PRESS CONFERENCE - ROYAL COMMISSION INTO VIOLENCE AND ABUSE AGAINST PEOPLE WITH DISABILITY
May 26, 2017
SUBJECT/S: Royal Commission into violence and abuse against people with disability; Uluru dialogue; Adani; Medicare; CFA; Labor Party; Margaret Court.
CAROL BROWN, SHADOW MINISTER FOR DISABILITIES AND CARERS: Hi, I'm Senator Carol Brown. I am the Shadow Minister for Disabilities and Carers.
We're here today seeking justice. We've all heard the harrowing stories about abuse and neglect to people with disabilities. 90 per cent of women with intellectual disability suffer sexual abuse. Children with disability are three times more likely to suffer abuse than other children.
We had a Senate inquiry into neglect and abuse and violence. That inquiry handed down its report in 2015. The Government responded to that report 15 months later. The report handed down, the first recommendation - the headline recommendation - calling for a royal commission.
On that day, families, people with disability, their advocates were hopeful that the Government would do the right thing. But when the response was handed down earlier this year, they ruled it out completely. The response was woefully inadequate.
The Labor Party will not see violence and abuse of people with disabilities swept under the carpet. Which brings us to today and today's announcement, and it is with great pleasure that I introduce Labor Leader, Bill Shorten.
BILL SHORTEN, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Good afternoon everybody. First of all, if I could thank the Risoli family for having us in their house. It's a great honour for Jenny Macklin, Carol Brown, David Feeney, the local member and myself to be here.
I also want to acknowledge the advocates, self-advocates and family members who for many years have campaigned to stop violence against people with disabilities being swept under the carpet. Today we were, privileged, I think is the right word, but also shocked, to hear some of the stories of people with disability and the violence they received.
That's why I'm proud to be announcing on behalf of the Labor Party that, if elected, we would institute a Royal Commission into preventing violence against people with disability. The accounts are harrowing. The fact of the matter is that people with disability are more likely to suffer violence than people without disability. Children with a disability are three times as likely to experience bullying as children who did not live with a disability. The accounts are upsetting. Too many people, who have been the victims of violence for too long, have had to put up with their cases not being believed. I think there is a special obligation in this country to wrap our arms around people with disability and ensure that they can live lives free of the threat or the reality of violence. The parents of people with disabilities have only one ask from the rest of Australian society – please protect our children and our adult children from the threat or reality of violence.
This call for a Royal Commission is our offer to protect people with disability from the scourge of violence. It's gone on too long. The cover-up and the crimes need to stop. Only a Royal Commission, with its powers to compel evidence, to compel witnesses, can provide the safe space for people with disabilities, who for years and decades, have had to experience not only the violence, but the re-injury of people not believing or caring about them.
So today we're very, very, very committed to having a royal commission. It will not now be stopped. I invite the Prime Minister and the Government to take up our call to consult with people with disabilities and other experts and institute this Royal Commission now. It doesn't need to wait for an election.
But I give a promise to all the self-advocates, the families, to the people that live with a disability, to all the parents who have got teenage children, who worry about who will keep their kids safe when they no longer can – Labor will not stop until we have a Royal Commission to shine a light on the shameful dark corner of Australian life – that's violence against people with disabilities.
Now I'll get some other people to say a few words.
HEATHER FORSYTH: I'm Heather Forsyth. I'm the Our Voice chair. And I would like to say - people with a disability have been abused and please, if you're being abused, please speak up.
SURVIVOR: Enough is enough. It is our time to be heard. Here is our time for justice, now.
ADVOCATE: Every day, of every week, of every year, for the last 25 years, our organisation in Victoria has received accounts of the most harrowing form of abuse and neglect – physical, sexual, financial, and emotional abuse. It's been going on way too long. It's been swept under the carpet by a system which has just been riddled with neglect. That's going to stop. It has to stop. Inclusion Australia, along with the disability sector welcomes and applauds, and indeed, celebrates the announcement today.
