The Royal Commission’s recent focus on disability services made for difficult viewing at times. Hearings included gruelling questioning and forensic investigation of services. The breadth of documentation considered was significant; in some cases, drafts of specific documents were compared with final copies.
Where we may have watched hearings of the Aged Care or Banking Royal Commissions with interest from a distance, the last month of the Disability Royal Commission felt more personal.
While difficult, this focus on the sector forms an expected part of the Royal Commission’s work. And we anticipate it will consume more of its attention, with at least two more disability services hearings likely before the end of the year.
Royal commissions hold unique and significant powers, with high levels of discretion in how they conduct their investigations (PDF; Word). In fact, their coercive powers extend beyond those normally held by a court.
As tough as it is, questioning how the Royal Commission undertakes its work is likely to reflect poorly on the sector at a time when we are being challenged to consider improvements to service quality. Defensive or combative behaviour does not reflect well on witnesses, organisations, or even sectors (PDF; Word). Indeed, this was illustrated during the Banking Royal Commission.
Instead, focus should be on lessons that can be taken on to ensure organisations are best placed should they be called as a witness before year’s end, and to improve service quality over time. Some themes from the hearings have been drawn out below.
- Relationships: are organisations open and transparent? When incidents occur, do they offer to meet, apologise, and provide other emotional support to service users and families?
- Culture: how do organisations ensure good workforce culture, and encourage accurate and regular reporting? Are people with disability represented, including at senior levels in the organisation?
- Responsibility: are leaders of organisations prepared to take responsibility for incidents which have occurred in their services and apologise? Do they try to understand why they occurred, and make changes to improve?
- Workforce: how do organisations screen recruits?
- Finances: what are organisations’ plans for the use of their reserves?
- Being proactive: moving away from pure compliance, how do organisations use incidents to improve their operations? How do they demonstrate continuous improvement?
- Quality assurance: how do senior leaders assure themselves of quality within services – via workforce supervision, random checks, or otherwise?
Priorities: how central are people with disability to the everyday operating of organisations’ corporate structures? How important are the views and wellbeing of service users – from the Board down?
…We will listen, in an effort to understand what has gone wrong and what needs to be done to address these failings…
From NDS’s position statement regarding the Disability Royal Commission
We will gain a further indication of the Royal Commission’s focus during oral submissions on the two hearings, scheduled for 20 August (SA) and 10 September (NSW). There, Counsel Assisting will draw out their themes from the hearings and may suggest findings for Commissioners to consider.
While the Final Report will now be delivered in September 2023, above is just a selection of the lessons providers can and should be considering now.
NDS News updates
Providers can catch up on NDS’s daily updates of the hearings here.
Hearing 13 (NSW)
Hearing 14 (SA)
All providers are reminded to return regularly to NDS’s Zero Tolerance resources, which are updated periodically.
Please also remember that NDS has established an expert panel of advisors that can assist you at member-only rates, spanning – legal services; insurance; information management; crisis media and media management; quality management and safeguards; and governance.