Tanya Plibersek meets with Hunter parents of children with disabilities and calls for royal commission

Deputy Labor leader Tanya Plibersek and Member for Newcastle Sharon Claydon met with Hunter parents on Tuesday.

Deputy Labor leader Tanya Plibersek and Member for Newcastle Sharon Claydon met with Hunter parents on Tuesday.

HUNTER parents’ allegations of schools mistreating their children with disabilities has left deputy Labor leader Tanya Plibersek in “shock and sadness”.

Ms Plibersek, who is also shadow minister for education, met with University of Newcastle academic David Roy and parents on Tuesday to discuss their experiences and reinforce Labor’s calls for a royal commission on violence and abuse against people with disabilities.

“It’s absolutely vital to investigate and expose any instances of abuse and neglect of people with disabilities,” Ms Plibersek said. “It’s certainly as serious as [allegations of child sexual abuse in institutions] and it took a royal commission to understand the extent of those types of issues. Until you have this kind of opportunity I think you’re only looking at the tip of the iceberg. Royal commissions give an opportunity for people who have been voiceless or too frightened to have their stories heard. The second thing you hope for is systematic changes that prevent further abuse and the third thing is for people to know they are believed when they disclose.”

The government has said frameworks in the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) would address concerns within the disability services sector. “The NDIS can’t solve historic issues of abuse and we shouldn’t expect it to,” Ms Pilbersek said. 

Calls for a royal commission follow the Legislative Council inquiry into the provision of education to students with a disability or special needs in NSW schools, which has raised questions about inclusion; funding for students; and how the Department of Education manages complaints.

“I’ve heard from so many parents and so many young people who have experienced abuse in schools or in educational settings that inevitably I’ve come to understand this is a very widespread problem,” she said. “The fact I personally know it’s widespread does not reduce the shock and sadness I feel when I hear these individual stories.”

Kerrie Fletcher said a school didn’t allow her son, who has autism spectrum disorder, to use the playground or attend excursions and regularly suspended him. “I thought I was an aberration because … you don’t realise there’s other people being treated like that too.” Her son moved to another school, where he became dux. He is now at university.

Dr Roy said while the parliamentary inquiry could “change the future, a royal commission could heal the past”.

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