Office for Disability Update

This was the final session at the Advocacy sector Conversations forum held at the Queen Victoria Women’s Centre on 28 November 2017.

Other sessions at this forum included:



Felix Neighbour, manager Strategic Engagement at the Office for Disability provided the participants at the Advocacy Sector Conversations forum an update on what the Office has been doing since the last time we met.



References mentioned in  this session:




Now for the last session of the day I would like to welcome Felix Neighbour from the Office for Disability to give us an update.

Hi everyone.  As usual thanks for the opportunity to come along.  Just thinking about something that Fran just said if people are nodding it means they’re really listening to what you say so I will just be looking for lots of nodding heads or maybe I will be dodging the tumbleweeds I will see how we go.

I’m Felix Neighbour I’m the manager of strategic engagement in the Office for Disability.  I think this is a good opportunity to update the sector on changes within the department as well as initiatives.

Some of you may be aware the Office for Disability has changed location within the Department of Health and Human Services.  The whole of the Office for Disability is now part of what is now the Disability NDIS branch.  That basically brings together all of the disability related parts of what the department does.  The Office for Disability will be located under a yet to be appointed system director for disability inclusion and will be located alongside the area that looks at the mainstream interface.  When people with a disability come to health services and decisions are made whether they get access under the NDIS or through mainstream services.

We see that as an opportunity to really look at advocacy in the context of the NDIS and I think it’s worth saying that the Office for Disability is a small but very productive office but we’re part of a much larger branch now.  Some of you might know Michael Cromey who I’m acting in his role, for a while.  He’s agreed to come along to these forums to answer questions that perhaps I can’t answer on the NDIS and the range of work that’s happening to get ready for the scheme.

I think it’s worth just mentioning a number of initiatives the Office for Disability a supporting to shift attitudes and promote inclusion of people with a disability across the whole of the Victorian public service or VPS.  I think it’s important to reflect on these as we gear up to international day because I think it’s really important for Victorian Government to lead the way and I don’t want to sugar coat anything, there’s lots of work to be done.

Some of the initiatives I will talk to now are really trying to address barriers that people with a disability face, low expectation, poor employment.  I’m not going to sugar coat things I’m just going to talk through some of these initiatives.

We had the pleasure of working with a relatively new organisation called Get Skilled Access.  They’ve been around for about a year and they’re co-founded by Dillan Alcott who some of you might know.  He is a Triple J presenter a Paralympian but also ambassador for this year’s International Day and a colleague of his Nick Morris.

So Get Skilled Access ran a couple of events with executives and senior leaders across the Victorian public service.  That really had a focus on raising awareness and improving employment opportunities as well as service delivery.  Basically, this was an opportunity to provide a call to action for executives in the context of disability action plans that all departments are legislated to do and the state disability plan.

Just listening to the SARU presentation a strong theme was nothing about us without us and the need to include people with a disability in all aspects of policy, design and delivery.

There’s also an event that will be for staff across the whole of the public service.  That’s being run by a new network, they’re about a year old now called The Victorian Public Service Enablers Network.  That’s a network established and run by staff with a disability across all of the departments.  They’re running an event and again that sends a really strong message that people with a disability are at the driving wheel and influencing change.  They will be running an event across the public service around employment.

Just reflecting on what Sue was saying we’re really happy to be working with SARU and support Voice at the Table.  In terms of what we’re doing in our department we are – it takes time but we’re slowly getting there in terms of connecting SARU up with I think what’s becoming mainly health service areas, which is really positive.  We also had the pleasure of meeting with Bec and Fran and Julie from Voice at the Table about our own action plan.

That’s a snapshot of what we’re doing across the VPS but also just want to point out we had a very large number of applications for a disability leadership program that Minister Foley promoted a while ago so we’re really happy about that.  That’s a partnership really between Leadership Victoria and Disability Leadership Institute so Christina Ryan’s organisation.  That will really help provide a pathway for people with a disability into boards and committees.

I’ll stop talking but I just wanted to provide a bit of an update in terms of some work we’re doing across the public service and happy to take any questions.

I don’t know if you were here earlier.  Mary put up a slide that looked at the future of funding.  My question is that 2021, that’s going through until then with the disability funding in Victoria.

So this Government and this Minister are committed to ongoing action and development on disability advocacy.  That’s the current Governments commitment to continue to fund disability advocacy.

I have mentioned this a few times but a really good I guess document for advocates to read is the Victorian Governments response to the parliamentary enquiry.  That talks about things like advocacy but also the Victorian Governments commitment to continue to provide safeguards during transition to the NDIS.  That’s a really good snapshot of what the Victorian Government are committed to.

I’m a public servant so sometimes it is hard for me to speak on behalf of the Minister but things like the Victorian Government response that’s signed off by the Minister and also note that there was Minister Foley provided a media release around additional protections for people with a disability by expanding powers of the services commissioner on the 24th of May.  That kind of gives you a sense of where this Government is at but in terms of your question Sue, yep that’s certainly the current state of play in terms of ongoing funding through the Victorian Disability Advocacy Program.

It’s a commitment but a reduction overall.

Can you just clarify that?


The slide earlier said the status is $9.1 million for 2017, for 2018 $9.1, for 2019 $2.9 and for 2020 $2.9.

