Open letter from academics supports calls for a Royal Commission into Violence Against People with Disability

The Hon. Malcolm Turnbull MP

Prime Minister of Australia

PO Box 6022
House of Representatives
Parliament House
Canberra ACT 2600

Dear Prime Minister:

Royal Commission into Violence Against People With Disability

We write to express deep concern at the recent Australian Government announcement that it does not intend to proceed with a Royal Commission into Violence Against People with Disability as recommended in 2015 by the Senate Community Affairs References Committee (the Committee). Australians were confronted, yet again by the Four Corners program on 27th March, ‘Fighting the System’, by the violence and abuse perpetrated against people with disability in group homes. As academics experienced in conducting research around violence, abuse and neglect of people with disability, or in the related areas of violence, human rights and social justice more broadly, we are dismayed that the Australian Government would choose to neglect this vital opportunity to comprehensively understand the extent and prevalence of violence towards people with disability within the community so that it can be addressed.

In June 2015 a range of Australian researchers, many of whom are signed here, wrote a submission to the Committee documenting our concerns about the lack of reporting measures relating to the violence experienced by people with disability in Australia. In that submission it was noted that current data relating to violence against people with disability are extremely limited across Australia, especially in relation to those in institutional and residential settings, those who are Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, and those from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds. This lack of data both impedes research into possible solutions, and limits Australia’s capacity to develop evidence-based policy in this area. We note that many of the signatories of this letter have conducted significant research in this area and have shown that people with disability experience higher rates of violence, abuse and neglect than the rest of the community, and that women and children with disability are disproportionately impacted by this violence. We also note that the broader academy views the violence, abuse and neglect of people with disability as a significant issue of social justice, and many from the broader academy have signed this letter as allies.

The November 2015 the Committee report (‘Violence, Abuse and Neglect Against People with Disability in Institutional and Residential Settings, including the Gender and Age Related Dimensions, and the Particular Situation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People with Disability, and Culturally and Linguistically Diverse People with Disability’) made a headline recommendation for a Royal Commission into Violence Against People with Disability. The rationale for this important recommendation was the need to “conduct a more thorough investigation of instances of violence, abuse and neglect of people with disability, including investigative powers and be funded and empowered to visit institutions” (267). In making this recommendation, the Committee acknowledged the limitations of its own inquiry in capturing the extent of violence, abuse and neglect experienced by people with disability, noting that the lack of reliable data available meant that prevalence was undoubtedly far greater than “this inquiry has been able to determine” (268).

A Royal Commission is uniquely placed to offer a comprehensive and independent investigation into the extent of violence against people with disability in Australia. The Committee noted this in its 2015 report, pointing out that the closed nature of institutions, and the lack of supports for people with disability to speak compromised the ability of the Committee to gather data. A Royal Commission would have the capacity to capture information on the prevalence of violence towards people with disability and understand systemic patterns of violence abuse and neglect in existing services. A Royal Commission would also have the resources to conduct additional research relevant to the inquiry, including incorporation of international research and best practice. Aside from enabling stronger understanding of the problem, a Royal Commission would also enable justice for people with disability who have experienced violence, abuse and neglect. The Committee noted “the criminal nature of many of the allegations brought before it” (268). There is a relative lack of prosecutions and convictions related to violence against people with disability. There are strong economic and publicity disincentives for organisations to be open about the violence occurring in their facilities. A Royal Commission would have substantial investigative powers, including the capacity to compel witnesses from within service organisations; inspectorate powers to visit institutional environments which facilitate violence, abuse and neglect; and the ability to refer criminal matters to the police. As the current Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse has shown, there is also substantial capacity for a Royal Commission to support a range of people with disability to participate, and offer trauma support for those who have experienced violence, abuse and neglect.

Australia is now navigating towards a new policy environment under the National Disability Insurance Scheme which will require a robust evidence base to guide reforms. A continuing reform project has been the redesign of the service system to facilitate consumer choice, and with this, the development of appropriate safeguards to ensure that service systems prevent violence, abuse and neglect, and that people with disability have the same legal rights as others to seek justice. Service system reform is not possible without a comprehensive understanding of the extent of violence, abuse and neglect against people with disability in our community and specifically in our disability service sector. A Royal Commission into Violence Against People with Disability would create a solid foundation for an evidence based approach to policy reform and to best practice in the delivery of services under the NDIS. We strongly urge the Australian Government to establish a Royal Commission into Violence Against People with Disability.

All queries regarding this letter can be directed to Dr Claire Spivakovsky, Senior Lecturer in Criminology, School of Social Sciences, Monash University, via email.

