Thursday, 25 July 2019
Royal Commission into Violence, Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation of People with Disability
I, and also on behalf of Senator Brown, move:
(1)That the Senate—
(ii) that however, as key decision makers of public service institutions which will be the subject of investigation and examination during the Royal Commission into Violence, Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation of People with Disability, they have significant and unmanageable conflicts of interest which are highly likely to jeopardise the integrity of the Royal Commission,
(iii) that over 60 disability organisations have called for the resignation and removal of these two individuals as commissioners for the Royal Commission,
(iv) that these organisations have created a set of six criteria to guide the government in the appointment of replacement commissioners,
(v) the 1500 individuals who have signed a petition calling for both Mr Ryan and Ms Bennett to step down—many individuals and advocates from the disability community, including former People with Disability Australia President, Mr Craig Wallace, have said they will not give evidence to the Royal Commission should these individuals remain, and
(vi) that it is essential that disabled people, their families, and their organisations have confidence in the processes and recommendations of the Royal Commission; and
(b) calls on the Federal Government to immediately remove Mr Ryan and Ms Bennett as Commissioners, and replace them with individuals who meet the positive criteria set out by the disability community.
(2) That a message be sent to the House of Representatives seeking its concurrence in this resolution.
John Ryan AM and Barbara Bennett PSM are recognised for their long and distinguished Public Service careers. The government does not accept the allegation that they have an unmanageable conflict of interest. Media reports implying fault, and therefore conflict of interest, published in The Australian as facts, not as opinion, are without truth or foundation.
Over 60 organisations and 1,500 individuals who have signed a petition are calling for the government to address the significant perceived conflict of interest that commissioners Barbara Bennett and John Ryan hold in relation to their appointments as commissioners to the disability royal commission. People with a disability, their organisations and supporters have called for these two commissioners to step down and for stronger provision for all commissioners about real, perceived and potential conflicts of interest. Labor is very concerned that many individuals and advocates from the disability community have said they will not participate or give evidence if these royal commissioners remain. It is essential that people with a disability, their families and carers and their organisations have confidence in the royal commission. It's time for the government to act.
Centre Alliance makes no disparaging remarks against the people that are involved in this, but there is a principle called apprehended bias. You'll be familiar with it in the courts. If there is a perceived conflict of interest, judges will normally recuse themselves, not because there is bias but because there's an apprehension of bias, and an innocent bystander who walks past the court must always be fully confident as to the impartiality. That's the issue here. So we will be supporting the motion, but we make no disparaging remarks against the highly qualified and esteemed people that have been named in the motion.
This motion is not making any particular commentary on the qualification of the appointed commissioners to do the jobs they were in. This motion relates to their ability to do the jobs they have been appointed to, and the reality is that these two individuals are disqualified based on the conflict of interest that arises from their immediate past employment as senior bureaucrats within the very systems and processes that this commission will investigate. They do not have the confidence of the disability community, they will shortly no longer enjoy the confidence of this Senate, and the government must immediately move to replace these commissioners with folks the disability community can trust.
The Jacqui Lambie Network is absolutely horrified at this. This is no different to having a royal commission into veterans affairs and putting past secretaries on a panel like that. That would be absolutely horrifying. I cannot believe that you would actually do this in the first place. It's like putting someone that's been abused back in front of their abuser, and it's absolutely horrifying that it's been done in the first place.