This session was part of the Advocacy Sector Conversation forum held at the Queen Victoria Women’s Centre on 22 October 2015. Other sessions at this forum were:
- Powers of attorney application and resources
- NDIS Information, Linkages and Capacity-building (ILC) Framework update
- NDIS roll out in Victoria
In June 2015, the Victorian Ombudsman, Deborah Glass, released Reporting and investigation of allegations of abuse in the disability sector: Phase 1 – the effectiveness of statutory oversight. The report has informed the current Victorian parliamentary inquiry into disability abuse. The Ombudsman spoke about recommendations arising out of the report and discussed the issues facing people with disability.
Resources available from this session include:
- Download: Vic Ombudsman presentation Oct 2015
Listen to podcast
Let me now hand the microphone over to Deborah Glass the Victorian Ombudsman to take us through the role of the Ombudsman Office but also to talk us through the recent report produced by the Ombudsman.
Thank you very much. I also want to pay my respect to traditional owners of this land and their elders past and present. I can also pay my respects to the Advocacy sector. I think you do an amazing job. I am really happy to be at something you’ve called a conversation because I hope this will be a conversation.
What I want to do this morning is talk a bit about my office generally as well as the investigation report that I tabled. But I would also be very keen to hear from you about what you think because I’ve still got Phase 2 to come and I’m not going to say a great deal about that. We’ve had a lot of evidence thus far. But I would be very interested actually in some of your thoughts about where you think it’s going and what your reaction was to what I’ve tabled so far.
If I can really just start with the very sad case of Ms J – an older woman, intellectual disability, unable to communicate verbally, dependant on staff in a supported residential service for her personal care. She has been in this facility for the last 9 years. She has no family at all. One day she is found crawling semi naked out of another residents room. Now lots of things happened following that – VCAT granted the public advocate a temporary guardianship order, police got involved they found evidence of indecent assault and eventually charges were laid. But the people in that supported residential service were the only people around to look after Ms J’s interests.
They did in this case respond appropriately and the Public Advocate described them of being very protective of Ms J. But some real questions were asked about what was she doing in that facility and how could she have been there for the last 9 years and really who was looking after her interests. I think what that case really demonstrated really powerfully for me was why we need advocates and why the system needs advocacy. It is sadly and there are many pretty brutally clear illustrations of why I launched this investigation into the reporting and investigation of abuse in the disability sector.
What I’d like to talk about briefly before I go into the details of the investigation is a bit about what my office does. To understand how we can help people like Ms J you actually need to know what does the Ombudsman do, what role do we have and what powers do we have to get involved. Basically I’m not going to say a great deal about the role of the Ombudsman but it’s fundamentally about the imbalance of power between the individual and the State. The role was set up and it goes back in Victoria to 1973, and it’s part of that movement that was created in the 70’s because of the increasing imbalance. You, I think more than many, many people will have a really good understanding of what I mean about the imbalance of power between the individual and the bureaucracy.
To reflect that what I want to do in this role is provide a voice for all Victorians to be able to express their grievances with the bureaucracy, with the people in power. I think this role is about fairness. I want everybody in Victoria to know that they should expect to be treated fairly in their dealings with Government and to know they can complain if they’re not. And complaining is actually very, very important. To do that I’ve actually begun and it’s only very early days for me, going out across the State.
In the last 6 months I have been to East Gippsland, last week I was in Shepparton and Benalla. Last month I was in Mildura and Swan Hill. I’ve been out to Warrnambool in the middle of winter and it’s all been very cold. The purpose of that is to get the message out first of all, and I know there are people present not just from Melbourne and that’s wonderful, and my message is I’m the Victorian Ombudsman, I am not the Ombudsman for Melbourne. I think everyone in Victoria needs to understand what the office can do and how we can help them and indeed also how we can’t because there are limitations as well.
I’m very conscious when doing that that it is by and large the most vulnerable people in our State who need the service of the Office the most and are the least likely to have heard of them and they are people you deal with among others. You are also a very important audience for me because if you can understand what the Office does and how it can help then those are messages you can also communicate.
