Disability Royal Commission consultation outcomes

Jess explores the outcomes of the Department of Social Services consultation into the Disability Royal Commission recommendations, and what it reveals about areas of ongoing contention.

By Jessica Quilty

Updated 4 Jul 20243 Jul 20246 min read
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After a 4 ½ year inquiry, the Disability Royal Commission (DRC) released its final report on the 29th of September last year. To inform its response to these recommendations, the Australian Government invited feedback between 28 November – 19 January through a public consultation process. Individuals and organisations were invited to share their views through submissions and an online questionnaire. The Department of Social Services (DSS) has now released its summary report of the consultation.

Feedback received

The consultation received 118 submissions, 81 of which were from organisations and 37 from individuals. It also received 335 questionnaire responses. 286 were from individuals (39% of which identified as a person with disability and 58% a carer or family member). 49 responses were from organisations (76% of which were disability service providers).

Compared to the 7944 submissions to the DRC, you could say this is a pretty small sample size. Presumably, many people, having already given their deeply personal and harrowing accounts to the DRC, would have chosen not to engage further (or potentially not even have known about the consultation).

Nonetheless, it gives us some sense of the areas where there is broad agreement and which recommendations are more divisive. DSS reports that the overall support for most recommendations was high amongst questionnaire responses, particularly from people with disability. The key themes that emerged include:

  • Human rights - people supported better legal protection to realise the human rights of people with disability, reflecting the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disability (CRPD).
  • Inclusion - people supported the vision of an inclusive Australia.
  • The central role of people with disability in implementation - there was a broad desire to center the voices and experiences of people with disability, including through Disability Representative Organisations (DROs). It was expressed that governments should take a genuine approach to co-design and disability leadership throughout every level and stage of reform to avoid unintended consequences.
  • The future of specialist/segregated settings - The role of settings and services exclusively for people with disability was hotly contested. We will dive into in a bit more detail further down.

The report shares feedback across all volumes with recommendations (volumes 4 -12). However, this article will focus on the top 5 topics of the consultation.

Achieving inclusion and retaining choice

Volume 7 which explored inclusive education, employment and housing attracted the most attention in submissions. Submitters held opposing views on the future of specialist/segregated settings including schools, Australian Disability Enterprises (ADEs) and group homes. Some stakeholders, particularly DROs, advocates and some people with disability, view disability-specific settings and services as segregation and want to see them phased out. However, others, particularly parents, families and carers, and some people with disability, argue that special schools, group homes and ADEs are a choice for those who want services designed specifically to meet their needs.

Special education drew the most feedback. DRC recommendation 7.14 made by Commissioners Bennett, Galbally and McEwin recommended the phasing out of segregated education. The questionnaires received 12 votes in support of this recommendation with 118 votes opposing. Those opposed argued that inclusive education should not include removing options for families to access specialist settings. Recommendation 7.15 by Commissioner’s Sacksville, Mason and Ryan suggested an alternative approach that includes co-location and partnerships between special education and mainstream schools. This approach received the most votes of support (66) of all the recommendations, with 8 opposing. DSS reported that these recommendations were the only ones with notable opposition among questionnaire respondents.

In relation to segregated employment, a number of DROs supported recommendation 7.32 to develop a roadmap to transform ADEs and eliminate subminimum wages by 2034. Some supported ending segregated employment in principle but felt the substantial barriers to open employment for those with high support needs must be addressed for this to be successful. Several service providers strongly opposed phasing out ADEs, citing “catastrophic job losses and a reduction in employment options likely to leave the most vulnerable behind, contravening the general principle of choice and control articulated in the CRPD.” They strongly opposed industry transformation that would reduce employment opportunities for people with high support needs, arguing that supported employment must be there for those who cannot find open employment.

There was similar contention raised in relation to segregated housing. Many DROs and service providers supported proposals to phase out group homes, citing that people who live in group accommodation experience higher rates of violence, abuse and neglect. Others focussed on the importance of changing culture as a first step in realising better housing outcomes. Some also held a positive view of group homes and expressed concerns about the idea of them closing. A number of organisations, including unions and peak bodies, opposed phasing out group homes, arguing it would reduce housing options for people with disability, and that expanding housing options would be a more sensible policy approach.

Disability Rights Act

The second most popular recommendation was the establishment of a Disability Rights Act which received 47 votes of support. People described it as a foundational reform underpinning all others, and a vehicle to embed the CRPD into Australian law. Some stakeholders gave qualified support, citing the need for a federal Human Rights Act first, or questioning the effectiveness of legal protections for human rights in general. Many stakeholders also supported the recommendations to strengthen the Disability Discrimination Act.

Evaluating implementation and effectiveness in improving outcomes

45 respondents supported the recommendations for an independent evaluation of the implementation of the DRC recommendations and its effectiveness in improving outcomes. DSS reported that there was strong emphasis on the need to ensure there is adequate oversight and evaluation throughout implementation to ensure that reform results in improved outcomes for people with disability.

Government responses to Final Report recommendations

21 respondents supported the DRC’s recommendations that related to how the government should respond to the DRC. Ironically, one of those recommendations was for the Commonwealth and state and territory governments to publish a written response to the DRC’s report by 31 March 2024 including whether the recommendations are accepted, rejected or subject to further consideration. The DRC said it should also include an implementation plan. Evidently, they didn’t make that deadline.

Respondents identified the important role of government in developing a coordinated response and translating the final report into real change. A DRO also highlighted the importance of providing government responses in accessible formats. Others emphasised the role of the Disability Reform Ministerial Council (DRMC) (which includes federal and state and territory Disability Ministers) in coordinating responses to the DRC and ensuring a consistent approach across jurisdictions. An advocacy group said that co-design with people with disability will be essential to successful prioritisation and implementation of the recommendations.

Overcoming barriers to safe, quality and inclusive education

The fifth most popular recommendation with just 21 votes was on the topic of inclusive education (recommendations 7.1-7.6). These recommendations largely centred around improving access and inclusion in all education settings.

So what does all this mean?

DSS states in its report that the questionnaire did not receive enough responses to be considered a representative sample. “The responses shown in this report should not be interpreted as representative of the general population, and only reflect the views of those who participated. It is possible that the number of votes against recommendations was inflated due to the design of the questionnaire.” Peak body People with Disability Australia has expressed caution about considering the summary report as a guidepost for government action, arguing it is not representative given it did not reach all people with disability.

What now?

Commonwealth, State and Territory Disability Ministers that make up the DRMC met on the 28th June. They discussed a coordinated approach to implementing the different elements of disability reform across the NDIS, foundational supports and the DRC. The DRMC will share a high-level roadmap with DROs for initial feedback, with a view to finalising a public facing version that could be released in July. This is to be followed by a more detailed engagement plan on how people and organisations can be involved in design and consultation of the reforms.  The DRMC discussed plans for the public release of the joint response to the 85 joint Commonwealth, State and Territory recommendations of the DRC, which is said to be on track for release in mid-2024. So watch your inboxes for the next update.


Jessica Quilty

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