In Question Time, Senator Siewert asks the Government to committ to a national inquiry into abuse of people with disability.
Senator SIEWERT (Western Australia-Australian Greens Whip) (14:28): My question is to the Minister representing the Minister for Social Services, the Assistant Minister for Social Services, Senator Fifield. There is outrage throughout the community and the disability sector after the revelations from the joint Four Corners and Fairfax investigation into cases of abuse of people with disability in institutional care shown last night. These are not isolated incidents. We know that people with disability are at significant risk of violence and abuse, but we do not know how widespread this is. It is essential that we urgently find out the prevalence and nature of these horrific abuses so that we can protect the human rights of people with disability. Will the government launch an inquiry into the neglect, violence-including gender based violence-and abuse of people with disability in residential and institutional settings?
Senator FIFIELD (Victoria-Manager of Government Business in the Senate and Assistant Minister for Social Services) (14:29): I thank Senator Siewert for her question. Senator Siewert was referring to the ABC Four Corners and Fairfax reports into cases of serious sexual abuse concerning Yooralla, which, for my colleagues who are from outside of Victoria, is a large disability service in the state. All colleagues would be concerned to hear of allegations of abuse or mistreatment of people with disability, who, as we know, are often in very vulnerable situations. It is particularly concerning when the alleged abuse-and some has been proved-has been perpetrated by people who are in the privileged position of providing support to people with significant disabilities. It is important to be serious and sober when looking to respond to these matters.
I will share with the Senate that until the full rollout of the NDIS is complete the states and territories remain responsible for disability services in their jurisdictions and this includes complaints, regulations, quality assurance and law enforcement. Allegations of this nature should be referred to the relevant disability and police authorities. I do note that both the Victorian government and Victorian opposition have agreed that there will be a Victorian parliamentary inquiry into sexual abuse in the disability sector in Victoria. I think all colleagues have seen the good work done by a Victorian parliamentary committee into institutional responses to child sexual abuse.
Senator SIEWERT (Western Australia-Australian Greens Whip) (14:31): Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Hasn't the United Nations made recommendations urging Australia to investigate and address, as an urgent priority, violence against people with disability, in particular women with disability living in institutional situations? How can the minister hand this issue off to the states when the United Nations has urged Australia to take action?
Senator FIFIELD (Victoria-Manager of Government Business in the Senate and Assistant Minister for Social Services) (14:31): It is important that those jurisdictions that have the regulatory and law enforcement responsibilities in these areas do give full attention to those allegations that occur in their jurisdiction. It is also extremely important that, as we look to the national rollout of the NDIS, we ensure that the NDIS has the most appropriate safeguards possible for people with disability. It is important that we learn from the experiences in the state jurisdictions. It is also important that we learn from the experiences in the NDIS launch sites. The government will be paying very careful attention to the work and the results of the Victorian parliamentary inquiry.
Senator SIEWERT (Western Australia-Australian Greens Whip) (14:32): Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. In the past Australia has turned its back on cases where we know abuse occurred and where problems occurred-and I am thinking of forced adoptions, forgotten Australians and the allegations of child abuse that are now subject to a royal commission. Are we not washing our hands of this issue nationally? In 20 years time will there be a need for a royal commission because these issues around abuse and violence were ignored nationally?
Senator FIFIELD (Victoria-Manager of Government Business in the Senate and Assistant Minister for Social Services) (14:33): I do not think that there is anyone in public life in any parliament in Australia who would have the view that anything other than a full assessment of the serious allegations should be made. The Victorian parliament has set about responding to the allegations from Four Corners and the Fairfax investigation. The Commonwealth is committed to learning the lessons of the NDIS trial sites and also committed to learning of the experiences of the state jurisdictions as the Commonwealth looks to what would be the most appropriate safeguards to put in place nationally for a full NDIS.