‘Zero Tolerance’ of abuse: Response to the Parliamentary Inquiry into Abuse in Disability Services

This was the first session at the Advocacy sector Conversations forum held at the Queen Victoria Women’s Centre on 22 February 2017.

Other sessions at this forum included:



Zero Tolerance’ of abuse in disability services is the focus of the Victorian Government’s response to the Parliamentary Inquiry into Abuse in Disability Services.  The response was tabled in Parliament on 26 November 2016. Anna Guglielmucci, Assistant Director and Vanessa Stevens-Downie, Principal Policy Officer, Safeguarding and Disability Supports, DHHS provided an update on implementation of the response and discussed opportunities for collaboration with the advocacy sector.

This session finished early however Mary Mallet, CEO at Disability Advocacy Network Australia (DANA) was present in the audience and obligingly presented an overview of the recently released NDIS Quality and Safeguarding Framework. This document  provides a nationally consistent approach to help empower and support NDIS participants to exercise choice and control, while ensuring appropriate safeguards are in place and establishes expectations for providers and their staff to deliver high quality supports.



References referred to in this session include:



‘Zero Tolerance’ of abuse: Response to the Parliamentary Inquiry into Abuse in Disability Services



Welcome to the first Advocacy Sector Conversation for 2017. My name is Melissa Coe and I am the co-ordinator of the Disability Advocacy Resource Unit and it’s my pleasure being your MC today.  Our forum today is being held on the traditional land of the Kulin Nation and I wish to acknowledge them as traditional owners. I would also like to pay my respect to their Elders past and present and Elders from other communities who may be here today.

I would also like to welcome those of us who have joined online. Once again, we are livestreaming in this forum to provide equal access to advocates in rural and regional areas and those who are too busy to leave their desks today with clients. Just a reminder to those watching online, please text in your question to the number on the bottom of the screen and I will ask the question on your behalf.

Some general housekeeping before we start. If you need toilets, the toilets are just here and there’s another accessible toilet downstairs on ground floor. In the event of a fire, a fire warden will attend and provide instructions to exit the building safely. For those of you who use Twitter and Facebook, we encourage you making your comment using the hashtag #ASC so we can collect your comments and use them later on.

So today’s agenda will see us talking about the Zero Tolerance of Abuse policy. The response to the Parliamentary enquiry into abuse in disability services, NDIS Readiness for Advocates, the State Disability Plan and as usual an update from the Office of Disability. So, it’s a really good program today.

Now onto session one, we’re pleased to welcome Miriam Segon, Manager of Disability Supports Unit and Vanessa Stevens-Downie, Principal Policy Officer, Safeguarding and Disability Supports, DHHS.

Vanessa Stevens-Downie:
Thank you everyone we are really excited to be here today to come and talk to you around some of the work that DHHS and the Victorian Government is planning around Zero Tolerance of Abuse for people with a disability in response to the Parliament enquiry. So thank you very much for inviting us.

So I thought we would start with running through some of the existing measures that Victoria currently has with regards to protecting people with a disability from abuse and neglect in services. So there’s the DHHS standards compliance and that’s done through an accreditation every three years that all registered disability services need to undergo. There’s also the DHHS complaints process, the community visitors program, the disability worker exclusion scheme and there’s also other onsite review processes undertaken for registered disability services that DHHS undertakes and also there’s the Office for Professional Practice in DHHS that does quite a lot of work around oversight of restrictive interventions practice.

So some of the new things that are coming through in response to the Parliament enquiry and also work that DHHS has ongoing. We’re developing a new client incident management system. The focus of it really is going to be on the impact on the clients rather than on the incident itself so that is very important. There’s also going to be quite a lot of training activities that are undergoing as we speak actually for DHHS staff and also for the sector as well in terms of how to comply with that incident management system that will really sort of lift the bar around protecting people from abuse. The new DHHS system will apply to advocacy services and also all registered disability services as well.

So we are also busy doing some work to amend the disability act and one of those pieces of work probably something I am quite excited about and that is really emphasising in the act as an overarching principal that disability services should not tolerate abuse or neglect or exploitation of people with a disability or indeed normalise that. And there’s also going to be a positive obligation around that they should actually be working to create a culture in their organisation that really respects and recognises the human rights of people with a disability.  So that will sit in the act itself as a framing principle.

So that framing principle support some of the other work around zero tolerance of abuse. So of that is around getting registered disability services to declare their commitments to zero tolerance as part of the registration process. We are also developing Victoria’s first code of conduct for disability workers as well. So the principle that will be in the act will really sit above some of those other initiatives.

So just giving you some more information about the code of conduct that really as I said before really aims to build as the culture of zero tolerance of abuse and really will clearly state the rights of people with a disability, something that we are working on at the moment. All disability service workers that are either in department run services or registered disability services will be required to sign up to the new code of conduct. By doing that they will really demonstrating their commitment as individuals they will absolutely have a zero tolerance of people with a disability.