Yours sincerely,

Dr Claire Spivakovsky, Senior Lecturer in Criminology, Monash University

Professor Gerard Goggin, Professor of Media and Communications, University of Sydney

Professor Heather Douglas, TC Beirne School of Law, The University of Queensland

Dr Anna Arstein-Kerslake, Academic Convenor and Lecturer, Hallmark Disability Research Initiative, Melbourne Law School, The University of Melbourne

Dr Dinesh Wadiwel, Director, Master of Human Rights, University of Sydney

Dr Linda Steele, Senior Lecturer, Faculty of Law, University of Technology Sydney

Professor Anne Kavanagh, Head, Gender and Women’s Health Unit, Melbourne School of Population and Global Health, The University of Melbourne

Dr Patsie Frawley, Senior Lecturer, School of Health and Social Development, Deakin University

Professor Susan Balandin, Chair Disability and Inclusion, Deakin University

Rosemary Kayess, Senior Research Fellow, Social Policy Research Centre, UNSW

Dr Sally Robinson, Senior Research Fellow, Centre for Children and Young People, Southern Cross University

Professor Eileen Baldry, Professor of Criminology, Academic Chair, UNSW Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Board, UNSW

Professor Karen Fisher, Disability Research Program, Social Policy Research Centre, UNSW

Dr Tanja Dreher, Senior Lecturer, Communications and Media Studies, University of Wollongong

Professor Bernadette McSherry, Director Melbourne Social Equity Institute, The University of Melbourne

Dr Karen Soldatic, Institute for Culture and Society, Western Sydney University

Dr Piers Gooding, Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Melbourne Social Equity Institute, The University of Melbourne

Professor Gwynnyth Llewellyn, Director, Centre for Disability Research and Policy, The University of Sydney

Dr Susan Collings, Research Associate, Intellectual Disability and Behaviour Support Program, UNSW

Dr Kirsten McLean, Senior Lecturer in Sociology, Monash University

Associate Professor Katrina Lee-Koo, Reader in International Relations, Monash University

Dr Kate Seear, Senior Lecturer, Faculty of Law, Monash University

Dr Steven Roberts, Senior Lecturer in Sociology, Monash University

Dr Kathryn Benier, Lecturer in Criminology, Monash University

Dr Robert Simpson, Lecturer in Philosophy, Monash University

Associate Professor Dharma Arunachalam, Director, Centre for Population and Urban Research, Monash University

Dr Jamie Walvisch, Lecturer, Faculty of Law, Monash University

Professor JaneMaree Maher, Director, Centre for Women’s Studies & Gender Research, Monash University

Associate Professor Leanne Weber, Criminology, School of Social Sciences, Monash University

Associate Professor Rebecca Wickes, Deputy Director, Centre for Social and Population Research, Monash University

Dr Kate Fitz-Gibbon, Senior Lecturer in Criminology, Monash University

Dr Angela Dew, Senior Research Fellow, Intellectual Disability Behaviour Support Program, UNSW

Dr Samanthi Gunawardana, Lecturer, Gender and Development, Monash University

Associate Professor Leanne Dowse, Chair in Intellectual Disability Behaviour Support, UNSW

Professor Carla Treloar, Director, Centre for Social Research in Health, UNSW

Associate Professor Beth Goldblatt, Faculty of Law, University of Technology Sydney

Dr Fleur Beaupert, Lecturer, Centre for Health Law and Society, La Trobe University

Professor Katherine Biber, Faculty of Law, University of Technology Sydney

Elizabeth Humphrys, Scholarly Teaching Fellow, School of Communication, University of Technology Sydney

Professor Nan Seuffert, Director, Legal Intersections Research Centre, University of Wollongong

Associate Professor Thalia Anthony, Faculty of Law, University of Technology Sydney

Professor Donald K Anton, Professor of International Law, Griffith Law School, Griffith University

Professor Elena Marchetti, Griffith Law School, Griffith University

Shona Bates, Social Policy Research Centre, UNSW

Dr Susan Collings, Research Associate, Intellectual Disability and Behaviour Support Program, UNSW

Associate Professor Terry Cumming, Associate Professor in Special Education, School of Education, UNSW

Marie Delaney, Social Policy Research Centre, UNSW

Dr Shoshana Dreyfus, Faculty of Law, Humanities and the Arts, University of Wollongong

