Statement on report
I rise to speak on the interim report prepared by the Family and Community Development Committee of this Parliament on the inquiry into abuse in disability services.
I am a member of that committee, and I rise to speak in support of its recommendations.
By way of background, the national disability insurance scheme (NDIS) quality and safeguarding framework will replace existing state-based arrangements and is designed to give participants choice and control over their support and to allow people to take reasonable risks to achieve their goals. Regulatory approaches will need to be in place to ensure the protection of people with disability from a wide range of abuse when the transition occurs.
The terms of reference for stage 1 of the inquiry asked the Family and Community Development Committee to consider the strengths and weaknesses of Victoria’s regulation of the disability services system with a view to informing Victoria’s position on appropriate quality and safeguards for the national disability insurance scheme. The committee was asked to have regard to a number of factors, including workforce recruitment, screening, induction, training and supervision; provider registration requirements; systems for handling complaints; and the impact of current systemic safeguards on the rights and protections of people accessing disability services.
The committee had a short time in which to complete this part of the inquiry so as to ensure its availability for consideration by the Council of Australian Governments Disability Reform Council, which is to meet shortly. To be clear, the purpose of this interim report was primarily to make submissions in relation to the NDIS, which will ultimately replace state-based systems for disability services across the country. The transition to the NDIS is to commence in 2016 with a three-year rollout period. A trial is currently being conducted in the Barwon region of Victoria.
As well as informing Victoria’s position on appropriate quality and safeguards for the NDIS, the opportunity was there to review the current situation in Victoria in relation to the abuse of people who access disability services. This was particularly important in light of cases of abuse brought to the public’s attention late last year. I was shocked to view the Four Corners program on 24 November 2014 that highlighted failures in our state’s system for dealing with allegations of abuse in disability services, particularly in relation to Yooralla. The program looked at how a well-respected disability service provider failed in its duty to protect those in its care. It detailed dreadful abuse of vulnerable people and the failure to take proper note of whistleblowers and other warnings. It has been suggested that incidents such as this are just the tip of the iceberg.
The report of the committee, tabled last week, recommends that Victoria advise the disability reform council of eight recommendations based on the work undertaken by the committee in stage 1 of its inquiry. I do not have time to go through all the recommendations, but I would like to refer to two of them. Firstly, Victoria recommends that a single, independent oversight body with powers and responsibility for handling complaints and managing and investigating reportable serious incidents, as well as oversight of restricted practices and other regulatory matters, be established. Secondly, it is recommended that a national quality assurance agency with responsibility for screening and clearance checks, administering a working with vulnerable persons check, provider registration and individual registration of disability workers be created.
The chair’s foreword to the report states:
… stage 2 of our inquiry is an important opportunity to consider what safeguarding measures need to be in place in Victoria. We heard a firm view that while improvements can be made in the Victorian system, in the transition to the NDIS there should be no weakening of the safeguards that currently exist.
In the course of hearing evidence, it became apparent that there are serious deficiencies within the disability sector in Victoria in relation to dealing with allegations of abuse. Stage 2 will look at these systemic problems, with a view to ascertaining what steps can be taken to improve the system during the transitional period ahead of us. It would be fair to say that, on the evidence received by the committee to date, there is a general view that the Victorian system is one of the best. I urge the minister in dealings with the disability reform council to insist that Victoria’s standards are in no way diminished in the new system set up by the commonwealth.
In the meantime our committee will go on to hear further evidence across the state. We will consider what further measures can be undertaken to strengthen disability services in Victoria and support people with a disability during the transition to the national disability insurance scheme, and we will investigate the capacity of providers to report and act upon abuse. It has been a privilege to be on this committee. I have not personally had a lot of experience with disability, and it has been an honour to hear from people who have.