DISABILITY (MANDATORY REPORTING) BILL
The Hon. K.L. VINCENT (17:21): Obtained leave and introduced a bill for an act to provide for the protection of persons with a disability; and for other purposes. Read a first time.
The Hon. K.L. VINCENT (17:22): I move:
That this bill be now read a second time.
It gives me great pleasure to be reintroducing my Disability (Mandatory Reporting) Bill 2012. I will try to keep my comments brief as, in essence, the bill is pretty simple. It stands to protect some of our most vulnerable citizens which, to me, seems like a pretty simple concept. However, you will have to indulge me as I recap some of what I said in this chamber almost two years ago when I introduced in this bill in its first iteration.
As members will see, it seeks to protect people are unable or are likely to be unable to even recognise abuse or neglect toward them such as people with certain intellectual disabilities or people with physical disabilities such that they are unable or likely to be unable to report abuse and neglect. This may be because of a physical impairment which inhibits speech, for example.
I would like to elaborate on where the initial idea for this bill—or inspiration, if you like, for this bill—came from. In mid-2010 early in my time as a member of this chamber, I attended a Productivity Commission hearing which was inquiring into disability services. While there, I heard the story of a South Australian mother of a child with multiple and complex disabilities, now an adult child. She spoke as a parent of an adult child with an intellectual disability about her daughter’s experience while living in institutional residences for people with disabilities.
This young woman had lived most of her life in such institutions and, whilst she was there, she suffered more abuse and more neglect than, frankly, her mother cared to know about. I believe the mother’s exact words were, ‘I’ll never know exactly how much abuse my daughter suffered during her time in institutions and, frankly, I don’t want to know.’ I think this quote speaks for itself and speaks volumes.
Since the bill was first introduced I have discovered through consultation and feedback that a number of additions needed to be made to provide clarity and ensure adequate protection and effectiveness of the bill’s intent. I also found that the current mandatory notification phone line used for notifying suspected abuse of under 18 year olds was so overloaded that it was preferable that, in the circumstances of this bill, prescribed persons instead contact the Public Advocates Office and that that office handle the report.
Why do we need this bill? First, while I am not suggesting for a minute that the moment we put people with disabilities into residential facilities or institutions they are going to be abused or neglected, we do need to recognise that people with both physical and intellectual disability are at much higher risk than the general population. In fact, research shows that people with intellectual disabilities in particular are at four to 10 times higher risk of being victimised than people without any form of disability.
If people are abused, it seems there is a lower incidence of reporting, so this bill seeks to address part of this issue by requiring those who do became aware of abuse simply to report it. Presently, it seems there is a culture of turning a blind eye to abuse against people with disabilities or denying that it is there, or perhaps indeed not recognising it for the abuse that it is, simply because it forms part of a person’s daily care routine.
I would like to suggest that this occurs in mental health facilities and aged-care homes, and this bill ensures that people with disabilities have some protections when living in these places, too. Tragically you can see how perpetrators might target adults with physical or intellectual disabilities, mental health issues or communication impairments, or any combination thereof, given the limited likelihood that it will ever be reported, let alone investigated or prosecuted.
Another reason we need this bill is that we have no other suitable mechanisms for monitoring people with disabilities living in facilities or receiving services. In Victoria and Queensland at least they have enshrined in legislation through their disability acts some accountability measures in the form of a community visitors scheme and senior practitioner for people with disabilities. This provides for some protection and is proving to be successful in those places. We have no such allowances here, yet my Disability Services (Miscellaneous) Amendment Bill seeks to address this but is yet to pass through this chamber.
This bill seeks to protect not only those people but also those who have the courage under this bill, if it should become an act, to report abuse and neglect. Why should it be a punishable offence or something that is feared to report the abuse and neglect of some of our most vulnerable people, those most in need of our help at times like these? Why should people feel afraid or that they are to be punished for standing up for people who cannot, in many cases, stand up for themselves?
