The Royal Commission into Violence, Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation of People with Disability wants to hear from the community about the impact of recent emergencies including the COVID-19 pandemic.
Keira Jenkins

30 Apr 2020 - 6:03 PM  UPDATED 30 Apr 2020 - 6:03 PM

The Royal Commission into Violence, Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation of People with Disability's latest issues paper is focused on 'rights and attitudes'.

The paper's focus is investigating people's awareness and understanding of the rights of people with disability and seeks feedback on attitudes towards people with disability.

Commissioner Andrea Mason said she wants to encourage Indigenous people with disability and their families to respond.

"Attitudes, thoughts, feelings, beliefs, and we know those thoughts, feelings and beliefs that are within people, within organisations and within governments can lead to the creating of different laws, policies, systems," she said.

"If those attitudes, those feelings, those beliefs are there and they are negative, they are excluding people with disabilities, they are creating discrimination, even segregation, then we are really interested to know that these areas can be highlighted to the Royal Commission.

"This is the very reason the Royal Commission has been set up, to ensure that our society is an equal society and that is an inclusive society to people with disabilities, including First Nations people with disabilities."

The Royal Commission also released an emergency planning and responses issues paper earlier this month.

This paper seeks feedback about how recent emergencies, like bushfires, floods and the COVID-19 pandemic affected people with disability in the hopes of improving safety and wellbeing in future emergencies.

Ms Mason said this paper was released in response to concerns from the community.

"We were receiving contact from the community prior to the issues paper being released and prior to that we'd also issued a statement of concern," she said.

"We're really open to hearing from the community about the areas that we've highlighted in that paper but also any areas that people want to bring our attention to. 

"We're really hoping that the community will take the opportunity to share with us because we know there will be another emergency in Australia.

"We had bushfires earlier this year, we had floods, and now we've got this COVID-19 pandemic. We want people with disability in Australia to be at the centre of consideration and not at the edge. 

"We're really keen to hear how the effort of the Australian government and all governments are being experienced by people with disability and if they feel that guidance and support coming from governments keeping them safe during this pandemic."

The Chair of the Royal Commission Ronald Sackville has recently expressed the potential for a hearing into the effect of the Coronavirus pandemic on people with disability.

Ms Mason said the issue of the pandemic is 'front of mind' at the moment.

'There'll be other pandemics'

First Peoples Disability Network CEO Damian Griffis said he thinks a focus on the Coronavirus pandemic will be important, once the Royal Commission starts their public hearings again.

"We would really hope that they would now take a specific focus on the response to Coronavirus for people with disability," he said.

"I think that's an urgent need and we're confident and hopeful that the Disability Royal Commission will now have a specific focus on this issue."

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The First Peoples Disability Network of Australia calls for more government support to protect vulnerable members of First Nations communities in the wake of the Coronavirus pandemic.

The First Peoples Disability has their own concerns about the COVID-19 pandemic and has made a number of recommendations to governments, including on ethical decision-making when it comes to intensive care

Mr Griffis said in some parts of the world a 'points system' has been used to determine care priorities, which have meant disadvantaged people missing out on the care they need.

He said he wants to avoid seeing that in Australia, not just during the Coronavirus pandemic, but into the future.

The recommendations include removing disability as a consideration for resource allocation, including First Nation people with disability in decision-making, and taking whatever steps needed to protect Elders, who are the knowledge-holders of Indigenous culture.

"These ethical principles need to always be in place really," Mr Griffis said.

"There'll be other pandemics one day and I think it's really important to set up these systems.

"What we were really concerned about - less so now - but still, what's happening overseas, you see Coronavirus impacting on people that a disadvantaged in greater proportions."

"People with disability are generally very vulnerable to Coronavirus and then you add Aboriginality, or Indigineity, then we've got an extra disadvantage.

"We wanted to get ahead of that and say 'we need to set up a set of protocols that ensure that Aboriginal people don't get triaged out of intensive care."

Pandemic could be 'transformative'

Mr Griffis said we should not only learn from this pandemic for the next public health emergency, but should take those lessons on all of the time.

"It amazes me that in some places hotels have been giving rooms to homeless people and that's a great initiative, but if we can do that at short notice, why can't we do that all of the time," he said.

"A lot of our families need care packs all the time. It's not just a pandemic, they always need access to good food and supplies.

"We need to start thinking about things in a different way. If we can do this at short notice, why can't we always be doing these things. 

"The sort of peverse problem is, are we now saying to the homeless people that we've given a room to, can you go back to that piece of concrete and go to sleep on the corner? 

"It's weird to be honest. I think we need to as a nation, think about how we do better into the future on a whole lot of social issues.

"This is an opportunity to change the way we do things."

"We want to ensure that our people with disability are always safe, always have access to food and supplies, and don't live in poverty like most of our people with disability do."

Ms Mason agrees, saying the some of the supports implemented during the pandemic are needed at all times.

"This is not a point in time to deal with a crisis and go back to business as usual, particularly with people with disability and First Nations people with disability," she said.

"We have to take on the best practice that has been created during this pandemic, providing support and continuing to improve support to First Nations people with disability then to continue that support post this health crisis."

"This pandemic has thrown up a lot of challenges but it could be transformative for people with disabilities, particularly First Nations people with disabilities because it's really compelled better practice, it's also compelled greater advocacy, and for people to shine a light early, to prevent harm."

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