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JacksonRyan Blueprint - 9 December 2014

Reforming Victoria's Disability Sector 
A call for decisive and prompt action 

     

Executive Summary

This paper has been developed as a result of three significant events:

  1. The recent change in government in Victoria, which now paves the way for reform to be undertaken in Victoria’s disability services.
  2. The recent Four Corners program on ABC television (24/11/2014) that identified significant deficits, not just in the agency that featured in the programme, but across the disability sector in Victoria.
  3. An increasing dissatisfaction among families of people with disabilities as to the failure of watchdog entities and service providers to meet their legislative and service obligations.

The title of the paper – Reforming Victoria’s Disability Services – A Call for Decisive and Prompt Action, sends a strong signal that the rhetoric suggesting that Victoria has a strong disability sector and the promotion of the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) as the panacea for future funding and service provision, represent a false picture.  For those intimately involved in the disability sector, and who more often than not see things as they are from a grassroots perspective, the picture presented is completely different.  They are very much aware as to how the positive rhetoric and self-congratulatory nature of the bureaucracy masks the many deficits in the sector.

Given the recent change of government in Victoria, the hope is that with a new Minister and a new government, along with changes in the bureaucracy at the most senior levels, there is an opportunity for disability services and the sector more generally to be put back on track.  This paper therefore represents a clarion call to the new Minister.

The paper is structured into two principal parts.  The first is entitled – First-Order Platform Actions. This section of the paper identifies three action areas as in – Cultural Reform for Effective Change, Legislative Reform and Compliance, and Leadership.  Ten action initiatives are identified across the three areas.

The second part of the paper, in table form, highlights what the writers consider are the significant key elements extracted from the Government’s disability policy platform.  Alongside the 14 policy statements there is also a statement of – What Now Needs to Happen. These statements identify what are essential and immediate actions.  

The paper highlights the commitment of the Government to establish a Parliamentary Inquiry to look at the systemic failures in the disability system. It also highlights the unpalatable evidence as aired in the recent Four Corners Program on ABC Television (24/11/2014).  The link between these two events is evident, but of equal import is the fact that they each present a strong recognition that currently there are deficits in the disability sector.

As such, this paper calls upon the new Minister to take decisive and prompt action to address the deficits.  It also sets the challenge: that the inquiry committed to prior to the election must become more than a feel good activity.  It must provide the platform for significant change in Victoria.  

It must provide the platform for uncompromising quality governance, uncompromising quality disability service management and delivery, effective service monitoring and complaints management and a total adherence to legislative requirements and service standards.  But, of equal significance, the inquiry must lead to the establishment of processes that hold individuals and entities to account with uncompromising consequences being applied when they breach their legislative and service obligations.

Max Jackson                                                                                     

Margaret Ryan                                 

A Blueprint Position Paper

Reforming Disability Services in Victoria

Whatever gains may have been made in the disability sector in Victoria over the past decade or so have to a large degree masked the many deficits existing in the sector.  This is despite the establishment of the Disability Act 2006 and the enthusiasm engendered by the trialling of the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS).

The recent Four Corners program, as aired on ABC television (24/11), helped expose not just the abuse occurring in one funded organisation.  It also seriously highlighted the systemic failures associated with poor governance, lack of leadership and the failure to comply with legislative and service imperatives.

It has become too easy for many people in positions of power to hide behind the NDIS as though it is the cure-all panacea for all the ills in the disability sector.  The reality is that in Victoria the NDIS has only so far been trialled in the one small area and it is anticipated that the full rollout will not be completed for at least another four to five years.  Therefore, to suggest the need to address standout deficits should be held over pending the rollout is simply naive and untenable.

The newly appointed Minister responsible for disability services, Martin Foley MP, must act immediately to implement actions aimed at reforming disability services in Victoria.  The new Minister must act now in order to get the sector back on track after it has been seriously compromised over the past few years.

While there is a myriad of required actions, there are a number that are considered as first order issues that must be undertaken immediately.  In essence, what might be described as Platform Actions, are highlighted further below.  In other words, these are issues and actions that must be addressed as priorities in order to rebuild what has become a captured and closed service delivery and monitoring system.  It is a system captured by a small number of individuals and entities that wield enormous power and control, but who have failed to show any real leadership and who have closed their doors to critical analysis of their activities and performance.