I would like to play you a very short video because we created this just in the last month it’s on our website. It’s something that now almost replaces me standing up for half an hour explaining what we do. This does it in 2 ½ minutes.
Voiceover from the video:
Welcome to the Victorian Ombudsman. We deal with complaints. About more than 1,000 State and Local Government and State Agencies from councils to prisons to statutory bodies like Vic Roads and Worksafe, our role is to make sure their decision-making is fair. In weighing that up we look at the circumstances surrounding a complaint including what the law is and the agencies policies and procedures.
If you think you’ve been treated unfairly the first step is to try and resolve your problem with the agency. If that doesn’t work you can contact us. You don’t have to be over 18 and you can remain anonymous. In some cases another person can complain for you. You can complain to us about something an agency did or didn’t do or a decision made.
For example if you made a complaint but the agency is taking months to respond or the agency says they’ve fixed the problem but you’re still not satisfied or they’ve made a decision you think is unfair. You can also come to us if you feel an agency has infringed your human rights.
We understand you may be feeling frustrated by the time you speak to us. Try to explain your complaint in a few key points including what happened and when. Tell us what you’d like to happen and remember to send us relevant documents.
We’ll assess your complaint and decide on a course of action. If we think we can help we will try to resolve the matter informally and some cases we investigate further. When we’ve finished we might make recommendations to the agency on how it can improve. In some cases, we will present our findings to Parliament so the pubic knows what we’ve said and the lessons can be learnt by the whole State Government.
By helping Government agencies to improve we create a better experience for everyone. We don’t deal with complaints about the police, courts, politicians or employment issues. There are some other limits on what we can do too. For example, if you’re complaint is very old or there is another body that can deal with it.
If you’re not sure what to do next get in touch and we will try to point you in the right direction. You can find out more about where we can and can’t help on our website. Otherwise you can email, call, write to us or make a time to come in and see us. Head to ombudsman.vic.gov.au for more details.
The Victorian Ombudsman, free, fair, independent.
What do you think – useful? It’s on our website. Feel free to take a look for yourself or put a link to it if it’s useful for any of your materials. That’s very much part of my overall vision for my term of office. Ensuring people understand the role of the office and what we can do and using those complaints to drive improvements in public administration.
Every complaint actually is free feedback. My message when I talk to the public sector is that, it’s not necessarily about an Ombudsman investigation, because actually I’m not going to – can’t investigate the tens of thousands of complaints we get but every one of those complaints is feedback and every one of them is a picture of somebodies dissatisfaction.
That’s available incidentally in Auslan as well. We have it in subtitles, in Chinese, Vietnamese and Somali. We have it in Burmese and Kirin and it’s coming soon in Farsi and Arabic. Any other thoughts people have on that video and what we can do really keen to hear what you have to say.
Now I would just like to briefly say a bit about how that works in practice and how the Office works in practice just to put some context on that. This is a snapshot that’s been taken from the annual report that I tabled in Parliament just a couple of weeks ago. I just completed my first full year in office. That full year has been a busy one.
Last year over 38,000 people contacted my office. That’s without doing all the outreach that I had planned to do, that’s really when I only just started. Of those 38,000 people, lots of people complain about things I can’t do anything about because what I find is that people have heard about the Ombudsman vaguely in terms of complaints but they actually aren’t very sure what the Ombudsman does. And there is lots of other Ombudsman also in Victoria so people complain to me about their telephone bills and we send them to the Telecommunications Ombudsman or people complain about and I’m not making this up, their KFC chips were cold.
We have a call centre. I do listen in on the phones every month to get a feeling for what people are saying when they contact the office, and we do get some odd ones. We also provide something of a public service in sending people to the right direction, which is very often Consumer Affairs.
Of those tens of thousands of complaints again numbers are premature because people will complain to us about things where they haven’t actually first complained to the agency. So the advice we always give if you’ve got a complaint about Department of Human Services, the Local Council or whoever, have you complained to them first because you need to give them a chance to resolve it. And if you have and they haven’t resolved it by all means come back to us but if you haven’t please go back to them and make your complaint to them and give them an opportunity to address it.
What we also see from that is thousands of cases that we do actually make formal enquiries in. Last year, 3,256 formal enquiries were carried out and those were cases that ranged from the sorts of things we can deal with pretty much in a day.
Example is somebody might complain about the Office of Housing. We get people who ring up and say my boiler has broken down and I’ve complained to the Office of Housing and they’ve done nothing about it. We make a phone call to the Office of Housing and it will be fixed. It shouldn’t take a phone call to the Office of Ombudsman but it does and it’s something we can deal with pretty quickly without the need for any formal investigation or file review.
But they also range from cases that can be resolved quickly through to cases that we do take months over. We go and review departmental files. We will look at documentation and everything in between. Of those thousands of cases and sometimes we conclude that we think what the agency did was reasonable, whatever we do we’re forming an independent view based on the evidence and will assess the cases that come in.
There are a relatively small number of formal investigations that my office does. I’m not hugely resourced for the tens of thousands of cases that come in. I have total of eighty-six staff and that’s a full time equivalent actually of eighty to deal with all of that. It’s a relatively small number of formal investigations that I’m able to start every year and many of those relate to protected disclosures that I’m obliged to investigate under our current integrity system.
But of those, I do an even smaller number of major systemic enquiries. And the two main examples in the first year of my term, were the investigation that I tabled not long ago about rehabilitation of prisoners in Victoria, which some of you may be aware of and the investigation I’m going to talk about a bit more today, into the report and investigation of abuse in the disability sector.
So just to put the work of the office into context, tens of thousands of complaints a year. I have jurisdiction over a thousand Government departments and agencies and out of those we drill down in detail into relatively few.
The key one is the investigation into the report and investigation of abuse in the disability sector. Has everybody seen the report that I tabled in June into that – I’m seeing a few nods, or read or otherwise heard of, familiar with? Yep okay that’s good to know.
So a bit of a recap on why I launched it. I think I’m stating the obvious to this audience. When I came into this role last year one of the things I was asking because although I grew up in Victoria, I had been out of the country for about 30 years and I didn’t come into this role familiar with the issues that face the State. I came in very familiar with issues around complaints and investigations because I had been dealing with police complaints and corruption in the UK for quite some time before coming into this role. But the specific issues around Victoria I was getting briefings from my staff and people outside and asking the questions what are the issues, what are the patterns, what are the themes. In addition to prisons, which has always been the largest source of complaints to the office, I was looking at what else do people complain about, where has the office been before and where are some places that I think we need to go.
I was asking questions about disability when I first came into the role. Although it wasn’t an enormous area of complaint and I do want to stress this, we were getting some complaints in the disability sector but certainly some. I was looking at the ones coming in thinking I would like us to do some scoping around that. We were scoping the issues in the disability sector around the time that Four Corners and The Age ran their exposes on Yooralla and other scandals in November of last year. So all of that came to head for me around saying this is a considerable area of public importance and this is something I think I need to look at. So I launched that investigation in December of last year.
What I said when I launched it is something that I repeat and I think is incredibly important – the abuse of people with a disability is unconscionable in a civilised society. And what we’d seen from the reporting and the issues that have come to light is that something is broken, something is wrong with our systems. We need to understand what is broken and what can be done to fix it. So fundamentally that was what I went out with in December of last year.
I also said at the time we need to examine the effectiveness of those charged with oversight and to highlight areas where there is no oversight at all. I was very mindful when I did that into the impact of the upcoming NDIS. It seemed all the more important that we look at the issue around oversight because if we don’t have a robust mechanism in place now what hope are we going to have for the future when these matters may all well fall to the Commonwealth.
What I was keen to do at the outset, when I launched this investigation last year was not to launch it with an immediate set of terms of reference. I actually wanted to find out from people what people thought the priorities needed to be. I had to weigh that up with what I thought my office could achieve with the resources available and the time frame that was practical. I asked for submissions and we got seventy-eight. We got some really excellent and very, very powerful submissions and from that developed the terms of reference of the investigation. For those who can see the screen that includes the terms of reference in easy English that we also published at the time.
I also include in there and I included this when I went out with the terms of reference in March of this year, this quote from Inclusion Melbourne which I thought was really powerful and I always read this:
“what has occurred and reported in the media is a product of the culture in which we live. This enquiry enables our community to rethink our casual culturally engrained ideas about who is a human, who is afforded rights and who is supported to access justice then this will serve as the best way to prevent anything like this from ever happening again.”
I thought that was a particularly powerful quote from the sector.
So what did the investigation actually find? I’m aware you would’ve seen the report but I’m going to take you through as what I pulled out from this as the key issues that we identified. I think the first really critical one – when you come to us, you ask the question how bad is the problem, how do I understand the scale of abuse in the sector? And one of the things that came through, all the investigating we were doing, all the search through the numbers and data was that actually we don’t know. The system doesn’t know because there isn’t a consistent and coherent way of recording any of these things. And there is no requirement to do so. They are called so many different things in so many parts of the system.
There is no single source of information there is no common framework. The starting point which sort of came through during the investigation was actually we don’t even know. I put this up, we interviewed numbers of people for this and in the immortal words of somebody from the Department, “we don’t know what we don’t know.” Yep, that’s true, isn’t it? But how bad is that and what does that say?
The lack of mandatory reporting is one of the things that came through very clearly as an issue. Without mandatory reporting, we don’t know what we don’t know. Up there as an issue.
The second key issue that came through and these are no particular order of importance; they’re all in my view very important, was simply how incredibly complicated the system was and I’m probably overstating it to call it a system.
One of my staff spent quite a lot of time trying to map this. We put this into the report and for those who can’t see the slide, I can tell you to call this a dogs breakfast is I would say an insult to the dogs breakfasts that I have seen which are relatively neat because it isn’t. It is a web of lines jumbling from here to there about what, who does what, who is responsible for what, who knows what. How complicated is that?
And if it’s complicated for somebody like me, for people who work in the sector, if it’s complicated for those of us who are active in this, how much more complicated is it for people with disabilities? The fact that it’s so complicated, so confusing and so hard to understand which body is responsible, that certainly struck me as a very important issue.
So what are the gaps? There are plenty of them. What I said at the outset I want to understand the overlaps and the gaps. Well there are lots of overlaps and lots of gaps. The Disability Services Commissioner and OPA are the only bodies that have an oversight role and they both have limitations. Various things – well one has jurisdiction over, others they don’t. They don’t have own motion powers and indeed the Disability Services Commissioner was loathed to use the powers it does have.
One of the really big issues that comes through all of this is the lack of ownership. Who is leading on this, who is responsible for this? What you find is a lot of well-meaning people within the sector, within agencies, within departments people who really are doing their best, really are trying to promote the rights of people with a disability but nobody owns it. Nobody exercises the leadership that needs to happen if something is actually going to change. Which entity is responsible for education and prevention?
We have an example of the guidelines developed by the Office of the Public Advocate on inter agency guidelines on neglect and abuse. But actually they’re not adopted by the Department, they’re not mandatory, they don’t apply to everyone, so you have no sense of a system that is coherent.
What came through very strongly for us in looking at this is the response to abuse was dependant on where you were within the system, not the problem. It was not victim centred, it was not about the victim and what happened to them. It was driven by were you in a SRS or were you in a DAS home or were you in a community services organisation and if so which one because they all had different requirements, different systems in place, different procedures. All of these things were saying nothing was consistent, nothing was coherent and it was fundamentally not victim centred.
Lack of information sharing. This is a problem that occurs not only in this sector it’s something I comment on time and time again, going back to previous roles dealing with the police in the UK. This is all too often Government agencies and Departments operate in silos and they simply don’t talk to each other. Sometimes they can’t, sometimes there are the most absurd barriers. My office is one of them, there are barriers in information I can share. I am bound by overly restrictive confidentiality laws in my Act that prevent me from sharing information including for example with the Human Rights Commission. Some of these things are simply around barriers that should not be there.
