Office for Disability Update 

This was the last session at the ‘Back to school’ Advocacy sector Conversations forum held at the Queen Victoria Women’s Centre on 15 February 2018.

Other sessions at this forum included:

  • Progress towards an inclusive education for children and young people with disability in Australia
  • How much more can advocacy achieve in our quest for inclusive education? 
  • The Students Perspective of Education in Victoria
  • Office for Disability Update 


This session provides a unique opportunity for the Office for Disability to update the sector directly on key government initiatives including ongoing work to strengthen the Victorian Disability Advocacy Program. Felix Neighbour from the Office for Disability and Michael Cromie from the NDIS branch in the Department of Health and Human Services took questions from the floor.




References mentioned in this session include:




Okay now I would like to welcome Felix Neighbour from the Office for Disability and Michael Cromie to come up and answer any questions you have for the office.

Hello,  I’m Felix from the Office for Disability.

I’m Michael Cromie from the NDIS branch in the Department of Health and Human Services.

We usually start by giving a brief update on some recent developments.  A few from the Office for Disability’s perspective.  First of all many of you may be aware that the disability advocacy capacity building fund process is under way.  That’s an additional fix term fund of $1.4 million to strengthen advocacy in Victoria.  Applications close on the 1st of March and disability advocacy organisations that are funded through both the national and Victorian advocacy program are able to apply as are organisations that represent the rights needs and interests of diverse and isolated groups.

That’s open to a broader group than last time for the innovation fund and that really recognises that to get better advocacy for people with a disability you need to cast the net out wider and expertise often lies not with advocacy organisations but whatever organisations such as Aboriginal community controlled organisations or women’s health organisations or community legal centres.  That’s out there and that closes on the 1st of March.  More information is available on the Victorian Government Tenders website.  I think that’s  and you need to register and then you can download more information on that.  That’s one things we’re doing at the moment.

The other development is the release of the Every Opportunity Economic Participation Plan for people with disability.  That’s been a significant amount of work and it forms part of state disability plan, absolutely everyone.  As you might have seen from the handouts that really has a focus in three areas so topical for today education and learning pathways.  Secondly, employment opportunities both within the Victorian public sector and the broader Victorian economy and business ownership and innovation so entrepreneurism etc.

I think the headline for the plan is really the target of increasing the employment rate from around 3% of people with disability in the Victorian public service to 6% by 2020.  That’s across the departments and the Victoria Police unsworn and then that target will go up to 12% by 2025 and that will include the broader Victorian public sector so all the agencies so on and so forth.

I don’t want to take up too much time really.  I might just throw over to Michael just to allow time for questions and answers.  That’s a couple of examples of things underway.

Thanks Felix.  The role of the department in terms of the NDIS transfer is to support people with a disability, providers and the community to transition to the NDIS.  I thought I would just give you a quick update where that stands at the moment and then I’m sure there might be a few questions in the room about the NDIS.

The update is around 25,000 people have now transitioned to the NDIS.  When you consider that against what’s expected by June 2019, 105,000 people being on the scheme we’re a very very small way there.  Of the areas that are in – obviously Barwon you would be aware commenced back in 2013 and now nine areas have commenced and are in various stages of transition.  Hume Moreland and Bayside Peninsula are the next two areas that will be transitioning on the 1st of March and 1st of April.  A lot of work is going into supporting people in those areas to transition.

Obviously, work is still happening in a lot of those areas the nine areas I’ve already mentioned to continue on in helping people to transition in those areas.  We’re a bit, behind where we hoped to be at this point in time in terms of numbers but also probably you might have heard some of the experiences around participant pathway and what the NDIA call the participant pathway and some less than adequate outcomes and experiences for people through that process.

It’s worth just noting the participant pathway trial is underway at the moment in Maroondah and Knox and that’s with the local area coordinator Latrobe Community Health Services and in Hume Moreland with Brotherhood of St Lawrence.  Broadly speaking what the participant pathway changes seek to do and this might seem a bit strange that it’s come to this point and people are not having this already but much more in person planning so face-to-face planning.

