Disability and Social Services Regulation Amendment Bill 2023

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I rise to speak on the Disability and Social Services Regulation Amendment Bill 2023. Firstly, I would like to thank the Minister for Disability, Ageing and Carers Lizzie Blandthorn in the other place and the department for all the work that has been done to bring this bill to the house. I would also like to acknowledge the earlier contribution from the member for Yan Yean and her passionate advocacy for her brother and her actions in supporting people with a disability. We know that disabled Victorians are some of the most vulnerable community members and deserve to have protections in place that work for them. That is what this bill is about.

Since 2018 we have engaged in a consultative process to review the Disability Act 2006. We are committed to making sure that our laws are fit for purpose, particularly that they are contemporary, so they can provide meaningful change for disabled Victorians. The Disability Act review has been progressed over three stages. The first stage was completed in 2019, and the second stage is currently being undertaken. This stage focuses on addressing the unintended gaps in legislative safeguards and is also looking at how to strengthen the rights and protections of those living with a disability.

I would like to acknowledge the importance of the stakeholder consultation that has occurred for this bill. This bill was informed by extensive community engagement, including the public consultation period in 2021; discussions with the expert Disability Act review advisory group formerly chaired by Graeme Innis AM, Australia’s former disability discrimination commissioner; and of course a wide range of groups across the disability sector and government.

This bill will amend the Disability Act 2006, the Residential Tenancies Act 1997, the Disability Service Safeguards Act 2018 and the Social Services Regulation Act 2021. All this ensures that we can strengthen the rights and protections for people living with a disability. This bill will increase safeguards and ensure better service coordination. There are now over 150,000 Victorians who are active participants on the NDIS. These Victorians are often vulnerable and already face difficulties and inequalities. That is why we have a responsibility to make sure that the NDIS delivers for Victorians and that it is able to provide a better deal for people with a disability and their families in Victoria.

There are over 1.1 million Victorians living with a disability. Last year we launched Inclusive Victoria: State Disability Plan 2022–2026. The government worked closely with advocates and the disability sector to develop a plan that makes Victoria more inclusive and accessible. In last year’s budget we allocated $15.1 million towards our state disability plan. This included $5.4 million which went towards the construction of 30 Changing Places facilities. Each of these Changing Places has a height-adjustable adult-sized changing bench, a tracking hoist system and enough space for two people. They are such great facilities that since the budget we have announced an additional 19 new fully accessible Changing Places bathroom facilities. These Changing Places are designed to make community spaces, including events and tourist locations, more accessible and inclusive for people with a disability. We know how valuable this is, which is why earlier this year, in March, we launched a new round of grant programs for these. I note that the grant applications are currently being assessed for the Changing Places.

I would also like to mention that as part of state disability plan we launched our public funding campaign Change Your Reactions. This campaign is aimed at promoting better attitudes and behaviours towards people with autism in our community. And of course we announced $2.4 million towards a new universal design grant program. This is to provide accessible infrastructure for people with a disability, which can help improve community and shared facilities. We know how important these services are to Victorians with a disability. In my local area we have seen the great results that great support can provide. The specialist school Glenallen provides incredible support for students from age 5 all the way to adults, and it has a huge range of services, including music, occupational and speech therapy as well as physiotherapy. I would like to give a special mention to principal Michael Cole, who is a great advocate for his students. I would like to thank the school for inviting me to present the badges to this year’s school leaders. I would also like to congratulate those leaders, Grace Lambrick and Alexander Gilbert, as well as the new vice school captains Destiny Pepper and Joshua Bond. The Andrews Labor government has invested in a three-stage upgrade to the school over the last four years that is due to open very soon. We have seen at this school the real-world impacts that this support can have, and that is why this bill is so important.

People with a disability deserve to live with respect and dignity and be able to access services. That is why the Andrews Labor government has been so committed to furthering protections for people with a disability. This bill also improves the services we provide by ensuring accountability around things like the NDIS and state-funded disability service providers. It will allow for additional categories for disability accommodation to be declared by the minister. This will increase transparency in allowing community visitors to inquire into the quality and standards of services provided by supported residential services to residents. The bill also amends provisions relating to restrictive practices for Victorians on the Commonwealth disability support for older Australians program.

An important element of this bill is amending the new social services regulatory scheme to ensure that it is properly protecting people living with a disability. I would like to especially note the need for safeguarding for our residents with a disability. We have all seen media reports about poor standards and care within supported residential services for older Victorians and Victorians with a disability. These stories are sickening and truly disheartening. Every Victorian deserves to be treated with respect, kindness and compassion. More safeguards will help address this and will hopefully make it a little easier for people living with a disability. One of these safeguards includes permitting authorised officers to enter bedrooms in supported residential services and disability residential services without consent in very limited circumstances. I would like to note that while this is important, there are several safeguards to ensure that this only happens when it is truly necessary. These amendments to the Residential Tenancies Act 1997 and Social Services Regulation Act 2021 will make important changes to the lives of people living with a disability. This is about fairness and making sure every Victorian has the right to feel safe and secure. There are also several changes to make processes more efficient, such as removing the duplicative process that current workers have to go through. This now allows national police checks to be recognised for workers as part of the NDIS delivery. These amendments to the Disability Service Safeguards Act 2018 are so important.

Another organisation in our electorate that does invaluable work for people living with a disability is the Cerebral Palsy Education Centre, CPEC. CPEC provides a range of speech pathologists, physiotherapists and occupational therapists, who make a huge difference in people’s lives. CPEC supports members by providing a location for sessions as well as catering to care at home, at child care, kindergartens, schools, universities and other community settings in order to –

The ACTING SPEAKER (Paul Hamer): Order! The time has arrived for the joint sitting to elect three members of Parliament to the Victorian Health Promotion Foundation and to elect three members of Parliament to the board of the Victorian Responsible Gambling Foundation. I will now ask the Clerk to ring the bells to call members to the joint sitting. The Assembly will resume after the joint sitting has concluded, and the bells will ring again at that time.

Sitting suspended 6:30 pm until 6:35 pm.

John MULLAHY: As I was saying, it was great news that CPEC received a $65,000 grant from the Suburban Rail Loop community grants project. This grant has been put to good use to create more disability mobility equipment storage, a specialised disability equipment library for families and pathways providing a covered outdoor sensory education area for children with cerebral palsy. Back in February I attended the sod turn with the Parliamentary Secretary to the Premier. I would like to give a special mention to their CEO Claire Cotter and the whole team at CPEC. On International Women’s Day I invited Claire to be at Parliament House to thank her for all the amazing work that she does.

Our community is better off when all levels of government – federal, state and local – are all working together with common goals in this policy area, so I would like to note the importance of the work that is currently being undertaken by the Royal Commission into Violence, Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation of People with Disability. This is looking into how we can better protect people with a disability from experiencing violence, neglect, abuse or exploitation. It is also looking more broadly at how we can promote a more inclusive society that supports people with a disability to be independent. This is an extremely important process, and I would like to note that the royal commission has already had over 8000 submissions and over 1700 private sessions have been held.

The Andrews Labor government has undertaken important work in protecting people with a disability; however, there is always more to do. This bill is another important step, and next year we will consider more significant and complex areas of the Disability Act 2006 as part of the next step in the Disability Act review. It will also ensure that there is further detailed consultation and ensure the review takes into consideration the recommendations from the disability royal commission, which are due to be released in September 2023. All of these are part of a larger plan by our government to help protect and promote accessibility for people with a disability. This bill is an important step in this journey towards a more inclusive Victoria. I commend this bill to the house.

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