Back to All News

Your Words - Why we need a national inquiry into the abuse of people with disability

Video & Multimedia
Rachel Siewert 3 Dec 2014

Senator SIEWERT (Western Australia-Australian Greens Whip) (22:18): Tomorrow, 3 December, is International Day of People with Disability, which is a United Nations sanctioned day which aims to promote an understanding of people with disability and to encourage support for their dignity, rights and wellbeing. Under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, Australia is obligated to ensure and protect all human rights and fundamental freedoms for people with disabilities. Under the convention, article 1 says:

The purpose of the present Convention is to promote, protect and ensure the full and equal enjoyment of all human rights and fundamental freedoms by all persons with disabilities, and to promote respect for their inherent dignity.
Article 16 says:

States Parties shall put in place effective legislation and policies, including women- and child-focused legislation and policies, to ensure that instances of exploitation, violence and abuse against persons with disabilities are identified, investigated and, where appropriate, prosecuted.

It also has a number of other articles which go to the safeguards of people with disabilities. Last week, we had a call for-which I strongly support, as do 10,000 Australians at the last count on the petition-a national inquiry into looking at issues of abuse that were highlighted it in the Four Corners program last week and specifically to look at violence against people with disability, especially women, which is far more excessive than violence against the general population. Ninety per cent of Australian women with an intellectual disability have been subject to sexual assault, domestic violence or other forms of violence. There is no national coordinated legislation to prevent and address violence against people with disability including family domestic violence. The United Nations treaty monitoring bodies have made strong recommendations to Australia in regards to addressing all forms of violence against people with disability.

Data on violence and abuse against people with disability is often not collected and is recorded in house and reduced to administrative error. There is no independent statutory national protection mechanism to protect, investigate and enforce findings related to abuse experienced by people with disability. People with disability living in institutional settings continued to experience violence, particularly sexual violence, in residential and institutional settings, where they frequently experience sustained and multiple episodes. This is a national disgrace which deserves a national inquiry. I have had email after email from people telling me why they think there should be a national inquiry. I do not have time to read out all I have received about I want to read why they think there should be a national inquiry. I will begin with someone who has asked not to be named. In fact, most people have asked not to be named. I have an email saying:


I am a disability advocate. I have spastic quadriplegia, otherwise known as cerebral palsy

Five years ago, I was in institutional care, where I had to have support workers take care of me 24/7 due to my disability. During my stay there, I saw and experienced things people should never ever have to experience. Support workers would forget to give me food and water and even forget to feed me my medications, crucial to my living. There was also a time where I suffered acute dehydration and constipation, because they did not give me my water through my feeding tube. Lastly, my chair was often soiled with urine and faeces because no-one checked on me or gave me enough time on the toilet. My chair also broke often, because these workers did not know how to operate it. Most of the time, I would sit in my room alone, helpless and feeling sorry for myself. Throughout my time there, I was constantly under emotional distress, so much so that for a time I stopped eating.

I was also sexually abused during my stay there, but I do not feel comfortable talking about it in the email. I would rather talk about it face-to-face.
I have also seen other incidences happening where clients fall out of their hoists and out of bed on a regular basis, because the care centre did not offer support workers sufficient training in hoisting or lifting. Other clients were also given the wrong medications and had to have their stomachs pumped in a hospital.

I am writing to you to let you know that there is a great need for a national inquiry by the Federal government into all aspects of disability care in institutional settings.
We hear too often of people being taken advantage of sexually and physically. Their liberties were taken away from them and they have no way of speaking out. I want to get my story out and speak on behalf of these disadvantaged and marginalised individuals. I was lucky to have got out. Others, not so much.

I am calling on the media to help us vulnerable people with disabilities have a chance to speak out, and obtain justice. We do not talk enough about the physical and emotional toll it takes on these individuals. What is worse, if you are unable to communicate your problems, or have family or friends to support you, you are left with no hope, nowhere to go and certainly no justice.

Given the 4 Corners interview about Yooralla, I think now is the right time for a positive cultural change. It is sickening to think that a lot of abuse goes unnoticed. More so, when the Federal government chooses to turn a blind eye, and place the responsibility on the states.
It is time for care service providers to be made accountable, and for clients to be able to heal from the pain, anger and torture that they have suffered.
To do this we need a national inquiry. It is not enough for the Federal government to say that the states should deal with a systemic problem.

Another one said:

My son has severe autism and a chromosome abnormality that makes him very small and very cute. He has only been in residential care twice. He was 8 years old when respite once a month at a residential care unit was suggested to me by my case manager. He looked more like a 4 year old. I expressed my fears that as he cannot speak I would have little way of knowing if anyone hurt him if he was out of my care. My case worker pointed to the real importance of me needing a break and respite; and that my son would be okay without me in the safe care of professionals. The first weekend he came home happy; but when picked him up the second time he was not making his usual happy noises. When we arrived home and I asked him if he had fun, he began to shake uncontrollably. This was unusual. I had to hold and cuddle him in my arms for three hours as he shook as if he'd been terrorised. He would not let me go. I have no idea of what happened at the residential care house, but I had never seen him this scared. Watching 4 Corners last weekend made me feel physically sick. Why is it that the government is not doing more to protect these precious people. I vote-I will always be my son's voice. Do something about the rampant abuse of special needs people please! I can't care for my son for the rest of my life alone, and what happens when I die? We are vulnerable and count on a national inquiry into the abuse of people with disability.

This one is from a support worker:

I have worked as a support worker for the past almost four years and have worked with some beautiful, beautiful people of all abilities in that time. But I have also seen people spoken to and treated in some awful ways. The majority of staff I work with are people who have genuine respect for the people they support. But the system is incredibly under-resourced and only getting more stretched and stressed as the NDIS rolls out.
Here is another one:

As a disabled person myself, I support a move to a national inquiry into abuse in the disability sector. I was fortunate to be in a service provider for three years where everyone but one carer was respectful and ethical towards people with disability. The one carer in question was acting inappropriately when I was around, but thankfully when I spoke out action was taken and the person was kicked out. While my service provider acted in good faith, others have not. And that is why this inquiry is needed about how much neglect, abuse and assault there are in the disability sector in Australia.

And here is another one:

It is inappropriate to investigate only Yooralla when the evidence is that the abuse of people with disabilities is across many services, including children at schools. It is inappropriate for the state to investigate as it will be investigating itself in the main and its own subcontractors. This presents a significant conflict of interest. A national inquiry, properly resourced is the only appropriate response.

I have managed to protect my happy and beautiful 17-year-old daughter, who has a wonderful sense of humour and also has cerebral palsy and autism, but what will happen to her when I die? It makes me feel sick to my stomach. The only way to lessen that sick feeling is to see something done to try and improve the situation.

And finally:

It is just not on for anybody to abuse anybody else. Ever!


Back to All News