The Royal Commission into Violence, Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation of People with Disability has now formally commenced, with the final Letters Patent and Terms of Reference released.

This follows the announcement of the Commission by Prime Minister Scott Morrison on 5 April 2019 that the Governor-General’s signing of the Letters Patent signified the commencement of the Commission’s inquiry into such a significant area of the Australian Health Sector.

The Prime Minister announced the appointment of Hon Ronald Sackville AO QC as the chair of the Royal Commission, to be supported by five other Commissioners. The panel of six deliberately represent a diverse cross-section of Commissioners, which includes extensive disability experience, Indigenous Leadership and policy and judicial reform.


  • Upon announcement, a public consultation was opened on the draft Terms of Reference which received a significant influx of responses totalling approximately 3,700.
  • Approximately $527.9 million has been allocated for the Commission, including funds to support the participation of people with disability.
  • Although based in Brisbane, hearings will take place in various States and Territories, a method which mirrors the current Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety.
  • The Commission must submit an interim report on or before 30 October 2020, with the final report to be submitted by 29 April 2021.

Comments and Considerations

The Government has turned much focus to the Australian Health Sector of late, with this Commission being announced within close proximity to the current Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety.

As such, due to the similarities between the Terms of Reference for both Commissions, it is possible that the Commission into the disability sector may seek to mirror the nature of the enquiries of the Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety.

In any event, the scope of the Terms of Reference for the Commission into the disability sector are extremely wide-ranging. However, despite this wide scope, the Commission has sought to limit its inquiry to issues which have not been sufficiently explored and dealt with by the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety, or any other inquires of a similar nature.

It is expected, based on the Terms of Reference, that the Commission will be policy focused, informed by individual experiences of substandard care or systemic failures by disability care providers resulting in abuse or other instances of neglect or violence, and the role of policy and best-practice in preventing and improving the sector’s response to such issues. 

From our learnings in working with one of Australia’s largest providers of Aged Care and the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety, it is crucial that providers in the disability service sector begin preparation for the upcoming Commission as soon as possible. The policies, projects and potential responses which are established by a provider in the early stages of the Commission will be invaluable when formal responses are required.

We believe an initial review of instances of substandard care, complaints or claims of abuse, neglect, violence or exploitation, and identification of any consequent instances of systemic failures, should be undertaken in order to enable a timely response to any request for information from the Commission, noting that the provided timeframes for response are often short.

Most importantly, disability service providers should maintain a positive outlook on the Commission, as it is a great opportunity to initiate positive change in a sector which is very important to so many Australians.