New website upgrades! What’s new

Disability Royal Commission Update for 2021

What a start to the year for Disability Royal Commission! Jess provides sweet relief with this comprehensive summary of all you need to know.

By Jessica Quilty

Updated 15 Apr 202426 Apr 2021

The Royal Commission into Violence, Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation of People with Disability (Disability Royal Commission) has had a busy start to 2021. Their mandate is absolutely humongous, leaving an almost impossible amount of ground to cover. As such, the updates have been coming thick and fast, and you might be feeling the challenge of trying to keep up. But we’ve got your back, as you knew we would! So, let’s take a look at what’s been happening in 2021. 



The Disability Royal Commission has heard that attitudes and assumptions form major barriers to employment and that discriminatory attitudes and assumptions are among a range of barriers that prevent people with disability from finding and keeping a job. The Counsel Assisting, Kate Eastman, recently presented oral submissions in relation to Public hearing 9 on Open Employment.The barriers to employment were summarised into four broad categories:

  • Attitudinal barriers such as assumptions that people with disability do not want work or can’t work
  • Physical and environmental barriers such as physically inaccessible buildings or workplaces (for example, buildings with no lifts or rooms with no hearing loops)
  • Organisational barriers such as problems accessing skills training and education
  • Structural barriers such as a lack of connections between government programs designed to help people with disability into employment.

Ms Eastman proposed further investigations focus on:

  • Private sector employers
  • Public sector employers
  • The Disability Employment Services (DES) system
  • The Australian government’s strategy to increase employment for people with disability
  • Laws and institutions that protect the rights of people with disability in the workplace. 

Another hearing on open employment will be held later this year.

The Disability Royal Commission has released a summary of responses to its Employment Issues Paper, with several responders raising concerns about the design and implementation of DES. Respondents spoke about the lack of appropriate support, poor client outcomes, and people being placed in jobs that didn’t match their skills, interests, or abilities. The Disability Royal Commission heard that DES providers are not achieving long-term outcomes, with some job placements ending abruptly or only lasting as long as government subsidies. Concerns were also raised that some DES consultants didn’t have specialised disability knowledge or qualifications and didn’t act in their clients’ best interests. 


Criminal justice

The Disability Royal Commission held a Public Hearing in Brisbane in February 2021. The public hearing explored the experiences of violence, abuse, neglect, and exploitation of people with disability (particularly people with a cognitive impairment) in their interactions with the criminal justice system and the consequences which follow. The scope and purpose of the hearing was to examine:

  • The factors contributing to people with cognitive disability first coming into contact with the criminal justice system
  • How and why people with cognitive disability cycle in and out of the criminal justice system
  • How the criminal justice system can and often does criminalise disability
  • The overrepresentation of First Nations people with cognitive impairment in the criminal justice system and any differences in their experiences.
  • The long-term and indefinite incarceration of people with cognitive impairment under forensic custody orders
  • The impact that appropriate diversion from the criminal justice system and the provision of appropriate supports to people with disability can have in reducing contact with the criminal justice system and in moving away from the criminalisation of disability.

The Disability Royal Commission heard how First Nations people make up 29% of the adult prison population (but are 2.5% of the general population). The Royal Commission heard that police and other authorities need a better understanding of cognitive impairment and mental illness and that specialist support for people with complex needs can reduce the risk of entering the justice system. The Royal Commission heard about the confusion in dealing with the justice system in relation to things like bail terms, court appearance dates, and lost paperwork and how support to deal with these issues can help break the cycle. 


Research report

The Centre of Research Excellence in Disability and Health (CRE-DH) helped prepare a new Research Report for the Disability Royal Commission that was published in March. It reveals that in the last year, women with disability were more than twice as likely to report sexual violence as women without disability. A quarter of young people with disability reported violence in the last year, compared to 11% of those in older age groups. People with cognitive and psychological disability reported higher rates of all types of violence than people with other types of disability. The report also shows that over the course of their lives, about two-thirds of people with disability have reported some kind of violence, compared to just under half of people without disability.


Culturally and linguistically diverse people

The Disability Royal Commission has released this Issues Paper about the experiences of culturally and linguistically diverse people with disability. The Issues Paper recognises that different cultures may interpret disability differently and that attitudes towards people with disability can vary across different cultural contexts. 

Some of the barriers to access and inclusion have been identified as:

  • Language barriers
  • Lack of information and interpreters
  • Lack of culturally appropriate services
  • Negative stereotypes in the general community
  • Cultural stigmas around disability
  • Distrust of government agencies.

