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What You Need To Know About The Progress of the Disability Royal Commission

Public hearings of the Disability Royal Commission have been suspended, but that has not stopped this once-in-a-lifetime inquiry from making significant progress. Sara explores the key take away messages for people with disability and providers.

By Sara Gingold

Updated 15 Apr 202410 Jun 2020

Amongst the whirlwind of breaking news that has swept the first half of 2020, the important work of the Disability Royal Commission has been conducted largely outside of the public spotlight. But their updates are still essential pieces of information for everyone in the disability community. So we’ve put together a quick list of what the Commission has been up to in the last six months. 

As you would expect, public hearings have been suspended due to the pandemic. We do not know when they will begin again. Therefore, our strongest sources for understanding the progress of the inquiry are their published Issues Papers and media releases. 


In a dramatic move, the Disability Royal Commission has sent out Notices to Produce to a number of disability providers. These notices require providers to answer questions about a range of topics, including how the provider facilitates choice and control, revenue for specific services, involvement of people with disability in the organisation's governance, and strategies for preventing violence, abuse and neglect. The notices also require details of any investigations conducted, steps taken to reduce and eliminate the use of restrictive practices, and communication about the Royal Commission. 

In other words, a hell of a lot of information! Yes, this is going to create a lot of stress for providers. But what is the point of having a Royal Commission if it doesn’t actually dive headfirst into the issues? It is also noteworthy that the Commission is defining its scope more broadly than traditional understandings of violence, abuse and neglect. 


Issues Papers released by the Royal Commission are conversation starters with the community. They all include a summary of some research (mostly academic) that the Commission has conducted, and questions for public. 

The most recent Issues Paper focused on experiences of First Nations people with disability. We know that a disproportionate number of First Nations Australians live with disability or long-term health conditions. The Paper discusses how First Nations people with disability often experience “double discrimination”- discrimination based both on disability and ethnicity. First Nations people with disability are also more likely to face additional barriers to accessing supports and services, such as the NDIS. 

The Royal Commission has indicated that they would be interested to hear about successful community solutions led my First Nations people with disability. They also note that the First Peoples Disability Network has called for the development of a First Nations disability sector. According to the Issues Paper, the Commission is intrigued by this idea and wants to hear more about how it would practically work. So this could be an exciting space to watch into the future. 

The art nerd in me is obsessed with the above painting, from a Royal Commission press release. It was produced by Paul Constable Calcott, a Wiradjuri Elder artist who lives with a disability. Titled “Respectful Listening”- it tells the story of the 7 Commissioners traveling the country to collect stories from people with disability, families and communities. 


Back at the start of the pandemic, the Royal Commission released an Issues Paper on Emergency Planning and Response. It came right off the back of their Statement of Concern about the impact of the pandemic on people with disability. Both these documents demonstrated an impressive understanding of the way people with disability are often ignored in emergency responses. 

They believe people with disability were overlooked or left behind during the COVID-19 pandemic and recent bushfire disaster. Their observations are valuable not just as a reflection on the disaster filled year that is 2020, but as a checklist to bring into the next crisis that the country faces. Some of these concerns were eventually addressed, but it certainly was not what anyone would call a timely response. The issues raised were: 

  • Access to disability supports services during emergencies, they particularly urged for measures to be put in place to ensure that workforce shortages do not lead to services being provided in an unsafe way, or by untrained workers. 
  • Access to food, noting that the NDIS priority delivery system excludes people with disability who are not supported by the NDIS. 
  • Access to healthcare, particularly that during emergencies, unconscious bias or discrimination might lead to people with disability experiencing poor healthcare outcomes. We know that this was a big concern in the community as well. 
  • Accessible information, it took quite a while for the NDIA to produce Easy Read and Auslan COVID-19 information. 
  • Housing, including the important observation that people in group facilities may be at higher risk of infection. 
  • Income security, what they do not say here is that people on DSP and Carers’ Payments are not eligible for the ongoing $550 per fortnight coronavirus supplement. Might be a good thing to point out to them. 
  • Education, particularly the risk that it will become less accessible during crises.
  • Reduced safeguards and oversights, this is an important point- the more facilities shut down to outside visitations, the less informal oversight can occur. 
  • Domestic violence, which can increase in stressful situations and when people are inside. 
  • Community and social isolation, which can be exacerbated for people with disability. 



