Calls renewed for a Royal Commission into abuse of disabled people


By Charlotte Tully

Online production by Joseph Lam

A petition launched by the Disabled Peoples Representative Organisation, as well as an open letter signed by 100 academics from across Australia, have been sent to Malcolm Turnbull in hopes of convincing him of the urgent need for a Royal Commission.

Among the open letter signatories is Associate Professor and Chair in Intellectual Disability at the University of New South Wales, Leanne Dowse.

She says time is running out to take action against what she calls an “epidemic”.

“We have national evidence that suggests this is a really an epidemic for people with disabilities and as a society times now up for us to do something about it,” she said.

“Sadly our theory over decades has been there’s strong evidence there’s strong calls Government have really not been taking action on this issue.”

Professor Dowse says the levels of abuse are much higher among people with disabilities.

“People with disabilities are much, much more likely than their non-disabled peers to be the subjects of violence and abuse in their care settings if they’re in residential care setting but also in the community.”

Another signatory to the letter is legally blind UQ academic, Paul Harpur, who says the abuse has reached national crisis levels.

He says disability-based violence is particularly prevalent in care facilities.

“It’s a different form of power relations and abuse, there’s examples taking the person’s wheelchair off the charger overnight so the next day they can’t leave the house, hiding medications.”

He says a Royal Commission is needed to explore the issue.

“To get it through parliament we’ll need a world commission or a lot of political will to get a detail and  understanding of the nature of the problem before it will be actioned.”

However, Geoff Rowe from Aged & Disability Advocacy Australia says a Royal Commission is a long-term solution.

He wants the PM to think about the UN Charter which Australia has signed, and to remember our obligations as a nation.

It requires that people with a disability have the same opportunities as the rest of the population, the same rights as the rest of the population and that should be a right to be safe from abuse, harm and neglect.”

There’s no word on how when – or even if – action will be taken, but Dr Harpur says he is excited the issue is gaining more attention.

“I’m just excited this significantly important issue is gaining public attention and hope that it leads to a resolution that meets community expectations.”


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