Strengthening Disability Advocacy Conference 2017
Getting into gear for the NDIS journey

Friday 15 September @ NAB The Hall

Opening address: Tracking the Victorian transition to the NDIS

When

Friday 15th September, 2017: 9:50am - 10:10am

Where

The Hall

Speakers

Martin Foley MP, Minister for Housing, Disability and Ageing, Minister for Mental Health, Minister for Equality, Minister for Creative Industries

Having previously worked in the public housing sector, community development and in protecting the rights of working people, Mr Foley is excited by the challenge of transformational reform for people with disability through the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS). Mr Foley is a member of the St Kilda Football Club and hopes to see a premiership in his lifetime. He is a cricket tragic, destined to be stranded on a single century after too many innings.

Photo of Martin Foley MP, Minister for Housing, Disability and Ageing, Minister for Mental Health, Minister for Equality, Minister for Creative Industries

Session Summary

Negotiations with the Commonwealth are ongoing as state funded disability support services are transitioning to the NDIS. We heard from The Hon. Gabrielle Williams MP, a last minute substitute for Minister Martin Foley who caught the dreaded flu how this messy and complex process is going and how the Victorian Government is planning to bridge the gaps in service provision for those who are not eligible for the NDIS.

 

 

Transcript

 

MELISSA HALE:
We’re honoured to have Ms Gabrielle Williams here with us today. Minister Martin Foley was to attend today, but is one of the many of us struck down with illness.  Ms Williams is Parliamentary Secretary for Carers and Volunteers and Parliamentary Secretary for Health.  (Applause).

GABRIELLE WILLIAMS, MP:
Thank you very much for having me here today.  I also start by acknowledging the traditional owners of the land on which we meet and pay my respects to their Elders both past and present and any other Elders who may be with us here today.  I know Colin Hunter, Wurundjeri elder, has left us now, but I’d like to also put on record my thanks for his welcome to country because they’re always incredible and beautiful.  So thank you.

I’d also like to acknowledge Colleen Furlanetto; the Chair of The Victorian Disability Advisory Council, Melanie Muir; President of Disability Advocacy Victoria, David Hayward; the Chair of the Future of Social Services Institute, a partnership between VCOSS and RMIT; and also thank you to Melissa for that kind introduction.

Unfortunately, as you’ve just heard, Mr Foley was unable to be here today because he’s actually quite unwell, but it was very important to him that he had a representative here today and I’m very proud to be able to be here on his behalf.  So thank you for welcoming me as you would welcome him, I really appreciate it.

I understand that this is the fourth Strengthening Disability Advocacy Conference organised by the Disability Advocacy Resource Unit and VCOSS and it’s an opportunity , any opportunity really, for you all to get together is important, but right now your role is just so, so critical and I’m pretty sure I don’t need to tell you that.  Advocacy is the key to empowerment to the choice that has been promised and without a strong advocacy sector, the government could not be confident in delivering upon the many promises made to people with disabilities over the last few years.

Here in Victoria we’re working to build an inclusive community where people with disabilities are supported to make their own choices and reach their potential and our vision is of an inclusive Victoria that has a place for everyone and gives people living with disability the opportunities they so rightly deserve.  We hope to realise this vision at least in part through the framework of our State Disability Plan and advocacy is a really key and important part of this.  Advocacy is vital in working towards an inclusive state and it is important that all Victorians with a disability continue to have access to quality advocacy regardless of the funded support they receive.

Now, this year’s conference is taking place at a particularly important time as we get closer to the full implementation of the NDIS and the NDIS is often, and rightly, described as the biggest social reform since the introduction of Medicare.  I think we should take the time to appreciate the gravity of that statement because sometimes I think we rush through those words quickly without actually thinking about them.  “The biggest social reform since the introduction of Medicare”   it’s incredibly, incredibly important.  It will give people with disability greater choice and control over the services and decisions affecting their lives and there’s no doubt that this is a very new and different way of doing things.

And disability advocacy organisations were at the forefront of this change.  Many people in this room I’m sure played a significant role in campaigning for the NDIS in the first place and disability advocacy organisations continue to play a significant role in supporting the transition to the new scheme and making it work as well as it possibly can.  Advocacy organisations also do important work in increasing the social, economic and civic participation of people with disability around Victoria and in recognition of this, of this very important work, the Government is giving $20 million to help organisations to support the transition to the NDIS.

Now, the transition support package provides funding to organisations to deliver a wide range of activities to support participants, family members, carers, disability workers and service providers with their transition to the NDIS and this includes disability advocacy organisations and we know these organisations will ensure that the interests of people with disability are understood, that they’re fairly represented and acted upon during this period of transition.

We’re also investing $1.5 million through the Victorian Disability Advocacy Innovation Fund and this is to provide an additional boost to the disability advocacy sector and to make sure we continue to reflect on practice and that we continue to improve.  Now, the fund is supporting 15 organisations to deliver 21 advocacy initiatives with a strong focus on self-advocacy to support people with disability to speak up for their rights.  It also focuses on advocacy for Aboriginal communities as well as advocacy, or improved advocacy service provision, in rural and regional areas and on advocacy for migrants, refugees and our LGBTI communities.  This forms part of our commitment to fight for the highest possible standards for people with disability and the disability workforce who care for them.

