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Disability groups urge government to extend royal commission following COVID-19 delays

Disability organisations are urging the federal government to extend the royal commission into abuse in the sector to ensure the safety of Australians with disabilities.

Royal Commission into Violence, Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation of People with Disability chair Ronald Sackville QC requested a 17-month extension to the probe last October when handing down the interim report.

That report found violence, neglect and mistreatment of Australian people with disability bleeds into every facet of their lives and must be blunted.

People with Disability Australia has launched a new campaign to increase support for Mr Sackville’s request to give the commission until September 2023 instead of April next year to finish its task.

People with Disability Australia chief Sebastian Zagarella said while the commission had achieved a great deal, the coronavirus pandemic had created significant delays.

“The sheer enormity of the task before them cannot be underestimated,” he said on Monday.

“The welfare and safety of the disability community depends on the commission having adequate time to conduct these investigations thoroughly.”

The group says it’s vital the government passes legislation to extend confidentiality protections for submissions, which will otherwise lapse in April 2022 when the inquiry ends.

“People with disability want to tell their stories, but many are speaking out against abusers or organisations that still hold power over aspects of their lives,” Mr Zagarella said.

“These protections are vital to peoples’ safety and security, and many have chosen to wait for the legislation to pass before making submissions.”

The organisation has asked the public to write to Attorney-General Michaelia Cash asking her to extend the inquiry.

In the interim report, Mr Sackville said the scope of the $528 million royal commission had been significantly underestimated.

He wrote to the prime minister asking for an extension and did not request extra funding.

The interim report highlighted instances of school bullying, neglect and misdiagnosis in the healthcare system, physical and sexual abuse by staff in supported accommodation and workplace discrimination.

A spokesman for the Attorney-General’s Department said the government was actively considering the request for an extension.

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