Some additional work that we’re doing is to increase or strengthen the oversight powers of the disability services commissioner and again a lot of this came out of the parliamentary enquiry. So currently the DSC has been a complaints body. So is unable to take investigations unless it comes through as complaints. We are looking at giving the DSC some powers to be able to undertake independent enquiries when there hasn’t been a complaint lodged.

So there will be some amendments of the disability act around that and that will be really focused on abuse and neglect to make sure that those resources can really tackle some of the horrible things that came out of the Parliament enquiry. The DSC will also be doing an annual review of deaths that occur in disability services and the DSC with DHHS is working on an MOU between the coroner to ensure that doesn’t duplicate the coroner’s functions, but also to make sure that those two bodies work appropriately together to make sure that there is adequate review of deaths in disability services in Victoria. That information will be included in the DSC’s annual report so that will be made public.

There’s also some work that we are doing around strengthening the relationship that DHHS has with Victoria police. So we are looking developing further guidelines that will really support Victoria police to ensure that it supports people with a disability in justice system. So that whether their a victim of crime, a witness or a perpetrator.

I will just run through some of the other work that is going on to. So obviously family violence is been in the media quite a lot over the past couple of years. So as most of you are probably aware the Family Violence Royal Commission came down with a whole host of recommendations for government. The Victorian Government has committed to implement all of those recommendations and that includes a review of family violence crisis response and risk assessment into relationship of disability. Also some improved data collection as well as that has been a problem across the board in Victoria when it comes to family violence. Also some addition training for services providers as well to better support people with a disability.

Some of the other work that’s been going on in the children’s space will also support children with a disability. So some of you may be aware, in 2016 the Victorian Government past a piece of legislation that created some child safe standards that will apply to about 35000 or so organisations across Victoria who provide services for children.  So that ranges from out of home care providers, hospitals, religious organisations, sporting clubs, other volunteer groups. They also include disability services as well.

So those standards really, I guess aim to drive a cultural change in organisations so child abuse is everybody’s business and it’s also zero tolerance approach to that as well. The standards really say it has got to come from leadership. So the leadership needs to take ownership of making sure children are safe in organisations. There’s also a standard around participation and empowerment of children as well. Those standards also include a principle that overarches all the organisations need to embed as they’re implementing the standards and that is around the safety of children with a disability as well. And the Victorian Government obviously looked at some of the work that the Parliament enquiry and ombudsmen enquiry did and obviously that demonstrated that organisations across the board do really need to have at the forefront of their minds the safety of children with a disability when their thinking about child safety.

Something else that came out of the children’s space there’s a bill that has been debated in Parliament this week actually around introducing a reportable conduct scheme in Victoria. Now this again will apply to a number of organisations that provide services for children including disability services. So if there is allegation of abuse or neglect in those organisations, they need to report that centrally to the Commission for Children and Young people. Once that happens there will have to be an investigation and the Commission for Children and Young People will have oversight of that investigation and then will be able to ask for further documents and things to. If abuse is substantiated that could then feed into the Working With Children Check or the disability worker exclusion scheme, Victorian Institute of Teaching and various other mechanisms that can prevent people from having access to children. So that is something hopefully with pass this week.

So the Victorian Government is also doing some work around training for people in recognising and reporting abuse. Obviously the Parliamentary enquiry noticed that was a problem. So there is training for community visitors that is going to be rolled out across this year and year. We are also working on some training, resources and tools for disability service workers in both government organisations and SCO’s. That will focus on people with complex communication needs, people with cognitive disability and family and carers of children with a disability.

Just again to strengthen the human rights approach to protecting people from abuse, we are also looking at doing some human rights training for disability workers. This will be an e-learning module that’s funded by both the Victorian Government and the Western Australian Government. It will be free for anyone in the community or a fee certain organisations. That’s currently available online and the link on the presentation the bottom there as well if people would like to access that.

So that is probably the end of the presentation. So I thought we would then have quite a bit of time for some questions. Now as well as if anybody had particular questions around the government response, I know there might be some people texting in some things as we speak.

Hi, I am a ring in actually because I am from DANA The National Peek for Advocacy, so I am an observer in the Victorian space. I suppose I am particularly interested in the relationship of all of this fantastic stuff your bringing into Victoria to the NDIS Quality and Safeguards Framework that has just come out. How does this situate in alongside that?

With the Parliamentary enquiry the Victorian Government was very keen that we didn’t wait for the national framework so that is why we are actually moving ahead and implementing a whole range of actions. That I have seen you have a copy of the response on the table and in a way we are using that. What we’re doing, the minister is very keen to use that to influence the National Framework to an extent. So we have already funded for example the training around the human rights. That we have found out Canberra or the Commonwealth is very keen to say “all look that is a very good piece of work. How can we use that?” so it’s really positioning Victoria to influence as much as we can what’s happening in that national space.

We are also speaking fairly regularly with our colleagues in the Commonwealth as well to sort of help, I guess to input on them some of the strengths of the Victorian system and also give them some of the things we have learnt as well to frame the quality and safeguarding framework as it’s continuing to develop.