The three Action Areas and ten Action Requirements identified below are what are deemed to be first order issues.  As such, immediate action must be initiated in relation to each in order to halt the inertia that has gripped the disability sector in recent times.  Immediate action in relation to these first order issues is also necessary in order to break the control that a select few were allowed to exercise under the previous government. 

However, in addressing each it is also essential to consider the policy platform the now government took to the recent election.  As is generally typical of policy platforms of political parties, the commitments tend be expressed in broad terms.  Further, and as is the situation in this case, there are some that have now been taken over by the government’s commitment to a full inquiry into the disability sector. 

Following the Platform Action section of this paper, key extracts from the ALP Platform for disability are highlighted along with a tabulated critique for each.

FIRST ORDER PLATFORM ACTIONS

ACTION AREA A - CULTURAL REFORM FOR EFFECTIVE CHANGE

  1. A parliamentary inquiry into the disability sector

Just five days out from the state election (29/11) both the then Minister and the then Shadow Minister each announced an inquiry into disability services in Victoria should their party win government.  These announcements were clearly as a result of the Four Corners program of 24/11/2014 – In Our Care.

In a response to the Four Corners program the then Shadow Minister stated:

“If Labor wins the election, we will undertake a parliamentary inquiry to look at the systemic failures in the system, the need for cultural change, the roles of the department, the police, the disability services commissioner and the office of the public advocate." 

In her media release (25/11) the then Shadow Minister also stated that:

"An Andrews Labor Government will move quickly to undertake a thorough Parliamentary Inquiry into the systemic failures in Victoria’s disability care system. 

The Inquiry will examine why abuse isn't reported or acted upon, and how it can be prevented.  It will examine the role of the Department of Human Services, as well as investigatory powers and processes of the police, the Disability Services Commissioner and the Office of the Public Advocate."

When considered in the context of the statements made on behalf of the Labor Party by the then Shadow Minister prior to the election, the new Minister is now urged to accept the significance of such an enquiry being founded in three key objectives:

  1. The inquiry must be initiated within the first three months of the new government’s first term
  2. The terms of reference for the inquiry must be broad enough to capture the intent of all of that is contained in the two statements above
  3. The outcomes of the inquiry must be used to activate real and lasting change

In terms of the breadth of the inquiry it the intention to cover disability accommodation and the disability day service is noted.  And, as signalled by the now Minister, must incorporate an inquiry into the Department of Human Services (DHS), the Disability Services Commissioner, the Public Advocate and the police as related to their role in disability.  Although not mentioned in either statement the inquiry must also review the role and effectiveness of funded disability advocacy organisations.

The powerful, as in senior bureaucrats and heads of funded agencies, must not be allowed to dominate the inquiry.  The inquiry must have its roots in the issues identified through the Yooralla case as well as the issues, concerns and frustrations experienced by people with disabilities and their families.

Although the inquiry must be thorough and probing, nonetheless, it should be time limited and completed within no more than six months from its commencement.  When completed the full report of the inquiry must be made public and the government must publicly announce the actions it will establish as an outcome of the report.

Terms of Reference for the inquiry must consider the following:

The Parliamentary Inquiry must be requested to inquire into, consider and report to the Parliament of Victoria on the processes by which Human Services, as part of the new Department of Health and Human Services, and non-government funded disability organisations deliver their services to people with a disability.  Further to examine the processes by which the Public Advocate and Disability Services Commissioner undertake their statutory obligations, and to also an assessment of the effectiveness of funded advocacy organisations, including:

  1. The practices, policies and protocols in such organisations for the handling of allegations of neglect, abuse and violence of people with disabilities, including measures put in place by the DHS, funded disability services providers, the Public Advocate and the Disability Services Commissioner in response to concerns about such abuse within the service delivery organisations or the potential for such abuse to occur;

  1. Whether there are systemic practices in such organisations that operate to
    preclude or discourage the reporting of suspected abuse of people with disabilities to State authorities; and

  1. Whether changes to law or to practices, policies and protocols in such
    organisations are required to help prevent the abuse, neglect, violence and the deaths of people with disabilities in residential facilities and attending disability day services, by personnel in such organisations and to deal with allegations of such abuse, neglect and violence. 

