Disability and Social Services Regulation Amendment Bill 2023

03 May 2023

Martha HAYLETT (Ripon) (18:03):

I rise tonight to speak on the Disability and Social Services Regulation Amendment Bill 2023. This bill reinforces the Andrews Labor government’s deep, deep commitment to empowering Victorians of all abilities. It introduces critical amendments to enhance services, safeguards and protections for people living with disability. It will also amend the Residential Tenancies Act 1997 to promote residential rights in specialist disability accommodation and the Disability Service Safeguards Act 2018 in relation to worker screening and make several amendments to the Social Services Regulation Act 2021 to ensure that it operates effectively to protect the safety of social service users.

Over 1 million Victorians today live with disability. As a community we are making vast improvements to strengthen their rights and treatment, but there is always more to do. Australia’s national disability insurance scheme provides essential services, supports, equipment and more for participants, with over 150,000 people relying on it every day in Victoria. Introduced over a decade ago by the trailblazing Prime Minister Julia Gillard, it is now an integral part of the way we support and protect people living with disability in this country.

Our government acknowledges that we all have a role to play in making sure Victorians living with disability are well supported, with inclusive, appropriate and sustainable supports in place that enable them to live full lives. We have seen what happens when it goes wrong; the Royal Commission into Violence, Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation of People with Disability laid it out very clearly over the course of their public hearings. While the final report is not due to be handed down until later this year, the lessons are already there to be learned and acted on. It is clear that when a system does not protect the most vulnerable, the results are devastating. That is why this bill exists: to strengthen the protections for people living with disability and to make sure supports are in place so that the types of issues that the royal commission exposed cannot happen again.

The key amendments that are dealt with in this bill include increasing rights and protections for people living with disability, improving services, providing better service coordination and ensuring the system works as intended. It achieves these aims in a few key ways by clarifying residential rights for people in disability residential services that are subject to criminal and civil orders. This bill seeks to better address the requirements for service providers when delivering residential and treatment services, which is extremely important. It will also ensure accountability and consistency of approval requirements for the use of restrictive practices for NDIS and state-funded disability providers, making sure that we get them right and use them only when deemed necessary. It will enable service providers to better share critical information by removing barriers, and it will ensure that at the heart of the system vulnerable service users are protected first and foremost. This will be enshrined in circumstances where authorised officers will be able to enter rooms in private supported residential homes without consent in limited circumstances. This may be deemed necessary where, for example, a person is intimidated or influenced by the provider, but an inspection is deemed necessary for their welfare. These powers will be subject to a series of checks and balances that will aim to make sure people living with disability are adequately supported. Ultimately it will enhance the regulator’s ability to ensure the safety of service users through increased ability to monitor compliance in accommodation services. This bill goes a long way to improving disability services. It is part of a broader picture of delivering for people with disability in this state.

Now, we are walking the talk in Victoria when it comes to making sure people with disability are at the forefront of decision-making, and this is reflected not just with this bill but in the policies that this government has put forward over many, many years. An example of that is the $1.6 billion of investment to make sure every student of every ability thrives at school. The disability inclusion program has begun rolling out in Victoria’s government schools from 2021 to 2025, and this funding is for schools to implement practices that support inclusive education for students with a wide range of learning needs. Whether it is through hiring new disability learning staff, funding new interventions and equipment, professional development, technology or so much more, it allows schools to implement the best possible solutions for students based on their needs, and so many students in my electorate of Ripon are benefiting from this already.

Late last year we also announced a $39 million Pathways to Home program to help patients with disability who are stuck waiting in hospital while their NDIS plan kicks in to transition to home or home-like accommodation. This not only helps them get home sooner but means that they are not stuck in limbo waiting for their accommodation plans to commence, freeing up more hospital beds and helping Victorians who need it most.

We all know on this side of the house that a centrepiece item from the Andrews Labor government’s agenda has been free TAFE. Reflecting the high demand for skilled workers in this space, we have made it free to study support at TAFE campuses across the state, which includes and fills gaps in key areas across the disability sector, including welfare support workers; disability carers; nursing support; care workers; welfare, recreation and community arts workers; and education aides. It will make sure that we have the workforce of tomorrow ready and willing to address the workforce shortages and support that many people with disabilities need. Our many unpaid carers across Ripon, of whom I have met many in recent months, devote so much time, energy and love to their family members, friends and loved ones with disability, and their work too often goes unrecognised and unpraised. That is why I am particularly proud that this government provides respite and funding for unpaid carers to give them the time and support they need to look after themselves.

In my electorate of Ripon we are so lucky to have so many wonderful community disability service providers who do a power of work each and every day to support people with disability in our region. I have had the pleasure of meeting with many of them, and I am looking forward to meeting many more in the future. One of those is Grampians Disability Advocacy, who through some of the toughest times supported over 300 clients with NDIS appeals and advocacy, and they supported clients through the disability royal commission. It was a pleasure to meet with them last year at their annual general meeting, where I heard about all the hard work they do for locals in Ballarat, Ararat and beyond, and I know that the member for Wendouree has a very strong relationship with them as well. The members for Wendouree and Eureka and I also recently met with McCallum, who are in the process of moving their employment businesses, including McCallum Industries, McCallum Linen and Ballarat Regional Industries, to the Ballarat West employment zone, or BWEZ. Supported by the Andrews Labor government, McCallum is the largest social enterprise in western Victoria, employing over 300 people with disability. When the move is complete, they will have room to expand, creating 275 jobs.

I have also had the great pleasure of meeting with staff from Grampians Community Health, who do so much incredible work across our region with people with disability. They reach over 200 postcodes across the Grampians and Wimmera regions and have supported over 5000 new clients since January 2019 alone. They do tireless work supporting locals through disability support, carer respite, counselling, family violence support, drink drive programs and so much more.

Everyone in Maryborough knows the legends behind Asteria Services, one of Maryborough’s biggest employers. They are a registered NDIS provider and deliver personalised support and employment for locals with disability. They offer respite services, commercial services and employment opportunities. Their participants grow plants for Landcare groups, pack drills for Sutton Tools, place stickers on books for McPherson’s Printing, mow lawns, wash cars, clean houses and more. Their services are so valuable for the people who rely on them, and I cannot wait to see what the future holds for them.

While we are well serviced with providers in some parts, of course there is always more to be done, and I will always be a passionate supporter for more and better services in rural and regional communities. Importantly, this bill will provide greater support for Victorians living with disability and will make it easier for service providers to do their jobs.

The Disability Act 2006 is being reviewed in stages, with this bill forming part of phase 2 of the reform agenda by promoting the rights of people residing in residential services and improving treatment practices, among other measures. I will always jump on every single opportunity to work with organisations and groups that are building a more inclusive and accessible community. I am dedicated to working hand in hand with disability advocates to make sure that the needs of people living with disability in Victoria come first, which is what this bill sets out to do. I am thrilled to be a part of a government that is coming to the table once again. We are walking the walk and we are getting it done. I commend this bill to the house.