This session was part of the Advocacy Sector Conversations forum series held at the Queen Victoria Women’s Centre, Melbourne, on 24 March 2015. Other sessions at this forum included:
- Violence against women response services
- Influencing government: telling the disability advocacy story
- Q&A with the Office for Disability
Michael Chromie, Manager Strategic Engagement, Office for Disability
Michael provided an update on the activities of the Office and took questions from the floor relating to current service agreements for disability advocacy organisations. He announced that all Victorian Government funded disability advocacy organisations will shortly receive contracts for the rollover of funding for the next financial year.
Transcript & audio
Moving on to the final session of the day, I’ll now hand over the microphone to Michael Cromie from the Office for Disability and then come back to me for some closing comments for the day.
Hi everyone, I’ll say thanks from me to you Robyn after you thanked yourself earlier on. I work in Office for Disability, my name is Michael Cromie and I’m the Manager now of Strategic Engagement. Last time I came here, I was Manager of the Office, there has been some changes to the office. Apologies to a number of you who have no dealings whatsoever with the Office for Disability but I am going to bore you a little bit with the detail on that.
We fund the Victorian Disability Advocacy Program. Mary in your terms we’re an insider but an outsider when it comes to DSS because we’re not part of the Federal system but we gather morsels of information through our bilateral discussions with them and hopefully I can share some of that today but probably no more than useful than what Mary has already provided. In fact, I got a lot of useful information from you Mary, thanks for that.
The office is 11 people two of who are here, Sarah and Ami at the front. We have two areas one is strategic engagement and the other is policy and strategy. Angela Healy is the Manager of the office and as I said, I’m the Manager of Strategic Engagement.
I just want to briefly mention a few things and then throw it over to you for questions. State Disability Plan – Victoria has had a State Disability Plan since 2013. Actually, we had one before that as well but that was not so much a whole of Government piece but very much focused on service delivery.
The new State Disability Plan, new wish 2013 to 2016, is currently in place. With the new Government, we’re interested in how the Government was going to view the State Disability Plan and I’m pleased to say and there was a media release on the 17th of March to this effect, that there will be another State Disability Plan.
In terms of consultation, I would think from all the messages we got from Minister Foley and from the Labour Government that they’re very, very keen to get out and about hearing from people. We’ve also got a lot of information already through the Social Inclusion Enquiry responses that came in and questionnaires we’ve been running on a periodic basis. All that will be very useful already. If you’ve had your say on various things, it’s not going to be lost on that process.
But definitely, there will always be a State Disability Plan as long as the current Disability Act remains in place. It’s really important, Mark mentioned before the NDIS I guess being viewed as panacea and the services are there now. In what you were referring to Mark was obviously advocacy would be viewed as not required anymore.
The State Disability Plan kind of continues effort across all areas of Government. It focuses on health, education, all the other areas that also impact on people with a disability.
Certainly, through the information we receive through the QDC reporting Robyn, obviously are things you hear about and see every day in your practice. The importance of the plan remains. We would love to see more…a lot of the feedback we’ve had is about how clear and specific the actions are across Government. Yes, we would all like to see that more so and we’re really hopeful we can continue on with other Government Departments and getting them to focus on removing barriers to people with disabilities.
These aren’t really PUSH statements and I’m trying to drop any jargon. Catch me out, I’m happy to be pulled up on that stuff. Some of my thunder Mary was stolen too because I was interested in making sure people were aware of the opportunities, they could feed into those broader DSS pieces. I think it’s really, really important that that occurs. The email@example.com is something you should definitely get on and we will be having a look at definitely as well.
Again just for the State funded disability advocacy providers , you will know that the current service agreements cease on the 30th June this year. The Department will be renewing those service agreements and you will receive a letter to that affect. They will be renewed for 3 years. That’s good, before you clap I should’ve started with this, I should’ve done it the other way around.
Obviously because as again Mary you mentioned the discussions that are happening at a State and Federal level about the future of advocacy within a National Disability Advocacy Program. DSS are very keen I think to get that sorted out May, June this year is the timelines I’m hearing about, about a review and a refresh of the National Program. We’re really keen to understand what that looks like and participate hopefully in that as well and then work on what the Victorian Program might look like beyond that as well and as part of that hopefully.
