Bill's Speeches

SUSPENSION OF STANDING ORDERS - CANBERRA - THURSDAY, 14 FEBRUARY 2019

 

 

I move — That so much of the standing orders be suspended as would prevent the Leader of the Opposition from moving the following motion immediately.
 
That the House: 

1)    notes that:

(a)    Australians with a disability and their loved ones have been crying out for a Royal Commission to inquire into violence, abuse and neglect of people with a disability;

(b)    only a royal Commission has the powers to compel evidence, conduct public hearings and provide a safe place for witnesses to shine a light on the shameful abuse and neglect being suffered by Australians with a disability;

(c)    today in the Senate at approximately 12.15pm, the Government voted against a Royal Commission to inquire into violence, abuse and neglect of people with a disability; and

(d)    the Government is right now desperately running down the clock so that there is not enough time for the House to vote on the Senate’s message; and

(e)    the Government is doing all it can to avoid a second loss on the floor of Parliament in just one week; and

2)    therefore, calls on this Prime Minister to allow enough time in the House so that the Australian people can know where he and his Government stands on this important issue.
  
Mr Speaker
 
Labor has been calling for this Royal Commission since the 26th of May, 2017. 
 
We understand that the Government does not know how to handle this issue. But that should not be a reason why we cannot vote on this issue of a Royal Commission. 
 
The Senate did a very important report in examining the abuse and neglect of people with disability. 
 
That report recommended, unequivocally, that there should be a Royal Commission.

Labor has met with carers, with people living with disability, with their advocates, with people with shocking stories to tell. 
 
Now I understand that the Government says there's no need for, well, has sort of said that there's no need for a Royal Commission. That there is the NDIS, that'll fix matters up. Or that the Aged Care Royal Commission is a sufficient tool to look after people of disability. 
 
There's no doubt that the Aged Care Royal Commission will look at how young people living in nursing homes are going - but that is not all people with disability. 
 
There is no doubt that the NDIS has some standards and regulation which will cover about 10 per cent of the people within the NDIS scheme.

But Labor won't give up on this call for a Royal Commission. 
 
We've heard this before. When we called for a Royal Commission into the banks, the Government said there was no need.
 
Eighteen months, two years later, the Government eventually came to the party.

But this Royal Commission into the lives of people with disability and the existence of neglect and abuse is in many ways much more urgent - and in some ways even more serious - than the Banking Royal Commission. 
 
I want to draw the Parliament's attention, as we need to suspend standing orders to debate whether or not we should have a vote on the Royal Commission into disability, I draw to the attention of the Parliament the submission of Disability Clothesline. 
 
It noted the propensity for abuse and neglect of people disability that are living in institutional care, to be ‘swept under the carpet’ and not properly investigated. 
 
The submission contended:
 
That momentum for investigation inquiry of any allegations of this nature requires the following thresholds to be met. 
 
And this is the criteria which normally generates a debate about having an inquiry.
 
That a person with disability is raped or abused or killed and there is enough evidence to assert that this has occurred. that the police or justice system has been unable or unwilling to act for a variety of reasons, that a parent of a child or an adult with a disability managed to garner some public interest usually via a sympathetic journalist after much letter writing and pleading to ministers. 
 
Then the relevant ministers are forced to respond to reviewers announced after some lengthy period of time, a review is conducted and occasionally an institution can be closed. 
 
But the problem is that often these criteria for momentum  never are fulfilled and in the meantime, people with disability are abused.
 
Now I understand that in this climate, with this contested parliament, at this point in the cycle of the 45th Parliament, it might be tempting just to dismiss this debate, and say well there is another time to do it.
 
But when is the right time to have a Royal Commission?  And if this is not the right time, when is it, and if we do not do it, it who will do it?
 
It is a fact beyond doubt, beyond any conjecture or debate, that people with disability are more likely to suffer violence than people without a disability. 
 
It is a fact beyond doubt that children with a disability are three times as likely to experience bullying as children who do not live with a disability. 
 
The accounts of abuse, in all its forms, are harrowing and I know every member of the Parliament is upset when they read these accounts. 
 
