SIGN OUR OPEN LETTER TO THE ATTORNEY-GENERAL, THE HON. CHRISTIAN PORTER MP #MakeItSafeToSpeak

We call upon the Attorney-General to introduce legislation into the Australian Parliament to protect the confidentiality of information given to The Royal Commission into Violence, Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation of People with Disability.

The Disability Royal Commission is expected to run for 3 years. However, it has now run for over a year without adequate legislation in place to protect the confidentiality of submissions beyond the life of the Royal Commission.

As it stands, a person providing information can only be guaranteed confidentiality after the Royal Commission concludes if their information was provided in a private session. If people make a written submission, it will currently only be confidential until the end of the Royal Commission.

We support the calls made in February this year by the Hon. Ronald Sackville AO QC, Chair of the Disability Royal Commission, for the Australian Government to amend the Royal Commissions Act 1902 (the Act) to extend the same privacy protections that were available under the Act for the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses into Child Sexual Abuse to our Disability Royal Commission.

Following calls from the Chair of the Disability Royal Commission, People with Disability Australia wrote to the Attorney General on 21 May this year asking for the Act to be amended. The Attorney-General’s Department replied on 8 July 2020 explaining: “The Australian Government is carefully considering the legislative amendments sought …”. They indicated that “[a] decision by the Government will be made shortly.”

However, almost two months later, people with disability are still waiting for the Australian Government to bring forward amendments to the Act. We had hoped this would occur in the August sitting of Parliament.

Many people with disability, who want to come forward to the Royal Commission with information regarding distressing and traumatic incidents of violence, abuse, neglect and/or exploitation, including incidents that may be happening in the present, need certainty that information given in confidence remains confidential after the Royal Commission has concluded. We know that people with disability may need to give information and evidence in confidence to protect themselves from repercussions from the system they are dependent upon for supports. People in these situations may not be able to access support to participate in a private hearing, or may choose not to, preferring to give information in confidential submission form only.

If we are not able to provide information to the Disability Royal Commission in complete confidence, there is a risk that the most severe cases of systemic abuse and neglect will not be exposed. It is vital to the success of the Royal Commission that the appropriate changes to the legislation are made as soon as possible.

We call up upon the Attorney-General to prioritise introducing legislation into the Federal Parliament to extend the same privacy protections, that were provided to people making submissions to the Child Sexual Abuse Royal Commission.

We call upon all members of Federal Parliament to support the calls for a bill to amend the Royal Commission Act to protect the confidentiality of people’s submissions beyond the life of the Royal Commission and to pass such legislation as a matter of urgency.

Yours sincerely,

  • Australian Federation of Disability Organisations
  • Children and Young People with Disability Australia
  • Disability Advocacy Network Australia
  • First Peoples Disability Network
  • Inclusion Australia
  • National Ethnic Disability Alliance
  • People with Disability Australia
  • Women with Disabilities Australia
Logos for the Australian Federation of Disability Organisations, Children and Young People with Disability Australia, the Disability Advocacy Network Australia, the First Peoples Disability Network, Inclusion Australia
the National Ethnic Disability Council, 
People with Disability Australia, and 
Women with Disabilities Australia.

This letter was first sent to the Attorney General, the Hon. Christian Porter MP, on September 8, 2020.

Do you support this open letter?

Whether you're an individual or representing an organisation, you can support us to get this legislation passed at the October 19 Sitting of Parliament by adding your name below (your name and comment will appear on the page, but emails remain confidential). #MakeItSafeToSpeak

You can also email naomic@pwd.org.au to add your endorsement.


This open letter is supported by:

Grampians Disability Advocacy

Queensland Advocacy Incorporated

AED Legal Centre

Northern Territory Council of Social Service (Alice Springs)

Jeff Shaw, CEO, Give a Care

Nicola Proven

Justine O’Neill, CEO, Council for Intellectual Disability

Kelly Beckitt, Intake/Admin Officer, Speaking Up For You
“#MakeItSafeToSpeak – People with disability deserve protection when making submissions to the Disability Royal Commission. Without protection people with disability, their family and friends may be reluctant to make submissions and therefore this Royal Commission cannot be as effective as possible.”

