Australia

Call for public servants to step down from royal commission over conflict of interest

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More than 50 organisations in the disability sector are calling for two commissioners who oversaw public services for people with disabilities to step down from the Royal Commission.

Pressure is mounting on two former senior public servants to step down from the newly-announced Royal Commission into the abuse and neglect of people with disabilities.

More than 50 organisations involved in the disability sector have demanded John Ryan and Barbara Bennett be removed from the royal commission over a conflict of interest. 

Prime Minister Scott Morrison officially launched the $527 million inquiry last Friday, which will examine abuse and neglect in all settings. 

Ms Bennett is a former deputy secretary of the federal Department of Social Services which is responsible for the roll-out of the National Disability Insurance Scheme. 

Mr Ryan held a senior role in the NSW department of Ageing, Disability and Home Care and oversaw the closure of large residential institutions in 2013 and moving people with disabilities into smaller group homes. 

Prime Minister Scott Morrison makes a roads funding announcement.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison officially launched the disability royal commission on Friday.
AAP

Matthew Bowden, Co-CEO of People with Disability Australia, told SBS News that that program would likely be the subject of complaints and submissions to the commission, but many would be put off by Mr Ryan and Ms Bennett's involvement. 

"Our members have told us over the weekend that with them there they will not be able to tell their stories," Mr Bowden said. 

The joint statement from a wide range of organisations representing people with disabilities, their carers and services providers follows the call from Greens Senator Jordon Steele-John for the pair to go. 

Greens Senator Jordon Steele-John
Senator Jordon Steele-John interjected during Question Time when it appeared the government was stalling to avoid supporting the royal commission.
AAP

Senator Steele-John, who was instrumental in securing parliamentary support for the royal commission, said on Friday that Mr Ryan and Ms Bennett were "far too close" to the system and should self-declare their conflict and step aside. 

Social Services Minister Paul Fletcher last week defended their appointments with a spokeswoman dismissing Senator Steele-John's concerns and citing Mr Ryan and Ms Bennett's significant contribution in their fields. 

Another four commissioners have been appointed, including former Federal Court judge Ronald Sackville, who will head up the inquiry. 

The head of the disability royal commission is former Federal Court judge Ronald Sackville.
The head of the disability royal commission is former Federal Court judge Ronald Sackville.
AAP

Australian Federation of Disability Organisations CEO Ross Joyce said they had suggested dozens of skilled and qualified people who did not have a conflict of interest. 

“We know Mr Ryan and Ms Bennett are respected public servants who sought to make a positive contribution to ending abuse and violence through this Royal Commission. But we believe that their real, potential and perceived conflict of interest is a barrier for people with disability to engage with the Royal Commission," Mr Joyce said.

SBS News contacted his office again on Monday, but had not received a response at the time of publication.  

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