Tuesday, 20 September 2022


Disability Amendment Bill 2022



Disability Amendment Bill 2022

Second reading

Debate resumed.

Mr FOWLES (Burwood) (18:40): Having been in the chamber now for 4 hours and 40 minutes and having consumed three bottles of water, I can assure you that this speech will not be delivered in anything other than a degree of physiological distress, but can I say that the Disability Amendment Bill—

A member interjected.

Mr FOWLES: If you make any water noises, you are in trouble. The prostate may well give way. The Disability Amendment Bill 2022 amends the Disability Act 2006, the Residential Tenancies Act 1997 and the Disability Service Safeguards Act 2018 to bring about critical amendments—really important amendments—that are going to increase rights and protections, improve services, bring about better service coordination, clarify functions and responsibilities and reduce duplication. They are largely pretty uncontroversial changes. They have come about because at the start of this year we announced that legislative amendments would be made to increase the residential protections for Victorians in disability accommodation and strengthen quality and safeguards in services for people with disability, and that is exactly what this bill does. It acquits that very important commitment. It is one of the key outcomes of the Disability Act review, which has been underway since 2018. This is a priority reform. It is about making sure our legislated frameworks are fit for purpose, are contemporary and create meaningful change for people with disability.

It is appropriate to reflect a little bit on the journey that Australia has been on with the national disability insurance scheme. That of course was a scheme that would only ever have been conceived of and delivered by Labor, and it was. It was absolutely undermined, almost tortured, by the previous federal coalition government in their efforts to claim false savings and produce a false budget surplus—a claimed surplus that still to this day the newly ex member for Kooyong claims to have delivered. If you push him on it and go, ‘Sorry, no. There was a deficit’, he says, ‘No, no. I delivered the budget for a surplus’. So it is part of the creative accounting strategies frequently deployed by those opposite that they persist with these furphies.

One of the greatest of them was the effort by the former prime minister, Scott Morrison, who was the minister. He was probably the Treasurer, the industry minister and a few other things at the time—the health minister and various others. He, unbelievably, claimed that the coalition made this multibillion-dollar saving in the NDIS. You did not have to scratch the surface of that piece of confected nonsense very hard to work out just what a sensationalist piece of bulldust it was, because sure enough the savings had all come about because they had not employed the people to process the applications. ‘Oh, we’ve saved money’, they said, ‘because we didn’t even employ the people to process the applications’. The applications were stretching out into an ever-growing list, but they claimed that it was their expert management of the NDIS that was delivering the savings. Well, in fact it was just their denial of the life-changing opportunity of the NDIS that was delivering this saving, so-called. I think that speaks—is anyone else finding the chamber unnervingly quiet at the minute? Can you all talk amongst yourselves or something?

Ms Green interjected.

Mr FOWLES: Yes. It speaks to the fundamental gap between Labor’s approach to those with disabilities and the approach of coalition governments, state and federal. Part of the evidence for that is that we will be delivering before caretaker an exposure draft of the new disability inclusion bill for public consultation. That exposure draft will include a proposal for a commissioner for disability inclusion. It is a very, very important commitment because it is only through properly resourced and institutionalised—and I mean that in the good sense of the word—advocates that we will secure the right change that we need in this space. I have dealt with a number of advocates for various constituents with disabilities over the course of my four years in this place, and I have always found them to be people of great integrity and great passion but who quite rightly, by the time the matter has reached me or others, have endured on behalf of their clients an amount of frustration of a quantum that is somewhere between a lot and an amount that would induce homicidal rage. Some of the barriers that have been thrown up to people with disabilities in my community are just breathtaking, and I want to thank all of those disability advocates who work right across the sector—some of them in funded organisations and some of them in not-for-profits where they raise their own funds for their organisations. The work they do is absolutely incredible, so it is important then for us to have a commissioner for disability inclusion. I look forward to joining—as I cast my eye around the chamber—every single person to the right of the Deputy Speaker in legislating this change in the 60th Parliament, with the exception of you, member for Yan Yean, and we will miss you.

