Disability Service Safeguards Bill 2018
I am pleased to have the opportunity to make a contribution on the Disability Service Safeguards Bill 2018.
I am aware that there are really two major tranches of reform coming through in this bill: firstly, the establishment of an independent registration and accreditation scheme for the disability workforce; and secondly, a scheme to protect the rights of residents in special disability accommodation to enable them to exercise rights and choices that they probably have not previously enjoyed.
I was a member of the Family and Community Development Committee when we undertook the inquiry into abuse in disability residential services. That was very shortly after I entered this place, and it was quite an experience to be part of an inquiry that delved very long and hard into the issues that were put before it. While we had a scheme to deal with a range of issues that arise in relation to abuse in this field, the Four Corners report in November 2014 really highlighted the deficiency — many deficiencies in fact — that existed, and no doubt that was one of the triggers for bringing on the inquiry that followed. Similarly the Ombudsman had also undertaken a very wideranging, broad inquiry into abuse in disability services and made some very scathing comments and some recommendations — all that while we did have a disability services commissioner in place.
In relation to employment issues, we had a disability worker exclusion scheme that was run within the Department of Health and Human Services, which we learnt about during the course of the inquiry, and there was a disability worker exclusion list. The list contained details of people who posed a threat to the health, safety or welfare of people with a disability living in disability residential services. The scheme had been set up within the department to deal with issues that were clearly there. There had been a serious lack of vetting of people who were employed in these sorts of services.
Some members might remember the Kumar case — a criminal trial involving a disability service worker charged with rape. During the course of the evidence, as I understand it, it was pretty clear that not many people had done any work to work out what his previous history had been before he came into it and that had they done so, that situation would not have arisen. It became very clear during the course of the inquiry that there was a need to look into ways of improving the basic safety and needs of people in residential disability services — people who are so vulnerable and who are at the mercy of the workers. Unfortunately there were too many cases of abuse that we heard about that had clearly been going on for a very long time.
I have to say that I was extremely moved during the course of hearing evidence from parents and siblings about the absolute helplessness that they felt in the face of knowing that abuse was being perpetrated on their loved one in such a service — and not only that but the absolute inability of the system to satisfactorily deal with their complaints. In some ways that was like twisting the knife in the wound for so many of those families. They became aware of the abuse that was occurring and wanted to advocate for their family member and wanted things to be better, and they found that they were hitting a brick wall with the disability services commissioner.
The issue of the employment of appropriate people within these services really arose as being a very major factor in the course of that inquiry. The terms of reference of that inquiry included the committee looking at workforce recruitment screening, induction training and supervision, and provider registration requirements. That indeed is what happened, and strong recommendations were made around that.
This very substantial piece of legislation, the bill that is before us today, goes into great detail in dealing with those sorts of issues. It will be very pleasing and very well received by many of those families out there that have those vulnerable family members who are in so many ways at the mercy of their carers, day in and day out, 24 hours a day. While so many workers in that field are to be commended and do a great job, we do have to be wary of the fact that this is an area where perpetrators will place themselves and where in some ways they can find easy targets. So this screening and registration process is not coming too soon by any means. It is just essential that we have it.
I think one of the other things that really struck me about the evidence that we heard was the number of elderly parents who had family members in care who were now adults, and their greatest stress was what would happen to that disabled family member once they were no longer there to care and advocate for them. Again, I think a piece of legislation such as this will provide some comfort that when they are gone and their adult disabled family member is still a part of the system and still in need of care, at least there will be standards in place that will be implemented to provide a greater level of protection and to provide places to complain to and places to have their complaints dealt with more effectively.
Over the course of time since the recommendations were tabled in this house, a range of amendments have been made to the legislation that have implemented some of those recommendations. I am pleased to see here today these particular changes which do implement many of the recommendations that were made.
In Shepparton — and I represent the Shepparton district — we have the national disability insurance scheme (NDIS) arriving in January 2019. It has been rolling out across the state, starting in Barwon, since several years ago. It has been interesting to watch the implementation of the scheme. There is no doubt that there are many problems, many difficulties, associated with it. I think, given that it is now a national scheme that is in place, there will be many challenges in sorting out what is going to be dealt with at a state level and what the federal government will be responsible for. There were many recommendations around, first of all, having a royal commission into the issue of abuse in disability services, but that is pretty clearly not happening. The march is now on to get implementation and to get all of this work rolled out on the ground.
I regularly hear, even though I am a state member, complaints about difficulties people are having in their interactions with the NDIS, and I think it really is incumbent upon the government, the federal government in particular, to make sure that there is someone at the end of a phone line and that there are enough support workers out there to help people prepare their case plans to be sure that people are able to access the services they need. It is a great plan. It was a bipartisan plan in the federal Parliament and one that everyone wanted to see happen. But it is now incumbent on all of us — state, federal and at every level, including local government, which has a role in this area to some extent — to make sure that it works and that it works for the benefit of those people who are so much more vulnerable and who are unable to advocate for themselves. I have concentrated more on that side rather than the issue of tenancy and the safeguards there, but I support those too. I commend the bill to the house.