That’s been subject to a lot of consternation people saying how is it you can do planning when you’re not meeting with people, you might be calling them up.  A lot of people saying they didn’t even know they were in the middle of a planning episode until the plan arrived with them or didn’t arrive with them as the case may be and they found out what the NDIA decreed that they were going to get.

The process that NDIA are now going into has been obviously informed by a lot of activism and a lot of disappointed people talking about that experience and the Victorian Government has certainly been providing feedback and seeking to influence that process to make it much more person centred as well.

There’s a couple of things the Victoria Government are doing as well just to support that process.  There is now a support access team.  That’s able to do much – so there was a number of people that were dropping out of the scheme.  They were called uncontactable and there’s a lot of question marks over why those people were uncontactable and again a number of reasons that have been sited have been related to the process, difficult process to enter into and often phone calls were made when people weren’t around or phone calls were made and no number was left.

The NDIA had quite a strict regimen of getting people into the scheme so throughout the process a number of people haven’t been able to access the scheme.  There’s a process now of going back over the areas that are in transition or in Barwon’s case have ceased the transition process and reengaging with those people.  That’s with the support of staff from DHHS.

The other thing is an intensive support team has been established within the department as well.  It’s there to support people who again have been experiencing less than adequate experiences throughout the process in terms of particularly people with complex needs have often found the process difficult and the support that they’ve been able to receive in a number of cases hasn’t been adequate or hasn’t brought in other I guess what the NDIA call mainstream services adequately enough.  Again, the support that has been put in place now with the intensive support team is to revisit those people and try and assist them to get the supports that they require.

The only other thing I will mention is the Victorian Government announced tender of services that at the moment it delivers so a tender to no longer provide those services and those services will be provided by non-Government providers.  Those services are disability accommodation, which under the NDIA is called supported independent living, and respite which under the NDIA is called short-term accommodation and assistance.  That tender has now opened and that means that over time the Victorian Government will not be delivering those services.  Nothing will happen in this current year, no one will be shifting over to non-Government providers until at least the start of 2019.

I think that’s probably it in terms of updates on the NDIA.  I might take some questions if people have any about that.

Any questions anyone?

Hi, it’s Natasha from DARU.  I’d just be interested Michael with your department whether there is a formal way that advocates can feed into that qualitative stuff around pathways because I just know at DARU we’re getting a lot of enquiries about exactly that kind of thing.  From the agency, the only response is wait for review or go through appeals and that kind of you know they have to have a bad experience before they can actually make any positive changes.

Then what I’m also hearing from advocacy organisations is even though they’re doing the appeals and all of the review processes that doesn’t seem to be getting fed back to the planners.  The planners are still giving old information where cases have actually proven that there have been changes made but the planners don’t know that.  Advocates are having to always do the same reviews, the same things, the same cases even though they’ve been proven that they should’ve been altered at the start.

I’m just wondering whether there is some kind of formal process that Victorian advocates can connect with the transition team.

That’s a really good question to start with, thanks Natasha for that.  I think what we would like to develop that we probably haven’t been successful to date is a stronger relationship with the DARU and a more systemic way of gathering the information about the experiences that people are facing.  We will be talking to the Office for Disability about how we can do that.  I think there’s some real value in the experiences of advocates.

We’ve also had other mechanisms where we’ve been able to gather information so you would probably be aware that there’s a lot of funding that’s gone out to organisations to support participants and providers through the transition support package.  There’s some advocacy organisations that have been provided with funding through that.  We’ve now established a more formal processes of gathering feedback through that pathway and a lot of that is about the pathway and the experiences.  But that can only be strengthened by the accumulated knowledge of the advocacy sector as well.

We will definitely be approaching that in this way now and now that the NDIA are at a point, where I think they’re quite open to changes in process and practice it gives us a good in road to influencing the approaches that are there at the moment.

The second question, that was about or was that covering off on your question in total?

Yeah, it’s sort of the feedback loop I suppose.  Even though there’s a lot of work in advocacy being done in the appeals review that doesn’t seem to be going back through the NDIA to the planners.  It’s closing that loop whether the NDIS transition team can be involved in that as well.

Yes, so I think again probably your part of the eyes and ears on the ground but what we do have is transition teams located in each of the four divisions.  It’s monolithic what’s happening and yes, the changes aren’t tricking down as quickly so you know things are happening on a national or are supposed to be happening on a national scale and they’re not hitting the ground.  We really rely on our operational divisions to gather that information and provide it back so that we can influence at the different governance levels that we have established, the way those practices are actually being felt.

I think what we probably haven’t quite nailed yet is exactly how we can gather a variety of different sources of information and evidence about the experiences on the ground and being able to empirically sort of influence the scheme design and the future of the NDIS.  We’re certainly getting better at it I think and again it would be something that we can establish a better mechanism through advocacy as we have done probably to date through our four operational divisions.

Hi, my name is Ali Parker.  A question for Felix just regarding the Victorian Economic Participation Plan.  How do you think  the effectiveness of the implementation will go when there is no direct mention of Department of Education?  It’s got Minister for Housing Disability and Ageing, Minister for Industry and Employment and Department of Health and Human Services in terms of monitoring and accountability.  There’s a bit of a gap there and I’m hoping you can address it for me.

It’s very much a whole of Government plan.  There are a range of commitments that lie with the Department of Education and Training.  I think with the two lead Ministers it’s a really important message to say this is about economic participation it’s about jobs, which is why the relevant Minister for jobs is alongside Minister Foley as the Minster for Disability.

It’s very much a whole of Government plan.  It will be monitored in light of absolutely everyone the State Disability Plan and I’ve mentioned at various forums that there’s a high-level governance group in Government called the Interdepartmental Committee on Disability and that includes executive representation from the Department of Education in all departments.

There will also be specific plan for the Victorian public sector so Victorian Public Sector Disability Employment Plan.  That’s been driven by the Victorian Public Sector Commission.  It’s very much about lifting employment opportunities within the public service and there will be a working group that will have representation or connections back to the Education Department.

Also importantly, that group will link in with another group I’ve spoken to previously which is the Victorian Public Service Enablers Network, which is a group of staff with disability.  There will be that VPS Plan for the Victoria Public Sector rather.  Education and training will be connected to that as well as they will be connected to the high-level group that oversees absolutely everyone and this forms a key priority of that.  A long answer to your question Education are definitely involved but there is areas of accountability measures and governance groups etc. to make sure the work stays on track.

I should also say that the Office for Disability is more than happy to come back and present on the plan.  I can’t possibly do it justice in such a short time but we can provide a more comprehensive presentation at a later date.  We can talk to Melissa about that and Lucy Mccaul in the Office for Disability who has really taken leadership of this work can present.  She is more of an expert on the plan than I am.  Nonetheless I can answer questions here.

Hi I’m Andreas Cassinides, I’m an advocate and I’m finding that if we can minimise the need for reviews by engaging more with the clients in terms of NDIS in respect to informing them of the contents of the plan before it’s actually returned back to them and they’re saying, ‘actually this is not what I had shared with you, had I been given a draft version or if I had spoken to someone prior to the actual plan itself, I wouldn’t necessarily have to be involved with reviews, appeals and going through that process.’

I’m just wondering if there is any sort of mechanisms being considered to try and go down that path.

Part of the pilot the trial that’s underway in Maroondah and Knox takes in a joint approach to the planning process which involves the LAC, the local area coordinator, the NDIA delegate who is the person that is the one that can sign off on the funding at the time but most importantly the person themselves in the room at the point of planning and decision making.  It probably seeks to try and stop that process of reviews being needed because people looked at the plan and said no that’s not what we agreed to at the time, this is about a much more at the time this is what you’re looking at this is what you’re signing off on.

The answer and not part of the NDIA themselves but certainly again what we’ve been trying to push is that that’s a critical and fairly obvious part of person centred planning is the people that the planning is about are sitting in the room at the time of the planning and have the opportunity to understand exactly what’s going forward in terms of funding.  That’s a plus and the pilot gets extended into other areas in the next few months.  We can only hope that that becomes rather than the exception it becomes a rule and the planning process is much more inclusive.  We will be pushing that way and I’m sure the advocacy organisations will be pushing that way as well.

