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Catherine Holmes SC presiding over the Robodebt inquiry - photo courtesy ABC

There are plenty of photos of Robodebt Royal Commissioner Catherine Holmes, but this one's my favourite.

It catches her as in a moment of deep personal reflection, seemingly oblivious to the way she appears and, I like to think, attempting to grapple with the exact mechanics of how it was that whatever she's just heard could have possibly occurred.

There's no judgement: just a mind trying to understand the mechanics of how a system, designed to implement policy smoothly, had careered so obviously off the rails.

Holmes is a trained lawyer; Chief Justice of Queensland between 2015 and 2022. and the first woman to hold the job. As she stepped down last year Holmes spoke of how she'd suddenly become interested in law, despite her working-class background and without any lawyers in the family, as she witnessed a magistrate presiding during a work experience placement.

Statements like that can so easily sound as if they've been specifically crafted for a media soundbite. They fit smoothly into a motherhood story - young girl goes to court, sees the law at work, and ends up as Chief Justice years later. What that glib reading obscures, however, is the determination Holmes so obviously has to find out why things happen, and then work out how they can be made better.

The Royal Commission into Robodebt has exposed extremely worrying issues with far broader ramifications - photo credit: the Guardian

At the time it was established Peter Dutton claimed the investigation would be nothing more than a "political witch hunt". There are two reasons hasn't attempted to resurrect that characterisation more recently. The first is the careful, forensic way Holmes has gone about her work and the restrained method she's adopted. The second is the horrific way the evidence has come together to create a vivid picture of a system that had spiralled so dramatically out of control.

Most critically, Holmes does not appear to have begun with the aim of finding somebody guilty but has, instead, genuinely attempted to discover how and why things happened the way they did.

This is, of course, the real question that needs to be asked because it is the one with the biggest ramifications.

How is it that in 2023, more than a century after the public service was established and at a time when we have never been, as a society, better educated, how is it possible that such bad governance could flourish?

Like other journalists I'll be devouring her report when it's delivered, but what I'll be looking for is something relevant for disability. Of course I care about what went wrong with Robodebt and how it could ever have been introduced. What concerns me far more, however, is the structure that permitted it to happen. How could so many public servants have just ignored what was really going on? How could they have allowed it to happen?

These are the real questions because, although to a much lesser extent, they are similar to questions about the way disability support works in Australia.

Nobody can pretend this is currently good enough.

We have our own Royal Commission and Review into the NDIS, but that still doesn't mean we can't learn from elsewhere. Asking Holmes' might be a good way to start.

Updated: 20 hours ago

In the majority of VAD cases, the person willingly takes the life-ending medication in the form of a drink, at a time of their choosing and surrounded by loved ones - GoGentle Australia The ACT government is asking for feedback from People with Disability about new laws that will allow Voluntary Assisted Dying (VAD). This is the medical procedure that will allow eligible people to decide how and when they will die, before the legislation is passed in latter half of 2023. Late last year ACT Human Rights Minister Tara Cheyne pointed out the passing of the Restoring Territory Rights Bill meant that Australian territories were able to introduce Voluntary Assisted Dying legislation. She claimed the passing of this Bill was "a victory for democratic rights and human rights, and the result of a campaign more than a decade in the making". Cheyne has now begun leading a process of consultation that will, she hopes, shape the law so it "reflects the views and values of the Canberra community. We are in a position of being able to draw on experiences from the laws which exist in other states, several of which are operational", the Minister said.