It's been a long time coming. Thank God we're finally going to get to the truth.
PAULA: Our son is autistic and our son has been physically and sexually abused. What you need to understand is autistic people don't lie. So when they tell these stories, you need to listen, you need to really listen and make sure that these people know that they're being heard. They need to be heard and they need to be reassured that they're going to be safe telling their stories.
Our son's story hasn't changed over the last 20 years. So you really need to concentrate, listen - then we might be able to find some answers. But the first thing is - hear their stories. Thank you.
DANNY: I keep hearing stories of people being touched, of 4 year olds being tied up to chairs and young people with disability being locked into coffin-sized boxes. We wouldn't let this happen to any other child, to your children, so why are we letting it happen to theirs?
ADAM: Hello everyone. I'm Adam. I'd like to say on behalf of people without a voice, I've been a victim of violence for a long time and I want to say that I believe that people have a voice to be heard. I believe we can help build and help a Labor Government, to stand up and have a voice. I think it should be heard. People who have been abused, it's not right. We need to step up and do something now. It must stop. You have to help build a Labor Government.
PETER: Hi, my name is Peter Curotte. My son is Alexander Currotte. As my wife Paula said previously, this story has been out for 20 years and we've been ignored. We need to take away the fear and only a Royal Commission can provide a safe environment for people to speak up. There are many people in many sectors who know, but can't say. So please, Australia, let's take away the fear.
ANNE: Hello, my name is Anne, I'm the mum of a young man who has suffered greatly at the hands of people that are supposedly supporting him. We need this Royal Commission and we need it now. I urge Mr Turnbull to please follow in the footsteps of the Labor Party here today and have, bringing things forward, we need things to start happening. We need to protect, not only the people who have stepped forward and have voiced what's happened to them, but thousands of people and children, adults and children, that don't have a voice, physically do not have a voice. We need to be their voices, we need to protect them. Let's do this now, today. Thank you.
MARIA THOMAS: I'm Maria Thomas. My son was sexually assaulted and I was a mum who, you know, that's a big thing as well. And it takes me a while to speak up about these issues and now it's about time for me to say something, you know. Please stop the abuse with disabled people. They need respect and they deserve justice, especially my son. And it should be changed, the system. The system should be. Stop the abuse. That's all I can say. Thank you.
MATTHEW BOWDEN: My name is Matthew Bowden, the co-chief executive officer of People with Disability Australia, here representing Disabled People's Organisations Australia. People with disability across Australia are calling for the Government to support the Australian Labor party, other political parties, academics, families, carers, everyone around the country is calling for this Royal Commission to take place. The violence that people with disabilities are experiencing is of epidemic proportions. We need this Royal Commission to ask some very big questions, but we also need a Royal Commission to provide a place for healing for people with disability, a place for people to be heard, a place where people can be believed and where they can access some form of justice. Thank you.
ROSS JOYCE: Hi, I'm Ross Joyce, I'm the CEO of the Australian Federation of Disability Organisations, and like my colleague Matthew, on behalf of our membership and on behalf of all the communities we represent, we would just like to see a Royal Commission happen sooner rather than later. So we certainly call upon the Coalition to also get on board, support the call and make it happen. We just want to see it done now, not put off for a number of years. Thank you.
STEPHANIE: Stephanie Gotlib from Children and Young People with a Disability Australia. Abuse, unfortunately is a typical experience of childhood for children with disability, it needs to stop. We urgently call on all parties, for bipartisan support for a Royal Commission. We want to look forward to the future of our children, not have fear as we go forward, about them being safe. It's not okay, we urgently need a commission to look at the breadth of the problem, to find it better and look at the way forward so that our kids are safe. Thank you.
JENNY MACKLIN, SHADOW MINISTER FOR FAMILIES AND SOCIAL SERVICES: Thank you all very much. If I can just say on behalf of all of us here today, today is a day for people with disability and I want to say to all of the people with disability right around Australia, all of the advocates, all of you who have been able to speak out in the way that you have today, the way that you've spoken out for years and years and years about the level of abuse, the nature of the violence that is taking place in so many parts of our community. Today is an acknowledgement of your hard work and your willingness to say some of the things that are very,very hard to say. Thank you very, very much.