As I said, I am not suggesting for a moment that all people with disabilities are subject to this treatment (thank heavens for that), but we do need to recognise that there is a much higher risk of its happening to these people. Article 17 of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities states that ‘every person with a disability has the right to integrity, both physical and emotional, on an equal basis with all others’. The trouble with the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities is that it does not have any teeth, if you like. It is more a philosophical document and, whilst it says some wonderful things, until we have a complete overhaul of the entire disability services system, such as that which my disability services bill seeks to instate, it will not actually stand for very much at all.
I think that is a pretty sad fact because all people, with or without disability, should have integrity and should have the right to protection. It is also important to note that this bill does not stand to provide mandatory reporting to people whose disabilities would not prevent them from recognising or reporting their own abuse. I suppose, for one example, people like myself. So, it does not take away from the privacy or dignity or choice of those people, but it does, in fact, protect the dignity of the people who cannot report abuse and neglect for themselves. Of course, this is a delicate balance to strike, and I look forward to receiving further feedback from members and the community on how this might be achieved.
I am aware that there will be some implications, particularly financially, if this bill should become an act. But we do have a six-month lead-in, as you will see in the bill, to provide time for the training for all necessary people to become mandatory reporters for people with disabilities specifically, and we do have several service providers onside to help us implement that training. So, it is out there and it does make sense to utilise it.
As you are aware, we have similar provisions for mandatory reporting for children, under the Children’s Protection Act, and for the elderly, under the Aged Care Act, federally. So, it seems to make no sense to me and my party, Dignity for Disability, that people with disabilities can be completely underlooked—overlooked—both overlooked and underlooked in this sense. In fact, everyone we have spoken to in regard to this bill has said, ‘I can’t believe that this isn’t already in place,’ and the only response we can provide is, ‘Nor can we.’
As I said, it just seems to make sense that, if we are going to protect our children and the elderly on the understanding that they are some of our most vulnerable people, why should we not protect people with disabilities who are just as vulnerable, if not more so? I would like to explain why only some types of disability are covered by this bill presently. Some people with disabilities, such as physical disabilities, lead mainly an autonomous life. It would be patronising to suggest that all people with disabilities require this mechanism because they do not. It would be an invasion of their privacy and not acknowledging their ability to lead an independent life.
I think that any implications of this bill, particularly financial, coming into place would be far overridden by the emotional and physical cost of not having mandatory reporting in place for people with disabilities—not just for people with disabilities but also for their families. Members would have heard the story I told about the parent of the child who lived in institutions and who now lives with the pain and regret every day of knowing that, in her mind, it is to some extent her fault that these things happened to her daughter because she allowed her daughter to live in those institutions.
It is also with great disappointment and even greater sadness that I point out to members that, if this bill should become an act, South Australia would, in fact, be the only state with a specific disability mandatory reporting mechanism for people with disabilities in place. As I said, it seems such an obvious thing that, again, I and many others cannot believe this to be true but, unfortunately, it is. Detractors of my bill seem to suggest that this is an overly punitive and regulatory measure. However, we need something. We still have mandatory notification for children, after all.
On the positive side, however, as I do tend to be a bit of ‘the glass is half full’ type of person, I hope that, if this bill were to made into law, it would be only a matter of time until the rest of the states, I would hope, follow suit. All I can do is encourage members to consider this bill very seriously. I think we can agree that it seeks to do a lot in just six pages.
While I completely recognise that this is not a solution to solving the problem of abuse and neglect of people with disabilities, specifically in that it does not prevent people from being abused, any person with a disability who has ever felt vulnerable, or any parent or family carer of a person with a disability who has been involved in the consultation on this bill, such as the parent I talked about a little earlier, will tell you that this is a good start. This is one part of a very big puzzle. I hope that members will consider supporting this bill and making Article 17 of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in particular a reality for all people in this state. I commend the bill to the council.
Debate adjourned on motion of Hon. J. M. Gazzola.