Michael Baker, Advocate, IDRS

Jennie Chainey

Belle Owen

Anna Disney

Lorraine Mulley
“DO NOT disclose your life without full assurance of confidentiality!”

William McIntosh, Year 12 Student, Jackson School

Carlie Park

Alice Rumble

Darren Buswell

Deb Haller

Jillian Arthur

Felicity Crowther, Executive Director, South Australian Council on Intellectual Disability

Sonya Dainton, Carer, Dainton Homeschoolers

Jan Cast, Manager, JDC Support

Craig Beard

Charly Waldorf

Kim McNamara
“Providers have been protected under ‘confidentiality’ for years. People with a disability have the right to feel safe when making a complaint. Afford them the same whistle-blower protection that able bodied people are afforded in the workplace.”

Ashleigh Campbell

Renee McLean

Ailsa Rayner, CMHP (College of Mental Health Pharmacy)
“My future depends on it.”

Christine Whatson

Natalie Petty

Zoe Mithen

Felice Vaiani

Alex Broome

Dani Fried

Karen Ewings, Non-Paid Carer

Kathryn Herma

Jordan Smith, Disability Advocate, Advocacy WA

Mary Henley-Collopy, Chair – Committee of Management, Disability Resources Centre
“People with disability have waited a long time, some even decades, for the opportunity to give evidence to the Disability Royal Commission of distressing and traumatic incidents of violence, abuse, neglect and/or exploitation, including current incidences still happening NOW. We, at ‘Disability Resources Centre’ firmly support the calls for the Australian Government to amend the Royal Commissions Act 1902 (the Act) to extend the same privacy protections that were available under the Act for the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses into Child Sexual Abuse to our Disability Royal Commission. Without such enduring protections, this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for many damaged people with disability, their families and friends – may result in watered-down stories … or worse, some voices remaining silent.”

Pablo Ahumada

Chanel Hennessey

Kerri Cassidy, Executive Officer, Disability Resources Centre
“Ensuring the privacy of people sharing their experiences in the Royal Commission is imperative for their safety and wellbeing. Without this assurance, people will fear backlash and exposure and will be less likely to come forward and tell the Commission what it needs to know about the violence, abuse, neglect and exploitation experienced by people with disabilities.”

Frank Hall-Bentick, Chairperson, Australian Disability and Indigenous People’s Education Fund
“The guarantee to privacy and confidentiality for people with disabilities making submissions about the abuse and trauma they have experienced in their lives is a fundamental human right not given to people with disabilities whose lives are seen as curiosities under the medical model. The Australian government must legislate for the confidentiality all submissions for those people with disabilities who choose for their experiences to remain private.”

Nicholas Lawler, CEO, Advocacy for Inclusion

Bonney Corbin, Chair, Violence Prevention Australia

Lisa Thompson

Lisa Stafford, Senior Lecturer/ARC DECRA Fellow

Graham Smith

Rachael Black

Sharon Gray, Education Manager, Gestalt Therapy Brisbane

Tegan Whitten

Julie Butler, Advocacy Practice Leader, Speak Out Tasmania
“We are hearing first-hand that people living with disability are afraid of retribution.”

Bruce Francis
“There is a fundamental contradiction of having a royal commission into abuse, neglect violence and exploitation and then leaving the ‘victims’ open to further pain and distress of possible defamation – this loophole must be closed now.”

Adrienne Prazauskas

Talia Eccleston

Kym- Maree Sargaison

Julie Pittle, Community Services Trainer, Chisholm Institute

Brad Sparrow, Parent and Participant
This is a disgrace. The most vulnerable need protection.

Claire Spivakovsky

Louise Anderson
“Please make it safe … we have much to say!”

Ruth Cauchi
“Show some leadership and compassion Christian Porter, and get this done!  By stalling this, it gives the impression that you don’t care and have some hidden agenda. Stop the double standards that exist in this country in relation to people with disabilities. Personal and sensitive information should be given in the knowledge that it will always remain confidential.”