I also want to say a very big thank you to Bill Shorten because it takes leadership to make these announcements, so thank you Bill, thank you.
BILL SHORTEN: Are there questions on this first of all?
JOURNALIST: The Greens put forward the idea of a Royal Commission earlier this year but Labor joined the coalition in voting it down, why was that?
SHORTEN: Well, first of all, Labor has been concerned about violence against people with disability for years, and we certainly supported a national inquiry, calls for a national inquiry, last year. There's no doubt though, that anyone who watched the very powerful Four Corners episode, anyone who watched the Lateline episode, just showing things which I think most people don’t think happen in Australia and wouldn't believe happened in Australia, except they could see them on film.
And what we've done, and I'll get Carol to add to this answer is, particularity pushed by Carol Brown, we've started a series of meetings with people with disabilities since then, and we thought it probably was time to re-visit the issue of a Royal Commission. And when I listen to the stories again of advocates today and people living with disabilities, we can no longer close our eyes or put our hands over our ears to cover up the crimes and violence against people with disability. The time for a Royal Commission is now. We hope and pray that the Government will join us in this proposition. I might get Carol to talk a bit further.
CAROL: Thank you Bill. On the very day of the Coalition’s response, ruling out the Royal Commission, the Labor Party put our position quite clearly, and that is that we do believe that there should be a national inquiry. The form that that national inquiry should take wasn't detailed because we were undertaking consultations. It had been over a year since the Senate report was tabled. We conducted those consultations, very broad consultations with disability groups, and we are here today announcing a long overdue Royal Commission. And the most important thing is that it should commence as soon as possible. Malcolm Turnbull should be asked, will he reverse his decision about not having a Royal Commission? You've been here all day, you've heard the stories, how could there not be one?
JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten, could you give us an idea of how you would like this inquiry to look, like how broad should the terms of reference be?
SHORTEN: Well first of all, I'll get my colleagues to supplement, we've gone and gotten it costed because there is always a question of cost, even though I think –
JOURNALIST: How much will it cost?
SHORTEN: I'll answer that, so we've gone and gotten it costed we think for a year it would be $26 million. But when we talk about cost, could we just please, for once, can we lift the political debate above the bean counting to go to the real issue, which is the people. The real issue here is that no amount of money will be able to compensate people who have been subject to the violence over the years and the decades, there's nothing that can erase the pain from some of the stories we've heard here. And I do not for one second think that the stories we see here is the end of the matter.
Now there have been various state level inquiries, I recognise that the Victorian Government held a parliamentary inquiry, the Senate has looked at this question, there have been important reports written in recent years in Queensland about the violence against people with disabilities in care. So I think it needs to look at all of the stories, for me it is about hearing the stories, vindicating people who felt that they'd been ignored, and it's about how do we prevent violence and crimes of violence and the threat of violence against people with disability. I might get Jenny to talk further.
JENNY MACKLIN: Thanks very much Bill. What we are saying today is that we will consult with the disability community about the terms of reference. I know from my involvement with the Royal Commission against institutional child sexual abuse, just how important it is to work with the people affected to make sure that we get the terms of reference right, that we get the actual conduct of the Royal Commission right, the people who will do the inquiry, the sort of support that people will need will be critical in the way that the Royal Commission is conducted. These are very, very sensitive issues and we think that the time needs to be taken to work through these issues very, very carefully with the people who are here today and many, many others who understand how important it is to get these terms of reference right.
JOURNALIST: You believe that it will take about a year, do you?
MACKLIN: I think the important thing is to get it started as soon as possible. We've had it costed for a year, but we do understand that it's often the case that these inquiries take longer. We've certainly had that experience with other royal commissions. If it needs to take longer, it will.
