NSW appoints ageing and disability commissioner

Wed, 3 July 2019

Article written by Luke Michael and sourced from Pro Bono Australia.

Robert Fitzgerald AM will investigate allegations of abuse, neglect and exploitation of vulnerable people after being appointed New South Wales’ first ageing and disability commissioner.

Premier Gladys Berejiklian announced the appointment on Saturday, and said Fitzgerald would ensure adults with disability and seniors across NSW were protected.

“We will not tolerate the abuse, neglect and exploitation of our most vulnerable citizens which is why we have introduced a new ageing and disability commissioner,” Berejiklian said.

Fitzgerald served on the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse and has spent time as productivity commissioner and community and disability services commissioner.

He is also a former president of the Australian Council of Social Service.

Fitzgerald said he was proud to be given the opportunity to lead the commission.

“I have spent my career helping to protect vulnerable people,” Fitzgerald said.

“I look forward to ensuring the commission responds effectively where there has been harm and helping to create an environment where people feel safe in their community.”

The commissioner will be given 70 full-time staff and the power to initiate investigations of his own volition, or following a referral or complaint.

He also has the power to apply for and execute a search warrant, and seize evidence when part of an investigation.

Despite this, convenor of the NSW Disability Advocacy Alliance Serena Ovens expressed concern that the commissioner did not have enough resources to undertake the planned review of disability advocacy services by the deadline of 31 December.

“This review needs time and resources to be done properly, and we need stability during the review period,” Ovens said.

“We are calling on the NSW government to roll over our funding for at least two years, to give the commissioner time to do the review, while giving people with disability surety that their organisations will still be there.”

NSW disability groups have been in a long-running dispute with the state government over advocacy funding, and Ovens warned people with disability would have no way of reaching the new commissioner if advocacy services ceased when funding ended in June 2020.

“The legislation to establish the commissioner [means] there will be a rushed and underfunded review of disability advocacy, information and representative organisations in NSW, at a time when we don’t have any security of funding or future,” she said.