session in the context of some future royal commissions, Labor agrees that it would not be appropriate in the context of the disability royal commission.
Labor recognises that survivors of abuse should have the opportunity to have their stories heard by a commissioner and not by a senior staff member, however qualified that person may be. While there was no suggestion that the chair of the disability royal commission would in fact delegate to senior staff members the power to hold private sessions, the existence of such a power caused understandable anxiety amongst some in the disability community.
We thank Senator Steele-John and disability advocates for raising their concerns with Labor on this issue. We also thank the government for working with Labor to positively and constructively respond to those concerns by moving these amendments.
Question agreed to.