You would like to think in a review of a program of that nature that the current ways in which States are treating their advocacy programs if they have them would be strongly considered throughout that. We’re very, very keen to participate. We will certainly be putting our hand up to discuss our view of advocacy, which we view as very important.
Whilst we will do 3 year agreements and this is the disclaimer I need to read – there is always the provision to enable variations and may be invoked based on the arrangements agreed for full scheme roll out at the NDIS. The clap was premature.
(inaudible – too far from mic)
Fine print is always there George, always in the service agreements but it needs to be made a bit more clear at the moment for all organisations that are providing. It’s not just limited to advocacy information, organisations will be receiving the same sort of advice. We don’t know what the program is going to look like. As we find out more the current statement will go out through your letters and it will probably be word for word. The service agreements with the Department include a provision to enable variations, this may be invoked based on the arrangements agreed for full scheme roll out of the NDIS. So sorry for the disclaimer at the end.
I really wanted to leave plenty of opportunity I guess for any questions today because I’ve got no doubt there are some around the room. Pauline thrown the hand straight up.
Thanks, am I reading you right when you say and by the way, we support advocacy? Does that mean the State Government has a commitment into funding advocacy into the future and is that the position that will be put in the refresh that happens May/June?
The difficulty is at the moment whilst we await obviously our Federal partner really in this is a bigger funder of the Advocacy Program in our State than what we are. We really need to get a better picture of what their plans are and participate in that before we can make a clear statement in what Victoria is going to do. I can’t be any more definitive than that.
It is very much in the State Federal considerations that we’re stuck in the middle of at the moment. Our view of advocacy there is nothing to suggest it’s going to change at the moment, is that it’s really, really important.
Our Advocacy Program in Victoria I think is so strong and so important in terms of giving that voice that we spoke about earlier on, representation to people with a disability here. Sorry can’t say anything else than that at this stage, in that when it’s been reviewed May/June as I understand it, we’ll definitely pick up on that and I think later on this year we will be able to say what it’s going to look like and what Victoria is going to do as a result of that.
(inaudible – too far)
Sorry the National Disability Advocacy Program which is being reviewed by the Federal Government who has the carriage of that document. But by the way, sorry I know there is some other questions that won’t be limited to just us feeding into that. There will be opportunities for consultation with yourselves as well.
I think Robyn your forward thinking, proactivity around PUSH statements, different ways of making sure that advocacy is seen, heard and people are aware of its importance is very timely.
It’s Kathy Barakis. I’m just thinking about the PUSH statements, does the Department put an economic benefit to the work that’s being done? Do you have a way of valuing it that goes back to dollars and cents?
That’s a really good question. We haven’t established that to date. If there were one, it would be really, really useful exercise to be able to present that as being for every hour of service provided through an advocacy provider we view that the Victorian society benefits to this degree. If you’re aware of any research that’s been done….
Can I suggest I was fortunate enough to do a Masters of Education and disability was one of the topics I chose to look into. There is measures around employment benefit. So the advocacy I do as a parent for my daughter to get her into open employment means there will be less cost of the disability pension in the future. So you can actually start identifying and start measuring, measures can’t be managed. I think it’s time for advocates and disability organisations to start thinking more corporate like and if it’s not apparent, I’m from the corporate sector.
I share that view. I think some of the issues that might sit around that are the degree to which you can….
Little steps is fine.
Can I just add to that for a second, one of the advocacy organisations in Canberra,
ADACAS they did a piece of work last year and they got Deloitte one of the big companies to scope out a project, which they haven’t got the funding to do yet.
Also DANA tried over a number of years to get the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare to be interested in doing a piece of work around advocacy, we couldn’t find anybody to fund it. The answer is there is very little research that’s been done into advocacy on any aspect of advocacy outcomes let alone the economic benefit.
Robyn had emailed me a couple of weeks ago about this and I hadn’t responded to her email because I could find very little. Tiny things but no real research. One of the things that if you think just intuitively about it, yes for individuals advocacy will provide better outcomes and you might be able to measure that in terms of dollars maybe. For systems that might not be the case because for systems what happens when an advocate is involved is it may cost the system more money. You may get a better outcome for the person but the system will have to pay. It’s a complicated thing that if you’re measuring the outcomes for a person yes. But if a Government Department is trying to measure the dollars it costs them, then having advocates involved might cost them more money.
