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LISA... is a parent support and lobby group, for parents and families with a family member having an intellectual or multiple disability, and living in a supported accommodation group home in the State of Victoria, Australia.
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Open Letter by JacksonRyan Partners

28 November 2014

OPEN LETTER TO THE SECRETARY OF VICTORIA’S DEPARTMENT OF HUMAN SERVICES

Ms Gill Callister

Secretary

Department of Human Services

50 Lonsdale St

Melbourne Vic 3000

Dear Ms Callister,

Subject:  Response to Questions by 4Corners

We write in relation to a the response made by a spokesperson for your department to questions put by 4Corners investigators, and as published on the 4Corners website
-
http://www.abc.net.au/4corners/stories/2014/11/24/4132812.htm

As you will note, this is an Open Letter.  We believe that comment on the response by your department must be widely circulated, as the response raises serious questions as to how your department operates in regard to disability service providers and the performance of your role under the Disability Act 2006.

Spokesperson’s authority

Given the fact that 4Corners questions were prompted by the Yooralla case as aired on ABC TV (24/11/2014) we seek your advice as to whether the spokesperson was representing you as Secretary of the department in providing these responses.  We make the assumption that the spokesperson was representing you, however your confirmation of this would be appreciated.

Protecting the health, safety and rights of people with disabilities

We note and applaud the advice that “there is absolutely no room in disability services for anyone or anything that jeopardises the health, safety and rights of people with disabilities.” 

Despite this advice, and given that your department apparently became aware of the sexual abuse allegations in December 2011, we note that none of the actions identified in the response can be characterised as supporting the statement of there being “no room for anyone or anything that jeopardises the health, safety and rights of people with disabilities.”  Or, in other words, the actions of your department as depicted in the response fail to live up to the sentiments being expressed.

Service Review

The department’s statement acknowledges the seriousness of two incidents which were reported in mid-2014, and past incidents.  However, the actions of your department can only be described as being “soft”.  Your statement advises that “the department resolved to conduct a service review of Yooralla’s operations focussing on how the organisation keeps clients safe.”  Yet, no advice was provided to the 4Corners program as to when this review was conducted, who conducted it, and its outcomes. 

Clearly, given the incidents of sexual abuse and the two serious incidents reported to your department this year, the evidence is clear that Yooralla failed to keep its clients safe.  Therefore, surely you had a responsibility to advise the 4Corners program as to what action you took in light of this serious failing. 

We note that there is no advice to the 4Corners program as to the power you have under Section 99 of the Disability Act 2006, and it is a reasonable assumption that you did not see fit to use this power.  Therefore, we believe that in the cause of transparency you must now issue a statement as to why you have not sought to apply this section, given that Yooralla clearly breached and failed to comply with the relevant performance measures and standards applying to the Disability Act 2006.  Instead, you have simply sought to use the standard audit process which applies to all service providers. 

Independent Audit and the Appointment of an Administrator

The department’s statement also makes mention that an “independent audit” of Yooralla’s operation is currently underway as part of the department’s compulsory accreditation process.  As the statement rightly notes, this is part of a standard accreditation process and therefore is not one your department initiated specifically to address the cases of abuse at Yooralla.

Apart from this, however, while the department was happy to mention the audit, there was no mention of the fact that outcomes of the audit process are not made public. Given this, would you please advise whether you intend to make public the outcomes of the audit process undertaken in regard to Yooralla.

The department’s statement further notes that “if Yooralla cannot demonstrate that it meets required standards, it will be at risk of losing its accreditation.”  Surely, Secretary, the evidence demonstrated through the 4Corners program and matters which are still pending, including a rape case due to be heard in the Magistrates Court on 5 December, provide the strongest possible evidence that the Yooralla Board, its Chief Executive Officer, particular senior managers and particular staff have already demonstrated their inability to meet the required governance and management standards. 

Given this, we therefore wonder why the department advised 4Corners that Yooralla would only be, “at risk” of losing its accreditation.  The question arises as to what level of seriousness a failure to meet standards must be in order for an organisation to actually lose its accreditation and funding. 