JOURNALIST: And if you can't get the Coalition to agree with this, and you’ve got to wait to if you win the next election, would this be something that runs at the same time as the banking Royal Commission?
SHORTEN: Yes, but let's hope that Malcolm Turnbull and his team recognise that this is not an issue about votes or politics. Enough is enough. The crimes and the cover ups against people with disability have to stop, and the Royal Commission, everything else has been looked at. There have been inquiries, there have been examinations at different state levels.
A Royal Commission has the special powers of an investigation of government, which can let people tell their stories, which can allow, at least, the chance for some people to be, able to have some closure, and of course, the lessons so that we can stop violence against people with disabilities.
Do you want to go onto other matters?
JOURNALIST: Firstly to Aboriginal affairs, Indigenous leaders are expected to call for a new Indigenous representative body at Uluru today. Will Labor support that in principle?
SHORTEN: Well first though, I just want to thank the 250 participants of the Uluru conference. A lot of work, a lot of discussion, probably a bit of robust debate at times. We'll wait and see what their final communique is, and then what we'll do is we'll hear it through the Referendum Council. And Labor, and I know the Government, will carefully study what the recommendations are. I for one think that it’s long overdue to put our First Australians on the nation's birth certificate – but I won't get ahead of myself. Let's see what this process of consultation comes up with and then it'll become a matter for the parliament.
JOURNALIST: Can you say whether you support the idea of the representative body in principle, or whether you're accepting of that idea?
SHORTEN: I have no doubt that we need to have a greater voice in decision making in this country for our First Australians, but the form of that, I'm not going to start speculating on. Let's see what comes out of the Referendum Council's final report.
This dialogue at Uluru is the last of 12 Indigenous dialogues, that work is then put into a report, from the Referendum Council, and then that report will be presented to Malcolm Turnbull and myself, and we'll obviously then take it to the Parliament. One thing is for sure, our Constitution does need to reflect and be updated to put our First Australians on the nation's birth certificate.
JOURNALIST: Do you think Adani should get discounts on royalties?
SHORTEN: Well I've made our view very clear, of Federal Labor. We believe that if this deal stacks up commercially and stacks up environmentally, that it doesn't need to be underwritten by Commonwealth taxpayers. I won't comment about other levels of government, but I'll be very clear, if it stacks up commercially, if it stacks up environmentally, then I welcome the jobs in Central Queensland.
But if it’s a good business deal, Mr Turnbull has to explain why he needs taxpayers to underwrite a multi-billion dollar, multinational company.
JOURNALIST: [inaudible] the brief breakdown of intelligence between the United States and the UK after the Manchester bombings and does that, does Australia need to be more cautious in light of that about the sharing of information with the United States?
SHORTEN: I think the history of American-Australian intelligence sharing shows that Australia has been the beneficiary on numerous occasions of good work done by American intelligence which has kept Australians safe. In the light of Manchester, I'm not going to start having political debate about a particular outcome in the United States. But let me very, very clear with Australians, when it comes to fighting terrorism, Liberal and Labor are in this together. And when it comes to the strength of the American alliance, for all those detractors of the American alliance, I am confident that periodically, because of American information, we've been able to keep Australians safe, And I value that alliance for doing that. And we will keep working on the issues.
JOURNALIST: Was the majority of your Cabinet against blocking the rise in the Medicare levy for all taxpayers?
SHORTEN: Listen, I'm not going to go in to Shadow Cabinet deliberations, but let me reassure you that Labor is very supportive of making millionaires pay more and average taxpayers pay less. The case for slugging people on $50,000 and $60,000 a year with an income tax rise at the same time as Mr Turnbull is giving $16,500 tax relief to millionaires, you know, it’s overwhelming. The point about this is, the Budget and government is all about priorities. Mr Turnbull wants to give away $65 billion to big companies, we don't. We think that money can be better used providing better services for Australians, Medicare, education, the NDIS.
