Strengthening Disability Advocacy Conference 2016
Putting rights centre stage

Friday 2 September @ NAB, The Hall, 700 Bourke Street, Docklands

Spotlight: When rights go wrong

How can we protect the most vulnerable from abuse and neglect? Is the time we are spending on getting quality assurance processes right at the expense of the needs and human rights of people with disability? The panellists
drew on the recent glut of inquiries, reviews and investigations to discuss the role of advocacy in safeguarding against abuse and neglect.


Friday 2nd September, 2016: 3:30am - 4:30am


The Hall


Facilitated by:

Lauren Henley, Independent Trainer/Consultant - Disability access and inclusion

Lauren was launched into the world of disability after losing her sight in a car accident in 2006. Since this time she has gone on to hold several roles in the disability sector, including National Policy Officer for Blind Citizens Australia and Advisor to the Disability Discrimination Commissioner at the Australian Human Rights Commission. Photo of Lauren Henley, Independent Trainer/Consultant - Disability access and inclusion

Panelists include:

Dr Patsie Frawley, Senior Lecturer in Disability and Inclusion at Deakin University

Patsie has undertaken research in disability advocacy, self advocacy, sexuality and relationships and violence and abuse prevention. Her current research is looking at inclusion and access for women and girls with disabilities in violence and abuse response services across Australia.

Photo of Dr Patsie Frawley, Senior Lecturer in Disability and Inclusion at Deakin University

Deborah Glass OBE, Victorian Ombudsman

Deborah was raised in Melbourne where she studied law at Monash University. She moved to Switzerland in 1989 and was instrumental in raising standards in the investment management industry before moving to London in 1998 to take up the Chief Executive position with the Investment Management Regulatory Organisation. In 2001, she joined the UK Police Complaints Authority, and in 2004 became a Commissioner with the new Independent Police Complaints Commission of England and Wales (IPCC).

Deborah is committed to ensuring fair and reasonable decision making in the Victorian public sector, and to improving public administration. She holds a firm belief in public sector integrity and the protection of human rights.

Photo of Deborah Glass OBE, Victorian Ombudsman

Maree Edwards MP, Victorian Member for Bendigo West

The ALP has been in Maree’s blood for generations. She joined the party on the eve of the 1999 election, frustrated with Kennett’s neglect of regional Victoria. Serving as an Electorate Officer to the former Member for Bendigo West,Bob Cameron, allowed Maree to get to know the Bendigo West community. This was complemented by her … Continued

Photo of Maree Edwards MP, Victorian Member for Bendigo West

Therese Sands, Director, Disabled People’s Organisations Australia (DPO Australia),

Therese has a Master of Human Rights Law and Policy, and won the University of NSW Law School Public Defender’s Prize in 2012. She has a strong commitment to organisations constituted and led by people with disability, and is a Life Member of People with Disability Australia (PWDA) and a member of Women With Disabilities Australia (WWDA).

Session Summary

This high profile panel discussion led by Lauren Henley drew out the priorities from a series of inquiries across the nation to keep people with disability safe from violence, abuse and neglect.



The story board

The session opened with a powerful video featuring Jane, talking about what it was like to give evidence to the Royal Commission into institutional responses to child abuse.



High on the agenda was the recommendation from both Senate and Victorian Upper House inquiries for a Royal Commission into abuse against people with disabilities. This was underpinned by Ombudsman Deborah Glass advocating for a single independent body to oversee reports of abuse in the disability sector, which could also form the bedrock of a new safeguarding framework under the NDIS.

Ombudsman Deborah Glass said one of the main points arising from her investigation of allegations of abuse in the disability sector was:

“we simply don’t know the scale of abuse” because there is no single cohesive system of reporting. Rather the oversight system is complicated, fragmented, and confused, involving lots of different bodies – many of which do good work – but therefore resulting in duplication, problems around boundaries, and “no-one actually owns the problem”.



Labor MP Maree Edwards outlined the major points of the Victorian Parliament’s inquiry into abuse in disability services and her concern that there was no national quality and safeguarding framework to protect people with disability ahead of the NDIS rollout. It is crucial, she said, to get that framework in place, “to know exactly what service providers need to do” to protect their clients from violence, sexual assault, financial abuse and other risks under the new system.

The panel discussion also highlighted the vital role of advocacy, including the need for outreach advocacy for people with disability living in more closed institutions and of greater advocacy and collaboration across sectors, particularly between disability, women’s and family violence sectors.

Therese Sands said vital issues about the safety of people with disability must also be drawn out through a number of other current or upcoming high profile investigations: the Royal Commission into institutional responses to child abuse, the New South Wales inquiry into the treatment of students with disability in the state’s schools, and the Royal Commission into juvenile justice in the Northern Territory, in the wake of Four Corners’ Don Dale revelations. The need for these inquiries all pointed, she said, to a significant problem in Australia of “systems with violence embedded” and how a Royal Commission could interrogate and hold those systems accountable.



Patsie Frawley told the conference she sees ‘safeguarding’ as relating to processes, policies and frameworks, not people. “People don’t need safeguarding: what they need is what everyone else needs and wants: the opportunity to express themselves as a sexual person and be respected as a person who can have equal and affirming relationships.”

She highlighted her work on the landmark Living Safer Sexual Lives peer led program for people with intellectual disability and now on developing informed and effective tertiary responses to violence and abuse of women and girls with disability for Australia’s National Research Organisation for Women’s Safety (ANROWS). That work, she said, is “starting to bring into the mainstream an acknowledgement that if we’re doing violence and abuse prevention and thinking about responding to violence and abuse: don’t forget people with disability.”

It remained a continual danger and frustration, Therese Sands said, when places where so many people with disability lived – boarding houses, residential homes etc – were not included in definitions and frameworks for family violence protection and policing.



Lauren Henley sums up in her post session interview with Marie McInerney.



Further information on topics relevant to the discussions in this session include: