People with a disability were left “watching and waiting” over the federal government’s COVID-19 plan, a royal commission has been told.
The four-day hearing is examining the impact of coronavirus on people with a disability and the adequacy of the federal government’s response.
Senior Counsel Assisting Kate Eastman SC said on Tuesday the federal health department’s emergency coronavirus plan in February made no express mention of people with a disability.
“The commission will hear evidence that people with disability and their advocates watched and waited to hear the commonwealth government’s plan,” she said during opening submissions.
More than 70 disability organisations on April 2 issued an open letter to national cabinet imploring governments to act, Ms Eastman said.
The federal health department had approved a specific plan for people with a disability by April 16.
The royal commission had in late March released a statement of concern calling on federal and state governments to protect and support people with disability during the pandemic.
Witnesses and advocates are expected to tell the commission about the struggles accessing basic care, food and hygiene as well as personal protective equipment.
Ms Eastman said there had been an increase in violence against women with disability.
An Australian Institute of Criminology survey found about one in four women with a disability had experienced physical violence during the pandemic.
Three in four who reported domestic violence said it was either the first time it had occurred in their relationship or violence had escalated in frequency or severity.
Ms Eastman also said there was a concerning lack of data about how many people with a disability had caught the virus.
Dr Kerri Mellifont QC said advocacy groups had been inundated with calls for help and the pandemic had exposed inadequacies.
The commission will on Tuesday hear from leading disability rights activist Rosemary Kayess.
The hearing comes after the royal commission into aged care heard damning evidence last week about Canberra’s lack of planning in the sector and conflicting messages from various levels.
Deputy Chief Medical Officer Dr Nick Coatsworth is among government officials who will front the commission later in the week.
The boss of the National Disability Insurance Agency and representatives from the National Disability Insurance Scheme Quality and Safeguards Commission will also give evidence.
Australian Associated Press