Jane Scotcher, CEO, WCH Foundation
“Having a voice is important, being heard is vital. If these individuals are not promised privacy they may themselves be at risk. Their voices must be heard and valued.”

Athina Karabetos

Aislinn Bradshaw

Ange Sango, Executive Coordinator, Save Girl Child (SGC)

Freya Munzel

Kamania Butler

Sharee Mitchel

Laura Hjortshoj-Haller

Peter Dixon

Niall Taylor, Speech Pathologist
“As a person with disability and as a speech pathologist, I have experienced and seen how difficult it is for people with disability to speak up about violence, abuse, neglect and/or exploitation. It is important for appropriate measures to be put in place to ensure that people with disability are able to speak up in a safe and supported way so that the Royal Commission can make proper investigations.”

Pam Geoghegan

Jeanette Clark, Home Duties

Janet Carter

Judy Drechsler, Business Owner, Mojo Mentoring

Arlene Cassel

Sue Goodall

Dean Dadson, Self Advocacy Resource Unit

Heather Davies, Developmental Educator

Bruce Colins

Sandra Parsons, Parent/Carer

Craig Wallace

Giancarlo De Vera

Antonia Harmonie

Fiona Downing

Anne-Louise Ray

Treacy Block, Mother/Carer

Maxine Subramany, Practice Manager RPA, Northcott

Daryn Poulden

Bron Batten

Holly Johnsen

Barbara Mitula, Disabilities and Carers Office Bearer, Monash Student Association

Ketra Wooding
“Given the adversarial (similar to insurance companies) nature of disability support services, I do not feel safe making a public statement in case it is misconstrued or misused against me by a government agency to deny care.”

Colin Brokenshire

Greg Willson, Senior Lecturer, Edith Cowan University

Shilani Liva-Liva

Margot Beavon-Collin, Disability Office Bearer, University of Sydney SRC

Jane Scott
“Not making it safe for people to share their stories seems like something that could, itself be raised at the Royal Commission.”

Rosalie Stevens

Margaret Chiramba, Program Officer, Yorgum Healing Services

Claire Hall

John Moxon

Roger Saunders

Ellen Drpich
“Let’s make it safe for people to tell their stories in confidence.”

Liz Symonds

Michele Frost, Senior Individual Advocate, People with Disabilities WA

Keiryn Hogan

Claire Carrol, Senior Teacher, Enrichment Centre, Special Education KGSC
“This commission should not have begun without anonymity and protection for participants who are the most vulnerable members of our society and cannot continue without it.”

Taylor Ryan

Kenneth Ferris, Manager, Disability Hire Vehicles
“People with a disability are society’s most vulnerable and at risk. Being able to speak without the risk of negative or dangerous consequences has been given to others making submissions in other enquiries. Not providing this security to people with a disability beggars belief.”

Manos Visvikis

Bettina Purdie

John Arbouw

Trudy Joyce, Advocate, Grampians disAbility Advocacy
“#MakeItSafeToSpeak”

Rebecca Williams

Belinda Jane

Roslyn Foster

Robyn Doyle

Shane Cameron
“All those prepared to tell the truth deserve to have their protection guaranteed.”

Thea Summerville, Mother of a gentleman with high physical support needs and complex health and communication needs.
“Confidentiality for people with a disability presenting to the Royal Commission is absolutely essential if the Commission wants to hear the truth. Severely disabled people can otherwise live in fear for their future if they speak out against individuals or organisations, but have no ability to defend themselves against possible repercussions afterwards.”

Jodi Frankland, Epilepsy Nurse, Epilepsy Action
“People with disabilities or people reporting neglect, abuse and exploitation on behalf of people with a disability have the right to do this with full confidentiality.”

