Q&A with the Office for Disability

This session was part of the Advocacy Sector Conversations forum held on 30 July 2015 at the Queen Victoria Women’s Centre in Melbourne. Other sessions at this forum included:

  1. Setting the scene for housing services in Victoria
  2. Advocacy and housing
  3. New Powers of Attorney Act


Robyn Gaile, the DARU Coordinator, facilitated a conversation with Michael Cromie, Manager Strategic Engagement from the DHHS Office for DisabilityMichael updated the sector on staffing at the Office for Disability and assured everyone that Service Agreements are on their way for the 2016-19 period. Other topics covered included the Disability Awards, State Disability Plan consultations and VDAC.


Transcript & audio



Michael Cromie from the Office for Disability joins us now. Amy Spurway is joining me here on the table. We’re going to get a little bit of an update from Michael about some goings on within the Office. Then I have a couple of questions for Michael and then over to you for any questions you might have about the Office for Disability and we aim to finish on the dot as scheduled at 4pm. Michael I will hand over to you for the time being.

I invited Amy up because I couldn’t represent a panel on my own. I do also want to acknowledge Amy is with us for one more week within the Office. I want to acknowledge and thank her for all the hard work. It’s a bit self-indulgent but I think it’s important we acknowledge the work Amy has been putting in for the Office. Fleur Campbell who some of you might know, returns from mat leave after that. Thanks to Amy.I also want to mention that the Office obviously funds the Disability Advocacy Resource Unit but some of the other organisations they fund were successful in the Victorian Disability Sector Awards. Pauline is here from AMIDA and they auspice the Self-Advocacy Resource Unit. They were highly commended in the Excellence in Advocacy and Rights Promotion Award, which was terrific, and a great congratulations to yourself and for DARU. I don’t think Jackie Brown is here but she was also acknowledged at the awards as well in the emerging leader category. I wanted to mention them because it’s fantastic all their hard work was also acknowledged. So over to you for your questions.

I have a whole series of questions to grill you with on behalf of those who are present and those who would be listening.  Our service agreements for those organisations that are funded by the Victorian Government to do disability advocacy, do you have any news for us about our services agreements, when we’re getting them?

Hopefully it has an impact on your funding for a start. To those that are funded through the Victorian Disability Advocacy Program your funding hopefully has been received and obviously you’ve received a July payment. Hopefully in the next few days receive an August payment. If you haven’t please let me know straight after this and you may not be here if you haven’t. It’s certainly the case that the funding and service agreements rolled over into this financial year. The actual document, the funding and service agreement hasn’t been received by organisations across all areas. But we don’t expect any major change to those funding and service agreements. You will receive them very shortly but I did want to mention here, obviously the caveat that I’ve previously mentioned around the full scheme roll out of the National Disability Insurance Scheme, will obviously occur in the period of this next 3-year service agreement. Based on the arrangements for the implementation of the scheme there may be changes to funding and service agreements. Whilst you get a 3-year funding and service agreement and as I said you should get that shortly there may be some changes over the life of that funding and services agreement as more is known about the roll out of the scheme.

Thanks Michael. Recently the Office for Disability organised some forums or some consultations around the State Disability Plan and there was a forum specifically for advocates and a forum for peak bodies within Victoria. Can you just tell us a little bit about any of the outcomes arising out of those forums and what the next steps might be?

Yes, we’re focusing our attention on the 2017 to 2020 State Disability Plan. Obviously, as we go through this period the landscape in Victoria is going to change markedly with the emergence of the NDIS. Clearly there is still a massive roll for State Government and for the State, the community within the State as well to drive change.

With that in mind we have been consulting on the next State Disability Plan and we had a session I think mid-June with advocacy organisations and peak bodies as you mentioned. It was fantastic in the robust discussion that took place from both those groups. We’ve also gone out to hard to reach groups as well. We’ve done a whole range of other consultations aside from that but I did want to mention the advocacy ones because obviously that is the major focus of this group.

Unsurprisingly I guess people have provided us with feedback that they want the next plan to be much clearer in what it seeks to achieve. People wanted to have the potential for genuine cross Government input, which means in the previous plan, I’ve mentioned this before, there were 150 actions across Government but there was real concern from the community and people with a disability that they were really hard to measure what people were seeking to get from each of those 150 actions.

The focus now seems to be certainly from the feedback we got from advocacy sector and others, is that it needs to be much clearer on a couple of major areas of focus and those areas of focus have very clear measurable outcomes attached to them. That’s unsurprising really because I’m sure they’re things that you would say and have been saying over and over again about what needs to occur. They were themes that came out again of those advocacy sector discussions.

The where to from here question Robyn, those consultations have been fed into our policy and strategy team, the work they’re doing in understanding across the board including hard to reach groups and including the Self-advocacy Resource Unit, were really central in their discussion with self-advocates and others. That information is compiled and we go out with a consultation draft later this year for people to consider whether or not they feel they’re feedback has been incorporated and whether for the next State Disability Plan what we’re saying we’re going to do, resonates with what you think needs to be done in Victoria.

