Oversight system failing to protect people with disability

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Victoria must establish a single independent body to oversee reports of abuse in the disability sector, which could also form the bedrock of any new safeguarding framework under the National Disability Insurance Scheme.

This is one of the key recommendations in a report tabled in Parliament today by Victorian Ombudsman Deborah Glass into reporting and investigation of allegations of abuse in the disability sector.

The investigation was launched in December 2014, prompted by broad concern about the oversight systems currently in place.

It was informed by 78 submissions from a range of respondents including individuals, community organisations, academics and professionals.

"Cases of abuse continue to shock the public," Ms Glass said.

"There is widespread agreement that abuse of people with disability is an unconscionable violation of their human rights, yet it continues to happen," she said.

"The overwhelming conclusion is that oversight arrangements in Victoria are fragmented, complicated and confusing.

"There’s a lack of ownership of the problem, little clarity about who is responsible for what, overlapping responsibilities and gaps.

"Thus problems are regularly raised – including by many well-meaning players in the system – but rarely fixed.

"This means that the system is fundamentally failing to deliver protection in a coherent and consistent way.

"A person’s vulnerability should dictate the protections afforded them and the nature of the allegation should determine the response to it – not which service provider they happen to access.

"In addition, reports and research consistently show that many people with disability will not report abuse, for fear they will either not be believed, that nothing will happen, or that they will suffer repercussions.

"There is a compelling need to enhance the role of advocacy to empower the disempowered. This role will be all the more important with the advent of the National Disability Insurance Scheme.

"This report seeks to capture what works and what needs to be fixed.

"There is a widely accepted view that Victoria has one of the strongest oversight regimes in Australia, even if there are still gaps and deficiencies.

"The recommendations focus on two key areas:

  • the need for a single independent oversight body for the disability sector, and
  • strengthening access to advocacy to ensure everyone has a voice.
    Together, they should make a formidable difference."

"Together, they should make a formidable difference."

The recommended framework includes mandatory reporting to the independent oversight body, powers to investigate individual complaints and systemic issues, interface with police, public reporting on trends, and the ability to share information with other bodies as appropriate.

Uniquely among the states, Victoria has protection for people with disability legislated under the Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities, and Ms Glass said this must not be lost.

"All too often in past years we have seen reports result in reviews which simply confirm the existence of the problem.

"For the sake of people with disability, Victoria cannot afford to wait any longer to fix this."

The Victorian parliamentary inquiry now underway, and the consultation on the NDIS framework, will be informed by the outcomes of this investigation.

Phase 2 of the investigation, to be delivered later this year, will look in greater depth at the process for reporting and investigating abuse, drawing heavily on the experience of individuals.

Report: Reporting and investigation of allegations of abuse in the disability sector: Phase 1 – the effectiveness of statutory oversight

    Media contact: Mob 0409 936 235 | vomedia@ombudsman.vic.gov.au