  1. Whether the practices, policies and protocols of funded advocacy organisations are effective in addressing both systemic and individual allegations of neglect, abuse, violence of people with disabilities.

  1. In undertaking the inquiry, the Committee must be mindful of not encroaching upon the responsibilities of investigatory agencies or the courts in relation to particular cases or prejudicing the conduct or outcome of investigations or court proceedings.

Action Requirements

That the Minister responsible for disability services establishes the Terms of Reference for, and commences an inquiry into, systemic failures in the disability system, the need for cultural change, the roles of the Human Services, the police, the Disability Services Commissioner, the Office of the Public Advocate and funded advocacy organisations.   And further, that the inquiry is concluded within six months of its commencement. 

  1. Reporting transparency

A significant failure of the previous government, through the Department of Human Services (DHS) and the Disability Services Commissioner, was a failure in transparency in reporting.

A change in how deaths and violence that occurred in care and in terms of reporting through the DHS incident reporting system has led to a situation where not all deaths and incidents of violence are publicly reported.

Despite the fact that DHS instituted a quality audit programme for all service providers there was a total refusal to publicly release the individual audit reports.  This being despite the fact that the audit process is publicly funded and can be assumed to provide critical information regarding the performance of individual agencies against set quality standards.

Although the Disability Services Commissioner has frequently acknowledged in his annual reports that service providers, including DHS, have not always fulfilled their legislative obligations, the Commissioner consistently refused to name those organisations that failed to meet such obligations. 

Action requirement

It is imperative that the incoming Minister now requires the public release and reporting of information as that above.  If necessary, such requirements should be written into the legislation.

  1. Supporting real choice in disability accommodation and broadening the base of influence

The notion of choice as a right is now well established in the disability lexicon.  Yet, despite the generally acknowledged and acceptance of choice as a right for people with a disability, there are many in the sector and particularly those in positions of power and influence who seek to deny people with disabilities choice as to where they live, with whom and the nature of their accommodation.

This significant restriction not only denies people with disabilities real choice, but also totally ignores the circumstances that exist where people with disabilities are forced to live with ageing parent carers simply because they are denied the options that they choose.

This means that where a situation exists where families of persons with disability band together for the purpose of initiating innovative residential options, funding requests are being blocked.  Therefore, associated with establishing a "real choice" approach must be the provision of the broadest range of accommodation options possible.  Also, in order to provide families a real voice the provision of specific and dedicated funded family advocacy must be established.

ACTION AREA B – LEGISLATIVE REFORM AND COMPLIANCE

  1. Legislative review
  1. The Disability Act 2006

This Act has been operating for just over seven years.  The Act generally provides a comprehensive set of requirements to support its objectives as identified under section 4.  Nonetheless, it is also clear that as a result of practice issues, some amendments are required to the Act.

Significantly, and in light of the recent Yooralla case and the fact the Disability Services Commissioner has now been operating since July 2007 along with a set of issues that have emerged in relation to the functioning of Community Visitors, it is clear that the Act must now be strengthened.

Of particular import the following are submitted as amendments that must be immediately incorporated into the Act.

