The Royal Commission into Violence, Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation of People with Disability – The Final Report

The Royal Commission into Violence, Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation of People with Disability (the Royal Commission) was established in April 2019 in response to widespread complaints and concerns regarding the treatment of people with disability as service users, members of the education sector and workforce and community members. The Royal Commission enquired how people with disability can be protected from experiencing maltreatment, and how to ensure best practice in reporting, investigating and responding to allegations of maltreatment, while also promoting inclusivity, independence, and autonomy of people with disability.

Throughout the inquiry, the Royal Commission reported on the experiences of people with disability in a number of settings such as schools, workplaces, prisons, detention centres, disability and mental health facilities, group homes, family homes, hospitals and day programs.

The Royal Commission released their final report on 29 September 2023, which included 222 recommendations on how to improve legislation, policies, practices, and service systems to better meet the needs of people with disability, ensure their safety and security, protect them from exposure to harm and create an inclusive and just society.

The purpose of the Royal Commission

The Royal Commission inquired what governments, institutions and the community should do to prevent and protect people with disability from experiencing harm, maltreatment and exploitation across a variety of settings. Consideration was given to what is required to ensure people with disability experience inclusion, independence, and autonomy, and how the right ‘to the full and equal enjoyment of all human rights and fundamental freedoms’, as per the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, can be promoted and in all settings.

Across four and a half years, the Royal Commission conducted 32 public hearings and heard from 837 witnesses. They held 1,785 private sessions and 60 percent of these sessions were with people with disability. They received 7,944 submissions; 55 percent of the submissions were from people with disability and 29 percent were from family members of people with disability. They released 14 issues papers and received 710 responses to these papers, they also held 12 policy roundtable workshops with stakeholders. They hosted over 700 community engagement activities, with 374 of these activities being held for First Nations people with disability. Overall, the Royal Commission received 16,910 enquiries and released 28 research reports into their findings.

The Findings

Through the Royal Commission, it was found that people with disability experience higher rates and more frequent incidents of abuse, harm, maltreatment and exploitation than people without disability. Women, First Nations women, and women with comorbidities such as an intellectual disability or mental health diagnosis experience higher rates of violence than people without disability. The Royal Commission spoke to people with disability who had experienced financial and sexual exploitation, had experienced severe deprivation and gross neglect and were denied basic necessities to support their life and engagement in daily activities, impacting their potential and capacity to thrive.

The Royal Commission also found that people with disability are over-represented in the justice system, and the over-representation was higher where the person with disability was a First Nations person or had a cognitive disability. Children with disability in the justice system were found to be at

increased risk of exposure to violence, abuse, neglect and exploitation and were more likely to have further involvement with the justice system as they got older. People with disability were also found to experience higher rates of domestic violence, and the risk was increased for women with disability.

First Nations people are three times more likely than the general population to have a disability, 79% of First Nations people over 65 years-old and 22% of First Nations children under 18 years-old have a disability. First Nations people experience challenges and marginalisation as a result of colonisation and the impacts of intergenerational trauma. First Nations people with disability identified a lack of culturally safe services and supports and faced barriers in accessing support services in remote communities, which further compounds their experiences of neglect, maltreatment, abuse and exploitation. First Nations people were found to experience maltreatment and harm when it came to their safety, dignity, right to self-determination, health, respect for and protection of culture, right to equality and right to non-discrimination.

Complaints handling processes were found to be overly complex and complicated and not tailored to meet the needs of people with disability, which led to under-reporting experiences of violence, abuse, neglect and exploitation.



The Final Report includes 12 volumes which consider the voices of people with disability, the nature and extent of their experiences of maltreatment, the need to promote their human rights, ensure the existence of an inclusive society which allows for autonomy and equal access to services, opportunities, education, employment, housing and the community. The Final Report also reports on the intersectionality of people with disability who are also First Nations people, involved with the criminal justice system or engaged with disability services.

From these in-depth inquiries, 222 recommendations have been made by the Royal Commission. Some of the key recommendations include:

  • Ensuring Australian laws recognise the human rights of people with disability through the establishment of a Disability Rights Act and the strengthening of the existing Disability Discrimination Act.
  • The establishment of a Reportable Conduct Scheme as a best practice model to ensure oversight of institutional responses to complaints.
  • Developing inclusive practices through a new National Disability Agreement, updating Australia’s Disability Strategy, and establishing a National Disability Commission.
  • Promoting access to information and communications, developing of a new decision-making framework in legislation and tribunal proceedings and processes, and increasing education and capacity-building for supported decision-making to occur.
  • Ensuring practices are promoting cultural safety through culturally appropriate assessments, expanding NDIS programs specifically for First Nations people, and growing the First Nations workforce.
  • Reviewing the accreditation standards for services to ensure they meet the needs of people with disability and promote safety and protection from harm, and developing national health standards, charters and policies, particularly in regards to restrictive practices.
  • Promoting inclusive education, employment and housing by eliminating barriers, phasing out segregation practices in education, increasing employment opportunities, promoting diversity in recruitment practices, reviewing housing policy frameworks to prioritise people with disability in housing and homelessness initiatives, increasing accessibility and affordability of housing, improving disability housing, and phasing out group homes.
  • Embedding human rights in the design and delivery of disability services, and ensuring choice and control over service delivery.
  • Improving the NDIS Quality and Safeguards Commission oversight mechanisms, processes and practices, and improving investigations, safeguarding practices and complaints processes by providing nation-wide consistency in processes.
  • Promoting humane treatment in the justice system through improved screening and assessments of people with disability, improving the interface of NDIS and the justice system, promoting diversion and increasing the age of criminal responsibility.


The team at Safe Space Legal have extensive disability safeguarding experience and work with organisations to ensure they are meeting their legal obligations when working with people with disability. Safe Space Legal offer a large range of services including:

  • Developing safeguarding policies, procedures and complaints handling processes;
  • Delivering safeguarding training to ensure organisations are aware of their obligations and sector-specific requirements;
  • Conducting trauma-informed specialist safeguarding investigations into allegations of violence, abuse, neglect and exploitation in the disability sector;
  • Providing expert advice on safeguarding compliance and systemic issues;
  • Conducting root cause analyses of critical incidents and crisis management; and
  • Completing policy and implementation audits to ensure compliance with legislative obligations.

Contact [email protected] or call (03) 9124 7321 to organise a complementary discussion in relation to your organisation’s child safety and safeguarding needs.

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