Australia announces disability inquiry as election looms

April 4, 2019

SYDNEY (Reuters) – Australia’s Prime Minister Scott Morrison, in one of the government’s last moves before an imminent election, said on Friday a powerful public inquiry into the country’s disability care would run for three years and address abuse, neglect and exploitation problems in the sector.

The inquiry, known as a Royal Commission, will cost A$528 million ($375 million) and follows reports of poor treatment, as well as pressure from disability advocates after a similar inquiry was launched into the aged care sector.

It is expected to be similar to a probe that exposed widespread wrongdoing in Australia’s financial sector last year and the aged care inquiry which has uncovered neglect, abuse and mistreatment of patients.

Both inquiries have hurt share prices in the respective sectors, although by contrast, the roughly A$15.5 billion disability sector is highly fragmented, dominated by non-profit operators and mostly government-funded.

“We have to establish a culture of respect for people living with disabilities and the families who support, love and care for them,” Morrison told reporters in Canberra.

“The Royal Commission will inquire into all forms of violence, abuse, neglect and exploitation,” he said, becoming emotional when speaking about his brother-in-law, Gary Warren, who suffers from multiple sclerosis.

“To all those Australians with a disability, their families, to Gary, this is for you,” he said. It will publish an interim report by the end of October 2020 and a final report by April 2022.

The announcement of the details of the inquiry comes with a federal election due within weeks, making the move likely the last substantive decision from Morrison’s center-right coalition – which is trailing heavily in opinion polls – before the vote.

($1 = 1.4065 Australian dollars)

(Reporting by Tom Westbrook, editing by G Crosse)

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