Tuesday, 21 August 2018
Mr GEPP (Northern Victoria) (18:06:37) — I rise to make a contribution on the Disability Service Safeguards Bill 2018. From the get‑go, like every other speaker before me, can I also acknowledge all of those in the sector, be they workers, carers, families or people who are providing services, for the great work that they do. Of course one of the great things about places like this is that we can come together and have that collective aspiration that we will do better for the people in our community who need our support, who cannot do the heavy lifting themselves and who need this Parliament to step in and improve their lives as much as we possibly can.
Of course people with disabilities themselves have been fighting for a very, very long time to ensure that their genuine rights are observed and that they have ever‑increasing control over their own lives. Dr Carling‑Jenkins and also Ms Wooldridge referred to the 2016 Victorian parliamentary inquiry into abuse in disability services and some of the horrific stories that we heard through that process. Those stories alone give us the impetus to get out of bed each day to ensure that we are working hard in this place and with the sector to try and stamp that abuse out right across disability services.
It is important that people with disability are able to have a real say over their lives and that they do so free from harm, abuse and neglect. To that end I want to congratulate everybody, including the previous government, who did a lot of good work as well, and the Minister for Housing, Disability and Ageing, Minister Foley and his staff for working so closely with the sector to come up with this legislation.
I have heard a couple of speakers say, ‘We’re not sure if it’s perfect’. Well, I do not know anything that is perfect, but what is absolutely required of us in this space is that we strive every day to improve, that we get better, that we put things in place that will improve the lives of people with disability, that we work closely with those people, that we constantly review and that, where it is required, we improve. The national disability insurance scheme (NDIS) is a great start. It will be one of those schemes that we look back on in many years to come and say, ‘What a wonderful thing for this country. What a wonderful thing it is that we have done collectively as a nation through the introduction of the NDIS’.
Of course, it is a start. What it has done is provide the environment for us to actually review all aspects of the circumstances surrounding people with disability. That is what this bill does. It capitalises on that environment. It enables us to have a look at the world of people with disability, with the backdrop of the NDIS, and say, ‘How can we improve it. How can we take it to another level?’.
The NDIS quality and safeguarding framework is a terrific start, but like other stakeholders, we went out and we consulted with stakeholders when that framework became known. We asked, ‘Is it enough? Can we do better?’. The overwhelming feedback was that there is an opportunity for us to do more. There is an opportunity for us to ensure that we protect the fundamental rights of people with disability. That is what this bill does.
The bill has two main fundamental objectives. People have talked about it, so I will not go into all the detail that was mentioned in other contributions. It implements a registration and accreditation scheme for the Victorian disability workforce that protects the rights of people with a disability to be safe and receive high‑quality services; enhances service quality by ensuring workers have the necessary skills, experience and qualifications; and enables people with disability to exercise greater choice and control in their lives.
Secondly, it updates the rights of people living in specialist disability accommodation, or SDAs as they are known, to align more closely with the rights of other tenants. That is a very important thing for us to acknowledge. It aligns their rights more closely with the rights of other tenants in the community. Just because you have a disability does not mean you should have a reduced amount of rights. It also provides continuity of existing specialist protections; gives effect to the core tenet of the NDIS about choice and control by separating residency rights from service provision; and ensures Victorian regulatory requirements do not conflict with those under the NDIS, so that residency rights are enforceable.
Why are we introducing the registration and accreditation scheme, given those objectives? We talked about how the scheme is intended to protect the rights of people with disability to be safe and to receive a high quality of service. It is very important. Again I hark back to the 2016 inquiry and some of the stories that we heard through that process. I think everybody in this place would agree — and the workers in the disability sector would also agree — that if there is somebody in that sector who is doing the wrong thing, then we must be able to identify them, we must be able to weed them out and we must be able to move them on. We cannot have those people wandering around the sector causing harm, causing abuse and causing neglect. They are not wanted in the sector. This registration and accreditation scheme will, in part, protect people with disability.
I also want to talk about the scheme in relation to those people who are inflicting harm and abuse in the sector — and we often talk about this in the context of the lowest common denominator. When you speak to workers in the disability sector — and I have spoken to their union secretary in the last 24 hours — they are thrilled with this legislation. They are thrilled with the opportunity to have this registration and accreditation scheme introduced by this Parliament, because they know that the vast majority of people who work in the disability sector are very professional, very committed individuals who go above and beyond in caring for people with disability. We acknowledge that by putting this scheme in place we are recognising the skills, the training and the expertise of people working in the disability sector.
It is a changing sector. It does not stand still. It changes on an almost daily basis, and the needs of one individual are very different to the needs of the next individual. There is not a homogenous group, and therefore those skills and that expertise needs to be constantly updated. This registration and accreditation scheme is welcomed by the workers in the disability sector, and it should be. It should lead to us valuing those workers much more than they are valued today. That should be reflected in terms of the professional prism that we view them through, but also reflected in their wages and conditions.
Why would we introduce this scheme now? Why not wait for the NDIS quality and safeguarding framework? Again, as per the parliamentary inquiry, we note that the abuse and neglect has been widespread over a long period of time, that there is a pressing need for us to do more and that we can do more today. Public consultation on the scheme indicated that the framework, whilst applauded, is not sufficient to provide the necessary protections to prevent and respond effectively and quickly to the abuse and neglect cited by the 2016 inquiry. That is why this will be done in conjunction with the NDIS quality and safeguarding framework.
How will this registration and accreditation scheme reduce harm and abuse? It provides an effective set of regulatory tools to lift the quality of the disability workforce. That, by logical extension, suggests that the care and support that the disability sector workforce will provide people with disability will improve. That level of care and support will improve, and the better trained workforce is expected to improve the choice and control for people with a disability. We know that they will have a lot more rights that they will be able to exercise as a result of the NDIS, as they should. With that choice and control and that accountability, we are confident that there will be a lifting of the level of care for people with disability.
In terms of the disability accommodation, and again it has been talked about by Ms Wooldridge and others, under the NDIS specialist disability accommodation providers will be separate from supported independent living providers. Current regulations around rights in SDA tie a resident’s rights to live in a home to receiving services from the same provider that runs the home. Of course that is not fit for an NDIS world, so the government is updating the residency rights in SDA to address that. I will not go through all of them given the reduced time I have left, except to say that the way that the residency rights are currently regulated is inconsistent with the NDIS rules, making this bill even more urgent in terms of ensuring the continued protection of SDA rights for people with disability.
It has been acknowledged I think by a number of contributors the level of consultation that has occurred over the past couple of years in this space, so I will not go over all of that ground again, except to say that as well as the public consultation, the NDIS implementation task force housing working group has continued to provide advice to the government throughout 2017 and 2018.
I note Ms Wooldridge’s comments about the length of time taken. It is important that you get these things right, and it is important that you listen to the advice from the experts and that you act on the evidence that they produce to you. We would all like everything to be done much more quickly, but the bottom line here is that we have got a piece of legislation which addresses much of the evidence that was provided to the government. Much of the expert advice has come from advocates, it has come from NDIS participants and it has come from the sector’s peak bodies, SDA providers, service providers, housing experts and, as I said, the union that represents disability sector workers.
Just in the 14 months that I have been in this place there have been a few things which have been memorable and that I will carry with me for however long I have remaining in this place. But can I say that this is very close to the top of the list, because for far too long in this country if you lived with disability, that equalled inequality, and I am very, very proud that this Parliament is coming together to work together to do the heavy lifting that is required to ensure that those people in our community who do live with disability are afforded the rights and the controls over their lives that we all enjoy and that they absolutely should. I commend the bill to the house.