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  • Ombudsman launches inquiry into disability abuse
  • By Nick McKenzie and Richard Baker
  • 08/12/2014 Make a Comment
  • Contributed by: Simon_P ( 2 articles in 2014 )
Ombudsman Deborah Glass confirmed she would continue her investigation.
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Victoria's Ombudsman has launched a major inquiry into the handling of abuse allegations in the disability sector.

Ombudsman Deborah Glass' inquiry was prompted by revelations last month by Fairfax Media and the ABC's Four Corners into the serious mishandling of several rape and sexual assault cases at Yooralla, which is Victoria's biggest disability services provider.

The inquiry is likely to closely scrutinise the handling of allegations by Yooralla's management and board, including former CEO Sanjib Roy, who resigned last month after Fairfax Media and Four Corners sent him a list of questions about the mishandling of cases.

The inquiry may also raise serious questions for the head of Australia's National Disability Insurance Scheme, Bruce Bonyhady, who previously chaired Yooralla for almost a decade and under whose watch several of the bungled cases occurred.

"Abuse of people with a disability is unconscionable in a civilised society," Ms Glass said. "Something is wrong with our systems, and we need to understand what is broken and what can be done to fix it."

"Concerns in the sector and recent revelations in the media have prompted me to look closely at current practice to identify deficiencies in reporting and investigation."

Last month, Fairfax Media revealed how Yooralla staff failed to adequately respond to serious allegations of sexual assault against disabled Victorians. In some cases, these failures meant perpetrators could continue to abuse their victims.

The revelations have already prompted the Andrews government to commit to a major parliamentary inquiry into abuse in the disability sector. There is also growing pressure on the federal government to back a national inquiry.

Ms Glass said her inquiry would examine concerns around the handling of serious allegations, including "lack of awareness and co‑ordination, poor investigation and poor communication with clients and families".

The Ombudsman will examine cases from residential, respite and day programs funded by the Victorian Government, as well as how the Department of Human Services and the Disability Services Commissioner Laurie Harkin oversee the sector.

Fairfax Media reported last month that despite a string of scandals at Yooralla, Mr Harkin had conducted no investigations since 2010.

"It is particularly important as Victoria begins to roll out the National Disability Insurance Scheme that we have robust reporting and escalation processes in place, and that any gaps in oversight have been identified and addressed," Ms Glass said.

The launching of the Ombudsman's inquiry comes after Victoria Police suspended Yooralla from its disability advisory group in the wake of the sex abuse revelations.

This morning, Fairfax Media also revealed that another major Victorian disability care provider had employed a convicted sex offender at two houses in east Gippsland.

Colin Michael Rawlings had been employed by E. W. Tipping as a carer at its Lakes Entrance and Bairnsdale houses for several years before his recent arrest by police while he was working at the Lakes Entrance facility.

After Rawlings' arrest it emerged that he had been convicted of violence and sex offences in New South Wales in the late 1980s.

E. W. Tipping chief executive Graeme Kelly said a police check of Rawlings in 2008 failed to identify "any disclosable offences".

"We were surprised and concerned by these charges and took action to review the employee's history to ensure that client safety had been upheld during his employment," Mr Kelly said in a statement.

Mr Kelly said all E. W. Tipping staff now undergo a national police check prior to employment. He said this practice had been independently audited and deemed appropriate earlier this year.


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