Therefore, why is it that you are going through the motions of review, rather than recommending to the Minister that section 102 of the Disability Act be invoked, that is, that an administrator be appointed to Yooralla.  As you would know, the Minister has previously appointed administrators under the Disability Act 2006.  It therefore seems reasonable to ask - Is it because of the size and public profile of Yooralla that you are apparently reluctant to recommend any such action?

Disability Worker Exclusion Scheme (DWES)

We note the department’s statement used three of its eleven very short paragraphs to applaud the establishment of the Disability Worker Exclusion Scheme (DWES), even though this scheme only began in late September 2014.  Clearly, whatever the strengths and weaknesses of the scheme, its introduction was some years too late to have captured the perpetrators of the Yooralla abuse.  What was not highlighted for the 4Corners program was that in any event the DWES would not have applied to the rapist Kumar because he was already in the employ of Yooralla.  And even though there were strong indicators as to the abhorrence of his behaviour, Yooralla management continued to allow him to flourish. 

In essence, the DWES is similar to that of police checks.  They are fine if the person has been found out.  However, they have no impact if this is not the case.  Or, in other words, an employee who does abuse clients may not necessarily have been previously suspected or caught. 

We find it concerning that the department held up the DWES to the 4Corners program as a definite solution to keeping unsuitable employees out of the disability sector.

Supposed protections

The department highlighted to the 4Corners program protections allegedly available “through independent investigation and conciliation of complaints through the Disability Services Commissioner”.  The department also mentioned the inspectorial powers of Community Visitors, as well as making mention of the Public Advocate as a protector of rights.  Reference was also made about access to the Victorian Ombudsman.  Despite the illusion that the department’s response gave as to the existence of a network of protections, the statement failed to articulate the deficits associated with each of these entities.  In particular, there was no mention of the fact that each one of them has remained silent in relation to the Yooralla case. 

In relation to the Disability Services Commission, it is surprising that the department would make mention of his investigative powers, given he has not conducted one single investigation since 2009. 

It is also surprising that you would make reference to the Community Visitors and the Public Advocate when their reports of visits are not available to families or the general public. 

In terms of the Victorian Ombudsman, no doubt you are aware that the Ombudsman is unlikely to consider a complaint unless the complainant has first gone through the complaint mechanisms of agencies, including the Disability Services Commissioner. 

Secretary, we find the statement provided by your department to the 4Corners program as lacking transparency and substance.  Instead it sought to convey a picture of hard-hitting and proactive actions.  The fact is tha,t based on the information provided by your department to 4Corners, this is simply not the case. 

Conclusion

Please note that we are only too happy to meet with you to discuss the contents of this Open Letter or to receive, in writing, your response to it.

Yours sincerely

Max Jackson & Margaret Ryan

JacksonRyan Partners

Max mobile:  0413 040 654        Margaret mobile: 0412 409 610

Copy: 

The Hon Dr Denis Napthine MP – Premier of Victoria

The Hon Peter Ryan MP - Deputy Premier and Leader of the National Party

The Hon Dan Andrews MP - Leader of the Opposition

The Hon Mary Wooldridge MP - Minister for Disability Services and Reform

The Hon Jenny Mikakos MP - Shadow Minister - Community Services

Mr Greg Barber MP - Leader of the Greens

Ms Colleen Hartland MP – Greens Spokesperson for Health, Community and Local Government

Ms Deborah Glass - Victorian Ombudsman 

Ms Colleen Pearce - Public Advocate

Newsprint

  • James Campbell - State Politics Editor, The Herald Sun
  • Josh Gordon - State Political Editor, The Age
  • Richard Baker & Nick McKenzie, The Age
  • Dennis Shanahan - Political Editor, The Australian
  • Political Editor - The Saturday Paper
  • Gay Alcorn - Victorian Editor, The Guardian Australia

Television Channels

  • ABC       4Corners; 7.30 Report
  • Brendan Donohoe - Melbourne State Political Reporter, 7 News
  • Political Reporter - Channel 9
  • Political Reporter - Channel 10
  • Political Reporter - SBS
  • Political Reporter - Channel 31

Radio

  • Jon Faine – Radio 774
  • Neil Mitchell – Radio 693
  • Tom Elliott – Radio 693

LISA Inc   ~   Phone: 03 9434 3810   ~   Email: vk3qq@optusnet.com.au   ~   Address: 73 Nepean Street Watsonia VIC 3087

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