New laws to protect commission witnesses

·2-min read

People who have been afraid to come forward to tell their story to the disability royal commission can have more confidence under new protection of information laws, the commissioner says.

Federal parliament passed laws on Monday that will protect sensitive information provided to a royal commission.

Disability royal commissioner Ronald Sackville said the new laws would remove a "significant barrier" to people with disability, or people on their behalf, engaging with the royal commission.

"The royal commission will now be able to guarantee the confidentiality of submissions and other sensitive information both during and beyond the term of our inquiry," the former judge said.

He encouraged anyone who has had concerns about telling their story to now contact the royal commission.

"This includes accounts of a person's, or another person's, experiences of systemic violence, abuse, neglect or exploitation," he said.

Emails, letters and conversations will get the same protection as evidence given in person and in session.

It will be an offence incurring a prison term of up to 12 months to expose information that should be kept private.

Assistant Minister Nola Marino told parliament the disability royal commission was guided by witnesses, and its outcomes must be based on a true reflection of those experiences.

"It is critical that people sharing their lived experiences with the royal commission feel respected and that survivors of violence, abuse, neglect and exploitation have their experiences appropriately acknowledged, recognised and validated," she said.

There are also stronger safeguards for whistleblowers who expose the failings of government departments, corporations or institutions.

In a progress report issued on Monday, the royal commission says it has held 282 private sessions and received 851 submissions in the first six months of 2021, despite COVID-19 disruptions.

More than 2600 submissions have been made in total, before a final report due in September 2023.

"Now you know you can come forward and you can name names," Greens leader Adam Bandt said.

"You can talk about specific incidents that have happened to you. You can also talk about the systems that have worked to discriminate against you."

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