  • Section 14 (3) – amend to incorporate a statement that following the expiry of the five-year initial appointment the Disability Services Commissioner is not eligible for reappointment
  • Section 19 (a) – amend to include the requirement that the Commissioner names, in his annual reports, those funded agencies and also the Human Services who failed to meet particular legislative requirements under the Disability Act, and to detail the particular failures.
  • Section 19 (2) – amend by changing the wording from "may" to "must".
  • Part 3 - Division 6 – Community Visitors – amend the whole of this division in order to discontinue the Community Visitors program, and instead replace it with a new approach based on the concept of Disability Services Inspectors reporting to the Public Advocate (see 5 below).
  • Section 99 (2) – amend by changing the word "may" to "must".
  • Section 117 (b) – amend by including the words "Where an investigation has demonstrated that no further action is warranted.
  • Section 117 - amend by including an additional part to the clause as in (9) stating that, “In the event of the Disability Services Commissioner refusing to deal with a complaint, or taking the decision to close a complaint, or refusing to reopen a complaint, the complainant may take the matter to the Victorian Civil Administrative Tribunal.”
  • Section 118 (b) - amend by deleting this particular clause noting that once the Commissioner has accepted a complaint and decided whether or not it is suitable for conciliation or investigation, it is not therefore legitimate in determining, at that stage, whether or not the complaint is justified.  This being on the basis that acceptance of the complaint in the first instance is evidence it was assessed as being justified.
  • Inclusion of a new section entitled – Compliance and the Penalties. This new section must address the requirement of the Secretary of the Department, departmental officers – including direct care managers, supervisors and staff, Boards, Chief Executive Officers and staff of funded agencies - to comply, at all times, with all requirements of the Act, as relevant to their position and role.  Further, that this section must establish clearly defined and unambiguous provisions to be applied where those as listed above fail to meet their legislative obligations.

  1. Legislative conflict

Incidents that have arisen in relation to liaison and communication between families of people with disabilities and staff of DHS and funded disability agencies have brought to the fore a significant legislative conflict that exists between the Disability Act 2006 and the Occupational Health & Safety Act 2004 (OH&S).

Essentially, these incidents have demonstrated how staff have sought to freeze families out from engaging with their son or daughter by using the provision of Provisional Improvement Notices (PINs) under the OH&S Act, in their son or daughter’s home, as in a residential service.  What this type of action has meant is that the provisions of the OH&S Act have taken precedence over the provisions in the Disability Act pertaining to families and the principles as articulated in section 5 (h) to (k) inclusive.

The ability of staff and organisations to invoke the provisions of the OH&S Act clearly demonstrates that greater emphasis is given to the protection and perceived needs of staff, as opposed to the protection of people with disabilities and the support provided to them by their families.

If it is that the purpose of the Disability Act is to reaffirm and strengthen the rights of people with a disability and to support and respect the role of families, it is clear that the current legislative conflict between the Disability Act and the OH&S Act must be addressed.

In addition, if it is does occur whereby particular staff experience stress as a result of working in a particular facility, in part as a result of being required to liaise with the family members of clients in the facility, then legislative provision should be established to require the relocation of the staff rather than the admonishment and exclusion of the family.

Action Requirement

That Minister takes immediate action to resolve the conflict that exists between the 0H&S Act and the Disability Act in order to ensure that the rights of people with disabilities and their families are not compromised.  The current ability of employees to instigate PINs as a means of not being required to deal with a family, or to restrict the access of the family to their son or daughter, must be removed as an option under the OH&S Act.

  1. Establishing Disability Service Inspectors

The Community Visitors program was established through the Intellectually Disabled Person Services Act 1986 albeit it had its roots in previous Official Visitors programs under previous legislation.  However, despite the many calls in their annual reports over the years since 1986 and despite the most recent report of the Community Visitors Board, in which the Public Advocate called for an inquiry into the alleged abuse and neglect occurring in the disability accommodation sector, the blunt truth is that the Community Visitors program has had very little real impact on improving the quality of services in the disability sector and ensuring that standards and legislative mandates are followed.

While it is true that Community Visitors do have authority to visit residential services and do have authority to make reports in relation to their visits, again the hard truth is they do not have any directive influence.  It also important to note they are volunteers and frequent comment has been made by them that the frequency and spread of the visits is limited by budget constraints.

As such, it is reasonable to suggest the protection of and advocacy for people with disabilities by the Community Visitors can in no way be compared to the protection of and advocacy for employees.  As a contrast between Community Visitors and Workplace Inspectors under the Occupational Health & Safety Act, such inspectors have significant authority not only to access workplaces but to impose Provisional Improvement Notices, which require certain actions to be taken by the employer.

