Former royal commissioner Robert Fitzgerald has taken up a new role as head of the NSW Ageing and Disability Commission.
As the state’s first Ageing and Disability Commissioner, Mr Fitzgerald will have wide powers to initiate investigations, execute search warrants and seize evidence of abuse in vulnerable adults.
Mr Fitzgerald said he would work to protect older people and adults with disability in community settings.
“I have spent my career helping to protect vulnerable people,” he said in a statement. “I look forward to ensuring the Commission responds effectively where there has been harm and helping to create an environment where people feel safe in their community.”
Premier Gladys Berejiklian said Mr Fitzgerald brought enormous knowledge and experience to the role.
“Robert Fitzgerald will lead the Commission and ensure adults with disability and seniors across NSW are protected,” she said in a statement.
Mr Fitzgerald has a long background in law and public policy and has been involved in many inquires including into older Australians, gambling, early childhood development and paid parental leave.
He sat on the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse from 2013-2017, has also served on the Productivity Commission and was the NSW Community and Disability Services Commssioner and Deputy Ombudsman.
Minister for Families, Communities and Disability Services Gareth Ward said the Commission will be strong and independent.
“I look forward to working with Mr Fitzgerald to support and protect vulnerable people and secure the best possible outcomes for older people and adults with disability.”
Minister for Seniors John Sidoti said the Commissioner would also play an important role in raising awareness of abuse.
“The Commissioner will have the … capacity to help the community spot cases of abuse, neglect and exploitation through education and awareness programs,” he said.
Ms Berejiklian last December announced the government would establish a “powerful and independent” commissioner to stamp out abuse of older people and adults with disability.
The December 15 announcement came after a number of reviews found evidence of abuse and neglect of vulnerable adults, including older Australians and those with disabilities.
Serena Ovens, CEO of the Physical Disability Council of NSW and convenor of the NSW Disability Advocacy Alliance, welcomed Mr Fitzgerald’s appointment saying he was a “good fit with good qualifications and a good understanding of the sector”.
However she told Community Care Review there were concerns that with around 70 staff and some $3.5 million funding a year he had been given insufficient time and resources to carry out his first task, which was to provide a report on disability advocacy funding by December 31.
“We look forward to working with him but the legislation to establish the Commissioner means that there will be a rushed and underfunded review of disability advocacy, information and representative organisations in NSW, at a time when we don’t have any security of funding or future,” she said.