Labor promises to 'review' appointment of public servants to disability royal commission

By Stephen Easton

April 18, 2019

The Labor party has promised to review the appointment of two public servants to the Royal Commission into abuse, neglect and exploitation of people with disabilities, if elected.

The election pledge follows calls for commissioners Barbara Bennett and John Ryan to voluntarily step down from Greens disability spokesman Jordon Steele-John, later backed up by almost 60 organisations and individuals that represent and support people with various disabilities.

While Ryan was a NSW Liberal sitting in the state upper house for about 15 years and is a former shadow minister for disability, the issue is his more recent work in the NSW Department of Families and Community Services and Justice since 2007. The open letter also takes issue with Bennett’s various roles over the years in the federal Department of Social Services.

The advocates behind the push politely noted that Ryan and Bennett no doubt took up the roles with the best intentions but said stepping aside was the best thing they could do to help. They did not call on the government to reverse the appointments and it has stood by the choices in any case.

A Labor government, however, would review their appointments “in consultation with people with disability and advocates” to bolster confidence in the royal commission, according to a joint statement from shadow minister for families and social services Linda Burney and the shadow minister for disability and carers, Carol Brown.

“Labor has consistently urged the Morrison Government to consult properly and meaningfully on the Royal Commission,” they said in a joint statement. “It is clear this has not occurred.”

Prime Minister Scott Morrison previously said the panel of assistant commissioners were chosen after “extensive consultation” with relevant stakeholders, and included “lived experience of disability as well as judicial and policy expertise and … Indigenous leadership” to cover a wide range of perspectives.

“It is essential that people with disability have full confidence in the Royal Commission,” said Brown and Burney, echoing concerns raised in the open letter.

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