Given the relative ineffectualness of Community Visitors, the fact that they are volunteers, the fact that they are also protected to a large degree from being required to interact with families of people with disabilities and also the fact they have no real power, provide strong indicators that a significant change is necessary.

Action Required

That the Disability Act 2006 be amended to remove the provisions relating to Community Visitors and instead establish a program of Disability Service Inspectors who are given similar authorities to the Workplace Inspectors as detailed in the OH&S Act.  Further, that Disability Inspectors come under the jurisdiction of the Public Advocate and operate in accordance with the directions of that position and in accordance with the legislation governing their role.

  1. Establishment of mandatory reporting in the disability sector

Mandatory reporting has long been established in relation to children, and indeed in recent times was strengthened to encompass a broader range of people required to report incidents of abuse or alleged abuse against children.

Although the former Department of Human Services has long had an incident reporting system, there is no way that this system can be equated to mandatory reporting.  Internal reporting is purely an internal reporting system limited to departmental services and funded service organisation.  As such, unlike mandatory reporting for children it does not encompass a broader range of people and roles such as doctors, other healthcare professionals and service staff, in terms of external reporting.

If it is that the incoming government accepts that people with disabilities in both residential services and day services are vulnerable and are largely subject to the quality of support staff, then the question must be asked as to how anyone can consider they are less vulnerable than are children.

Action Required

The incoming government must take immediate action to establish mandatory reporting for the disability sector and base this in legislation equivalent to the principles and processes that apply to the mandatory reporting for children.

ACTION AREA C – LEADERSHIP

     

  1. Immediate appointment of a new Public Advocate

The Guardianship & Administration Act 1986 (the Act) provides for the appointment of a Public Advocate to hold office for a period of seven years.  The term of the current Public Advocate expired in September 2014.  Thus, while it might be understandable the former government did not seek to make a new appointment given the impending election in November; the incoming government must now take action in order to make a new appointment.

Given the failure of the current Public Advocate to fulfil her functions under section 15 (c) (iv) of the Act and to institute her own inquiry in relation to the failure of both the Department of Human Services and funded disability agencies to protect people with disabilities from abuse and neglect, it would be totally inappropriate to consider installing the current Public Advocate for a further term.

Action Required

That the new Minister does not reappoint the current Public Advocate and initiates immediate action to facilitate the appointment of a new Public Advocate.

  1. Appointment of a new Disability Services Commissioner

The current Disability Services Commissioner, as the inaugural Commissioner, commenced his first appointment in July 2007.  The provisions of section 14 (3) of the Disability Act 2006 (the Act) allows for an appointment, not exceeding five years, although eligibility for reappointment is also noted in this section of the Act.

In the seven and a half years in the position, the current Disability Services Commissioner has failed to fulfil the full range of his obligations and functions under the Act.  The adequacy of his reporting on his activities and functions has been highly questionable in terms of providing the best and most transparent information to the Parliament and the public. 

Given that the current Disability Services Commissioner has blatantly refused to initiate investigations of complaints over the past five and a half years, and particularly noting a significant number of unresolved complaints, his position is now untenable.

Action Required

That the new Minister terminates the services of the current Disability Services Commissioner and initiates immediate action to facilitate the appointment of a new Disability Services Commissioner.

  1. A Review of the former Secretary of the Department of Human Services

Significant questions exist in relation to the whether the former Secretary met her function under section 8 (1) (d) and (2) (f) and (g) of the Disability Act 2006.  Further to this, the damning finding in the Magistrates’ Court earlier this year that the former Secretary had failed to meet a duty of care in relation to two children in care has direct implications for the new Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services in terms of his responsibilities and obligations to people with disabilities and their families.

The deficits of the former Secretary must be considered in light of her failure to have taken the Board and CEO of Yooralla to task.  As such, this provides sufficient reason to review such failures in order to ensure, never again, are they perpetrated.  Therefore the new Secretary responsible for disability along with his senior bureaucrats must be directed to act in accordance with their legislative responsibilities to protect people with disabilities.

Action Required

The new Minister reviews the deficits of the former Secretary of the Department of Human Services and initiates action to ensure that she is not appointed to any position in the Public Sector associated with disability.