I have a question about the registered disability services in respect to the fact that DHHS funding isn’t required to be registered at this stage. Wondering if that is going to be addressed in the future because those that aren’t registered, can therefore slip by not being required to meet that code of conduct and processes that you have put in place?

My understanding is that there are very few who are not registered, it’s around individual choice. So if you get an individual package, you may choose to go and by your service from somebody that isn’t registered and we can’t prevent that. What we try and do is make sure that they’re aware if they choose to do that they may mean they’re not covered by the complaints mechanism and things like that. So it is about personal choice but all those issues are generally raised by the case manager with the family and with the person with a disability when they choose that.

So one of the things what it seems to me is overall there’s no particular changes for advocacy if you know what I mean. The environment around the advocacy organisations is changing with some new things in place for some of the places that advocates help people to get to. So is that right, is that a fair way to think about it? Advocacy just continues still funded, keeps going, keeps doing what it is doing on the ground and hopefully overall, amount of abuse reduces as a result to some of these changes. But actually the day to day work of the advocates doesn’t have any particular change to that. Its changes to the bodies that they help get to. That is how I can see it.

I see you have a role and understand perhaps the National Framework when it comes out. So that you can support people to use the mechanisms that will be available under that framework when they are in place. So it may be about some up skilling to see if there are any changes. Especially if you are supporting people to make a complaint, there will be the National Framework has similar things, they are going to have a complaints commissioner, they will still have things like the restraints inclusion issue. So it is again learning what will be in place.

Hi, its Felix in the office, I can add a little bit to that. I think it’s important to reinforce that the zero tolerance response really highlights the government’s commitment to advocacy but its recognition that disability advocacy forms a really critical part of the broader Safeguarding Framework for people with a disability. So I think today will be a bit of I guess a start of a discussion in terms of advocacy moving forward in the broader safeguarding context.

I guess it’s also the first of many conversations I imagine we will be having with advocates around the zero tolerance approach. So I guess advocates are empowered with knowledge of some of the new things that organisations are going to need to comply with such as the code of conduct and things as well. Also when the disability services commissioner own motion powers assuming they pass Parliament come through. It’s also knowing that there may be scoped supporting people to go through an enquiry if the DSC does indeed launch wanting to do a service where your supporting somebody.

I can tell you that what we are calling the Abuse Prevention Strategy, we have done phase one and there was some consultation done with people like VALID and The Association for Children with Disability and Women with Disability Victoria And, what the consultants looked at, what is a framework or a strategy about prevention and they identified, Sorry for Felix, three pillars as supposed to four pillars like in the Disability Action Plan but the first pillar is what they are call natural supports and that’s the person with the disability but they have advocacy in there about the important role that advocacy can play in assisting the person to understand what are their rights.  Not everybody will need it like you said yourself advocacy is there but there are some people that will need the support of an advocate or an advocacy agency to assist them to use the system to get a redress if they feel there has been abuse or neglect or about access.

So we will let you know and what we are doing is hoping to have our abuse prevention strategy in place by late May. So in a way it’s part of the resources that support what’s happening with the changes in the act and we need to have that information in place. So happy to come back we have a little bit more info on what that will look like.

Any questions from our rural people?

You’ve got the opportunity to look at that online training about the human rights and it should be free. So, let us know if you have any problems with that. The department has funded quite a few different sorts of resources of support. For example, Association for Children with a Disability is currently developing a whole range of resources to support families under the NDIS.

So, how do you choose a good provider? What should you be looking for? So it’s all trying to build the capacity of people to make choice but to inform choice. So there’s all those resources eventually when the Abuse Prevention Framework is up, we will have an online version that allows you to look at the resources that will support the three pillars and we know through the consultations that service providers did say they’d like access to what is a good piece of work. How do they know what is a good investigation to undertake with staff? How do they what is a good way of screening or doing an interview to make sure that you’re actually employing the person with the right attitudes, not somebody that will tolerate abuse but has the right attitude of working with people with a disabilities.

I’d just say as well, I think possibly the only thing that may change for advocacy is around the new SIMS, so the Critical Client Incident management System that’s been rolled out at the moment because I understand that advocacy services have a role to play in that. I know that there is some training that will be occurring I think from May for organisations about that. So you’ll be able to find that information the DHHS website hopefully and be able to register to undergo training. So I guess it is how to know when you need to do an incident report and those sorts of things and how the new process can help you. But if you are unable to find out that information just contact the department as well and let us know if that’s a problem.

I’ve got another question. A part of the response was the disability code of conduct, worker screen, registration and accreditation. Will these apply to advocacy agents and advocates?

We’re currently looking at working through which types of disability supports would apply. But it’s really sort of asking the question of could the person be vulnerable with the disability. So if an advocate goes into the persons own home, there is that potential. So that is part of the work we are currently undertaking. Just to confirm which bits are in or not, for example, people ask the question about if you’re a physiotherapist who has a code of conduct under their own association and what you’re doing is happening to providing a therapeutic intervention to somebody who has a disability. Your next client could be one of the local footballers. So you got to sort of say how big is this? So we’re still working through that.