Mr Turnbull, courtesy of his policies, on 1 July this year, if you earn $1 million, you're going to pay $16,500 less tax thanks to Mr Turnbull and his top end of town policies. But the problem is on 2 July this year, if you work on a Sunday in retail, if you work an eight hour shift, you're going to lose $77. Why is it that the Turnbull Government will do nothing to fight for penalty rates, make it more expensive for working class kids to go to uni and he wants to slug average taxpayers, and make them pay more, yet at the same time he wants us to give a tax cut to the top end of town and to millionaires. It's a matter of priorities, and the Labor Party is the party of middle and working class Australians.
JOURNALIST: You said today in your speech that it was problematic to pay doctors based on volume, how could this be changed?
SHORTEN: Well I think we need to look at the home healthcare model which sees practices encouraged to look at the wellbeing of patients in different ways. The real issue though in Medicare at the moment is that the Turnbull government says they got the message at the last election. If you remember before the election Labor said this government was making big cuts to Medicare and undermining it. The electorate clearly is concerned about the cuts to Medicare but the real shame in this budget and we've just released new numbers from the independent Parliamentary Budget Office this morning. New independent modelling from the independent Parliamentary Budget Office shows that Mr Turnbull's total commitment to Medicare this year is to add an extra $9 million in to the system. Because of his cuts, Australians are $735 million worse off in Medicare over the year, or to put it in very plain English, Mr Turnbull by not increasing the patient rebate is making Australian patients have to spend another $735 million on their own healthcare. Mr Turnbull isn't serious about Medicare he's just trying to get re-elected.
JOURNALIST: So could you change the marker in how doctors are paid? Is that on the cards?
SHORTEN: I think we can look at new innovative systems which focus on multidisciplinary medical practices. Instead of just having to go to a GP at one place, then you've got to go to a physio or you've got to go to a dietician in another place. If you've got them all at the same place at the same time. You've just improved the efficiency of care. Labor is up for a long term discussion about the vision for healthcare in the future. But the fact of the matter is, it is literally an absurd situation in this country that at the moment we don't spend very much at all on preventative health. That's what keeps you from going to the doctor. We are undermining the money we give back to patients when they go to see the GP and what happens is that leads to overcrowded hospitals. Everyone knows that if you can't afford to see the doctor in the short term, that doesn't make you better, it makes you sicker. And it ends up costing the taxpayer more. You simply can't trust Mr Turnbull when it comes to Medicare.
JOURNALIST: To internal party politics, some of your colleagues have privately blasted Anthony Albanese saying he is deliberately trying to destabilise you. Are you concerned his angst is bubbling up in to the public sphere?
SHORTEN: No. Listen quite simply that dog won't hunt someone else once said. I'm genuinely not concerned. I couldn't be more happy with the support I get from my whole team. From Jenny and Carol here and David Feeney right through to Anthony Albanese. Let's call it as it is, Mr Turnbull would love to have the sort of unity that the Labor Party has had in the last four years. Everyone knows that Mr Turnbull is living from fortnight to fortnight, he's rushing his policies through because he knows the electorate is not happy with them on Medicare. Does anyone really think when it comes to Medicare or when it comes to climate change or when it comes to schools funding. That he's doing anything more than putting a band aid here and a bit of sticky tape there. This bloke is so out of touch with the lives that ordinary people live. He thinks it is fair that 10 million people should pay more income tax yet on 1 July millionaires pay less. He hasn't got a clue how the rest of us are organising our lives, he is so out of touch.
JOURNALIST: You said today in your speech that it was problematic to pay doctors based on volume, how could this be changed?
SHORTEN: Well I think we need to look at the home healthcare model which sees practices encouraged to look at the wellbeing of patients in different ways. The real issue though in Medicare at the moment is that the Turnbull government says they got the message at the last election. If you remember before the election Labor said this government was making big cuts to Medicare and undermining it. The electorate clearly is concerned about the cuts to Medicare but the real shame in this budget and we've just released new numbers from the independent Parliamentary Budget Office this morning, new independent modelling from the independent Parliamentary Budget Office shows that Mr Turnbull's total commitment to Medicare this year is to add an extra $9 million in to the system. Because of his cuts, Australians are $735 million worse off in Medicare over the year, or to put it in very plain English: Mr Turnbull by not increasing the patient rebate is making Australian patients have to spend another $735 million on their own healthcare. Mr Turnbull is not serious about Medicare he's just trying to get re-elected.