The question is what is the solution to the system? Business as usual? Or something significant, something of a sufficiently cathartic and powerful nature that we reconsider the whole way in which we are treating people with disability and the fact that they are subject to violence abuse and neglect.
 
Too many people who have been victims of violence for too long have had to put up with their calls for help being ignored. 
 
This call for a Royal Commission is part of our promise to protect people with a disability from the scourge of violence and bullying, from abuse and marginalisation. 
 
When we first called for this Royal Commission, two years ago, we had no concept or knowledge of the current numbers in the house of Parliament. 
 
For us, this has been an issue that we made a decision to back in two years ago and we make this decision to support a Royal Commission not because we believed we would have a majority in the House, but because the idea is the right idea for vulnerable Australians.
 
When we made that announcement I was accompanied by Senator Carol Brown and the Member for Jagajaga. 
 
We met with people with disability, their parents, carers and the people who love them. 
 
All members of the House have met the sort of people that I'm talking about, courageous people who call out abuse.
 
They've shared their experiences with us, their trauma and their pain. 
 
For what it is worth, members of the House, recalling when we suspend standing orders in order to debate the merits of a Royal Commission into the lives of people with disability and the violence. What we want to say very clearly is this - and what they've said to us - is this Royal Commission is not for them. It's for all the people who are still suffering in silence.
 
No one in this House can guarantee that this abuse will not happen again. 
 
No one in this House can guarantee that we have currently in this nation a foolproof system to protect vulnerable people from neglect and abuse.
 
Even on the very day that we announced this policy, Anne Mallia, whose precious son Matthew suffered abuse, made an appeal to Australia.
 
I'd like her words to be heard in this House now, even if it's in the context of this motion to suspend standing orders.
 
She said.
 
We need to protect not only the people who have stepped forward and voiced what's happened to them, but thousands of people and  adults and children who do not have a voice, who physically do not have a voice.
 
She went on to say this - and whether or not we are successful today or on another occasion, her words ring true.
 
She said:
 
We need to be their voices. We need to protect them. Let's do it now, today.
 
We gave a promise then, and we give a promise now to all of the self-advocates, to the families of the people who live with a disability, to all the parents who have teenage children who worry about who will keep them safe when they no longer can.
 
I make it clear that whatever happens in Parliament today Labor is committed to implementing a Royal Commission to protect people living with a disability from abuse.
 
Now, I understand that in the Senate it may be the case that the government who voted against the Royal Commission could receive the rescue party from One Nation to vote against a Royal Commission. I understand that whilst it may be the case, that those One Nation Senators, such as they are, are valuable allies to the government.
 
I'm going to ask the government to reconsider their opposition to a Royal Commission into disability.
 
And even if, people say you don't need to have a Royal Commission, I'll take that interjection from the current leader of Government business. 
 
A Royal Commission can exercise coercive powers to compel the production of documents. 
 
It can compel witnesses to appear to answer questions, to conduct its hearings in public. 
 
It can accord witnesses protections that may not otherwise be available in court proceedings.
 
It is fiercely independent. 
 
I know there have been many inquiries into this issue of protecting vulnerable people but all of these inquiries don't seem to stop the problem. They don't seem to have worked to stop the abuse.
 
We need to have fierce independence in a hearing, we need to have public hearings.
 
We need to have the findings of a Royal Commission which are taken more seriously than any other by governments and by the public. 
 
Only a Royal Commission can provide the safe space for people with disabilities. 
 
The main recommendation of the 2015 Senate Inquiry into violence and abuse and neglect against people disability was a Royal Commission. 
 
I understand that today it may be easy for the government to simply say - well not easy - but the government may say, "Gee disability shouldn't be the subject of partisanship."
 
Now, I agree that it shouldn't be the subject of partisanship but it should not be to the subject of the tyranny of lowest common denominator. 
 
People who have disability, as we speak, are subject to abuse and neglect. 
 
Now I don't expect any Prime Minister or government can guarantee right here and right now the safety of people living with a disability in Australia.
 
But if we can't guarantee the safety and the freedom from abuse and neglect of people with disability, why on goodness’ sakes would we vote against a Royal Commission to protect Australians living with disability, to protect them from abuse and neglect. 
 
This is why standing orders should be suspended and if we are unsuccessful today, we will not give up until we are successful.


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