ACT Senators David Pocock and Katie Gallagher embrace after the passage of Territory Rights legislation passes federal parliament. Photo courtesy Dying with Dignity NSW THE BIG CHANGE There is a simple reason the processes surrounding Voluntary Assisted Dying have become an issue in the ACT. Last December the Federal Government passed legislation allowing both Australian territories, the ACT and Northern Territory, to make their own laws about this issue. The NT had originally been the first jurisdiction in the world, back in 1995, to pass laws permitting medically supervised dying. Similar legislation had failed to pass in the ACT when a bill had been introduced to the Legislative Assembly two years earlier. What happened next, however, ostensibly had nothing to to do with allowing people the right to choose how they died. The Liberal backbencher Kevin Andrews quickly introduced a bill to Federal Parliament which overturned the territories' right to make laws on this issue. He thought voluntary death was wrong because of his religious beliefs: this, however, was not a valid reason to stop it happening. Instead the NT laws were overturned simply because it was not a state. For the next two decades this legislation, introduced during John Howard's term of office, held. Neither Labor (under Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard) or the coalition (under Tony Abbott, Malcolm Turnbull, and Scott Morrison) wanted to risk raising the contentious issue. During this period, however, a change swept across the nation as one-by-one, the states slowly and carefully passed their own laws permitting Voluntary Assisted Dying. Laws already allow this procedure in Victoria, Western Australia and Tasmania. Similar legislation will come into effect in Queensland and South Australia next January. New South Wales will become the final state with laws that will become operational in November, 2023. When Labor was returned to office federally in 2022, it had committed to overturning the earlier Andrews' ban. This will allow the territories to again have the power to make their own laws on this issue, and that's why the ACT government is calling for input on the legislation. CONTINUING DEBATE It's important that debate is continuing over this legislation, because everyone wants to ensure the best laws possible are introduced, particularly as the issue is so morally contentious. What the ACT government wants to do, however, is move the debate on from one over the morality of the procedure itself. Government is emphasising that this foundational question has already been decided: legislation will be passed that permits people to chose to die. What it is attempting to enact is the best way of achieving this result.

Types of procedure for Voluntary Assisted Dying - credit Insightsias There are many different safeguards that can be embedded within the legislation to ensure it is the very best possible. This is important because there are still many different questions that need to be sorted out before Voluntary Assisted Dying laws come into effect. These include questions over who should be eligible for the procedure. Should it be restricted to adults over 18, or is this just an arbitrary age that makes no medical sense? Proponents for change argue, for example, that a child with a terminal illness at the age of 16 is just as competent to decide on the way they choose to end their life as someone who happens to be slightly older. The other big issue is how the end of life drugs will be administered. What safeguards, for example, should be put in place to protect those who have chosen VAD to ensure they have not been pressured into this choice? This is the role of the ACT's government desire to hear submissions on this legislation - particularly from the disability community. More information and details of how to provide feedback can be found at: MORE INFORMATION: It is important to realise that you are never alone. If the issue of voluntary assisted dying raises issues for you or your family, you can contact Lifeline on 13 11 14 or Griefline on 1300 845 745. ACT Government information about the consultation can be found at: An easy English discussion paper about VAD is available at:

Need a bit of grant money to get a special project up and running? Now's your chance! Apply for an inclusion grant until the 6th of March.

It's a runout! The ACT government's giving away $5 dollar notes . . . (Picture credit: Reserve Bank)

Well, it's not quite true that because the Queen's disappearing from the five dollar note Andrew Barr's just giving the away money - you've got to have a good project first - but the money is quite genuinely up-for-grabs. Another round of the ACT's disability inclusion grants is open. You'll have to get in quickly, however. The grant round closes on the 6th of March.

Each grant is worth up to $20,000 each, and needs to be spent by community groups (or small businesses) on projects "promoting social inclusion" for people with disability. The aim is to help People with Disability (PwD) participate in mainstream activities by removing barriers.

In 2021 these grants were allocated to eight organisations, ranging from the CBR Gals Network (which produced a disability and inclusion plan) to the Yarralumla Play Station (allowing for the construction of an accessible carriage-way and ramp).

Other groups receiving money that year included Riding for the Disabled (to install a hearing loop system for use in the arena); Belconnen Dog Obedience Club, Lids4Kids, and the Canberra Islamic Centre (making facilities more accessible); Daydream Machine (enhancing opportunities for PwD); and to Yeddung Mura Aboriginal Corporation.

In the Ngunnawal language yeddung mura means "good pathways". Now based in a restored indoor sports facility in Fadden, this organisation seeks to help disadvantaged first nations people choose the right path forward. They work with young, often vulnerable people who might otherwise be at risk of falling into a downward spiral of crime by offering participation in sporting activities and yarning circles.

Programs run by Yeddung Mura's CEO, Pastor Priestley Obed, specifically target people who have been in jail and involved with drugs or substance abuse. He had been working in the prison system to provide support but felt there was a hole people risked falling into when they left prison. Last year Obed told Riot Act that he emphasised working with those who had chosen to turn their lives around, and it's understood he used the Inclusion Grant to extend that support for PwD.

At the height of the pandemic, fourteen groups received money in 2020 and fifteen in 2019.

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