Dr Tony Eardley, Social Policy Research Centre, UNSW

Sandra Gendera, Social Policy Research Centre, UNSW

Jan Idle, Social Policy Research Centre, UNSW

Kelley Johnson, Social Policy Research Centre, UNSW

Associate Prof Bingqin Li, Social Policy Research Centre, UNSW

Deborah Lutz, Social Policy Research Centre, UNSW

Diane Macdonald, Australian Human Rights Centre, Law, UNSW

Sallie-Anne Moad, Social Policy Research Centre, UNSW

Associate Professor Helen Meekosha, School of Social Sciences, UNSW

Dr Christiane Purcal, Social Policy Research Centre, UNSW

Dr Simone Reppermond, Senior Research Fellow, Faculty of Medicine, UNSW

Dr Charlotte Smedley, Lecturer, School of Social Sciences, UNSW

Dr Louisa Smith, Lecturer, Intellectual Disability and Behaviour Support Program , UNSW

Dr Kim Spurway, Lecturer, School of Social Sciences, UNSW

Associate Professor Iva Strnadová, Associate Professor in Special Education, School of Education, UNSW

Professor Julian Trollor, Chair of Intellectual Disability and Mental Health, Faculty of Medicine, UNSW

Dr Paul Harpur, Senior Lecturer, TC Beirne School of Law, The University of Queensland

Dr Melanie O’Brien, Postdoctoral Research Fellow, TC Beirne School of Law, The University of Queensland

Dr Honni van Rijswijk, Senior Lecturer, Faculty of Law, University of Technology Sydney

Professor Baden Offord, Chair of Human Rights Education, Centre for Human Rights Education, Curtin University

Dr Lara Palombo, Department of Media, Music, Communication, Cultural Studies, Macquarie University

Professor Helen Dunstan, Department of History, University of Sydney

Professor Mark Hughes, Social Work, Southern Cross University

Dr Liz Reimer, Lecturer, School of Arts and Social Sciences, Southern Cross University

Dr Kate Neale, Research Officer, Southern Cross University

Professor Richard Howitt, Professor of Human Geography, Macquarie University

Dr Nicola Marks, Faculty of Law, Humanities and the Arts, University of Wollongong

Professor Joseph Pugliese, Research Director, Department of Media, Music, Communications and Cultural Studies, Macquarie University

Dr Lisa Hartley, Senior Lecturer, Centre for Human Rights Education, Curtin University

Eugene Schofield-Georgeson, Lecturer, Faculty of Law, University of Technology Sydney

Dr Trish Luker, Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Faculty of Law, University of Technology Sydney

Professor Sarah Ferber, School of Humanities and Social Inquiry, University of Wollongong

Monica Taylor, Director, UQ Pro Bono Centre, The University of Queensland

Professor Fiona Haines, Professor of Criminology, The University of Melbourne

Professor Renata Kokanovic, Vice Chancellor’s Senior Research Fellow, RMIT

Associate Professor Paddy Rawlinson, Associate Professor in International Criminology, Western Sydney University

Dr Chistine Grima-Farrell, Lecturer in Special Education, School of Education, UNSW

Associate Professor Jane Mears, School of Social Sciences and Psychology, Western Sydney University

Dr Geir Henning Presterudstuen, Lecturer in Anthropology, Western Sydney University

Professor Carolyn Stevens, Professor of Japanese Studies, Monash University

Associate Professor Catherine Mills, Monash Bioethics Centre, Monash University

Professor Stephen Tomsen, Professor in Criminology, Western Sydney University

Dr Anastasia Powell, Senior Researcher, Justice and Legal Studies, RMIT

Dr Linda Barclay, Senior Lecturer in Philosophy, Monash University

Dr Ana Rodas, Lecturer in Criminology and Policing, Western Sydney University

Dr Kiran Grewal, Institute of Social Justice, Australian Catholic University

Dr Danielle Tyson, Senior Lecturer in Criminology, Deakin University

Dr Neil Maclean, Senior Lecturer in Anthropology, The University of Sydney

Dr Dave McDonald, Lecturer in Criminology, The University of Melbourne

Dr Tamara Tulich, Senior Lecturer, UWA Law School, University of Western Australia

Professor Patrick Keyzer, Chair of Law and Public Policy, La Trobe Law School, La Trobe University

Associate Professor Julie Evans, Associate Professor in Criminology, University of Melbourne

Dr Nicole Matthews, Senior Lecturer, Media, Music Communication and Cultural Studies, Macquarie University

Dr Deb Waterhouse-Watson, Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Media, Music Communication and Cultural Studies, Macquarie University

Sara Dehm, Lecturer, Faculty of Law, University of Technology Sydney

Dr Adrian Carter, Senior Research Fellow, School of Psychological Sciences, Monash University

Dr James Roffee, Senior Lecturer in Criminology, Monash University

Associate Professor Marie Segrave, Criminology, Monash University

Dr Sonja van Wichelen, Senior Lecturer in Sociology, University of Sydney

Professor Cheryl Dissanayake, Director, Olga Tennison Autism Research Centre, La Trobe University