JOURNALIST: So could you change the marker in how doctors are paid? Is that on the cards?
SHORTEN: I think we can look at new innovative systems which focus on multi-disciplinary medical practices. Instead of just having to go to a GP at one place, then you've got to go to a physio or you've got to go to a dietician in another place. If you've got them all at the same place at the same time, you just improve the efficiency of care. Labor is up for a long term discussion about the vision for healthcare in the future. But the fact of the matter is, it is literally an absurd situation in this country that at the moment we don't spend very much at all on preventative health – that's what keeps you from going to the doctor. We are undermining the money we give back to patients when they go to see the GP and what happens is that leads to overcrowded hospitals. Everyone knows that if you can't afford to see the doctor in the short term, that doesn't make you better, it makes you sicker. And it ends up costing the taxpayer more. You simply can't trust Mr Turnbull when it comes to Medicare.
JOURNALIST: To internal party politics, some of your colleagues have privately blasted Anthony Albanese saying he is deliberately trying to destabilise you. Are you concerned his angst is bubbling up into the public sphere?
SHORTEN: No. Listen, quite simply that dog won't hunt - as someone else once said. I'm genuinely not concerned. I couldn't be more happy with the support I get from my whole team. From Jenny and Carol here and David Feeney right through to Anthony Albanese and the whole team. Let's call it as it is, Mr Turnbull would love to have the sort of unity that the Labor Party has had in the last four years. Everyone knows that Mr Turnbull is living from fortnight to fortnight, he's rushing his policies through because he knows the electorate is not happy with them on Medicare. Does anyone really think, when it comes to Medicare, or when it comes to climate change, or when it comes to schools funding that he's doing anything more than putting a band-aid here and a bit of sticky tape there? This bloke is so out of touch with the lives that ordinary people live. He thinks it is fair that 10 million people should pay more income tax, yet on 1 July millionaires pay less. He hasn't got a clue how the rest of us are organising our lives, he is so out of touch.
JOURNALIST: What do you think of Daniel Andrews –
JOURNALIST: [inaudible] under threat?
JOURNALIST: What do you think of Daniel Andrews restructuring the fire services and how that’s sort of looking?
SHORTEN: In all seriousness, that is a matter for the state government. I'm not running for Premier and I'll leave that to the state boys and girls.
JOURNALIST: Should Margaret Court be renamed?
SHORTEN: Margaret Court be renamed?
JENNY MACKLIN: The arena.
JOURNALIST: The arena. Sorry.
SHORTEN: You'd have to ask Margaret Court's parents, I would think.
SHORTEN: It’s a serious issue though, you raise. Margaret Court was a great tennis player, they've named a tennis arena after a famous tennis player, that’s a matter for other people beside me.
But what I want to do is say to thousands of young people, do not take the anti-gay remarks which you see some public figures say, do not take that and be deterred or depressed or disheartened. Many more Australians support you. Don't let the loud voices of a few who are putting out hateful attitudes make you feel any less welcome in this country, or any less valued or loved as human beings. That's what is really important.
I think the fact that we're still having this sort of, what I think for most people is a debate which should be consigned to the history books, just proves how wrong Mr Turnbull is to vainly and stubbornly persist with a plebiscite. We're not even having a plebiscite and we're seeing very extreme comments be made. I think what most Australians think is we should just get on and have a parliamentary vote and be done with it.
What I don't like about the Margaret Court debate is that a lot of people, a lot of young people, are going to feel less welcome in our society, and I just want to say to those thousands of young people, most of us actually don't mind who you love or whether or not you get married.