Stay tuned for that, we’ll definitely be back in contact with all the advocacy organisations but it will be in a variety of other places too for people with a disability, their families, carers to also participate in these next phases of consultation. That as I said should happen later this year if not early 2016. It is a time to actually really think about what you think still needs to be achieved.

I’m curious was there any consistencies between the different consultations that advocates and the peak bodies and people that you did more of the outreach with?

There were. Certainly rights is absolutely a stated concern that rights is continued to be upheld and promoted, either stated or certainly underlining most of the consultations we had. Economic participation of people with a disability. Labour forced participation but the opportunities that people with a disability don’t have to participate in the economy as a result of not having work but also just generally in social and activities has come up time and time again in all our consultations as being an area that needs focus on.

Housing and lack of housing is certainly of concern in context of the NDIS but regardless of the NDIS as well. People concerned that yes the NDIS is coming but at the moment there is not a clear understanding of how it deals with the issue of lack of housing and homelessness and those sorts of areas continue to come up. I am missing something else here…Education, leadership the opportunities for people to be…education for sure always comes up. It’s always about the opportunity starts at the education point and then stems on to opportunity for employment. Certainly that is a continued concern for State Government that they need to focus on because it needs to be part of a universal platform of education.

Then also leadership opportunities for people with a disability to participate at the highest level both in terms of Government boards, committees, and in any other areas that have influence in the State. There is a real lack, dearth of people in those sorts of roles. They were certainly some of the key themes that came up. Choice, particularly in hard to reach groups. When I talked about housing people just didn’t feel like they could get housing and where they did have housing for example in community residential units they weren’t given choice of who they lived with, where they lived. That certainly is another key theme.

Thank you. You mentioned earlier the NDIS. Is there any update you can give us around the NDIS in terms of the Victorian Government? We know that the bilateral agreement between the States and the Commonwealth is going to be signed, supposedly in September. But is there any update you can give us around that?

The NDIS for me feels a little bit at a point where a lot more is going to be known because the bilaterals will be signed in late August between Victoria and the Commonwealth Government. Probably the next meeting that we have of this will be much clearer in what the future directions are. Obviously there are a number of stumbling blocks being worked through the State and Federal Government handing over a huge sum of money to the Federal Government but that doesn’t mean the responsibility of the State in guiding policy is lost in that.

Those bilaterals are all about discussion around the practicalities of who does what part but also what part the State will continue to play into the future with regards to shaping policy and influencing the NDIS and the way it pans out.  The other thing in regards to that is the systemic advocacy and legal review and representation are funded outside of the NDIS, that’s one thing that’s been fairly clear through the disability reform Council that is all the first Ministers meeting together and discussing what isn’t within the scheme.

The other thing for all of us to think about is the state of play for advocacy into the future, which is still difficult to kind of know exactly how it’s going to look. What we know is that it will be impacted by the NDIS and it’s impacting on the NDIS itself. The National Disability Advocacy Framework is under review, the National Disability Advocacy Program is under review later this year and the future of that program will be further known. Still the State wants to have a look at what the NDIS means for advocacy and what those other National Programs look like before we make a final judgement on where the State lands with disability advocacy. All of those moving parts are still moving but hopefully more is known after August and then as we continue to understand what it all means over the next half of this calendar year. Sorry that’s as clear as I am about it. We’d also wondered whether we should have someone from our NDIS reform team within DHHS come and speak to a future DARU forum instead of me stumbling over all this and trying to make sense of it all.

Once the bilateral agreement is signed that’s really when there are some more known knowns as they say. Just mentioned the National Disability Advocacy Framework, we had a few people who registered who didn’t turn up today and I suspect they’re doing a last minute putting together of their submission because the submission date was extended to tomorrow, the 31st of July. I’ll just spruik a little bit of what DARU has been doing in conjunction with a e people that are in the room today.Certainly in conjunction with Disability Advocacy Victoria and VCROSS who deliver DARU in consortium, DARU held a round table with there was about fourteen advocacy organisations, a couple of weeks ago. We pulled together a submission on behalf of that round table. We will certainly be making that submission, lodging that submission tomorrow. There was quite a chunk in that submission around the impact of the NDIS and what role disability advocacy could play in there.

I might say one more thing I neglected to mention. At the Advocacy Forum we had in June, the National Program Carolyn Wilks came and spoke about and was very clear there will continue to be a National Disability Advocacy Program into the future. Any review, any sort of work they’re doing in the reform area is not about reducing or stopping that program but there might be some changes with it.

The other thing to mention too is that the Ombudsman’s Victorian Enquiry into abuse and neglect had really strong signals about the importance of advocacy in Victoria. We in the Office for Disability welcomes that, we thought that was a great signal for the importance of the Program and certainly I think helps this sector in demonstrating not that it should have to do that, but demonstrating it’s worth and its importance when it comes to areas like abuse and neglect as well. It was very clear in that report the importance of advocacy is a key part of a safeguarding framework.

