Phone: 0413 040 654/0412 409 610 21 December 2014
AN OPEN LETTER TO VICTORIA’S DISABILITY SERVICES COMMISSIONER
Mr Laurie Harkin AM
Disability Services Commissioner
Level 30, 570 Bourke Street
Melbourne Vic 3000
Dear Mr Harkin,
Subject: DSC Newsletter - Summer 2014
On reading your editorial piece on page 1 of your Summer Newsletter, we were appalled at what can only be described as completely misleading comments made by you.
You speak of the devastating impact that abuse perpetrated by staff can have on people with disabilities and their families. And you trumpet the need to be uncompromising, and the need to put people’s rights at the centre of service delivery. However, it is deceptive to then suggest that your “person centred alternative dispute resolution approach” is the appropriate way to deal with complaints of abuse and neglect. This approach totally ignores the glaring fact that abuse and neglect are not open to compromise, they are not open to conciliation and they cannot be dealt with through improved communication.
The harsh reality is that abuse, neglect and violence perpetrated against people with disabilities is totally unacceptable. It should not be handled by the conciliatory “no one is to blame” approach as taken by you in dealing with such matters.
It is totally contradictory for you to speak about the rape atrocities such as those perpetrated at Yooralla as being “completely unacceptable” and state that “We all must be uncompromising”, and yet not once have you investigated any complaint in the last five and a half years. This is despite the fact that the Ombudsman has noted that, according to data from your office, “It is estimated that around 30 complaints in the last year reported to the DSC concerned, discrimination, abuse, neglect, intimidation, assault or bullying”. Each of these categories, without any contradiction, constitutes abuse. Discrimination is abuse; abuse is abuse; neglect is abuse; intimidation is abuse, assault is abuse; and bullying is abuse. And let us repeat: not one single investigation into these instances of abuse was undertaken by you.
Your statement that your approach to resolving complaints has led to a significant increase in the number of matters brought to your office being “fully resolved”, compared with when the office first opened, is not supported by the evidence in your annual reports. Your first two annual reports provided no information as to how many complaints were “fully resolved”. Therefore, we query what data from your first two years of operation you have used to make your comparative analysis with the next five years.
In any event, in terms of the five years 2010 to 2014, the data provided in your annual reports does not substantiate your claim. In 2010, you reported 69% of complaints were either fully or substantially resolved. In 2011 it was 70%. In 2012 it was 69%. In 2013 it was 71%. In 2014 it was 69%. Apart from the fact that a 2% variation is not a “significant increase”, your last reporting year was the same figure as that reported four years previously – 69%.
Clearly, your statement is incorrect. Clearly, it seeks to paint a picture of improvement where none has occurred. It is clear that there is no basis for your statement that you have, “further strengthened the safeguards available to people.” This statement can only be described as being devoid of any substance. It is simply a stand-alone claim that has no direct link to prevention, which of course is the one immutable safeguard.
It is appalling that on the one hand you tell people that complaints about abuse can be made to your office; and yet on the other hand, your history has been one of refusing to investigate any complaints, let alone those concerning abuse and neglect. Surely Commissioner, there should be no need to remind you that addressing abuse, neglect and violence is about bringing the perpetrators to account. It is about being vigorous in ensuring consequences are applied. Only these outcomes will give the victims of abuse and neglect any sense of justice.
If you are truly concerned about strengthening “the safeguards available to people” - and we assume you mean people with disabilities – Why do you not investigate complaints about abuse, neglect and violence? Why do you use your 4As model of complaint resolution, as in Acknowledgment, Answer, Action, Apology, for those cases where abuse and neglect has clearly occurred and the perpetrators must be brought to account and consequences identified? No amount of acknowledgement and apology will ever undo the harm that has been caused. From our perspective you totally avoid dealing with the hard issues by ignoring accountability and refusing to pursue the necessity for consequences to be applied.
We note that not once in any of your seven annual reports have you named offending entities that have breached the Disability Act 2006, including those who have failed to protect the right of people with disability to live free from abuse, neglect and violence.
It is wrong of you, as you did in your editorial, to convey a message that you will ensure “that the voice of people with a disability is heard and acted upon”. We can only agree with The Age editorial of 24/11/2014 that “The Victorian Disability Services Commissioner should long ago have been probing Yooralla; it is lamentable that the commissioner, Laurie Harkin, has failed to launch an official investigation.” Of course, as you well know, abuse and neglect goes well beyond the Yooralla organisation. And also as you well know, we have questioned why you have not investigated particular complaints where resolution has not been achieved.
We would be only too happy to meet with you to discuss our concerns. However, more importantly, you must investigate complaints of abuse and neglect which come to your attention. This is how you can ensure that the diverse voices of people with disabilities are heard and acted upon.
As you will note, this is an Open Letter in response to your public statements. The reason being - we wish to ensure that the public is presented with a true picture of the safeguards necessary to protect people with disabilities from abuse and neglect.
Max Jackson Margaret Ryan
Max Jackson Margaret Ryan
Business Unit of Max Jackson & Associates ACN 086 394 676 - ABN 50 086 394 676
Head Office: 1/ Wells St, 98
Southbank Vic 3006
Phone: 0413 040 654/0412 409