We’ll also continue to hold the Commonwealth Government to account and to push for a strong national quality and safeguarding framework so that people with a disability have the highest possible level of quality and safeguards under the NDIS.  This is extremely important to us here in Victoria.  The NDIS can only work if there is a genuine partnership with the Commonwealth and the states working together and it can also only work if there are strong protections in place to ensure the rights of people with disability are upheld.

So here is where I need to outline some of our concerns.  We’ve identified a number of concerns over the Commonwealth’s bill to introduce a national Quality and Safeguarding Commission.  We believe the proposed legislation in its current form may compromise the level of protection for people with disabilities and to address this, Victoria is proposing three major changes and I’d like to talk you through those if I may.

Firstly, there must be an independent statutory complaints commissioner with its own investigatory powers similar to the changes we’ve recently made to the role of Victoria’s Disability Services Commissioner, which I’ll touch on shortly.

Secondly, we also believe in greater state and territory input into the rules governing how the NDIS will operate and that the rules related to the Quality and Safeguards Bill should be reclassified to require agreements across jurisdictions.  These go to issues of, for example, registration conditions and practice standards, complaints management and resolutions, and collection and disclosure of information.

Thirdly, the Commonwealth Minister’s powers over the NDIS Minister should be limited.  In the proposed form, these powers could compromise the Commission’s capacity to act independently of any government’s influence, particularly in relation to complaints and serious incidents, and I should also point out that this is not a position that the Commonwealth Minister shares with us.  However, I believe the proposed legislation should provide for an independent regulatory body which has individual powers under the act for a complaints commissioner, a senior practitioner role and a national disability insurance register role.  These are all really important pillars in how the commission should deliver its powers.

If you want to read more about the proposals we’re putting forward and the changes we’re putting forward, the transcript of Minister Foley’s appearance at the Senate inquiry into this piece of legislation is available on the federal Parliament website.  I’m sure we can arrange for that to be circulated to you if that’s of particular interest to some of you here today.

Link to Minister Foleys Speech: http://parlinfo.aph.gov.au/parlInfo/search/display/display.w3p;db=COMMITTEES;id=committees%2Fcommsen%2F57941b3c-046f-4fa9-8e05-89087a22377e%2F0002;query=Id%3A%22committees%2Fcommsen%2F57941b3c-046f-4fa9-8e05-89087a22377e%2F0000%22

Unless people with disability and their advocates can have confidence that their complaints are going to be dealt with on merit, then the system is compromised, and as a nation we need to send the right message to people with disabilities that their complaints will be treated seriously as they deserve to be.  There should also be an agreed process whereby the States and Commonwealth have an opportunity to revisit and set standards and qualifications and they’re important issues that go to workforce, skills, accreditation, a whole range of issues, where the Commonwealth will need the assistance of states and territories to deliver on its aims and this is a lesson that our government has learned and that we’re acting upon.  And to that end I’d urge you to keep your ear to the ground in coming weeks to hear the direction the Victorian Government will be taking on workforce skills and how the profession can be best recognised and rewarded.  So that’s a bit of a watch this space.

Now, many of you in this room   in fact, probably all of you   will be aware that the 2016 parliamentary inquiry into abuse in disability services found that abuse in Victoria was widespread and suspected abuse was often ignored or not adequately addressed and this is unacceptable for all of us.  Now, Victoria prides itself on having one of the strongest safeguarding systems in the country, but we also know that more needs to be done.

Last month the Victorian Disability Act was amended to include the principle of zero tolerance of abuse and to strengthen the Disability Services Commissioner’s oversight powers.  Our last budget provided just shy of $9 million to support the reforms.  In terms of the changes we’ve implemented, the Amendment Act now gives the Commissioner Powers to conduct a review of deaths in disability services, to conduct investigations and to develop training resources to support professional development in the sector.

Now, the Commissioner will also be able to appoint authorised officers to visit and inspect disability services unscheduled and specify action that needs to be taken as a result of their investigations and the Commissioner considers that if a service provider has unreasonably failed to implement recommended actions, the Commissioner has the power to name the service provider in his annual report.

Now, I believe that we’ll soon be hearing from a number of experts about getting into gear for the NDIS, which is also the theme of our conference here today.  We’re part of what is a very long journey, I think we need to acknowledge that.  We also need to acknowledge we’re all on that journey together, the good bits and the bad.  But it’s a journey with a final destination of a better system, a better system to support every Australian with a disability and their families and carers, and we should not lose sight of that.

We must also be aware that the reason we’ve come such a long way so far is the passion and hard work of everybody in this room and all those that you represent that are not in this room with us here today, but are all doing great work out there in the community.  So we owe you great thanks for all you’ve done, for all that you continue to do and for the work and the importance you place on high quality, on high standards, on delivering meaningful outcomes for people, meaningful change and better lives because that is what each of you do every day and we’re very grateful for that.

So thank you for your time this morning.  Again apologies the Minister couldn’t make it and again I’m very pleased that I have been able to.  I hope the day is a success and the conversation is vibrant and fruitful and thank you very much for having me.  (Applause).