The Commission also wants to hear about the experiences of particular groups in culturally and linguistically diverse communities. This includes refugees, people on temporary visas, people in detention, women, children, and young people with disability.


Education and Training of Health Professionals

The Disability Royal Commission held a Public Hearing into the education and training of health professionals across two days in Sydney in December 2020. The third day of the hearing was held in Sydney in March this year. This hearing examined the education and training of health and allied health professionals, including medical practitioners, nurses, dentists, pharmacists, psychologists, and speech pathologists, in relation to the health care and treatment of people with cognitive disability. Witnesses advocated strongly that these health professionals need more training in how to communicate with and treat people with cognitive disability. 


Emergency Planning and Response

The Disability Royal Commission has released its overview of the responses to the Emergency Planning and Response Issue Paper. Respondents discussed experiences during emergencies such as bushfires, floods, and other natural disasters, along with COVID-19. People spoke about how repeated emergencies have exposed Australia’s lack of emergency preparedness, which disproportionately affects people with disability, whose pre-existing disadvantages are exacerbated during crises. 


Restrictive Practices

The Disability Royal Commission has released its summary of responses to the Restrictive Practices Issue Paper. Responses included the need for clearer definitions of the term “restrictive practices,” with some believing it is too critical or negative and others deeming it not critical enough.

The Commissioners heard that restrictive practices are used in different settings, including residential homes, group homes, schools, health settings, and the justice system. Some respondents suggested First Nations people with disability are more likely to experience restrictive practices. The Disability Royal Commission heard that restrictive practices can be degrading and cruel and that they can have negative impacts including trauma, poor health, shorter lifespan, and death. Their use can create a culture that devalues people with disability and makes denying their rights seem normal. People responding to the paper discussed a range of ways to prevent, reduce, or stop the use of restrictive practices. 


Promoting inclusion

The Disability Royal Commission has released an Issues Paper on promoting inclusion. The Commission is asking the public to share their views about what an inclusive society looks like, barriers to inclusion, how we can become a more inclusive society, and how inclusion might prevent violence, abuse, neglect, and exploitation. Responses are encouraged by 4 June 2021. After this date, any comments about this issues paper can be made via the submissions process.


Over 2000 submissions

In March the Disability Royal Commission Newsletter reported that it had received its 2000th submission. Director of Submissions Clara Crompton said, “Having received 2000 submissions is a solemn reminder of how widespread the issues affecting people with disability are. But it is also an important milestone for the Royal Commission.” Submissions are invaluable to the Commission’s work in ensuring people with disability have a voice and in helping the Commission to understand the extent of the problems. Submissions have come in through a variety of methods – online, phone, and post – and in multiple languages. They have also come in a range of formats, including poetry, visual art, books, and songs. 


Third Progress Report

In February the Disability Royal Commission released its Third Progress Report, which details the progress made from 1 July to 31 December 2020. The report remarks that this Royal Commission’s terms of reference are far broader than almost any other royal commission established in Australia in recent decades. This, combined with the impact of COVID-19, has led the Disability Royal Commission to request a 17-month extension. If the request is granted, the Final Report and Recommendations will be due by 29 September 2023. 


Upcoming Public hearings

7 May: (One day) Public hearing 7.2: Barriers experienced by students with disability in accessing and obtaining a safe, quality and inclusive school education and consequent life course impacts – Oral Submissions

  • Week of 24 May: Public hearing 12, Sydney – NDIS and service providers
  • Week of 7 June: Public hearing 13, Adelaide – NDIS and service providers
  • Week of 21 June: Public hearing 14, Brisbane – Satellite hearing (Topic TBC)
  • 28 July–4 August: Public hearing 15, Melbourne – Measures taken by employers and regulators to respond to the systemic barriers to open employment for people with disability
  • Week of 16 August: Public hearing 16, Hobart – The health and safety of women and girls with disability
  • Week of 13 September: Public hearing 17, TBC – First Nations hearing (topic TBC)
  • Week of 1 November: Public hearing 18, TBC – To be advised
  • Week of 6 December: Public hearing 19, TBC – Disability support workforce issues.

We will bring you more updates after the NDIS and Services Provider Public Hearing in May and June. This will no doubt be a big one that many NDIS providers will be watching very closely. If you haven’t already, you can subscribe to the Disability Royal Commission updates on its website


Jessica Quilty

Explore DSC

Subscribe to the newsletter you’ll actually want to read

Learn from the humans obsessed with Australia’s NDIS. 50,000 readers strong.

Explore DSC Learning