  1. Appointment of an administrator and the sacking of the Yooralla Board

The Four Corners program that aired on ABC television (24/11) and the subsequent outcry from families, through the Letters to the Editor sections of the daily press, have highlighted the failure of the Yooralla Board to fulfil their governance obligations and responsibilities to ensure that the Chief Executive Officer of the organisation provided a service free of abuse and neglect.  While the Chief Executive Officer resigned his position, the Board have avoided scrutiny.

If it is that there is a genuine intent to protect the rights of people with disabilities to be able to attend a service and be free of abuse, neglect and violence, then clearly when this does not occur those in the most senior roles, including Boards, must be brought to account.  It is essential to reflect on the fact that the incidents outlined in the Yooralla case went well beyond what might be called minor infringements.  Indeed, by any assessment rape must be considered as one of the most abhorrent types of abuse.

No matter what explanation has been provided by the former Chair of the Yooralla Board, no amount of rationalisation can excuse the inaction of that Board.  It is also worthy of note that not only is Yooralla one of the largest service providers for people with disabilities in Victoria, but the organisation has been in existence for several decades.  Further, there is no excuse for Yooralla not to have in place appropriate supervisory, reporting and follow-up mechanisms.  After all, standards and legislative obligations have been in place since 1986.

It is important to note that in a media release dated 11/12/2012 the Public Advocate called on boards of service providers to “get closer to their services and know and understand the culture of care they are legally responsible for, to require their managers to report complaints and feedback in detail, and to visit their services regularly to show connection and leadership at the grass roots level.”  Clearly, in the Yooralla case this did not occur.

If the incoming Minister is to demonstrate he is not prepared to accept poor governance, an absence of adequate scrutiny within organisations and unacceptable rationalisations in the face of evidence of ineptitude and slovenly governance and management, then he must take decisive action in relation to the Yooralla Board.

Action Required

As a result of the current Yooralla Board failing to meet their obligations under section 102 (1) (a), (b) and (c) of the Disability Act 2006, the new Minister terminates the services of the current Board of Yooralla and initiates immediate action to appoint an administrator under section 102 of the Disability Act 2006.

__________________

 

TRANSLATING THE POLICY PLATFORM INTO EFFECTIVE ACTIONS

Now that the Labor Party has become the new government it is essential that the new Minister put into effect the statement made by the Platform Committee concerning a reaffirmation of conviction, and “reach for reform”.  The Minister must now translate the policy commitment into action outcomes.

Notwithstanding this however, it is important to acknowledge that the significant issues identified through the Yooralla case have overtaken some of the commitments detailed in the policy platform.

The following table, in the first column includes key extracts from the 2014 Victorian ALP Platform.  The second column details actions directly associated with the policy commitment, or in some cases, the commitments must take account of the Yooralla case.

Key Elements of What Labour Promised

What Now Needs to Happen

Ensure quality standards apply to all services supporting Victorian citizens with a disability

The issues associated with standards is not related to whether the existing standards are appropriate or whether there is a need for more, it is about the failure of many service providers to implement the standards as required, and managers and watchdogs to monitor whether or not implementation is being done in accordance with the standards.

Additionally there is also the issue of there being generally being no consequences for those individuals who fail or refuse to apply the standards.

The focus on standards must also focus on monitoring, reporting and consequences where failures to adhere are identified.

Ensure people with a disability have greater individual choice in the delivery of disability services

This is an open-ended statement and requires a greater degree of specificity.  The first step is to detail what individual choices currently exist in terms of delivery of disability services.

It also needs to be noted that if real choices is to be applied then restrictions on options should not be determined by advocacy organisations, DHS or watchdog entities.

Ensure that there are more Individual Support Packages

This should be seen as an absolute.  Regular publishing of the number of support packages allocated along with publishing the range of amounts allocated and the overall average amount is required.  

By the publishing of such figures watch can be kept on whether or not more ISPs are being allocated.

Ensure that there is a range of specialist services in the community available to support people with a disability.

Clarification is required as to what is meant by the word "specialist services" noting that this can apply to generic services such as physiotherapy etc, but it can also be applied to the establishment of specialist disability services.