Some are barriers that we create. But for instance the Department doesn’t publish types of incident reports received, they don’t publish number of incident reports, location or within a particular service. What do they do with the information they get around incidents reporting, how does it drive improvements in the sector? This is what comes out very strongly.
So what are some of the key issues that actually drive improvements – it’s good data. It’s actually being able to analyse the data of incidents. You need to know what’s happened, what was the incident. What are the patterns, what are the themes that come out of that and what can we do to deal with it. They highlight problems, highlight issues.
If those dots aren’t joined because they’re captured in different parts of the system then you’re not going to have any improved strategies because people don’t know what needs to be improved. Therefore how are you going to prevent this from happening again. All of these things come through very, very strongly in the evidence that we took.
We looked at advocacy and that was something that also came through very strongly in the evidence. There was no understanding of how much advocacy was necessary. We were asking these questions – how many people in the system are really vulnerable, have you assessed the need for advocacy – well no there is a limited amount of funding in the sector, very limited amount as you more than anybody would be able to say. And it’s funded by the Department. That seemed to me and I said this in the report there is an inherent conflict in the Department funding advocacy for people who are reliant on departmental services. That doesn’t strike me as being a good idea.
The Department has so many roles. It’s funds advocacy, that’s a small part of its role. It’s a regulator of SRS’s. It’s a provider of services to DAS Homes. It’s a funder through Community Services Organisation. It’s doing all these things and there is a certain amount of inherent tension within those roles that I think needs to be addressed.
We looked at experience elsewhere and we included in the report the NSW model. I don’t put up the NSW model where the responsibilities are with my counterpart in NSW, the Ombudsman there, to say this is something that I think Victoria must do, but to put it out as a way of how these things can work. NSW is actually the only State with a legislated system of an independent review of incidents. There is mandatory reporting in NSW of incident reporting to the Ombudsman. All notifiable incidents. Investigations are conducted by the Department or the Agencies and monitored by the Ombudsman who can also conduct his own investigations.
NSW is different from Victoria because NSW doesn’t have a Disability Services Commissioner; it actually sits within the Ombudsman Office. This is historically a different model from the one we have here. But what that has done is create a coherent system where the parts of the oversight systems are actually all within the same body.
We also looked at the impact of the NDIS. I was very conscious when I was doing this report and this is part of the reason for the timing of it, focusing on oversight, in Phase 1, that the time I announced this, the NDIS hadn’t actually put out it’s consultation paper on safeguards. There was a time frame on that and I wanted that safe guarding paper to be informed by the work of this report. That was part of what was driving this. We simply do not yet know and maybe you will hear more about it this afternoon, what the thinking is around the safeguarding under the NDIS.
What sort of came across very powerfully for me in doing this investigation is that what we have in Victoria at the moment is not good enough. There are too many gaps, it is too fragmented, there are too many people who fall between the cracks. It’s too complicated. And it’s not right, we can’t expect people to actually – we can’t wait for a system to be developed in 2019. Anyway, how do we know that system is going to be better than the one we have now. So what we need to do is ensure that we identify what needs to make a good oversight system, a good safeguarding system in Victoria. We need to get that to happen and we need to ensure that parts of that, the elements of safeguarding are then appropriately transferred into the NDIS.
What were the key findings – well I pretty much set them out. The system is fundamentally failing I think to protect people with disabilities. The oversight arrangements are fragmented, they’re complicated, they’re confusing and there is a lack of ownership. Lack of clarity of who is responsible for what, overlapping responsibilities and gaps. What we found is problems are regularly raised including by lots of well-meaning people but very rarely are they fixed. Doing nothing and I said this very strongly in the report, while waiting for a national scheme is not an option.
So what were the recommendations – I spent a lot of time thinking about recommendations because it’s very – I can’t enforce my recommendations. I can say whatever I like. But I’m a great believer in making recommendations that are practical and that are capable of implementation. I was very mindful when I was doing this, that if I recommended some huge new set of arrangements in Victoria, it wasn’t going to happen. Even if that was accepted in principle the reality is it would take years to set up by which time this is all going to be transferred to the NDIS anyway. So is it going to happen – I think the answer is no.
