Senate debates

Tuesday, 11 May 2021


Royal Commission into Violence, Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation of People with Disability; Consideration

5:15 pm

Photo of Jordon Steele-JohnJordon Steele-John (WA, Australian Greens) Share this | Hansard source

I move:

That the Senate take note of the document.

In contributing to the consideration of this document, I am taken back vividly to those very frightening times not so long ago when the pandemic first reached our shores and it became very clear to us as disabled people, as it became clear to many members of many at-risk communities in our country, that our government did not have a proper plan. Whether it was Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, older Australians or disabled people, it very, very quickly became clear that we had been forgotten, that the systems and processes that were spinning up and coming into place were leaving us out. It was a quite terrifying time, as disabled people all over the country dropped the vital work that we were doing—primarily, work in preparation for the royal commission into disability abuse—to scramble together an attempt to call upon our government to take action and to take necessary steps.

It felt at the time that there was not a single person within the health department whose dedicated job it was to ensure that the pandemic response met the needs of disabled people. That royal commission heard our concerns and shared them and called on the UN rapporteur to intervene to make statements. A hearing was held into the government's response and its treatment of disabled people during the pandemic, and it vindicated those very concerns as it found that there was not a single person in the entire Australian Department of Health with the dedicated responsibility for disabled people—4.4 million Australians with a historically disadvantaged access to the healthcare system at the best of times. Need I remind the chamber that the life expectancy of an intellectually disabled Australian is 24 years less than that of the rest of the population. This community at risk did not have a single person on the job. Those were the findings of the commission. That is the evidence it took.

Today we have a response from the government to that interim report, and I note with deep concern that the critical recommendation 16—to ensure that the quality and safeguards commission's policies, procedures and practices reflect its powers and responsibilities to actively protect and preserve the safety, health and wellbeing of disabled people and national disability insurance participants—has merely been noted. Sometimes it does feel as though there is a central lack of humanity at the heart of this government, particularly on days when I come into this place and hear senators on the other side of the chamber speak about the death of a disabled child waiting for vital equipment and make the observation that, 'Occasionally some things go wrong.' I ask you whether that reflects the humanity that the Australian people expect of their government.

Has the government learned? I fear not. This very Monday, the royal commission shall reconvene, to hold yet another special hearing into the treatment of disabled people in relation to the vaccine rollout, from which we have, at various times, been excluded and forgotten once again. Again and again, disabled people request that this government, our government, listen to us, engage with us and support us to live a good life, and again and again this government fails. We die. We struggle. We suffer. This Monday, we will see another opportunity to get to the truth. The truth must be heard and acted upon.

I seek leave to continue my remarks later.

Leave granted; debate adjourned.


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