Hi I’m Sharon Bergles, I was just wondering, the questions that are set out during the planning meeting but the LACs it would be a lot easier to have that information out and available for particularly accommodation services to go through that, collect all that information up front of instead of having to guestimate everything and wasting a lot of man hours coming to a meeting and half the information they’ve brought along isn’t relevant.  As a plan it would be a really good framework for them to actually know those questions up front and think about it.  Can that happen or why isn’t it?

So I think and I don’t want to keep pointing to it as being the anise because again it’s probably about good planning practice.  The pilot also involves an earlier conversation with the various stakeholders that are involved in a person’s life.  That is about them getting a firm understanding of what it is that will be involved in the planning process.

As well as that there is the planning toolkit which is online and I don’t know the extent to which you’ve been able to – I’m not sure how accessible it is, I haven’t been through the process myself.  Again, that was a move of the NDIA to try and give people an understanding of the sorts of things that are required to assist in the planning process as well, what documents will you be needing, what information will you be needing and what sort of questions are you likely to be asked.  That just needs to keep evolving and keep getting better.

The other thing just from the Victoria Government perspective is a lot of funding has been provided out to organisations such as Valid and YDAS and others to assist participants in understanding that planning process.  We can provide maybe through the update after this meeting a list of those organisations that you people can also engage with prior to planning because they’ve been through it.  They understand and they’ve helped participants through the process and they’re probably pretty well versed in what’s required as well.  There is a couple of parallel things that need to happen to help people through the process.

Did that answer your question?  If you don’t mind just let me know.

It was more about we have difficulty getting services out in Gippsland anyway like Valid and YDAS.  From what I’ve seen the toolkit and the information that’s been out there on the NDIS website it doesn’t clarify the questions the actual questions that are asked by the LACs during the planning meeting.  If people had that exact information they could sit down get through the plan probably a lot quicker because they would be knowing exactly what the questions were and the LAC can then just tweak it or ask side questions to get more information from the actual individual.  At least that framework would be there which I think is missing now.

We will provide that feedback.  I think there is two sides to it.  What we’ve been strongly encouraging from our point of view is a much more nuance approach to planning anyway which doesn’t deal with that really.  What we’re saying is it should be a conversation where you’re sitting with the person in the room rather than a script.  The framework I think is a really good idea.  Some of the questions they might be asking is a really good idea.

A lot of the feedback we’ve had today is there is inflexibility in the approach they’ve been using, it has been scripted, it is a checklist, a ticking off process.  We from the Victorian Government perspective have been pushing the other way saying that really what you need to be doing is sitting in a room having a conversation and you might gather from that that these various items you need to tick off to enable you to allocate funding and the like but really proper planning is a much iterative and a much more flexible approach than the one they’ve been using.

I certainly take your feedback in terms there is clearly still questions that are being asked, can we have those questions, I think that’s a really fair thing.

And particularly the accommodation services more so because quite often the clientele in the accommodation services they participate in a meeting but they don’t have that –

In advance.

Yeah, exactly and it would just save everyone a lot of time I think.  Thank you Michael.

Thank you.  Do you mind if I just say one more thing before you round me up just in terms of funding opportunities as well.  Information linkages capacity building is one element of the scheme.  Design, so there’s individualised packages and then the element called Information Linkages and Capacity Building.

In Victorian jurisdictional grants will become available in the middle of next year but up until then I suspect there will be later this year opportunity for organisations to understand what those jurisdictional grants are going to look like and start to test some ideas around information linkages and capacity building and by full scheme around $132 million will be available through that particular component of the scheme.  It’s certainly worth keeping abreast of what’s happening in that space as well.

Any more questions?

[no questions]

If there’s no more questions thank you very much Felix and Michael.

On your table you will find a questionnaire and that’s just feedback for us to decide what we’re going to have the next advocacy sector conversations on.  You could also ask the Office to address something, if there is something you want them to talk about next time they’re here.  Make sure you write it down we will pass it on for the next time we have a sector conversation.

Thank you everyone for coming thank you to all our presenters. Thank you to the Auslan interpreters, picked up the live streaming and Michael for looking after out sound.   Safe travels home and see you next time.


Date published:
Fri 16th Feb, 2018