There was also an Issues Paper on restrictive practices. It follows the revelation in the Senate Estimates that NDIS providers have used unauthorised restrictive practices 65,000 times in the past 18 months. 

The Paper acknowledges states and territories have various laws and policies in place on the use of restrictive practices. However, there is not a national framework across all settings. Which leads to an inconsistent understanding of what is and isn’t allowed. 

The UN Committee on the Rights of People with Disability has called on Australia to eliminate the use of restrictive practices in all settings. Perhaps the most intriguing section of this Paper is the Commissions list of alternatives to restrictive practices. Here is what they suggest:  

  • Providing better community based support to people with disability, including communication support
  • Person centred planning (in more than just name!)
  • Removal of risk factors (such as triggers)
  • Trauma informed support
  • Advance care directives- which is when a person describes their preferences for what they need in case of future events
  • Peer support and individual advocacy
  • Training for service providers and workers
  • Co-designing alternatives with people with disability. 


Back in May, the Royal Commission released an Issues Paper on Employment. This is a topic that gets discussed a lot in the disability sector, but it is still worth looking at some of the statistics in black and white as a reminder of how urgent the situation is: 

  • 53.4% of people with disability were in the workforce, compared to 84.1% of people without disability. 
  • 10.3% of people with disability were unemployed, compared to 4.6% of people without disability. 
  • The gross median income for a person with disability between 15-64 was $505 per week, compared to $1,016 per week for people without disability. 
  • The rates of fulltime employment are two times higher amongst people without disability, compared to people with. 
  • Complaints about disability discrimination make up the highest number of complaints to the Australian Human Rights Commission. 

The key takeaway- Australia needs to do better. Pronto! 


In April, an Issues Paper on “rights and attitudes” was released. 

The Papers seeks feedback around 3 main topics: 

  • Rights

Particularly, how people with disability and the broader community understand the rights of people with disability. As well as the extent to which organisations and governments promote and safeguard these rights.

  • Advocacy 

The Royal Commission wants to understand how well advocacy mechanisms for people with disability are working. This can include self advocacy, individual advocacy, legal advocacy and systemic advocacy. They are also interested in hearing ideas for advocacy reform. 

  • Attitudes 

They also want to hear about how the attitudes held by communities, organisations and governments can impact the lives of people with disability. 

Not exactly a small scoop. There are probably at least 25 PhDs in there. 


The Royal Commission released a statement on the tragic death of Ann-Marie Smith. They acknowledged that her death raises some important policy questions that fall within the mandate of the Commission. However, they felt it was inappropriate for the Royal Commission to open an immediate inquiry while there are still ongoing police investigation, and possible criminal proceedings. But they did indicate they might open an inquiry in the future. 


People with disability and their families are often under a lot of administrative pressure. The NDIS alone usually requires a significant, annual effort in order to continuing accessing supports and services. And then, there is also dealings with Centrelink, healthcare professionals, school staff, etc. So I truly hesitate to add anything to this already unmanageable to-do-list. 

But Royal Commissions can only be as successful as the community behind them. And we really, really need this inquiry to lead to significant policy change.   

Public hearings are suspended, but people can still make submissions to the Royal Commission. Submissions can be in writing, over the phone, an audio message or a video. People can also request a private session with a Commissioner. Submissions can be in the person’s preferred language. 

Advocacy services may be able to support people to make their submissions. But we know that they already have a pretty big case load. So we would really urge providers to reach out to Participants, and ask them what support they might need to make a submission. 

Blue Knot Foundation is also offering free mental health support to people participating in the Royal Commission. The hotline number is 1800 421 468 (9am - 6pm AEST Monday to Friday, 9am - 5pm AEST Saturday, Sunday and public holidays).

If you want to stay up to date with the Disability Royal Commission, but don’t necessarily want to check their website on a daily basis, follow us on Facebook. We provide regular summaries about the progress of the inquiry, and we even try and make them a bit entertaining. 

Thank you to everyone making a submission! We can’t wait to see the change that come from this. 


Sara Gingold

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