Jordan Steele-John, parliament’s first disabled senator, described the horrific deaths of dozens of disabled Australians through violence and neglect.
The usually rambunctious Upper House fell to a respectful silence on Tuesday evening as Greens senator Jordan Steele-John named dozens of his fellow disabled Australians who died in recent years, often following horrific torture at the hands of their supposed carers.
The WA senator is demanding the Morrison government extend its Royal Commission into aged care centres to also investigate the abuse of disabled people.
“Before us now is a question: will justice be done for disabled people or will we once again miss the opportunity to ensure that those in our nation who are so often made voiceless are heard?” Senator Steele-John said.
The probe will cover young disabled people who live in aged care centres, but the prime minister has rejected calls for a widened scope, saying the investigation needed to remain “focused”.
Senator Steele-John went on to list the names of people who died in the years around a 2015 Senate inquiry that recommended a Royal Commission into the disability sector – a recommendation that was never taken up.
“I hope that their stories will move the hearts of those who have it within their power to see justice done,” he said.
“Shellay Ward, aged seven, was found locked in a room without sunlight, surrounded by faeces. Shellay died from starvation and thirst, and she weighed only nine kilograms—a third of her expected body weight. She had severe autism and was considered to be profoundly disabled.”
The senator was clearly emotional and teared up as he described the cases, many involving children.
“Levi Bonnar, seven years old, was found beaten, tortured and finally killed by the people who were meant to care for him.”
“Isabella Leiper was nine. She died from a combination of internal injuries which paediatricians said were caused by blunt force to the stomach, such as a fist.”
The senator gradually moved through to older victims, including a 47-year-old woman with a brain injury who was raped and assaulted at least 111 times and died “as a result of the complications used in the medication to sedate her”.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said abuse of disabled Australians “will have the attention of the government” but said the recently announced Royal Commission should stay focused on residential aged care.
“It is a very focused inquiry, it's important that we keep the focus of the inquiries,” Mr Morrison told reporters on Tuesday.
“If they become an inquiry into everything, they become too broad. I want to ensure that this inquiry remains very focused so it can give us some very clear direction.”