That was quite pleasing to see. My last question to you Michael before we handover to anyone who might have a question in the room, and I’ll declare this myself here by saying I have a vested interest in this, the Victorian Disability Advisory Council on which I’m a member, is a Ministerial Advisory Council that advises Minister Foley. Can you just tell us a little bit about the Council because it is supported by the Office for Disability, but in particular can you tell us a little about how disability advocates can assist their clients to take advantage of VDAC and even recommend to their clients to make applications to join the Council when the time comes.

It’s sort of a Dorothy Dix of it. This bit isn’t, Robyn has been a two-term member now of the Victorian Disability Advisory Council which means that she has donated so much of her time pretty much voluntarily, there are sitting fees that people receive through being on Council. That probably just covers you for the time you spend on Council. She has been a really, really important member in conveying the views of the extensive networks that you’re engaged with. You are a member of the Council, I want to acknowledge you’ve done that role in incredibly impressive way for the time I’ve known you anyway.

It is a fourteen person Council that does report to the Minister for Disability and Ageing, Minister Foley. It is a really important part of I guess the conduit through to Government and the decision making that takes place by the Minister is often informed by what the Victorian Disability Advisory Council, the information that’s been provided to him. Whilst the Office for Disability plays a secretariat role alongside it it’s the views of Council that really the Minister is interested in and we need to provide those views through to the Minister when they’re presented by the Council.

The Council is made up of people on the base of expertise, experience and networks in the disability and carer’s community. Presently will forever I guess have certainly representation from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds and indigenous communities and a mix of metro and rural Victorians as well. As I mentioned sitting fees are received for Council members but you’re not going to retire on that Robyn. It’s not an amazing amount of money but it is important that the role is acknowledged through the payments of those.

Process from here is that we will have expressions of interest we think, the Minister needs to sign off on processes as well but likely to be around May 2016 for new members. There will be a number of members that have served two terms so opportunities for people to apply and hopefully become part of the Victorian Disability Advisory Council into the future. It’s three year terms, two three year terms generally with an interview process after the first term. Usually the Council meets about six times per year in the Lonsdale St office, just up the road on the Ministers floor. Often the Parliamentary secretary attends the meetings, the Ministers Parliamentary Secretary will be present usually in an ex-officio role.It’s really important that the right people sit on that Council because if you get the right blend of expertise, knowledge and networks it’s incredible the power they have in advising the Minister on things he should be looking at. It is really important if either yourself or someone you know is interested and you think they would be able to provide strategic advice based on the networks they have, that you provide…because we will be sending out information about the process through the advocacy groups and others, other networks that we’ve got. Get it to them because it would be fantastic that we can continue on with the sort of body of work that’s been put in by Robyn and her colleagues on Council. It’s a shameless plug but it is so important that that Council continues to have the strength that it can have in providing advice to Government.  We’ll send through the information about that and give you the inbox details for VDAC and pass it on to anyone it might be of interest for.

I really encourage everyone here to at least help someone to nominate, encourage at least one person to nominate and give Michael and his team too much work in terms of having to sift through all the applications. Thanks for that Michael, do we have any questions you might have of Michael Cromie from the Office for Disability?

Esther is walking out.


Obviously enjoyed that.

I’m glad you did mention education.

Yes you’re quite right thank you for reminding me.

Everyone wants to get home, thank you Michael. Before I let everybody go just some quick comments. Thank you so much for your participation today. I hope your expectations were somewhat met today. We really as always DARU, myself and Natasha, really value your feedback so please if you haven’t already completed an evaluation form. If you have completed your evaluation form can you leave it at the registration desk as you leave. If you haven’t completed it and you need to rush off don’t worry because when we send you through the link to our web page with all the resources arising out of today you will get an electronic copy. We’re happy to receive either hard copy or electronic copy feedback. We honestly welcome it constructive or otherwise. It’s really helpful because we do utilise your feedback to formulate the agenda for each forum.

Whilst I’m spruiking DARU we have some training workshops that we’ve developed out of the Certificate 4 in Disability Advocacy that will be coming up later this year in September and October. There is three that we will be promoting very, very soon. One is on the topic of Empowering People with Disability, it will be a half-day workshop. The other is Safeguarding the Rights of People with Disability, again that’s another half-day workshop. Free for disability advocates and people with disability. The other is Making Representative Complaints, again that’s another half-day workshop. Watch out in the DARU updates, check out the DARU website for dates and times and how to register for that training. I do hope you can come.All that is left for me to say now is thank you very much to all of our speakers today. Thank you very much to the Queen Vic Women’s Centre for this great venue. Thank you to Michael and Kristen for your audio and technical expertise. Natasha thank you so much for being calm all the time and always ordering fabulous food. Thank you Sorghum Sisters for the fabulous food. Thank you for your participation today. Our next forum Advocacy Sector Conversations Forum is on the 22nd of October and my working title for the theme for the forum is Safeguarding the Rights of People with Disabilities. I will be sending a letter of invitation to the Victorian Ombudsman and asking her to come and present at that forum. I thought I’d say it in this forum so at least we can all exert pressure on her.

Thank you so much for today, safe journey home and we will see you next time.


Date published:
Mon 14th Sep, 2015