Helen Burt

Lee Ann Basser

Dylan Holdsworth

Ruth Jacka

Chris McNee, QLD’s DCDSS

Mary McNamara
“People living with disabilities need to be supported to describe their lived experience without fear of retaliation or retribution by making confidential written submissions. If this doesn’t happen it’s likely that the Royal Commission will not hear about some of the most severe examples of mistreatment.”

Melinda Rippe

Mitchel Doughty
“Everyone has a right to speak out and for them to remain anonymous and confidential.”

Loren Waites

Johanna Schmidt

Sarah Officer

Katherine Hubbard, Mother
“It makes me sad that PWD people even have to go through this without their perpetrator being able to know who they are. Why didn’t someone fix this. I have three no verbal adults. They would vulnerable for more abuse from perpetrator of original complaint. I would not be willing to make submission with my name able to be known.”

Sue Drpich, Teacher

Delphine Stagg OAM, Chair, Sth Australia Council on Intellectual Disability
“Make It Safe To Speak”

Katherine Hubbard

Kylie Ford

Michelle Baker
“Confidentiality in sharing our stories is vital for the protection of people with disabilities and the integrity of the royal commission.”

Ainsley Goulding

Leonie Barber
“Disability more often than not, is accompanied by anxieties, and often, if acquired in adolescence or as an adult, damaged confidence and post traumatic distresses that affect trust.”

Shirley Humphris
“No more coverups Mr Porter.”

Denise Wilson

Jasmin Riboet

Julie Cosgrove, Support Worker

Graham Banks

Colin Henson
“Ensure, please, that people with a disability are heard.”

Sophie Greer

Sherie Russel

Ryan Bryer

Ainsley Robertson

Kathleen Ellem
“Important to keep people with disability safe from reprisals – don’t let the system abuse them again by not protecting their confidentiality.”

Nathanael Lee

Brendon Donohue

Warren Milner, Master of Human Services
“Unfortunately, employees working for Disability Service Providers are often afraid of losing their income if they speak about misconduct, or voice their concerns for the people they support.”

Carmel Louise
“Maintaining privacy and basic safety standards for those people living with disabilities who want to contribute to the Royal Commission is a must! The fear that there is a possibility of retribution by those who are meant to be supporting or caring for the disabled is real. We need to protect these vulnerable whistle blowers by making their contributions private, it’s a simple, no brainer act.”

Alyssa McIntyre

Michael Di Maggio

Nicholas Lauer

Catherine Bridge, Director of the Home Modification Information Clearinghouse, UNSW, Sydney

Lois Gilmour
“Confidentiality is vital for those who could be in a vulnerable position either physically or emotionally. Privacy is also important if having to deal with agencies that make decisions affecting someone’s basic living activities.”

Yvette Maker

Lily Chrywenstrom

Narelle Schubert

Dave Brown
“It’s about time the Government of this country started taking this issue seriously. You will NEVER get us to speak out if we know retribution is in the offing. What about doing your job. You’re happy enough to take our taxes. Now take our advice.”

Gaele Sobott, Director, Outlandish Arts

Cey Palmer
“Disabled people are at a much, much higher risk of abuse, particularly involving stalking after we are out of a directly violent situation. Not providing true confidentiality to us is a death sentence.”

David Pech

Ashley Morgan
“People who want to speak up need the protection of confidentiality – surely they have suffered enough trauma #MakeItSafeToSpeak”

Heidi La Pahlia, Project and Policy Officer, Women With Disabilities Australia (WWDA)

Nathan Chapman

Dr Cheryl Cockburn-Wootten

Sofia Rita Belmonte

Megan Jones

Loree Scott

Gaye Luck, Disabled Self Represented Litigant
“I would like to refer the Attorney General to the Disability Discrimination Act 1992 (Cth), the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and the International Principles and Guidelines for Access to Justice for Persons with Disabilities on this hyperlink :-https://www.ohchr.org/Documents/Issues/Disability/SR_Disability/GoodPractices/Access-to-Justice-EN.pdf

Professor Karen Fisher, Social Policy Research Centre UNSW Sydney

Queensland Council of Social Service (QCOSS)

Kylie Maslen

Janet Galer, Counsellor

Kerry O’Malley

Maria Main
“If these letters are not kept confidential after the Royal Commission it could have horrendous implications for the disabled people sending in their stories. Their abuser/attacker could get hold of this information and cause more injury/attacks to the authors. It could very easily become a farce that can never be contained. The people that have already been subjected to this kind of abuse still live with it every day, long after the fact. If the abusers get hold of their letters, this abuse will continue unabated for years to come, and it’s not something that money can fix. These letters need to remain confidential, permanently!

