On 28 September 2023, the Royal Commission into Violence, Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation of People with Disability (Royal Commission) submitted its Final Report to the Governor General (Final Report). The Final Report contains 222 Recommendations and is the culmination of four and a half years of work since the Royal Commission was established on 4 April 2019, including:
- 32 Public Hearings;
- 1,785 Private Sessions;
- 2 Ceremonial Sittings;
- 3 Roundtables;
- 9 Workshops; and
- 700 engagement activities.
Over the course of its activities, the Royal Commission received 7,944 submissions from individuals, disability advocacy organisations, research organisations, peak bodies, government departments and professional organisations. The Royal Commission produced 14 Issues Papers, receiving over 700 responses.
The Final Report reflects the significant work of the Royal Commission and proposes wide-ranging structural changes to safeguard people with disability from violence, abuse, neglect and exploitation, respond to discrimination and support their inclusion in all aspects of Australian society, including healthcare, education, employment and accommodation settings. Whilst the majority of the 222 Recommendations are directed to the Commonwealth, a small number are directed toward the National Disability Insurance Scheme Quality and Safeguards Commission (NDIS QSC), National Disability Insurance Agency (NDIA) and the State and Territory governments.
A Disability Royal Commission Taskforce
In response to the Final Report, the Minister for Social Services, the honourable Amanda Rishworth MP, and Minister for the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS), the honourable Bill Shorten MP, have announced that they will be standing up a Disability Royal Commission Taskforce, within the Department of Social Services to assess 'how the individual Recommendations are linked together, understanding the broader implications of these Recommendations and sequencing the Government's response'. The Commonwealth appears to be proposing a 'staged approach' to responding to the Final Report, which could see reforms rolled out over an extended period of time. Minister Rishworth has indicated that she is hopeful that the Commonwealth will be able to provide a progress report on the work of the Taskforce 'early next year'. We note however, that the Royal Commission recommended that the Commonwealth respond to the Final Report, in writing, no later than 31 March 2024 (R12.1) and it is therefore unclear whether this timeframe will be achieved.
Disability reform roadmap
Pending a response from the Commonwealth, it is difficult to say with certainty which Recommendations will be adopted, or what the roadmap for reform will look like. Some Recommendations in the Final Report have been directed towards State and Territory governments, as well as the NDIS QSC and the NDIA. Considering the coordinated approach that government have taken in the past, it seems unlikely that State and Territory governments will progress any specific Recommendations in isolation of the Commonwealth's response. However, it is possible that the NDIA or the NDIS QSC may implement some of the Recommendations directly relevant to them, particularly the Recommendations that are solely within the power of those agencies to implement, in isolation of the Commonwealth.
Given the Commonwealth has indicated that it will consider and implement the Royal Commission's Recommendations via a 'staged approach' we suspect the disability sector, and adjacent sectors that provide services to people with disability, will experience a period of extended legislative and policy reform. While providers and others in the sectors highlighted in the Final Report can use the Recommendations as a guide to what reforms may occur in the future, it may be preferable to await the Commonwealth's response in order to prepare in a more considered way as the reforms are implemented by the Commonwealth, State and Territory Governments and associated agencies.