Budget cut hits ‘vital’ organisations that aid abuse investigations

Budget cut hits ‘vital’ organisations that aid abuse investigations

Source: smh.com.au
James Robertson

Investigations into soaring rates of assaults, sexual offences and neglect of disabled people will be hit by planned cuts to funding of disability support groups, the NSW Ombudsman warns.

The warning comes after the organisation reported a 30 per cent spike in referrals of alleged sex crimes, physical assaults and neglect against people with a disability last financial year.

NSW says it will not maintain $13 million in funding for advocacy organisations once the National Disability Insurance Scheme takes effect from July, despite a federal review finding the national scheme does not include advocacy funding.

The cut is estimated to wipe out up to 50 NSW advocacy groups, such as the 60-year-old NSW Council for Intellectual Disability.

A letter by the NSW Ombudsman Michael Barnes outlines the groups’ key role in raising and facilitating investigations into growing reports of predatory crime against disabled people.

“Community advocates [will play] a key role in raising concerns about suspected abuse, neglect and exploitation of individuals,” an unpublished letter co-signed by Mr Barnes and Deputy Ombudsman Steve Kinmond reads. “[In] our current work in receiving and responding to allegations of abuse, neglect and exploitation … we regularly exchange information with NGOs.

“There is a vital continuing role for community advocates who work with and support people with disability.”

Queensland’s Labor government has guaranteed a minimum of $4 million in ongoing advocacy funding after the national scheme begins, and NSW Labor says it would ensure the funding continues if elected.

June Riemer from the First People’s Disability Network said her Sydney-based organisation was one of many facing closure from July, and growing attention being paid to such incidents would fall away if the cuts went ahead.

“Aboriginal people with a disability are the most disadvantaged of all people and don’t have the capacity to send an email or make a phone call, but these organisations have built up a strength and reputation in communities and are known and people believe they can help them,” she said.

“The problems of abuse and assault are more public and more visible now, but they’ll become hidden if there’s not advocacy organisations to guide [victims] to justice.”

A spokeswoman for Disabilities Minister Ray Williams said: “The NSW government is currently working with the Commonwealth on a new national approach to quality and safeguarding for the NDIS – overseen by a new national regulator.”

The Ombudsman’s remarks were contained in an unpublished submission to the NSW Law Reform Commission’s review of the Guardianship Act.

The Ombudsman received nearly 1750 reportable allegations of incidents in schools, churches and childcare centres such in NSW last financial year. Allegations of sexual assault, physical assault and neglect make up the bulk of reportable incident notices.

Last year’s allegations tally represented an increase in the number of formal complaints received of about 30 per cent on the previous year and 75 per cent for all complaint categories over the past five years, according to its recent annual report.

Nearly half of all reportable incidents are referred by the Ombudsman to the police and about 20 per cent of reportable incidents result in criminal investigations, a conversion rate the Ombudsman has said reflects the difficulty of pursuing criminal investigations where victims and key witnesses are disabled people.

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