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Progress needed on disability laws to protect vulnerable people

South Australia faces a strong need to take action on disability laws as recent reports of a disability worker charged with sexually assaulting a woman in his care highlight continued flaws in disability laws.

user iconTony Zhang 18 August 2020 Big Law
Tim White
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It follows allegations made under parliamentary privilege by Federal MP Rebekha Sharkie that the NDIS Quality and Safeguards Commission had not adequately investigated complaints by NDIS participants about being sexually assaulted by care workers. 

Currently, in South Australia, a Royal Commission on Violence, Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation of People with Disability is in place along with an independent federal inquiry being established to investigate the adequacy of care provided to Ann Marie Smith.

A South Australian Safeguarding Taskforce has also been established to examine gaps in oversight and safeguarding for South Australians living with disability in the state.

 
 

The Law Society commended the state government for immediately accepting key recommendations of the Safeguarding Taskforce’s report into current gaps in disability services, several of which reflect the society’s position as conveyed to the taskforce via written and oral submissions. 

However, it is crucial that any new legislation that gives effect to disability reforms is drafted carefully so as to ensure safeguarding mechanisms are effective and just.

“The [society] supports the expansion of South Australia’s Community Visitor Scheme, which has been proposed via a [bill] introduced by Nat Cook MP and recommended by the Safeguarding Taskforce,” Tim White, president of Law Society SA, said.

“While the [society] has suggested important improvements to the current [bill], it supports in principle the introduction of a scheme whereby a visitor can inspect any disability accommodation premises, day options program premises or supported independent living premises (including private homes) in SA.”

In response to these obstacles, the taskforce recommended that a formal agreement between the Commonwealth and state about the operation of a state-based CVS be arranged, however the society cautioned that such an agreement would not prevent or remedy constitutional inconsistencies found between state and federal laws addressing safeguarding for people with disability. 

“In the [society’s] view, constitutional concerns ought to be resolved by carefully drafting legislation such that it does not overlap with the legislative functions of the NDIS Quality and Safeguards Commission as outlined in the National Disability Insurance Scheme Act 2013 (Cth),” Mr White said.

“The [society] acknowledges the clear benefit of a [state-based] visitor scheme to strengthen protections for people with disability with regards to upholding their rights and responding to concerns of abuse and neglect, but recognises that such scheme must carefully balance the individual’s right to privacy.”

Recently, two women – one blind, one deaf – had forged a unique partnership with lawyers to prevent the abuse of women with disabilities.

The campaign is aimed at South Australian women with a disability who are at risk of domestic violence or elder abuse, highlighted by the disability royal commission and recent SA enquiries into the care and treatment of people with disabilities.

Furthermore, barrister Kate Eastman who spoke recently on The Lawyers Weekly Show – also highlighted awareness needed for people with disabilities in the legal profession.