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On 25 November, to coincide with the National Day of Elimination of Violence Against Women, the Senate Community Affairs References Committee released its report into violence, abuse and neglect against people with disability in institutional and residential settings.

The report details a large amount of ongoing and systemic abuse and neglect, recommending a Royal Commission be called to address the issue. The investigative powers of a Royal Commission may provide people with disability, their families and supporters, and disability organisations a right to be heard as we understand the full extent of abuse nationally.

The report provides evidence for 3 areas in which NCOSS is advocating – a robust quality and safeguards framework, the importance of advocacy, and the need of housing for people with disability which separates accommodation and support.

Quality and safeguards

The report recommends the establishment of a national, independent, statutory protection watchdog that has broad functions and powers to protect, investigate and enforce findings related to situations of violence, abuse and neglect of people with disability. Proposed functions of the watchdog include the establishment of a national registration and accreditation system for disability workers, and overseeing a nationally consistent approach to disability oversight mechanisms. These are positive safeguards for people with disability.

NCOSS also supports the recommendations for expanded Community Visitor’s schemes, which provide a crucial safe guard to people’s disability living in residential setting.

Importance of advocacy

The Committee recommended all levels of government acknowledge the vital role that formal and informal advocacy plays in addressing violence, abuse and neglect of people with disability. In particular, the report recommended:

  • increased training for people with disability to recognise violence, abuse and neglect so they can self-report;
  • States and Territories not to reduce advocacy funding with the rollout of the NDIS;
  • the National Disability Advocacy Program ensure that current model of funding peak bodies does not inadvertently result in the closure of smaller specialist or local advocacy organisations; and
  • the NDIS Quality and Safeguarding Framework include advocacy as a key component to reduce and address incidents of violence, abuse and neglect.

The recommendations are positive, particularly in the NSW context, where advocacy organisations only have certainty of funding until 30 June 2016. NCOSS urges the Government to act on these recommendations, giving people with disability vital advocacy protection.

Need for non-congregated housing options

Another article in this newsletter highlights the importance of people with disability having access to housing options which separate accommodation and disability support, so that a person is not reliant on one provider for both of these vital components in their lives. The inquiry’s findings demonstrates the risks when housing and support are not separated, and the possible effects when people are congregated on the basis of disability.

Article 19 of the United Nations Conventions on the Rights of People With Disability states that people with disability must:

“have the opportunity to choose their place of residence and where and with whom they live on an equal basis with others and are not obliged to live in a particular living arrangement”

The Committee recommended the Australian Government work with state and territory governments to consider the principle that there should be no enforced shared accommodation for people with disability.

NCOSS applauds the decision of the NSW Government to close institutions, but note that models that group five people with disability together are a dominant theme of the tender documents for the redevelopment of these dwellings.

NCOSS hopes the inquiry serves as a warning against the development of ‘mini-institutions’, acting as a call to arms to assist people with disability to live in community with the right support, safeguarded by people who care about them.