Who decides?

Who decides? We follow up with when we make these sorts of decisions. So we will talk to different parts of the sector and the accreditation and registration is actually been run through DPC so they will put out a discussion paper and so that will be available I think for comments, they’re currently drafting that, so that’s how they will get the feedback.

Sorry I think one of the reasons why I am asking all of these questions is that I feel like I have to keep resetting my brain when I come to Victoria because in every other state and territory advocacy is hugely under threat because the state funding is going to disappear you know. In New South Wales they literally they have a year’s worth of funding left and then $10.9 million has gone.

So I probably don’t spend much time thinking about what’s happening in Victoria because I think “Oh yes its perfect” if you know what I mean. But of course it’s not all perfect really and all the stuff your putting in place is the acknowledgement that I suppose it’s not. I’ve happened to fly from Canberra to Melbourne this morning with five people from DSS Quality and Safeguarding who were on their way to Melbourne airport for a national meeting about Quality and Safeguarding so I hounded them in the plane on the way (laughter).

They said) I will say this they don’t know what to call it, this new thing they are going to create and their scared of upsetting the disability sector, their scared of the advocates really and they don’t want to offend people so they can’t come up with a name. Anyway, so I suppose the stuff I have been reading and thinking about is the national stuff and it’s a bit mind blowing for me kind of to really realise that there still will be probably really significant differences across the country between the situation that people are in and what’s available to them depending on what’s state they are in and clearly, they are going to be much better off if they’re in Victoria, than if they’re in most other states. So that is a bit horrifying. It’s great for Victorians, it’s not good for other states and so whatever opportunities you guys have you know through the minister and through COAG and all of that to influence the other states but I know stuff is political. Because Victoria, is the only place where advocacy funding at the moment appears to be secure and there’s no threat to it

And so we are going to be developing a campaign for the other states and nationally to protect advocacy funding and we will be kind of looking at Victoria to be the shining light and drawing on it as a model for what should be done. So I hope Victoria doesn’t suddenly change its mind.

Yeah sorry, that was a bit of a tangent. What I was thinking is everybody in the room even knows though you put all these things in place and you’ve got all of these systems you can never guarantee actually that you can protect a person. You can’t guarantee it can you and its one of the things those DSS Quality and Safeguarding were talking about today that their wary of giving a name to their new structure and its sort of a tag line and they don’t want to use the word protection for instance because they know they can’t actually protect people.

Well it’s kind of the same for your new client incident management system, I’m  really keen to know a bit more about that. But how can you make organisations and service providers and support workers fill the bloody thing in. How can you know that’s what happens isn’t it? You know advocates get called in on an issue and there is no evidence, nothings been filled in, the incident form has disappeared or whatever. To think about changing the culture or making support workers take responsibility and not have the client first, all of that stuff. It’s probably the hardest thing to do and all of these things might sit over it but, I don’t know… Anybody in the room got any great insight’s about how you make that happen? That’s the thing that advocates see all the time, that’s kind of where it all falls away.

Yeah. No, you’re right and it’s something we notice that as well if there’s no reporting then there’s probably a problem. It doesn’t mean that there’s not stuff happening in a particular region or a particular organisation. So we do attempt to do our best to work with those organisations, try and I guess spot any trends that are happening in that way because your absolutely right. Part of the challenge is actually getting people to report in.

I guess by constantly sort of focusing on training and I guess linking lack of incidence to registration and funding and thing like that and having some sticks in place. So the reportable conduct scheme I mentioned is a legislated scheme that applies to children only but there are some criminal penalties in the act for not reporting to the Commissioner for Children and Young People. So there just some of the things we’re trying to do. Your absolutely right, you can have all the sticks in the world at the same time it’s all still about changing culture and we’re still on that journey and will continue on that journey it’s all about continuous improvement in that way. Thank you, it’s a really good point.

In the past I have worked as a support worker in organisations and some places I was casually employed. I didn’t have access, to the incident report form to report frequent and regular incidences that were recurring. I managed to get it because I worked elsewhere and reported them. But yeah many times workers and we are only talking three years ago especially if their only on casual, they don’t get access to email and this is a major disability organisation that’s been providing disability service for 50 years. So it’s very disappointing. It was fortunate that the time of person I am and where I was working concurrently, there’s no way that I would not report things regardless of the consequences to myself.

I don’t know if it’s a good thing or a bad thing but there has been an increase in the number of incident reports that we’re getting. So I think the awareness raising is starting to have an impact. We were just talking today in our branch meeting about the new SIMS that it will be an online system which is supposed to make it easier to actually put in an incident report. But I will take back that issue of what do organisations do if they have casual staff and what part of that induction program about how they could make sure that they get access to the computer. We said the uptake is still quite low but it’s all part of the training that’s happening.

