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Morrison government to announce royal commission into abuse of Australians with disability

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A Greens motion to establish the royal commission passed the Senate in early February despite opposition or resistance from some Coalition members. The government supported the motion when it reached the House of Representatives last week but Mr Morrison warned input from the states would be needed because the Commonwealth has limited jurisdiction.

Labor and the Greens accused Mr Morrison of belatedly backing the idea because the government risked losing another vote on the floor of Parliament, but the Prime Minister said “at no time” had he ever said he was opposed to an inquiry.

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian, Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews and South Australian Premier Steven Marshall have had direct discussions with Mr Morrison and will support the royal commission.

Cabinet met in Sydney on Tuesday night but a formal announcement is not expected until feedback is provided by other states.

In his letter to premiers, Mr Morrison also raised the prospect of “any cost sharing arrangements that may be appropriate” – a reference some state leaders believe is an early request to help foot the bill.

The aged care royal commission is forecast to cost nearly $100 million over two years, while the banking royal commission had a budget of $75 million.

Mr Morrison also recently met with Disability Commissioner Alastair McEwin to discuss terms of reference and to get ideas on how Australians with disabilities could best share their stories with the inquiry.

Since coming to power in 2013, the Coalition has ordered royal commissions into trade union governance and corruption, Labor’s home insulation program, the banking and financial services sector, youth detention in the Northern Territory, and the aged care sector.

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten had pledged $26 million to hold the disability royal commission should Labor win the May election but is prepared to spend more if needed.

“We have to recognise that while ever we are a nation who devalues people with disability, then we will never actually get to the root cause of violence and the prevention of violence, abuse and neglect,” Mr Shorten said last week.

Labor first called for the inquiry in 2017.

Mr Morrison said state co-operation was needed because “the scope being proposed by people with disabilities and their advocates is broad”, and health, mental health, education, justice and education services were regulated by the states prior to the establishment of the National Disability Insurance Scheme.

He also asked the state leaders to provide views on how to make sure people with a disability are provided with appropriate support.

While national statistics are rarely collated, advocates say people with disability are 1.5 times more likely to experience abuse, neglect, violence and exploitation than people without a disability.

“We support a royal commission because we understand that people with disability, like everyone else in our community, have the right to live free of the fear of abuse or neglect,” said National Disability Services acting chief executive David Moody.

Bevan Shields is the Federal Editor and Canberra Bureau Chief for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.

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