• Senator Jordon Steele-John wants a royal commission to consider disability issues. (AAP)Source: AAP
The national peak body representing Indigenous Australians with a disability says the sector needs its own independent inquiry to investigate abuse and neglect
20 Sep 2018 - 1:49 PM  UPDATED 20 Sep 2018 - 1:56 PM

The peak body representing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples living with a disability says the sector, as a whole, needs its own urgent inquiry to investigate abuse and neglect.

“A royal commission into the abuse of people with a disability is long overdue,” First Peoples Disability Network CEO Damien Griffis told NITV News.

“It’s been one of those issues in Australian society that’s been rarely talked about and yet it’s been going on forever really, and it needs its own urgent focus.”

Mr Griffis said the inquiry, which has been advocated for decades, needs to investigate abuse and neglect across a range of institutions including the education and prison systems.

"Abuse against people with a disability happens in all different sorts of institutional settings it happens in the education system, it happens in the prison system, it can happen in a whole range of different facets in life and that’s why it needs its own attention," he said. 

“Too often people with a disability don’t have a voice and they need to have that voice through a Royal Commission and that’s the same for our people with a disability." 

Almost half of the Indigenous population lives with a disability or a long-term health condition, with more than 7 per cent of those living with a severe or profound disability.

"We need to grow our own Aboriginal-owned and operated services, there’s an urgent need for that.”

But Mr Griffis says the number could be much higher.

“That figure of 45 per cent of Aboriginal people living with some form of disability or long-term health condition we would say that is still an under-reporting of disability,” he said.

“It’s a common experience for any Aboriginal family.”

His comments come as Greens Senator Jordan Steele-John called on the government to extend its Royal Commission into Aged Care to also investigate the abuse of all disabled persons.

In an emotional plea on Wednesday, the senator described the horrific deaths of dozens of disabled Australians through violence and neglect demanding Prime Minister Scott Morrison to take notice. 

“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?” he said.

The recently announced Royal Commission into Aged Care will investigate young disabled people who lived in aged care centres but the prime minister rejected calls for a widened scope, saying the inquiry needed to remain focused.

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Last year, Labor announced a $26 million commitment for a Royal Commission into Violence and Abuse against People with Disability.

Shadow Minister for Families and Social Services Linda Burney and Shadow Minister for Disability and Carers Carol Brown issued a joint statement saying Labor remains committed to an inquiry.

“The harrowing accounts of abuse, assault and neglect – too often in places where people with disability are meant to receive support – cannot be ignored,” the statement said.

‘Most urgent social justice issue today’

Mr Griffis says meeting the needs of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people disability "is one of the most one of the most urgent social justice issues today".

Not only are disabled Indigenous Australians facing alleged abuse and neglect, Mr Griffis says many of them were institutionalised from a young age.

“There’s been a long history of Aboriginal people with a disability being institutionalised,” he said.

“Some of those well-known institutions across Australia that were set up for people with a disability are permanently placed and often over time have had a number of Aboriginal people living in them.”

He says most of those would be "completely disconnected from their culture".

“In fact many of them weren’t even aware of their Aboriginal identity in many ways,” he said.

“We have a very serious lack of culturally responsible services across Australia and that’s a barrier. We need to grow our own Aboriginal-owned and operated services, there’s an urgent need for that.”

And Mr Griffis says the emerging issue of increasing incarceration of Aboriginal people in prisons is critical for any inquiry to investigate.

“There are very high rates of disability among Aboriginal prisoners and the vast majority of them shouldn’t be in prison," he said.

“They’re very important issues that need their own focus.”

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