But it’s a great point so happy to take it back to the team that’s working on that because it may be something again when I was talking about the abuse prevention strategy, the third pillar is more around that broader systemic change and one of those issues is about what is the role of the committee of management or the board in understanding what is their responsibility to ensure they have a service that has a zero tolerance to abuse. Those sort of issues could be bought up with the NDS which also represents most of the current disability service providers. Yeah that is a great sort of thing in terms of what advocacy can do is write that down or make sure we get that feedback. Thank you for that.

Thank you for making the report and thank you for your efforts.

A follow on question to that one, is the systems are designed for provider organisations really. Part of my conversation with the DSS people this morning was, the proliferation of other types of providers now. So he was using an ACT example that the number of providers in the ACT has gone from before the NDIS was less than a hundred, and it is five hundred and something. Now many of those are sole operators and now some of them are therapists but their under their own system and stuff. There’s a lot of people that he was describing and I haven’t looked at this stuff and need to go and look at it, but he said there is basically a lot of support workers who operate out of their own homes now and set themselves up and just offer casual work. So they’re not actually part of an organisation at all. They’re not sure at national level whether or not to make, can they make or should they make them have to do quality assurance stuff, their undecided about that yet. Not sure how it would operate in Victoria but any way it’s a part of the change with NDIS is to some extent shift away from the traditional service providers for this kind of expansion and have to provide the same kind of training and culture stuff to those people as well.

It’s the new future. So there is that approach about the market and building the market. So I still think we have an opportunity at the moment to make sure that there are resources. The example is the resource about Association for Children with a Disability, be interesting to see if they have put anything in there about sole operators. It’s like when you go to a travel agent you want to go to one that is a part of an accredited support or you to the real estate agent you know your bond’s going to be there because there is something behind it. So it is probably again about building the capacity of the natural supports to make those choices that are not going to put them at risk.

So yeah. We can’t predict what the NDIS will do or the NDIA. Again we can take that back and see while we have got the opportunity, what can we do at least in Victoria to support that.

Whilst everything is in transition as well, if an organisation is going to be registered under the NDIS as an NDIS provider, Victoria’s committed that we will be registering them as well as registered disability services. So they will need to comply with the Victorian Safeguards at least during transition. Post NDIS world we’re not quite sure how that will look yet.

Is there anything from any of our rural colleagues? Nope. Okay.

Just going back to the Zero Tolerance paper, that’s on everyone’s tables, there were three points made about the longer term investment, a provision of clearer pathway to access advocacy, better regional support options and strategy to engage diverse and isolated groups who need advocacy obviously that one might be covered hopefully by the Disability Advocacy Innovation Fund and project working with these groups. So, can anyone shed any light on what’s happening here?

Yeah that really talks on a number of levels I guess, there’s the sort of immediate improvements that we’re trying to make to the existing programs and funding to those organisations that fall under the existing program through the Innovation Fund and that is certainly for those that all have seen it, has a focus on regional areas, diverse and isolated groups and advocacy for families of people with a disability. In terms of the longer term reform work we will be kick starting the process of developing a plan for the sector, that will start engaging the sector and other key stakeholders later in the year on that. So that is probably all I can say. A part from that, these forums as always are really valuable to give us the heads up about issues and certainly will be using these forums to keep people up to date. That’s kind of where things are up to. It’s just again the enquiry really reinforces this Government’s commitment to advocacy and recognises that we’re on a journey as I think Vanessa said. If that’s an ok response for the person who asked it and I am happy to answer any follow up as well.

And just on that, we actually got our first meeting with ADEC next week, just to ask them about, because we have already done some project work with some of the others like VALID and Association for Children with a Disability, we are wondering if perhaps they can work with those as mentors and start using the resources and seeking how applicable they could be to culture and diverse communities. So we are not reinventing the wheel but we are mindful that we haven’t approach them yet. So that’s a new project.

We have a question from one of our livestream viewers.

Choice and control include people directly employing workers, how can they be pre-screened especially for working with adults and how can they be reported for abuse and put on a register so they can’t go on and abuse others?

I think that comes to the question very similar that was raised before about unregistered. So again if you look at the work we have asked Association for Children with a Disability, that type of question about well even if you employed your own worker, you still have the capacity as an employer to use the DWES. So you could check before you employ them are they currently on the DWES. At the moment DWES, Disability Working Exclusion Scheme only applies to people working in accommodation services. But if you look at that sort of question, that relates to a person who may be in their own home and has a support worker that they hired, we would encourage them to use the same principles and processes that an agency would which is about doing referee checks, asking them if they have got their Police Check. If it’s a parent, do they have a Working With Children’s Check that’s valid. So it’s really about skilling up the individual so that they can make those choices and feel safe.

Anymore last questions? No?

Thank you.

Thank you for this opportunity.

Thank you Vanessa and Miriam for answering all of our questions.



NDIS Quality & Safeguards Framework



I actually have a suggestion… Do you want me to quickly give you a very quick run down on the NDIS Quality and Safeguard Framework? I have it in my hand and I could just give everybody a brief outline of what I know about it.

That will be fantastic. We’ve got 20 minutes. For those who don’t know this is Mary Mallet and she’s come all the way from Canberra from DANA. Welcome.

