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States accuse Coalition of playing politics with disability inquiry

“Scott Morrison and the federal Liberals have been ignoring Australians living with disability for too long and now they want to deny them their long-awaited opportunity to be heard by rushing the process ahead of the election,” Victorian Disability Minister Luke Donnellan told The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.

Social Services Minister Paul Fletcher says people with disability want the royal commission set up before the election.

Social Services Minister Paul Fletcher says people with disability want the royal commission set up before the election. Credit:Louise kennerley

The letter was also signed by the Queensland, ACT, Northern Territory and Western Australian ministers.

It follows Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s announcement the federal government will fund the entire royal commission – expected to cost more than $400 million – after his request to share the costs with the states was knocked back.

On Thursday, a spokesperson for Mr Fletcher described the meeting with state ministers last week as “constructive”.

“While we acknowledge the preference of some states and territories for a longer time period, this needed to be weighed against the view of people with disability who are keen to have this royal commission established prior to any caretaker period,” he said.

An election is weeks away from being called. Once it is, the government goes into caretaker mode and is unable to make major decisions.

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Disability advocates have been calling for a royal commission for more than three years and said it was important there were no more delays.

“In an ideal world, there would be a greater lead-in time or consultation period. However, we are keen for this to be established,” People with Disability Australia co-chief executive Matthew Bowden said.

“It’s great to have all sides of government supporting this. We’ve been calling for this royal commission for several years now, it’s really important that nothing delays getting our royal commission.”

Greens senator Jordon Steele-John said important elements were still missing from the terms of reference.

Greens senator Jordon Steele-John says the issue of compensation must be clearly spelled out in the disability abuse royal commission terms of reference.

Greens senator Jordon Steele-John says the issue of compensation must be clearly spelled out in the disability abuse royal commission terms of reference.Credit:Andrew Meares

He said compensation for victims needed to be explicitly mentioned as it had been in the terms of reference for the child sexual abuse royal commission.

Redress for a disability abuse royal commission would likely be more complicated than for the child abuse royal commission, which only dealt with abuse in institutional settings. The disability abuse inquiry is due to examine cases in institutions as well as in private settings, including homes.

Senator Steele-John also said the language needed to be clearer around protections for whistleblowers, the ability to create independent investigation units and the prosecution of perpetrators of violence and abuse.

“We need a royal commission that can get to the bottom of why in 2019 we are murdered, we are abused in our homes, in our education and work spaces,” he said.

A spokesperson for Mr Fletcher noted the terms of reference were still a draft and “deliberately broad in scope”.

“The government is determined to put people with disability at the centre of any royal commission. All relevant issues raise in the consultation will be considered before the terms of reference are finalised.”

Judith Ireland is a political reporter for the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age, based at Parliament House

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