The passage of the Disability Amendment Bill this year is important to ensuring that the services, the safeguards, the rights and the protections are enhanced for all Victorians who are living with disability. I think it is important to note that those rights and protections are about the residential rights and duties for people who are subject to civil and criminal orders in disability residential services and parameters for service providers in delivering those residential and treatment services. It ensures the residential rights and protections for people living in specialist disability accommodation; it ensures that they have those protections if they do not meet the definitions in order to be covered by the Residential Tenancies Act. To paraphrase, those that are in specialist accommodation that is not treated as an ordinary residential tenancy will, as a result of, hopefully, the passage of this bill, pick up a bunch of protections for their rights. They are very important protections. We appreciate that there are a whole range of different modes of delivering specialist accommodation. We need to make sure that they are adequately captured by the rules so that people who are living in accommodation like this who clearly have a disability can enjoy a similar set of protections to those living in more conventional accommodation.

In the 90 seconds I have left I just want to talk a little bit about some of the approved services. This bill is about, in part, removing duplication and making sure that there is consistency of approval requirements under both the NDIS and state-funded disability service providers. We have, unsurprisingly, in our great federation opportunity for duplication and complication of those various matters, and it is important for those things to be regulated in a consistent way but in a way that is nonetheless accountable. The parts of the bill that go to improved services also address gaps and clarify the criteria and processes for compulsory treatment and placement in residential treatment facilities to support client and operational safety and strengthen clinical oversight. Again, I think these are reforms that are, frankly, relatively uncontroversial.

What it will also allow the minister to do is to declare additional categories of disability accommodation so that community visitors can inquire into the quality and standard of support provided to residents. That is an important regulatory power and one that I am sure will be utilised as the quantum and quality of specialist disability accommodation grow. With those comments, I will conclude my comments and race off to the loo.

Ms ADDISON (Wendouree) (18:50): I too rise to speak in support of the Disability Amendment Bill 2022, which will improve services, safeguards and protections for people with disability and will further acquit this government’s commitment to reviewing and reforming the Disability Act 2006. Like many others on the Labor side, I too would like to acknowledge the carers. Often carers work goes unrecognised. I want to acknowledge and thank them for the work that they do. I also wish to thank all the workers and the Health and Community Services Union members in the disability sector across my electorate for the outstanding work they do, including allied health professionals, teachers and aides, bus drivers, cleaners, personal care assistants and human services providers. It can be challenging and incredibly rewarding work.

I know from firsthand experience the significance it makes to people with disability having people in their lives who care for them. It makes such a difference. My mum, Trudie Dickinson, is a physiotherapist who worked for decades in disability in Ballarat at organisations including the Spastic Society of Victoria, now Scope, at Pennyweight Park and Pinarc. Mum was passionate about providing early intervention, treatment and support for children with disability across the region. She was also a board member of McCallum Disability Services and the Ballarat Base Hospital. Growing up with a mum who was passionate about disability as a role model has had a profound impact on how I view disability and Victorians with a disability. It is important for me as a member of this place to be a strong advocate for and work to promote the needs of Victorians with disability, improving access and inclusivity to education, public services and facilities across our community.

I am so pleased that that Minister for Disability, Ageing and Carers is in the chamber while I deliver this speech. I wish to thank him, his ministerial office and the Department of Families, Fairness and Housing for the good work they have done to bring this bill to the house. I want to thank them for their extensive consultation that has occurred throughout the drafting of this bill. Equally, my thanks go to all the stakeholders and community members who have taken part. I know that interest has been strong, reflecting the importance of disability services for many Victorians. The reforms in this bill have been informed by public consultation conducted via Engage Victoria as well as targeted consultation across the sector, including with key bodies and government agencies. The department has also been advised by the Disability Act review advisory group, a diverse and experienced collective chaired by former disability discrimination commissioner Graeme Innes AM.

Our government promised to protect and promote the rights of people living with disability in Victoria, and it is what this bill delivers by bolstering residential protections for Victorians in disability accommodation and reinforcing the quality and safety of disability services. These reforms are enacted primarily by amending the Disability Act 2006, with additional amendments to the Residential Tenancies Act 1997 and the Disability Service Safeguards Act 2018. Changes to the Disability Act align and reduce duplication of restrictive practices, which means we will be improving the consistent application of requirements across both disability service providers and registered NDIS providers. The role of the Victorian senior practitioner is also updated to include promoting the reduction and elimination of restrictive practices. These changes will further align the act with the national framework, as regulating restrictive practices is a shared responsibility of both the state and the commonwealth. Rights of a person subject to compulsory treatment are also reinforced. This bill addresses gaps in legislation by strengthening clinical oversight of the residential treatment facility admissions criteria as well as confirming its continued application beyond admission. Information, including treatment plans, is explicitly required to be provided in an understandable and accessible format. Further, processes around obtaining and explaining supervised treatment orders are also to be improved.

