The ‘royal’ in the Disability Royal Commission explained

Written by:
Angela Cox

Angela Cox

Principal Lawyer

In this article:

Royal Commission into Violence, Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation of People with Disability (the Disability Royal Commission)

The Disability Royal Commission was established in April 2019 in response to community concern about widespread reports of violence against, and the neglect, abuse and exploitation of, people with disability (both recently, and in the more distant past). 

This article explain what the Commission is, and what it is doing.

What is so ‘royal’ about the Disability Royal Commission?

The Governor-General (then the General the Honourable Sir Peter Cosgrove AK MC) established the Disability Royal Commission by issuing Letters Patent pursuant to powers under section 1A of the Royal Commissions Act 1902 (Cth), which provides (my emphasis):

‘…the GovernorGeneral may, by Letters Patent in the name of the King, issue such commissions, directed to such person or persons, as he or she thinks fit, requiring or authorising him or her or them or any of them to make inquiry into and report upon any matter specified in the Letters Patent, and which relates to or is connected with the peace, order, and good government of the Commonwealth, or any public purpose or any power of the Commonwealth.’

In a nutshell, a Royal Commission is a special investigation, independent of government, into a matter of significant public importance. And I am sure anyone who is reading this article will agree the neglect, abuse and exploitation of, people with disability is a matter of significant public importance.

What is the work of the Disability Royal Commission?

The Letters Patent establishing the Disability Royal Commission set out its ‘terms of reference’ or work plan.  This charges the Commission with two massive tasks: 

(1) inquiry and (2) making recommendations.

Task 1 – Inquiry

The Commission must inquire into the following matters:

  • what governments, institutions and the community should do to prevent, and better protect, people with disability from experiencing violence, abuse, neglect and exploitation, having regard to the extent of [this] in all settings and contexts;
  • what governments, institutions and the community should do to achieve best practice to encourage reporting of, and effective investigations of and responses to, violence againstand abuse, neglect and exploitation of, people with disability, including addressing [failures and impediments];
  • what should be done to promote a more inclusive society that supports the independence of people with disability and their right to live free from violence, abuse, neglect and exploitation;
  • any matter reasonably incidental to a matter referred to in paragraphs (a) to (c) or that the [Commission believes] is reasonably relevant to [its] inquiry.

How will the Commission make its inquiry?

The Commission has seven members or Commissioners, including the Chair, The Honourable Ronald Sackville AO QC, a former Judge of the Federal Court.

Under Part 2 of the Royal Commission Act, the Commission has broad powers to hold public hearings, call witnesses under oath and compel persons to provide evidence. 

Part 4 of the Royal Commission Act also allows for the Commission to hear evidence from witnesses in private (that is, a 1-1 session with a Commissioner) and for information or evidence given to the Commission to be treated confidentially. 

The Commission commenced its inquiry phase shortly after it was established. It is due to complete this phase by 31 December 2022.

Task 2 – Making recommendations

After completing its comprehensive inquiry, the Commission’s second task is to consider all the evidence and information it has gathered, and then make appropriate recommendations about any necessary policy, legislative, administrative or structural reforms with regards to:

  • all forms of violence against, and abuse, neglect and exploitation of, people with disability, whatever the setting or context;
  • all aspects of quality and safety of services, including informal support, provided by governments, institutions and the community to people with disability, including the NDIS and the NDIS Quality and Safeguarding Framework;
  • the specific experiences of violence againstand abuseneglect and exploitation of, people with disability [being] multilayered and influenced by experiences associated with their age, sex, gender, gender identitysexual orientation, intersex status, ethniorigin or race, including the particular situation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and culturally and linguistically diverse people with disability;
  • the critical role families, carers, advocatesthe workforce and others play in providing care and support to people with disability;
  • examples of best practice and innovative models of preventing, reporting, investigating or responding to violence againstand abuse, neglect or exploitation of, people with disability;
  • the findings and recommendations of previous relevant reports and inquiries.

The Commission must deliver its Final Report, including its recommendations to the Governor-General by 29 September 2023.


While I know many readers are, like me, suffering from ‘disability sector review’ fatigue, the Disability Royal Commission provides a rare and golden opportunity for systemic reform to end violence towards, and the abuse, neglect and exploitation of, people with disability. 

Please take the time, even a few minutes, to engage with, or make a contribution, however small, to this important process.

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DISCLAIMER: The information provided in this article is general only. While it may provide guidance on a issue or matter that you may have, it should not be relied on as legal advice. We recommend that you obtain legal advice specific to your issue or matter.

© A. Cox 2024
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