Thanks. Sorry, I actually only knew a couple of days ago that I was going to be able to come today so I didn’t even get a name badge!

So this is my copy of the Quality and Safeguarding Framework and I’ve put all of these coloured stickers on it about advocacy related issues. I don’t know if anybody in the room has had time to read this yet? No, it came out only a couple of weeks ago. It’s not actually out for comment, it is out as it is.

It’s a funny document, it reads like it’s been written by a committee because it probably has and there’s some funny things in it. But the basics are that there are kind of 18 months to go more or less for this to get put in place. Their starting to write the legislation now. They will have two lots of legislation, primary and secondary legislation.

But the new functions that will exist nationally is a new Complaints Commissioner, an NDIS Complaints Commissioner. There will be a Registrar who’s responsible for service providers having to register under them. So like what was mentioned a minute ago, there’s what exists now and then what will exist once all this new stuff is put in place. So there’s kind of a transition phase over the next 18 months to two years where all the existing systems in all the states and territories stay exactly the same or like in Victoria improve.

I am not entirely clear I must say what happens when this thing is fully rolled out, then what happens to the existing state and territory structures and bodies, I am not entirely clear. So there’s a few weird things in here which is that they describe the functions that this new quality and safeguarding system will have. They don’t describe yet the body that they will sit in. Now we don’t know, it’s not clear whether the decision hasn’t quite yet been made.

So the questions I still have and I am trying to find out is where the kind of stuff advocates need to know which is, where’s the power and the accountability for all of this new stuff. Will it sit directly under the Federal Minister for instance? Will it report to COAG? Who will it report to? So that’s the thing that isn’t clear yet. I suspect probably to the Federal Minister.

So there will be this new complaints commissioner and complaints about the NDIS will go to that complaints commissioner. So they will have own motion powers. They will have investigation officers whatever they will call them. That will be complaints about NDIS funded services whether they are registered with the NDIS or not registered. So people who are self-managing under their NDIS funding and you can use anybody whether their registered providers or not.  The complaints about the people they use will still go to the complaints commissioner.

Complaints about the NDIA itself though won’t, they will have to go to the Commonwealth Ombudsman and I think this is odd, that the complaints about the local area co-ordinators, will also not go to the NDIS Complaints Commissioner. I don’t understand why. I’ve asked several times and I don’t get a response that makes sense to me. They say “All yes they are contracted by the NDIS”. Well, so, what, you know. I don’t understand their contracted all over the country to all different organisations, charity and others. I don’t understand why complaints about them will not go back to that complaints commissioner because there will be many complaints about them – mainly that there ineffective, which is what we’re hearing from advocates all over the place.

They say the LACs don’t know what they’re doing and the advocates have to do their job and that’s understandable when it’s a new system and they will catch up,, I’m sure., But the very peculiar thing,  and I queried it this morning and their going to follow it up for me,, is complaints about local area co-ordinators do not come under that new complaints commission but complaints about advocates, would you believe, do. Now that’s completely nonsensical.

If you look at the total work load of most advocacy organisations, issues to do with the NDIS, especially once the system is fully in place, might be 10% or 15% of their work load. And, all of their other issues will be justice, health, education, child protection and all the other issues, so why on earth complaints about those organisations, dealing with all those issues would come under the NDIS Complaints Commissioner, makes no sense.

I have a feeling, well the only thing I can think of for the federally funded organisations, the place where complaints about them currently goes to is the CRRS. Now I presume what that means is they’re  dismantling that and therefore rolling it into the new complaints commission. Anyway, I am trying to get an answer about that.

So there will be the complaints commissioner. There will be this registrar, its where service providers sit, under the registrar, so the registrar will do all the registering of any new providers so that’s a new national function. The worker screening, I had presumed it was going to sit sort of with that, and it kind of does but it’s not really a new national function. The workers screening will actually just continue to be what happens in all the states and territories but maybe harmonised a bit more.

So there’s a mixture in this NDIS Quality and Safeguarding Framework of things that are new national responsibilities and other things that just are the same blend of state and territory functions as previously. And the other one that’s like that, is that  there is going to be a new national Senior Practitioner. So the national Senior Practitioner will deal with restrictive practices, but in a limited way, they’re designed to be like a model of good practice. So they will provide good examples of positive behaviour support, they will kind of lead that area but service providers who want to get permission to put restrictive practices in place, will still have to do that authorisation through their state or territory Senior Practitioner or whatever the role is, it’s not called the same thing everywhere.

That again, was something, I was a bit surprised at and some of these things we will just have to see how they play out. It’s a slightly odd one though to have the authorisation of restrictive practices still sit in state and territory but the national Senior Practitioner, I don’t know, to do what exactly, run around the country telling people how to do the job, I don’t know. I suppose what it is, is what became clear to me after I read through it and we had a briefing about it, was, we have been waiting for this to come out thinking this was the answer to everything and of course it’s not. It’s just another Commonwealth framework that hopefully will make things better but it’s not the solution to everything.