So what I wanted to do is recommend the principles, these are the elements you need to think about in oversight. So yes there should be in principle a single independent oversight body for the reporting of allegations of abuse in the disability sector. It should have a number of elements that included mandatory reporting. What it also said is you can take the elements of that and ensure if you don’t want to create the body itself, ensure that those elements sit within the existing system in a way that’s properly joined up. That actually gets rid of the gaps and overlapping on the boundaries. That makes sure you have information sharing that links these things together.
The recommendations I made were essentially big picture principle recommendations as opposed to hundreds of recommendations that I might have made about areas of detail. I said Phase 2 was yet to come. What I wanted was to focus on the big picture. The big picture two recommendations – one was around oversight and the other around advocacy.
That powerful point that came through was that the system needs far more advocacy than it has at the moment, that there are so many vulnerable people out there. And the system has not actually estimated the need for this and particularly, this comes through very, very strongly in the NDIS trial in Darwin, the need for advocacy of people with a disability is I think from what I have heard is actually far greater than people recognised when that started. And who has assessed that need. Who has said what do we need to do here in order to properly safeguard the rights of people with disability – well nobody has. So my recommendation was around funding that actually starts with an informed assessment about the need.
So where are we with those recommendations – well I can – fine words from the Minister, use to those – “any abuse is abhorrent and we must take steps to ensure it ends”. There we are, so what are they going to do about the recommendations?
Well as you know there is also a Parliamentary enquiry. Much of what I am doing is I’m helping to inform that Parliamentary enquiry because ultimately what is decided around oversight bodies, what is decided about funding, they’re matters for Parliament. It is for them to determine how this is going to work. But the key issues here around we need action. So there is Phase 2 to come. Parliamentary enquiry as you know is ongoing and my intention is to table Phase 2 before the end of the year and to ensure that informs the overall work of that enquiry.
The key issue here and I’ve said this time and time again, if we really want to address an issue of this magnitude where the landscape is so fragmented and the system is so broken, we have to drill down at each area that needs attention. We need to ensure the foundations are secure and they’re operating. There is still a lot of work to be done. And that’s very much I think over to others. I think the heavy lifting will begin after I table Phase 2 of that report.
I will just leave you with this thought, what I have seen and we saw this time and time again in this investigation, is that investigations will result in a review that simply confirms the problem. We know what the problem is and the example I’ve seen and seen this painfully is the department incident reporting system.
The Ombudsman reported on that I think about 10 years ago. The response was to review it. And the review confirms there is a problem with the incident reporting system. Then there is another and then something else happens or the General publishes a report and the response is to have another review, which confirms there is a guess what, a problem with the incident reporting system. But they haven’t fixed the incident reporting system and that can’t be right.
I’m leaving them with a few more challenges and there will probably be more challenges in Phase 2 because for the sake of people with disabilities in Victoria we cannot wait any longer to fix this. Thank you very much.
Thank you Deborah, we now have about 15 minutes where we can hear questions from those of you who are present. Leigh is going to be our microphone runner. When you do get the microphone please say your name, the organisation you’re presenting and if you do have a question please raise your hand now.
JEN – WOMEN WITH DISABILITIES VICTORIA:
Thanks Deborah for that presentation. I’m Jen from Women with Disabilities, Victoria and I was just wondering from your enquiries what you found the incident reporting system could do to respond more to individuals experiences. So in terms of currently the system focuses on the allegation and investigating that but what have you found is lacking for the person whose disclosed abuse in that situation?
That’s very much the focus of Phase 2 and I mention the constraints on my legislation. I would love to talk to you about Phase 2. Phase 2 is actually looking at much more the individual experience, what actually happened to people when they reported abuse, what happened to whistle blowers when they came forward. We are looking at all these issues and I’m looking at what can we do to make that better.
Forgive me if I can’t tell you now what I think that response should be, but do rest assured that this is absolutely the focus of that second part of the investigation. I’m interested in your thoughts on this actually. If those of you who have experience of this have thoughts on how you think the system would work better I would welcome it.
Tony Tregale from (inaudible) Incorporated. Whilst totally agreeing with everything you said, our experience of your office is that they consider the bureaucrats know best. Thank you.
