What is a Royal Commission?
In the Australian system of government, a Royal Commission is the highest form of inquiry on matters of public importance. The Commissioners have the power to hear witnesses under oath, read submissions and collect evidence.
What can the Royal Commission achieve?
The Royal Commission can hold people accountable for doing the wrong thing by law. For example, the 1995 Wood Royal Commission investigated corruption in the New South Wales police force. Seven police officers were jailed as a result and the Royal Commission prompted changes to the way the police force operates today.
Who are the Commissioners and what powers do they have?
Seven Commissioners have been appointed to examine and expose violence towards, or neglect, abuse or exploitation of, people with disability. The Commissioners and the positions they most recently held prior to the Royal Commission are:
- The Honourable Ronald Sackville AO QC, a Judge of Appeal of the Supreme Court of New South Wales.
- The Honourable Roslyn Atkinson AO, a Judge of the Supreme Court of Queensland
- Ms Barbara Bennett PSM, a senior Commonwealth Public Servant
- Professor Rhonda Galbally AC, a Board member of the NDIA
- Ms Andrea Mason OAM, CEO of Ngaanyatjarra Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara Women’s Council
- Mr Alastair McEwin AM, Disability Discrimination Commissioner
- The Honourable John Ryan AM, Senior NSW Public Servant
The Commissioners have a significant level of power and influence. In practice, once a Commission has started, the government cannot stop it. That’s why governments are usually very careful about drafting the terms of reference and nominating a date for a Royal Commission to finish. Some of the activities the Commissioners typically engage in as part of a Royal Commission include:
- researching the issue being investigated
- holding public consultations and private hearings
- summoning witnesses and gathering information.
What does the Royal Commission mean by violence, abuse, neglect and exploitation?
Violence and Abuse
The terms ‘violence’ and ‘abuse’ cover a range of behaviours towards people with a disability. These could include:
- sexual assault
- being constrained
- restrictive practices that affect a person’s ability to move freely (this could be through physical, mechanical or chemical means)
- forced medical or pharmaceutical treatments on people with mental ill-health
- forced interventions which affect a women’s reproductive rights
- humiliation and harassment
- financial and economic abuse
- significant violations of privacy and dignity on a systemic or individual basis.
Neglect includes physical or emotional neglect, passive neglect or willful deprivation. Neglect can be a single significant incident in one person’s life, or a systemic issue that affects many people. Neglect is when a person with disability is deprived of the necessities of life such as:
- food and drink
- appropriate shelter
- emotional support and love
- medical care and treatment.
Exploitation is when one person takes advantage of someone else. This could include the improper use of or withholding of a person’s assets and labour. It also includes taking physical, sexual, financial or economic advantage of somebody.
Where is the Disability Royal Commission located?
It is based in Brisbane. However, hearings and community forums will be held in different cities and towns across Australia.
What is a submission?
A submission is any information that you would like to share with the Royal Commission. It is a story of your experience or the experience of someone else who has been a victim of violence, neglect, abuse or exploitation.
What information should I include in my submission?
A submission is your story, told how you want to tell it. Some suggestions for you to think about when telling your story are:
- any incidents of violence, neglect, abuse or exploitation of people with disability you or someone you know has experienced
- whether you made a complaint, and who you reported the complaint to, what processes were followed and what the outcome of your complaint was
- your experiences of access to support or services
- the quality of disability support services you have received
- your ideas for how disability service provision can be improved.
Can I make more than one submission?
Yes, you can make as many submissions as you want.
Can I make my submission anonymously?
Yes, you can make a confidential submission if you choose to remain anonymous. However, you will need to contact the Disability Royal Commission so you can get a referral for legal advice before putting in your submission.
What are the topics that the Disability Royal Commission is addressing in the public hearings?
The Royal Commission began public hearings in November 2019 and will continue their program of public hearings on the following topics:
- homes and living
- education and learning
- economic participation
- First Nations People with Disability
- individual autonomy, self-determination and the right to the dignity of risk
- community participation
- geographical challenges.
If the Disability Royal Commission does not invite me for a public hearing, will my voice still be heard?
The Royal Commission receives evidence in different ways besides public and private hearings. It can receive information from the public through submissions and community forums, as well as conducting its own research.
It is important to participate as the Royal Commission would like to receive as much information as possible in order to make informed recommendations in its final report on 29 September 2023.
You can learn how to make a submission on our Royal Commission Submissions page.