On 9 June 2020, the Royal Commission into Violence, Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation of People with Disability (the Commission) published an issues paper inviting feedback and submissions to inform its analysis of the experience of First Nations People with disability in Australia (the Issues Paper).[1] This article provides commentary on key lines of inquiry foreshadowed in the Issues Paper. The final section of this article provides information on the recently released schedule of hearings for the remainder of 2020.

 

Ongoing systematic injustices

The Issues Paper notes that Indigenous people with disability are more likely to experience disadvantage and require a greater level of care and support.  Moreover, there is a compounding effect for Indigenous people with disability which results in ‘double discrimination’. [2]  Previous studies and inquiries have found that compared to the general population, First Nations people with disability are more likely to:

  • have experienced threats of physical violence
  • have poorer health outcomes than other Australians with disability
  • have experienced problems accessing health services
  • have been removed and/or had relatives removed from their family
  • experience high or very high levels of psychological distress
  • be detained due to a cognitive disability, foetal alcohol syndrome or other impairment, and
  • be reliant on government pensions or allowances as their main source of personal income and less likely to be studying and in jobs.
  • The Commission has posed twelve questions and invites First Nations people with disability, their families and organisations to respond to these questions and/or provide information about programs and approaches that are working well.

 

A human rights based approach

The United Nations has emphasised the need for First Nations people (and their representatives) to be involved in all aspects of the design, implementation and monitoring of relevant Government policy and planning initiatives. The Commission invites feedback on the barriers which prevent First Nations people living with a disability from the full enjoyment of their human rights and how Government can better involve First Nations people in the development of policy and plans that may impact them.

 

A life course approach

Transitioning between stages of life, such as between early childhood, schooling, adolescence and joining the workforce, is an area where people living with a disability may require extra support.  The experience of First Nations people living with a disability moving through transition phases may differ and there may be additional risk factors that heighten the potential of violence, abuse, neglect and exploitation.

Possible risk factors include intergenerational trauma, increased contact with the criminal justice system, systematic discrimination, a lack of access to appropriate health services and (in later years of life) poor aged care service infrastructure in remote areas. The Commission seeks submissions to better understand what changes are needed to support First Nations people with disability across the course of their lives and ensure they are able to live a life free from violence, abuse, neglect and exploitation.


Figure 1. Issues facing First Nations people with disability and people with disability in different setting across their life course. Royal Commission into Violence, Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation of People with Disability (Issues Paper, June 2020) 3.

Figure 1. Issues facing First Nations people with disability and people with disability in different setting across their life course. Royal Commission into Violence, Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation of People with Disability (Issues Paper, June 2020) 3.


Community led solutions

The 2016 Redfern Statement, made between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peak bodies, drew attention to the urgent need for First Nation peoples involvement in health, justice, violence prevention, early childhood and disability matters. The call for greater community-led initiatives is consistent with a growing body of evidence showing that approaches led by First Nations peoples are more effective and achieve better outcomes for the individuals and communities concerned.

The Commission seeks submissions to understand how initiatives led by First Nations people can be supported, expanded and how they will operate alongside existing frameworks. [3]


Making submissions

The Commission invites First Nations people with disability, their families and organisations to respond to the Issues Paper and/or provide their views on programs and approaches that are working well.  In addition to responding to issues papers, people can also share their story by contacting the Commission by phone, in writing or by making an audio or video recording.

Submissions are encouraged to be submitted by 11 September 2020. A copy of the Issues Paper, along with the discussion questions, can be found here.


Hearings in the months ahead

Following a halt on hearings earlier this year in the wake of COVID-19, the Commission recently released its schedule of hearings for the remainder of 2020.  These hearings will focus on issues such as the use of psychotropic medications, barriers in education and employment, interactions with the criminal justice system and training and education for health care professionals.  A hearing on the experiences of First Nations people with disability will be held in Brisbane on 23 November 2020.  Dates and details of scheduled hearings can be viewed on the Commission’s website here.

If you, or anyone you know, has been affected by the Disability Royal Commission, Blue Knot Foundation offers specialist counselling support and a referral service. Please contact Blue Knot Foundation on 1800 421 468 or view the Disability Royal Commission’s support services website.

For more information, please contact Michael Pagsanjan (info@mpslaw.com.au).


[1] The Commission, as part of their investigation, was given specific direction to have regard to the experiences of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people living with a disability. See Letters Patent (Cth), 4 April 2019 amended 13 September 2019, (g).

[2] The Issues Paper cites several recent publications which conclude that First Nations people living with a disability face heightened risks of abuse and neglect. The cited studies include published work from the Australian Bureau of Statistics, Senate Community Affairs References Committee and the Australian Institute of Criminology.

[3] This follows calls from First People’s Disability Network for the development of a First Nations disability sector.  See First People’s Disability Network, Ten Priorities to Address Disability Inequity in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Community and the National Disability Strategy and the National Disability Insurance Scheme (2018). Online at: https://fpdn.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2018/10/FPDN-ten-priorities-2018.pdf.