The bill also looks at community visitors. By empowering the minister to declare additional categories of disability accommodation beyond those captured by the act, the bill allows community visitors access to a wider number of residential services. Community visitors are volunteers appointed to inspect the quality of these services by observing conditions, making inquiries, communicating with residents and identifying concerns. They provide an important safeguard for the rights of people with disability.

This bill will further clarify and support their role. These sorts of clarifications can make a real and significant difference in service provision. By making improvements to the outdated information-sharing arrangements the provisions of collaborative support for complex clients will be enhanced. It streamlines oversight by dissolving the Disability Services Board, an entity whose role has been substantially reduced since the introduction of the NDIS, as well as better defining the role of the department secretary. Further amendments to the Residential Tenancies Act 1997 ensure that Victorians living in specialist disability accommodation remain covered by the appropriate residential rights, while amendments to the Disability Service Safeguards Act 2018 remove the duplicate requirement for disability workers seeking voluntary registration to obtain a police check when they already hold an NDIS worker clearance. These reforms will safeguard the rights of residents while also removing barriers for aspiring disability workers, increasing services and amplifying benefits for the community. These amendments will address gaps in residential protections, strengthening quality and safeguards for people with a disability.

Our government is determined to make Victoria a more inclusive and accessible state, and I am proud to be a member of the Legislative Assembly Economy and Infrastructure Committee, which has held two significant inquiries that have made important findings and recommendations to support Victorians with a disability The first one, which the member for Sandringham was a part of the committee for, was an inquiry into sustainable employment for disadvantaged jobseekers. That was tabled in this place in August 2020. The second one was an inquiry into access to TAFE for learners with a disability, which we tabled in September 2021.

Victoria has also established a new Victorian Disability Advisory Council and launched a new Inclusive Victoria: State Disability Plan 2022–2026. This plan is about making things fairer for people with a disability. The plan outlines what government departments are doing to build a fairer community for everyone. One example of this is the inclusive playground for all children at Victoria Park in the heart of my electorate. It is a place where children and adults of all abilities can play, socialise and connect. In June this year I was delighted to announce a grant of $186 000 from our government to develop a new sensory-friendly play zone at Ballarat’s Victoria Park inclusive play space. It will be built in partnership with the City of Ballarat, which is contributing $124 000. I wish to acknowledge the strong advocacy of Rebecca Paton and the City of Ballarat’s Disability Advisory Committee, who worked so hard to establish the Victoria Park inclusive play space in 2016.

I am also proud that we are supporting students with a disability in my community and across the state. In the November 2020 budget we announced that the Ballarat Specialist School would receive $10 million to upgrade and modernise the school, including providing additional permanent buildings. The Ballarat Specialist School provides exceptional education for students from kinder to year 12. Families from around the region have moved to Ballarat to be a part of this nurturing school community. I thank the amazing teachers and support staff for the extraordinary job they do, from supporting the littlest learners at the specialist school kinder to our school leavers at the farm campus in Invermay Park. The $10 million funding announcement means that the school’s infrastructure will become fitting for the outstanding teaching and learning happening at our Ballarat Specialist School.

Further, in September 2021 the Andrews Labor government announced $1.3 million of Building Blocks grants capacity funding for the Ballarat specialist kinder, which is a part of the Ballarat Specialist School in my electorate. The Ballarat specialist kinder program specialises in students with additional needs. This funding will enable the Ballarat Specialist School kinder to increase the three-year-old program from 2½ hours to 15 hours per week, and it will provide an immense benefit to the local community.

This is an important bill. It is emblematic of what this government stands for: being inclusive, being fair and making Victoria an even better place to live. I am proud to support it, and I commend the bill to the house.

Business interrupted under sessional orders.