But one of the things that is clear in here that I’m paying attention to is there are some indications of risks to advocacy. I’ve put lots of circles in here and page 34 is one of them.  It says “That some of the supports the NDIS funds through individual plans and ILC, capacity building, overlap with some supports traditionally provided by advocacy services. The National Disability Advocacy program (because they are just thinking  of the federal one, but of course this equally applies to all the state funded ones as well) needs to be further developed to ensure its complimentary to the supports and safeguards made available through the NDIS.”

We have had other indications through other unofficial sources that this is an issue. There appears to be kind of a belief somewhere, it’s not clear because it’s not in writing but it exists. The work that advocates do, will be replaced by what the Local Area Coordinators do. Now of course it won’t, but the risks still exists and its actually, to be honest it’s about the money.

So the Federal Government when the NDIS is fully rolled out, will be spending $550 million a year on Local Area Co-ordination. In the same way they don’t want to duplicate anything in any systems, they don’t want to duplicate that stuff either. If they actually believe or make themselves believe that what the Local Area Co-ordinators do will cover off on what advocates do, then advocacy funding is potentially at significant risk. And we’re getting some indications along that line and we’re starting the very beginnings of planning a national campaign to kind of protect advocacy funding. Which we will probably have to roll out except in Victoria.

There’s some other things again on page 35. If you remember the National Disability Advocacy Framework came out for consultation probably two years ago, some of the organisations in the room wrote submissions. There were lots of good submissions went in for that framework and then after that the review of the program itself happened and that’s still underway. But the framework went into a black hole in DSS and never reappeared. Now it has to be agreed by COAG and it hasn’t yet been, I am not sure why. There is the National Disability Advocacy Principals out of that framework. This is the first bit that we have seen publicly anywhere and they’re calling it a Transitional Framework.

Now you can read that in one of two ways really, it could be transitional to a new effective framework once the NDIS is rolled out and that would be a good thing. If you were reading it in a pessimistic frame of mind, you could read it as transitional to nothing. You know, transitional to advocacy isn’t needed anymore. And, we know that view is held by some people in the federal system anyway. Not by the people who run the advocacy program actually, they are strong supporters of advocacy but by other people for whom the money is the issue.

So if you are paying attention to this, if it comes up, just be aware of that.  We have to take seriously this stuff that looks like risks to advocacy. Its feeling like to us that there genuine risks and they already exist because of the state funding. I will just give you an example of that, the total federal money that’s spent on the advocacy program $16.5 million and then they spend another about $3 million on print disabilities. So it is about 19 point something million dollars on advocacy.

But if you look that the total figure that is spent on advocacy information and print disability is the category, the big category and inside that is the independent advocacy funding but also lots of other things. Lots of other organisations get some for systemic advocacy. So the total amount of money is actually 64 point something million dollars a year is spent in that category advocacy information and print disability of which less than $20 million is Commonwealth and the rest is state and territory. So $10.9 million is New South Wales, all of that, every dollar of that is due to disappear in a year’s time. Queensland $13 million of that I think, due to disappear the year after. Victoria’s, I think is nine point something million in total. So the smaller states and territories is one and two million, that kind of money.

What we are doing right at the minute, is trying to put together a really detailed list of exactly where that money is spent because for DANA and the independency sector our focus has to be on protecting  fund for the independent advocacy organisations on the ground. We probably can’t because we don’t have capacity or the energy or the time to actually necessarily protect all the systemic advocacy funding that has gone traditionally to a whole range of other organisations. We can try and build alliances and stuff, but we have to focus on our core business and our core business is on the ground independent advocacy.

As I said earlier on, in Victoria that is not under threat but you are the only state where it’s not under threat. It’s just really a crisis situation in the other states. No acknowledgement by politicians anywhere that’s an issue or a problem. So its distressing really that that advocates who are a part of the safeguarding system and, in Victoria, are completely acknowledged as such. In the national one, there is a section on advocacy, advocacy is acknowledged as being important, that it’s being funded. Because its federal, they only thing about the DSS stuff and they don’t think at all about the state funding. So they just put it to one side saying, “Yes its important, yes its funded.” There’s a lot of work to be done this year to persuade a whole lot of decision makers of the role of advocates and what they do.

I’m reminded that, probably because advocates spent all their time fighting for the issues that their clients have, that’s where their energy goes, there advocating and fighting all the time to get outcomes for their clients on whatever the issue is, abuse, transport or whatever it is. But with very little attention paid to themselves. Actually advocates, when they’re doing the traditional stand beside, stand behind, stand in before, you know that stuff, advocates do that but they don’t see it as part of their job to put themselves forward and say “Look at me, aren’t I great, aren’t I a brilliant advocate you know. Shouldn’t I get a pat on the back.” They don’t do that because it’s not their role, it’s not their job and it’s not the type of people that usually work in advocacy.

