Disability Service Safeguards Amendment Bill 2020 – Second Reading Debate

You can watch the video here.

I welcome the opportunity to speak in support of the Disability Service Safeguards Amendment Bill 2020 and thank the member for Bendigo West and also the member for Ivanhoe for their contributions today. Disability is a policy area that I have a great interest in and passion for, in part thanks to my mum, who worked as a physiotherapist looking after people with disabilities and also advocating for people in the disability services sector for over 50 years. I am so proud to be a member of the Andrews Labor government—a government that has a strong track record when it comes to advocating for, supporting and delivering for Victorians with a disability, their carers and their families.

As a part of the Andrews Labor government’s response to the 2016 parliamentary inquiry, the Disability Service Safeguards Act was passed in August 2018. This legislation established a regulation scheme for the disability workforce that will commence on 1 July 2020. In the 2019–20 state budget $9.5 million was provided to implement the scheme, which will ensure that people with disabilities receive high-quality services and workers have the necessary skills, experience and qualifications to deliver those services safely. Importantly, it will apply to all disability workers in Victoria, regardless of whether the disability services are a part of the national disability insurance scheme (NDIS) or funded through another source.

I also support the Victorian government’s zero-tolerance approach to abuse and neglect of people with disabilities. The 2016 report of the parliamentary inquiry into abuse in disability services made several recommendations to strengthen safeguards in the sector, and the government responded by legislating in 2018 to establish a regulation scheme for the disability workforce. The Andrews Labor government expanded the referral, the inspection and the investigative powers of the disability services commissioner, including a power to review all deaths in disability services. Our disability abuse prevention strategy, which was launched in April 2018, has built the capacity of individuals, of workers and of providers to prevent abuse—important protections for vulnerable Victorians.

Another example of the Andrews Labor government’s commitment to Victorians is our five-year plan to provide autistic Victorians with greater opportunities for choice and community participation. The Victorian autism plan sets out actions to improve the lives of autistic Victorians, their families and carers, backed by $7.1 million in funding.

I wish to thank and recognise the Minister for Disability, Ageing and Carers, who is in the house at the moment, for his ongoing advocacy for Victorians with a disability. The minister has been a champion for the more than 91 000 Victorians who are now on the NDIS.

A member interjected.

Ms ADDISON: Well, I would also like to thank the Minister for Mental Health, but I think the Minister for Disability, Ageing and Carers is really well deserving of this praise and credit because he continues to advocate for the many thousands across our state who are still waiting to be a part of the NDIS. I applaud his campaign calling on the commonwealth to release $600 million in funds committed to Victorians with a disability. This will make a big difference to the lives and families of Victorians with a disability, and I am so pleased that you are standing up for our state and for Victorians in the commonwealth arena.

I would also really like to acknowledge the work of his ministerial office, particularly Flora, Jono—who joins us today in the house—and Drew, and the departmental staff for the work they do supporting Victorians with a disability. I am pleased that this bill will benefit the disability sector workers, employers, contractors, clients and families, and once again I thank the minister and his staff for all the work they have done on this bill.

The amendment includes four technical and clarifying amendments to the Disability Service Safeguards Act 2018. Three of the amendments relate to disability worker registration, which is so important. The first one looks at encompassing registration standards, the second one looks at provisionally registered disability support workers and the third one is the transition provisions for registration in the first two years of the scheme. The fourth amendment then considers the rights and responsibilities of the Victorian Disability Worker Commission staff. By way of background as to why this amendment bill is required, it is important to understand that the original bill—the Disability Service Safeguards Amendment Bill 2018—was introduced and passed by the Andrews Labor government in August 2018 to establish the disability worker regulation scheme. However, since then, as the government has continued to consult and engage with stakeholders in the disability sector regarding the implementation of the scheme, it has become apparent that necessary changes are required. Therefore the proposed changes being made by the Disability Service Safeguards Amendment Bill 2020 will improve the operation of the scheme.

I am also pleased that the amendments put forward in the new bill will provide greater clarity for disability workers seeking registration and for people seeking information about registered disability workers, including people with a disability, their families and carers, disability employers and the general public. I wish to take this opportunity to thank the incredible workforce we have in our disability sector in Ballarat, including but not limited to McCallum Disability Services, Pinarc services, Ballarat Specialist School, Scope, and Buddies C.A.N. To all the people who provide therapy services, educational support, social work case management, adult day programs, recreation, advocacy, support groups, respite, community education and early childhood programs, thank you for the work that you do.

I would also like to take this opportunity to acknowledge the very important role that carers play in my community. Across Victoria we have more than 736 000 Victorian carers who give their time, effort and love to look after a family member or friend who needs them. Carers come from all walks of life and stages of life, and what they have in common is the emotional, financial and physical stress that caring for a loved one can involve. I strongly believe that we need to support and recognise the very significant role that carers play in our community, because it comes at a cost. The statistics show us that 20 per cent of carers give up work to provide care and that young carers drop out of school at a higher rate than other children of the same age. As a result of this, carers often have lower household incomes, placing additional challenges on them. Carers are 40 per cent more likely to have a chronic health condition, often ignoring their own while caring for a loved one. Thank you to all our carers.

I would like to take this opportunity to remind the community about the 10th annual Victorian Disability Awards and encourage people to nominate community members that are making an outstanding contribution to the lives of people with a disability. If you know someone or an organisation who is making a real difference in the disability sector, please nominate them. It is important to recognise their hard work, their innovation and their dedication. Nominations are open for individuals and groups, including people with a disability, family members, volunteers and people working in the sector. Nominations close on Sunday, 5 April, so you have still got some time to really give recognition to people who are emerging leaders and who are providing excellence in creating inclusive communities; excellence in employment outcomes; excellence in promoting health, housing and wellbeing; and excellence in promoting rights, fairness and safety. There is also a volunteer award and a lifetime achievement honour roll. There are so many people in our community who do so much. Why not nominate them for one of these very, very important awards. To find out more about how to nominate, please visit https://www.dhhs.vic.gov.au/disabilityawards. It would be great to see some individuals and organisations from Ballarat nominated in this year’s award.

This bill makes minor and technical amendments to the Disability Service Safeguards Act 2018. I was going to go through each one of those, but I am running a bit short of time, so I will quickly summarise why I am supporting these important changes. It is all about creating certainty and making sure that the standards disability workers are required to have and that they are required to meet to maintain registration are available on the board’s website, so people know what the expectation is of them to provide the safety and the quality of care that is required. That will be available. This will be beneficial, as it provides greater clarity when it comes to developing assessment requirements, including exams and competencies, to become registered to work in the sector. It will also make requirements to maintain registration more transparent, which will provide certainty where regulation standards may be under the principal act, such as insurance requirements.

Another technical amendment that is included and is being proposed is to remove the provisionally registered disability support worker division of registration. This is redundant and unnecessary, and that is why it is being removed. The third amendment being put forward will address transitional provisions for registration that will apply in the first two years. Effectively this will ensure that disability workers seeking registration under the two-year work experience pathway will be eligible to register at the commencement of the scheme’s operation. I can see this will have particular benefits for many, and I commend the bill to the house.