Dr Ruth McCausland, Research Fellow, School of Social Sciences, UNSW

Professor Emma Kowal, Professor of Anthropology, Alfred Deakin Institute for Citizenship and Globalisation, Deakin University

Associate Professor Arlie Loughnan, Sydney Law School, University of Sydney

Marius Smith, Manager, Castan Centre for Human Rights Law, Monash University

Dr Stephen Gray, Senior Lecturer, Faculty of Law, Monash University

Dr Joanna Kyriakakis, Senior Lecturer, Deputy Director, Castan Centre for Human Rights Law, Monash University

Dr Raelene West, Centre for Applied Social Research, RMIT University

Dr Carmel Laragy, Centre for Applied Social Research, RMIT University

Associate Professor Penelope Weller, Graduate School of Business and Law, RMIT University

Professor Stuart DM Thomas, Acting Director, Centre for Applied Social Research, RMIT University

Associate Professor Paul Ramcharan, Centre for Applied Social Research, and Deputy Director Research at the Future Social Service Institute, RMIT University

Eleanor Bentham, Centre for People, Organisation and Work, RMIT University

Associate Professor Jennifer Martin, Social Work, RMIT University

Belinda Johnson, Lecturer, School of Global, Urban and Social Studies, RMIT University

Dr Maggie Hall, Lecturer in Social Work, Western Sydney University

David Roy, Lecturer in Education, University of Newcastle

Dr Michelle Bonati, Associate Lecturer, Special and Inclusive Education, University of Sydney

Professor Suzanne Carrington, Assistant Dean (Research) Faculty of Education, Queensland University of Technology (QUT)

Dr Tan-Chyuan Chin, Research Fellow, Centre for Positive Psychology, Melbourne Graduate School of Education, The University of Melbourne

Dr Kate de Bruin, Lecturer in Inclusive Education, Monash University

Associate Professor Katie Ellis, Senior Research Fellow, Curtin University

Dr Charlie Fox, Associate Professor and Honorary Research Fellow, University of Western Australia

Dr Jan Gothard, Adjunct Associate Professor, Murdoch University

Associate Professor Linda Graham, School of Early Childhood and Inclusive Education, Faculty of Education, Queensland University of Technology (QUT)

Professor Lorraine Graham, Professor of Learning Intervention, Melbourne Graduate School of Education

Associate Professor Kalervo Gulson, School of Education, University of New South Wales

Dr Cathy Little, Lecturer in Special Education, University of Sydney

Dr Amanda Mergler, Senior Lecturer, School of Early Childhood and Inclusive Education, Faculty of Education, Queensland University of Technology (QUT)

Dr Shiralee Poed, Senior Lecturer in Learning Intervention, the University of Melbourne

Professor Sue Saltmarsh, Professor of Early Childhood, University of Southern Queensland

Dr Ilektra Spandagou, Senior Lecturer, Inclusive education, The University of Sydney

Dr Briony Wainman, Lecturer, School of Early Childhood and Inclusive Education, Faculty of Education, Queensland University of Technology (QUT)

Dr Julie Dillon-Wallace, Lecturer, School of Early Childhood and Inclusive Education, Faculty of Education, Queensland University of Technology (QUT)

Satine Winter, Graduate Fellow, Griffith Institute for Educational Research, Griffith University

Professor John Fischetti, Head of School, School of Education, University of Newcastle

Professor James Albright, School of Education, University of Newcastle

Dr Daniella J. Forster, Lecturer in Education, University of Newcastle

Dr. Karen Watson, Lecturer in Education, University of Newcastle

Joanna Brown, Lecturer in Education, University of Newcastle

Professor Michael Arthur-Kelly, Professor in Special Education, University of Newcastle

Debra Fox, Faculty of Education and Arts, University of Newcastle

Dr Margot Ford, Senior Lecturer in Education, University of Newcastle

Professor Max Smith, Research Centre for Teachers and Teaching,
University of Newcastle

Dr. Nisha Thapliyal, Lecturer in Education, University of Newcastle

Dr. David Palmer, Associate Professor, School of Education, University of Newcastle

Chery Williams, Lecturer in Education, University of Newcastle

Dr Jennie Duke, Lecturer in Education, Australian Catholic University

Conjoint Associate Professor Linda Newman, School of Education, University of Newcastle

Associate Professor Ruth Reynolds, School of Education, The University of Newcastle

Dr Robert Jackson, Associate Professor of Education, Curtin University

Dr Joanne Ailwood, Senior Lecturer, School of Education, The University of Newcastle

Dr Stian Thoresen, Senior Research Fellow, School of Occupational Therapy and Social Work, Curtin University