I think it’s an important distinction when we talk about disability advocacy that’s funding that’s provided through the Victorian Disability Advocacy Program and it’s on going funding of approximately $2.9 million.  In terms of the $6 million, I’m just trying – would that relate to say information services?  Okay, so information services is funded separately from advocacy.

Obviously independent advocacy has a very specific role whereas information services is what’s called a separate funded activity.  There is funding for information services which is provided to a range of organisations.  I haven’t got a number but certainly more than advocacy organisations.  I think there’s probably between – look, I’m taking a guess here maybe five to ten advocacy organisations who get funding for information services and advocacy.

Look, I don’t want to under – basically, the information services funding will – it forms part of the Victorian Governments commitment to the NDIS.  That information services funding will continue through to the 30th June 2019 which might be feeding into the slides.

A letter was sent to the CEOs of all organisations receiving information services I think in early August, just confirming that.  Look, of course, it has a big impact on organisations who get a significant slice of their funding and I guess with a scheme as large as the NDIS it’s a significant change but not underestimating the impact on that.  The Department not my area.  This is not me shifting or handballing, it’s another part of NDIS is looking at how the support organisations including those that provide information services get ready for information linkages and capacity building.  That’s through a range of ways.  They’re running workshops.

There were a couple of workshops a few weeks ago that were definitely promoted to advocacy organisations to come along and find out about what is the current status and what can the Department do to support those organisations.  That’s probably all I can say on it but again, in terms of the broader piece of work that’s happening to get organisations ready that’s probably something that Michael might be better placed to talk about.

But that’s pretty much, what’s happening, the funding will go till 30th June 2019 and the Department is working with providers to get ready for the ILC.  Again, I want to reinforce I understand that this has an impact on the organisations and we’re just trying to work with organisations to help with that transition.  Phil did you want to add to that?

Hello everyone, my name is Philip Waters I work for DHHS as well.  I work in the ILC Transition Team.  I just wanted to add onto Felix’s comments.  We do have quarterly ILC plan – we do have quarterly forums for the ILC planning.  The next one is on the 7th December at 12.30 pm and the topic will be about what’s the difference between LAC and ILC and how LACs can do ILC activity.

It might be worthwhile for you guys to come along to the 7th December 12.30 workshop to find out more or forum rather.

Just going back a little bit as well, there was mention about the Victorian Government continuing funding until 2019.  That’s right but other states as well, other states Governments are reducing their funding but the Victorian Government is committed to funding it.  So Victoria is lucky compared to other states to have this ongoing funding for the next while.

Thanks Phil, I hope that answers the question for now at least.  There’s that opportunity that Phil mentioned as well for organisation.  That’s promoted to I think advocacy organisations, they’re on the list to get that information I’m pretty sure they are.  We can make sure that advocacy organisations receive that information.  Phil will check but we’ll make sure you get information on that session and also future ones as well.

Hi Felix, it’s Cathy Barakas.  I just wanted to know what tangible changes can we see by the Office for Disability moving to this larger branch that you talked about?  What’s the difference that we’re going to see in terms of what you can do?

Wow, that’s a big question.  So the question what tangible changes can we see with the Office for Disability moving to the branch.  What I would say I think it’s good that we have I guess a closer line of sight to the NDIS.  It makes it easier for us in our conversations with colleagues to highlight the impact of the NDIS on advocacy.  But also, more broadly the role of advocacy and the role it can play to support people to transition to the NDIS.

I think it’s also worth confirming the Office for Disability won’t change its remit.  Our remit is to work across Government and across the community.  We will continue to drive change across Government and across the community.  We do that in a number of ways.  We have a departmental committee, senior executives we engage with on a quarterly basis to talk about the state disability plan and other initiatives.  We’ve also got a departmental committee on disability that we engage with.  Whether that be promoting initiatives such as Voice at the Table to our colleagues or across Government or working with other departments to influence change, that won’t happen but I do think that we’re part of the NDIS, Disability NDIS branch but we’re also part of the branch that deal with children, family, disability and operations.  The geographic areas.

It’s a bit hard for me to sort of answer a question on tangible changes after a few weeks but I think there will be a number of opportunities.

Any other questions?

Going, going, gone.  I feel bad for taking the self-advocacy networks time now.  You could’ve cracked on for another five minutes.   Don’t tell anyone it was my fault.  Thank you, thanks.

Thank you very much Felix.  It’s really important to have the Office for Disability here at our forum to answer any questions we have.  We really appreciate your time today.

Before we close, there are two things I need you to do.  On your table will be a questionnaire about feedback for today, anything positive or negative you can give us will really help inform our planning.  And also, this morning we asked you to fill in the questions about what you would like DARU to focus on for 2018 to 2021.  So jot down any thoughts you have.

Also, because we’re super organised we’ve already planned the next advocacy sector conversation in February.  It will be on the 15th of February so pop it in your diary and it’s a back to school forum where we’re going to talk about everything education.  I think Natasha will open registrations in the next week or so so pop it in your diary and make sure you register because there will be no update sent out in January.

Okay, so thank you to everyone who came and contributed today and thank you to all our amazing presenters, you were awesome as usual.  Thank you for everyone who joined us on the live stream and thank you to Niaz and Sam from VicDeaf  for operating the special equipment there, our AUSLAN interpreters, Michael with the sound and staff at Queen Victoria Women’s Centre.  Safe travels home and Happy Christmas.