I was going to suggest not just for the individual but the community, which is where I was heading, I was going to bring this up earlier but if we go to the Disability Commissioners Complaints List and identify common complaints – education would be one and then pick on that one and try to put some metrics around that. I think that will give a connecting piece between the advocacy through complaints and the turn around that the Department can actually start embracing actual projects.
Thanks Kathy, we might talk further about that. There is a question down here.
(inaudible – too far from mic), how many of those people would be people with a disability?
That’s a good question too. It’s hard to say because it’s not always obvious and some of those people…
So how many people would identify as having a disability?
I don’t know how many have identified themselves as having a disability. You might not know I might well have.
What about the Disability Services Commission, do we know how many people identify?
I don’t know.
It would be good to have those stats.
I don’t think they would be available because we wouldn’t provide that information because it would be breaching people’s confidentiality as with any organisation I think.
My question might sound a little bit of a tangent but I’m asking it for a reason and I’ll explain the reason after I ask the question. My question is Disability Advocacy Victoria, (DAV) has I understand funded as the peak for disability advocacy in Victoria, I don’t know if there is anyone here from DAV. My question is how does the Office for Disability see them in terms of who is who in the zoo of advocacy?
My reason for asking is as very small advocacy organisations who are often just funded for individual advocacy, some are funded for both, it’s very hard to address all of those policy actions that come to us. I’m finding we have to write a submission once a month at the moment or even twice a month. We need resourcing to make that happen. Do we turn to the peak or turn to Robyn in her wisdom, what do you suggest?
To answer the first part of the question Disability Advocacy Victoria was provided with short term funding over 2 years. I think it was in 2012/2013 and 2013/14 to set themselves up as a sustainable peak into the future. At the moment, they don’t receive any ongoing funding and their position probably comes under the overall advocacy sector and how things land with all that.
In terms of how you would currently provide advice, the Office For Disability certainly plays a role in trying to gather the views of the sector. We definitely want to use the QDC data a lot better than what we currently have been. I think that’s really important in people completing their QDC forms provide us with the more qualitative information about what they deliver. All that feeds in I guess to the pieces of work also around PUSH statements and so forth.
So the answer is there won’t be a peak, a funded peak?
I didn’t say that. I just said it comes under the….
You said the funding ran out.
They’re not currently funded but still in operation. In terms of advocacy and how Victoria want to treat advocacy those decisions are still to be made.
Okay thank you.
Jax’s speaking. My question was actually Jenny’s question around what is the level of employment of people with disabilities in your organisation but more broadly and I think it is a really important point. I think to side step it and say personal disclosure of disability is to be asking personal information, really is really, really problematic. I think if we look at other minority groups in sectors – if we look at indigenous people, GLBTI people, in the sectors that directly affect them, we see the affirmative action of having those people in positions of power and authority within those spaces is actually really important. It’s really important for social change. To not see that in the disability sector and to not see people with disabilities being supported and trained and assisted to get to higher management levels is actually really problematic and keeps us in silos.
I was going to come back to that after the follow up question. We know at the moment across the VPS it’s around 4% of people with disability are….
Could we explain acronyms?
Sorry that’s Victorian Public Service it’s around 4%. We know Department of Health and Human Services it’s around 5%. Is that acceptable – no. In terms of what the Office for Disability is doing about that, we’re putting some strategies forward to our immediate department as well as trying to affect the other Government departments as well.
I’m happy to talk about that in more detail next time. There is actually quite a bit happening to try and improve the way in which Government as a huge employer employs people with a disability in the areas that we work. I absolutely agree with you and sorry I did mean to come back to that point. It is known it’s just not known at a really, really small level like with 11 people within out area.