Other parts of the sector, do that all the time. The service provider part of the sector, they have communications people and marketing people especially as the NDIS is coming in, they’re spending money on that. Look how great we are, look at the brilliant programs we can provide for you. So, at a time when advocacy is needed more than ever. The small under resourced advocacy sector is sitting somewhere in a little hidden corner, unacknowledged, invisible to most people.

The service providers have got the hang of selling themselves now  to everybody and they’ve got great fantastic posters, brochures and banners, human rights stuff and they’re looking brilliant. Advocacy is a potential risk of disappearing almost completely around the country and its mind boggling really, to be able to speak in Victoria where it’s not at risk is fantastic. But, I was in Sydney last week meeting with the Sydney organisations. The week before meeting with the New South Wales advocacy organisations and then had a teleconference with the Queensland ones, wanting to know what to do. They have tried over the last couple of years.

They all have met with their ministers. They have pushed it as far as they can and they have just been pushed back saying “You will be a Commonwealth responsibility. Go talk to the Commonwealth.” Or being told “You will be funded under the ILC.” Now their first round of ILC funding has come out. So there is ACT grants and one round of national funding.

Advocacy is deliberately excluded in three different ways. It’s written in the guidelines those grants that you cannot be funded to do advocacy under ILC funding. So advocacy organisations can apply for the funding to do capacity building which is some of what you do anyway, but you have to kind of not mention the word advocacy. I was at a national peeks meeting last week and joking that DANA would have to change its name to DNA instead of Disability Advocacy Network, we would just be Disability Network Australia and then it occurred to me that DNA also stood for Definitely Not Advocacy. I mean it’s a joke but not funny, it is really a challenge at a time when the very word advocacy is not popular with the Federal Government and we can’t pretend we do anything other than what we do for your advocacy organisations, that’s what you do. But, the NDIS won’t fund what you do. So other than in Victoria, there’s a crisis around the country in advocacy.

The one last thing before I finish depressing you completely, is around decision support. As you know the NDIS came in, DANA and other advocates argued, you could say we shot ourselves in the foot. We argued for advocacy to be kept outside of the NDIS, so it could remain independent. We were too naive I think and we didn’t understand potentially what that might mean is we would stay outside and then disappear because there would be no money. We presumed we would stay outside and there would be lots of money. Anyway, one of the things that the NDIS will fund is things that look like advocacy activities and there under support co-ordination and that’s a tiny handful of the advocacy organisations around the country. Only three or four have registered to do support co-ordination to try and get in to do some of that work that is a bit like advocacy but is funded by the NDIS and is not advocacy.

I was talking to one of them in the ACT yesterday, so she has now seen a line item in a few people plans is about supported decision making. But it’s not the kind of supported decision making that advocates might be helping people with. You know significant decisions about getting their money back, getting control from the public trustee or changing where they live. It’s more like, what you have for breakfast. In actual fact in what it is, is good support work and somehow, the NDIS is confusing this and what it seems is they’re starting to just fund support providers, to do what they should be doing anyway as part of their work practice. They have given it this name which is about decision support or supported decision making which is actually more what advocates do, giving people creditable unbiased information than then they can make informed choices about and supporting them to making those choices.

All of that stuff that is a part of the practice of advocacy, is now being diminished somehow and stuck in under the NDIS and advocates can’t get the money to do it but service providers can. So there are battles all around and we will be looking for examples from some of you as you are saying these things are arising especially as the NDIS rolls out in your areas.

Sorry, one last thing I just remembered, which is one of things that we are doing right now, we are just starting it, we are commissioning a group of economists in Canberra to do a piece of work on a cost benefit analysis of advocacy. There isn’t one in existence. It hasn’t been done before anywhere. We’ve been trying to get DSS to fund it but the timelines take too long and anyway, the advocacy sector needs to own the information actually and DANA doesn’t have the money to pay for it.

We are literally asking advocacy organisations to provide some funding and we’ve just about got enough money at the moment, almost tied it down. So they will be starting it next week, they’re going to take three months to do it. So we will have this thing in May sometime. It’s a proper costed piece of work. They will be coming out to all the advocacy organisations looking at the publicly available information that’s in your annual report, So together, how much money you spent on advocacy. But then looking at the outcomes and how much money advocacy saves across different systems. The end result could be down as a single sentence, a dollar spent on advocacy saves however much money, we don’t know and will have to wait and see. We have been wanting to do this for a long time and our kind of desperation this year and we have coincidently happen to find these economists who are available to do it. So you will be hearing more about that and you will get contacted by us and also by this group of economists too, provide some information to feed into it. So I hope you all co-operate.

Thanks for that it was nice to come down and connect today with the Victorian sector.

Thank you Mary. I’m really pleased that you decided to discuss that framework. I have spent a lot of time trying to read through the whole 104 pages and it’s just a great way you summarised it in a way we all could understand.

If anyone has any questions for Mary, now’s your opportunity. Nothing. Ok. So we’re about 7 minutes away from lunch. So, I am happy for you to have your lunch break early, the food hasn’t arrived yet. But feel free to mingle , won’t be long and we will be back at one o’clock.

Thank you.