Media Reporting of the Royal Commission 

by | Oct 5, 2023 | Disability Sector, External News

Three dominant themes quickly became apparent in the media’s reporting of the Royal Commission.

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The first was its positive reception. Australians are concerned to ensure People with Disability are cared for and live fulfilled lives.

Secondly, there is a willingness to recognise individual people need individual solutions. Mainstreaming education, for example, might not be right for everyone.

Finally, and crucially, the country wants action. A determination to finally follow through on these recommendations became very apparent.

When a report is so comprehensive and thorough it’s almost impossible for any reporting to provide concise details that focus on the important issues. 

The Minister’s statements as the report was released can be read here. Bill Shorten summarised the report into five crisp tabloid words: “Violence, abuse, exploitation neglect and exclusion. Those five words summarise a lot of experiences of a lot of our fellow Australians who live with disability. So this Royal Commission, it is literally a genuinely historic moment for Australians of disability, and in fact, all Australians.” He also gave a radio interview to the ABC’s AM Program.

Shadow Minister Michael Sukkar also released a statement, noting that it was a coalition government that instituted the Royal Commission

The Disability Support Guide presented a detailed brief of exactly what was in the Report including links to individual volumes by title, so you can find the issue you’re interested in It noted three immediate actions were recommended, including:

  • “preventing restrictive practices, such as restraint, neck holds or seclusion being used as a form of abuse,
  • Establishing a specific disability employment target for new public service hires in agencies and departments of seven percent by 2025 and nine percent by 2030, 
  • Ending Australian Disability Enterprises by 2034, with every Commissioner recommending the introduction of a national scheme that would pay employees with disability at least half of the minimum wage”.

One news outlet that attempted to review the whole report was the ABC which concisely noted although some commissioners had different opinions: “the major recommendations relate to ending segregation in society, including phasing out:

  • Group homes, a controversial type of accommodation for people with disability 
  • Segregated employment, including Australian Disability Enterprises, a type of employment that can legally pay people below minimum wage, and, 
  • Segregated education, such as “special schools”
Nicole talking seriously into a microphone

People with Disability Australia President Nicole Lee after the Royal Commission’s Report was released (photo courtesy ABC News: Lincoln Rothall)

The big story was, of course, the ‘mainstreaming’ of disability in schools.

A great (impartial) brief on the significant issues involved in this contentious project was provided in The Conversation by Catherine Smith and Helen Dickenson. They note: 

Many within the disability community will not be heartened by the disability royal commission’s recommendations because they leave an option for segregation on the table. And this may set up the next generation of disabled children and young people for a life of being excluded from mainstream society.”

A report in the Sydney Morning Herald by Natassia Chrysanthos noted “dissent over the philosophical question of segregation and whether specialised settings should be phased out over time. Commissioners Barbara Bennett, Dr Rhonda Galbally and Alastair McEwin said the deliberate and systemic separation of people based on disability constituted segregation and was incompatible with inclusion. “[They] believe it is unconscionable that segregation on the basis of disability remains a policy default in Australia in the 21st century.”

The Financial Review’s reporting went straight to the issue of pay for People with Disability. The key point about achieving any progress on this is who will pay for the gap, with the paper noting the Commission said “the government should “subsidise any difference between an employee with disability’s wage and 50 per cent of the minimum wage from implementation until 2034.”

7News headline Damning Report

The report dominated the news for days (photo courtesy 7News) 

The ABC’s Claudia Long followed up with an obvious but critically important point:  none of this will mean anything unless it’s acted upon

Advocacy for Inclusion emphasised the most important thing is not to simply tackle instances of violence, exclusion, and discrimination, but the root causes of these issues

Perhaps one of the most important issues here is the urgency of action. Di Winkler’s report in The Conversation was repeated whole by Michael West Media. She emphasised how the haunting images of abuse have shocked the nation

Continuing without change is no longer an option.