So this is less of a question and more of a statement. I’m doing placement with George and YDAS at the moment but I also work for Danielle Green who is the Shadow Minister for Disability back in the day. There is a couple of different things rattling around in my brain. One is just for you guys to know Tony Clark who ran for Ringwood he is now heading up what we are calling Inclusive Labour Board, which is very much going to work like Rainbow Labour and all these as well. It will be around disability itself. That’s something that’s very slowly coming forward towards a new thing for Labour to do. I think something for me that’s been really valuable is threw my placement I’ve really been shown the importance of advocacy in this area. It’s something that I don’t think…I think also in Government itself there’s a miscommunication between people with disabilities and what the Government sector are doing and what the Government departments are putting forward as well.
I think within the next 12 months I think you’re going to see a little more people with disabilities actually having an input because whether or not you’re labour voter you can still join as a labour member and join inclusive labour to actually have a say in policy without going as far as joining a policy committee or doing that sort of thing. You actually can have a say. I’m very excited about it because I’ve been trying to have a say in disability for the last 4 years and being in opposition it’s been very frustrating to watch what the previous Government did in the sector. It’s something that me and Tony and the rest of the people, I think it’s something like five members at the moment but we’re pushing really hard to actually get it off the ground. It’s something I think you’re going to see more of.
There were some really strong statements in the Labour platform in relation to disability employment within the public service as well as procurement activities. We were really excited to see that because that’s really important that’s for sure.
I had a little bit more information to feedback with regard to employment rates and the NDIA. I met with Louise Glanville who is in charge of recruitment and they’re at 11% now and they will be 15 by the end of this year and seem to have some very good policies in place to make that happen. They might be worth talking to too to see what they’re doing that’s got the rates so much higher than what were you saying VPS is…?
4% across the VPS, Victorian Public Service. We’ve used that as part of our papers around the way in which they’ve done it to encourage our own departments to do the same. Things like having people with disability on interview panels just by way of example is one way.
The needs to advocacy are several and should be identified but one of them we see is that Government departments say it as it should be rather than as it is. They talk about how it should be, they talk about how wonderful they’re doing, how wonderful they’re providing this and that but in fact when it comes down to it they’re not and that’s why you need the advocacy to test that up. That should be looked at – why are we needing the advocacy? We need to be working along getting rid of those problems that are stopping these things happening that should be happening. Thank you.
In regard to the employment of people with disability, we’ve known now for many years that in some European countries they have set quotas of employment for people with a disability within the public and the private sector. (inaudible) country in terms of opportunity for people with a disability employment. I know here in Australia we don’t want to talk much about that because of the idea of recognising people with a disability but personally, I would prefer to be talking and get the opportunity to show what I can do and therefore overcome the (inaudible) rather than not having the opportunity at all to be in employment. So I would like to know your view on this.
I’ll give Michael 30 seconds think time on that one. Just mindful we’re running over time. If you have a question please raise your hand. Okay Christian has the last question. Michael I will give you an opportunity to answer that question and then I will conclude the forum.
So the opportunity to be within the public service, employed?
Basically the opportunity to be employed both within the public service and the private sector through quotas.
My view of quotas I think they would be great because I think that’s what affects change, that’s a personal view. There is a muriate of views one way or the other about quotas and the perverse logic of them have been argued in a bunch of different places as well. But my own personal view, yeah quotas are really important.
To have something to shoot for like the NDIS have done definitely pushes that. They started with 12%; they’ve reached 11%, now they’re aiming for 15%. I think with quotas you actually can see that it works in that case and there is a whole bunch of other strategies you need to put around that, around the education, the workforce already there to make sure…but all those things need to be part of that system. And opportunities in a whole range of different areas need to be there as well – internships, scholarships those things need to be in place as well.
Some of those we’ve got. Are they at the extent we would like to see them – no not at the moment but we’re working on building that.
People when they get in I think you mentioned at the start you want an opportunity. When they get in the door, they’ve already demonstrated with the Department of Human Services before they can do extraordinary things and we know that. They can do fantastic things like anyone else can. Those people that have a foot in the door are the ones that I think have found themselves to either to stay on in the current role or find themselves another job within Government.
It’s getting them in the door is the thing we want to see happen because it educates the workforce in itself, the whole workforce, forget about disability awareness training that’s something else you can do. The individual being there and visible I think is really important. Agree, quotas are great. Office for Disability wouldn’t disagree with that I don’t think.
- Date published:
- Tue 24th Mar, 2015