Well I’m sorry you feel that way. Obviously you have your own views on that and it wouldn’t be right for me to comment on individual cases. I think the record of the office in looking at these matters – well first of all let me make a point about jurisdiction because sometimes people in my office complain directly about abuse and I can’t always deal with it. It’s a very complicated scenario about whether the office has jurisdiction to deal with these sort of cases. But if somebody complains about the Department for instance we will depending on the circumstances review what the Department has done and I think we do this with a pretty questioning eye.
Well as I say I’m not – sorry that’s not your experience, that’s certainly been the experience of others. And what I welcome also is feedback. If people don’t think we’re doing that then I do want to hear about it because it’s something I also welcome. I talk about feedback as being important for others. I think feedback is also important for my office and I welcome that too.
GEORGE – YOUTH DISABILITY ADVOCACY SERVICES:
George Taleporos from the Youth Disability Advocacy Service. Speaking of feedback, my feedback to your office is that you’ve conducted a very thorough examination. Where you’ve worked with your staff quite closely and I’ve found it very helpful and also they were willing to invest in some of the individual advocacy plans that we were working with and we benefit a lot from your officers support. So there is some feedback for you.
Thank you for that.
And I’m the first to complain when things aren’t good but in this instance it was very positive. Ever since your recommendations have come out one of the controversial things that have come out is around where the independent oversight bodies should sit. Your report recommended it should sit within the Office of the Public Advocate. Advocacy organisations have come out and said well a lot of the time we’re advocating against the Office of the Public Advocate so that’s not necessarily the right place for it in our view. Since you’ve heard that feedback have you developed any further thoughts around the independent oversight body?
Let me make a couple of points on that. What I didn’t recommend was the Office of the Public Advocate be the independent oversight body. I referred to OPA only in the context of advocacy funding. But the independent oversight body I’ve made no recommendations actually around where that should sit. I was asked that question by the Parliamentary Enquiry and I was very clear to them this is a matter for Parliament.
There are lots of elements of oversight that sit with various different bodies at the moment, the Department does a bit, OPA does a bit, the Disability Services Commissioner does a bit, the Ombudsman does a bit and I’m not saying which of those bodies it should be to be the independent oversight body. So no I deliberately not specified and I don’t think it’s a matter for me to specify, it’s very much ultimately a matter of Government to determine how it wants to deal with it at a practical level.
The recommendation around the funding of advocacy is in fact and I’m aware advocacy bodies were not keen on that one, it’s a much smaller point for me at least. For me it’s an issue in principle. It shouldn’t be the Department was – the key point I wanted to make in that recommendation was that the Department should not actually be dishing out the funding. What I said is it should be independent of the Department. That is the important part of it. I suggested OPA because it is independent of the Department, it’s the justice portfolio rather than the DHHS portfolio, it’s the only logical alternative in there. But whether that’s done or not is neither here nor there. The important issue for me one is the principle – one, there should be proper funding for advocacy and two, that it should sit outside of the Department.
That’s exactly the question I was going to ask.
I’m aware there has been some confusion around that and I’m glad of the opportunity to clarify that.
JAN – MELBOURNE EAST DISABILITY ADVOCACY:
I’m Jan, from MEDA. I’m interested in your perspective as a small not for profit local advocacy organisation, what measures do you think we could be putting in place to ensure that we not so much respond to the recommendations but ensure that we are continuing to collaborate and mobilise around safeguarding people with a disability in relation to this area of abuse?
I think doing exactly what you’re doing now. Ensure that you’re linked in across the sector. The recommendations I’ve made are very much for Government and it’s agencies rather than to community service organisations inevitably because they’re the ones that I deal with who have an opportunity to do something about it.
Sadly I think in the absence of leadership from them you are left very much to your own devices it seems to me to determine how you support the people you need to support. I think that’s the problem. I think you would be so much better if there was clear leadership in the disability sector in Government, so that proper guidance was developed to say here are some tools that will assist you.