The Minister must ensure the policy includes recognition and acceptance of specialist disability services as desirable for people with disabilities who choose to use such services.

Expand access to and type of accommodation options available to people with a disability and their families.

This is a significant statement that fits very much with choice.  However, it is essential the Minister directs the DHS to support a range of options rather than seek to impose singular models that limit choice.

Further, where individuals and families initiate innovative models, policy and process should be enacted to ensure residential options initiated by them are supported through funding.

Expand access to appropriate care for young people who require support and accommodation

While a laudable statement this is somewhat open-ended.

Greater clarity is required about the concept of "young people".  In its current form the policy statement can be misleading.

Investing in new respite and emergency accommodation services

This is a ‘must do action’ as the current respite services have become clogged with ongoing placements, including children.

Respite must be used to facilitate respite.

The concept of emergency accommodation needs some clarity, particularly in terms of its purpose and how it might be applied.

Expand the powers and jurisdiction of the Disability Services Commissioner

Clarification is required in regards to what is exactly meant by this.

Two concerns exist: 

Firstly, that the current DSC has failed, and indeed refused, to fully apply the provisions for undertaking investigations that currently exist under the legislation. 

Secondly, this should not be done unless consideration is given to how any expansion of powers might impact on the role and responsibilities of the DSC as well as the Public Advocate. The potential of duplication of responsibilities and authorities must be avoided.

Strengthen and promote the Community Visitors Program

Despite the Community Visitors program having been in place since 1986 the reality is that it has failed to have a significant influence on both the quality of services delivered as well as the protection of people with disabilities.

Therefore, rather than seek to strengthen and promote the program the incoming government must scrap it and replace it as detailed below.

Advocate to the Commonwealth Government for effective funding and support for carers.

As an initiative this is supported. However, the state government must also look at ways it can support family carers and emphasise the notion of families as carers.

A first step must be to fund dedicated family advocacy noting there is misleading to suggest that this already exists through entities such as Carers Vic.

Enhanced choice and service options

Again, the notion of choice must represent more than simply a statement. It must be translated into what might be called ‘real choice’. 

Currently, bureaucrats, academics and the ideologues dictate choice, as in terms of the models promoted and ultimately made available.  Many of these people only promote those service models and options that fit with their narrow views.  Often their views are not in accord with the realities of the real needs of people with disabilities and their families.

The catch cry that the "research shows" has become a convenient label to support the current narrow views in relation to choice. It is also important to emphasise the choice in terms of service options must be applied to accommodation models.

Support the sustainability of the "not-for-profit" disability services sector through appropriate funding to ensure the delivery of quality disability services

The concept of "appropriate funding" needs some explanation. It has become all too common to suggest that all that is needed is more money.  It must be remembered that it is not uncommon in the non-government sector for significant remuneration packages to be paid to senior managers. 

The real issue in relation to sustainability is the link between how funding is used and the concept of "quality".

As evidenced by the Yooralla case, despite almost $2 million being paid to the top five executives, there has been a total absence of quality in the delivery of service to several clients.

Address the recommendations of the Law Reform Commission's review of guardianship

It is essential that the incoming government vigorously pursues the Bill tabled in the house by the former Attorney General and as relating to revision of the guardianship legislation.

Work with the Commonwealth Government to ensure that the Victorian safeguards are incorporated into the role of the National Disability Insurance Scheme

There is strong evidence to show that the current so-called safeguards applying in Victoria are not working the way they were intended to work. In part the evidence of this comes through the Yooralla case as well as the Public Advocate’s call for an inquiry into the abuse and neglect occurring in disability accommodation and suggesting that this is only the "the tip of the iceberg".

Two key issues underpin safeguards. Firstly, that they are appropriate, are policed, and action taken against those who fail to apply them.

The second issue is that the national standards must be applied across all jurisdictions and not simply characterised in a way that allows individual jurisdictions to establish their own standards under what is termed "nationally consistent” standards.

The fact that under the NDIS individuals are funded to purchase their services must be kept to the forefront when considering what safeguards should be in place.

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