While prime minister Scott Morrison has announced a royal commission into the aged care sector, many believe a royal commission into the disability sector should also be called.
This includes Greens senator Jordon Steele-John, who broke down in Parliament on Tuesday evening while discussing the topic. He is the first person with a disability to sit in the senate and it’s clearly a topic he holds close to his heart.
A senator for Western Australia, Steele-John has been campaigning for a royal commission into the disability sector for some time and used his time in Parliament to argue that the Government’s inquiry into aged care should also be extended to the disability sector.
In emotional scenes, Steele-John listed the names of people who had died while in care. Sadly, many had died as a result of neglect or serious violence.
“Before us now is a question. Will justice be done for disabled people, or will we once again miss the opportunity to ensure that those in our nation who are so often made voiceless, remain so,” he asked the Upper House. “Tonight I seek to speak their names. And though the sun does not shine in this place, I hope that their stories will move the hearts of those who have it within their power to see justice done.”
He then began listing names of people with disabilities who had died in care. He spoke of a seven-year-old girl who was found in a room without sunlight, surrounded by faeces. He explained how she died of starvation and weighed just 9kg when she was found.
“She had severe autism and was considered to be profoundly disabled,” he explained, holding back tears.
Another seven-year-old was found beaten by the people who were meant to care for him, while an eight-year-old was found starved, her hair infested with lice and tangled with dirt.
As his speech went on, Steele-John got more emotional as he detailed the deaths and abuse. Some were neglected by their carers, while others experienced horrendous physical and sexual abuse. One girl was raped and assaulted 111 times. Others were simply killed by loved ones to end the suffering, while there were cases of people drowning in care or succumbing to serious infections.
“These are the names that don’t get spoken,” he explained. “These are the reasons, these are the human beings, the loved ones, the mothers, the fathers, the sons, the partners who need justice, who demand justice, whose lives were worth living.”
Steele-John wore a white flower to remember all the people by.
“I will not stop, I will not rest,” he promised. “Until they find the justice that is so desperately owed them.”
Shortly after his powerful speech, the Senator took to Twitter.
“Just left the chamber, I tried my best to name those who’ve died as a result of violence, abuse or neglect in institutional & residential settings,” he wrote. “Many I couldn’t name because their circumstances were just too horrific, and in the end it was too much.”
Just left the chamber, I tried my best to name those who've died as a result of violence, abuse or neglect in institutional & residential settings. Many I couldn't name because their circumstances were just too horrific, and in the end it was too much #RoyalCommisionNow #Greens
— Senator Jordon Steele-John (@Jordonsteele) September 18, 2018