In the absence of that leadership I think do what you do now – ensure you get together, ensure you have these conversations, ensure you’re linked in as much as you can be to the agencies like OPA who do develop materials that can help.
PAULINE – AMIDA:
Thanks Deborah it was a fantastic report. My name is Pauline Williams I work at AMIDA. We’re still struggling with how to sort of recommend changes and there is still the opportunity because the second phase for the Parliamentary Enquiry finishes next Friday, taking submissions. One of the things we’ve been struggling with is that as you said, over the years many organisations like yourselves, advocacy services, community visitors, public advocate have made numerous recommendations but they don’t often get picked up or very little is done or resources and funding aren’t directed in the way they should be. I suppose even with changes to the structure for oversight that could continue to happen. And we’ve seen that in our own advocacy work that with many cases things don’t shift until there’s a forcing of that so if for example, an intervention order is put in place and something legally has to be done then perhaps a place becomes available for somebody to move sideways into another house. But all that does really is shuffle the deck chairs on the Titanic. So I guess what we’re sort of thinking is how do we actually force some change in the system and where are the teeth and should we be looking at something similar to say the Equal Opportunity Act where if people are discriminated against they can go through conciliation but ultimately go to VCAT and have orders made. Are we getting to the point where all the sorts of oversight bodies that we’ve tried so far and they have failed, actually need to be altered in terms of what the mandated changes and the laws that we can use to force change are in the system?
Well that’s a really interesting question, thank you for that. I think we’re quite cynical in this business when recommendations are made, lip service is paid and nothing actually happens. I am seeing a lot of nods, you’re used to this kind of thing. I think there is a real head of steam actually around change here. I think you shouldn’t under estimate the power that you all bring to this. You are individually advocates and collectively you’re a really powerful force. Perhaps what you would be thinking about more is how you can harness your own power about the kind of change you want to see and how you communicate that. Because that has tremendous affect actually. How you do that influences Parliamentary Enquiries, it influences all kinds of things.
Governments always look for the easiest possible solution as well as the cheapest but they will spend money when they have to and it feels to be an issue of tremendous public importance. It feels to me that this is an issue that really has engaged with the public consciousness and you should be capitalising on that.
What I think should be most effective and you’re the advocates and it’s not for me to tell you how to advocate but to look at, to come up with the solutions. Look at the kind of recommendations I’m making for example and pick the eyes out of them and say yes this is how we see this working, this is where we want this to go, we support mandatory reporting or we support this element or this aspect of a single oversight body. This is where we would like it to sit and this is how we think it should engage and this is how we think these things should work. Present that to Parliamentary Enquiries, present that to the Minister because your views matter. Don’t under estimate them.
ANDREW – LEADERSHIP PLUS:
Hi I’m AndrewCassinidos, Leadership Plus. On that point I have a suggestion in terms of disability service organisations that they need to be registered and particular code of ethics and protocols in place to ensure that the funding that they provided, they commit to servicing the clients and not disadvantaging the clients deliberately as I’ve had to experience in my role as an advocate. That would be a starting point from my point of view especially with NDIS coming in that organisations are made accountable and transparent in terms of the standard and services they say are deliverable, actually be delivered.
That’s got to be a key element. Where are the services being delivered, who is funding those services and how are they accountable for the delivery of those services is at the core of much of the problem. And what we know so far is that there are all these different systems that depend on the provider and how is that going to change again with the NDIS we don’t know. But yes identifying the elements of that and saying this is where the safeguards need to be. That’s part of the voice that you should be expressing. I encourage that.
Thank you Deborah. We’ll end the questions there, we’re coming up to lunchtime now. Thank you so much Deborah Glass, Victorian Ombudsman for taking us through the role of your office and the nature of Phase 1 or your report. If you may indulge me in right of last question to be asked – you mentioned earlier that there will be a Phase 2 report and I appreciate you’re not able to speak to any great detail about that but can you just give an indication of time lines?
Well what I have said is before the end of year and it’s already close to end of October. So yes before Christmas.
Fabulous thank you. Well everyone please join with me in thanking Deborah Glass.
- Date published:
- Thu 22nd Oct, 2015