Lucy Daniel, Executive Officer, Australian Disability and Development Consortium

Lauren Mickle

William Fuller

Lindsay Smith McCulloch

Linda Stelle, Senior Lecturer in Law, University of Technology Sydney

Trudy Ryall, Administration & Events Manager, DeafBlind Victoria
Truth needs to come out and Justice is very important.

Eliza Hull

Kirsty Jones

Hugh Luxford

Katrina Muir

Robina Jones

Daniel Greenwald
“The royal commission should be looking at how service providers are treating their clients as assets. In my view this concerning especially for those that cannot speak up or understand what is going on.”

Michael Mathews, Carer
“I am an elderly disabled man with severe spine injuries. I am full-time Carer for a very brave lady who has permanent illness and injuries due to extreme child abuse and adult abuse. We are both long-term victims of crime in Australia.”

Emma Costa

Gemma Mahadeo

Luce Morley
“Yes! I think that as advocates we must continue to support people like me with Disability or disabilities, because our fight is not over yet. We need to continue to keep up our fight because we will not stop until it is won.”

Eleanor Holden

Dr Erin Stewart

Allison Reynolds, Public Officer, Creatives Collective ARI Inc.
“It should be a given that disabled people can feel safe in any situation – but especially when talking about trauma and abuse to a Royal Commission. It is unfathomable that this is not the case in the 21st Century.”

Jessica Bell

Belinda Green, Disability and sexual violence health educator, NSW Health

Maria Wiltshire, Managing Director, Bespoke Lifestyes

James Newton

Adrienne McGhee
“When people step forward to speak out, they often put themselves at considerable risk of loss and retribution, which may have far-reaching effects in many (and sometimes all) facets of their lives. These risks are amplified many times over for vulnerable groups, such as people with disability, who speak out against people who, and organisations that, have subjected them to abuse and harm, and who/which continue to be intricately involved in their lives. Similar risks exist for support workers and other paid employees who risk their livelihoods and their personal wellbeing to step forward on behalf of the people they work with.

“The Disability Royal Commission must offer the strongest of whistleblower protections (including ongoing anonymity of submission authorship) to those with the courage to step forward at great risk to themselves in order to expose poor and abusive practice, and initiate positive change in the systems that support people with disability.”

Rowena Specht-Whyte

Jessica Walton

Jessica Sharp

Marielle Bradbury

Fleur Beaupert

Vee Wilson
“I’m too scared to speak, for me, or for my daughters.”

Andrea Wildin

Jacqueline Marks
“It’s almost as though they don’t want to hear from people suffering abuse.”

Sarah Morrow

Amelia McMurray, Disability Support Worker, Milparinka ATU

Michael Cowley

Sheree Unwin, Advocate, Grampians Disability Advocacy

Naomi Chainey

Side by Side Advocacy

Jenifer Flavell, Social Worker

Andrew Toza

Angelo Cianciosi, Support Coordinator
We should not be treated like second class citizens, the general public should be told what is happening behind closed doors we need to speak up.

Lisa Krygger

Kara Mestric

Luke Matricardi

Danielle Lawless

Larissa MacFarlane

Trevor Parmenter, Professor Emeritus, University of Sydney
We must not have a different standard of privacy protection for people with a disability.

Vicki Bell
We need to protect our most vulnerable people. They must feel safe before they can speak! Only when people feel safe will we hear the truth.


Downloads:

For further information, please contact Romola Hollywood, Director Policy and Advocacy at People with Disability Australia, at
romolah@pwd.org.au or on 0431 998 273.