Dear Minister Reynolds… Disability Ageing and Carers

Dear Minister Reynolds…

Dear Minister,

It’s a big day – your first Disability Reform Ministers Meeting with your State and Territory counterparts.  🎈

A lot has changed since the last meeting in December 2020, attended by your predecessor Stuart Robert.

The vaccine roll out started, then faced fresh challenges. The Commonwealth’s proposed changes to the NDIS sparked widespread concern fear, anger and mistrust.  And disability advocacy organisations continued to deliver critical support in the face of funding uncertainty and growing need.

Disability Ministers have a lot to discuss when they meet today. Below are three issues that must be resolved. 

While these matters will require shared leadership, decision-making and coordinated implementation by the Commonwealth, States and Territories – as equal partners – there is much for the Commonwealth to do to restore the trust of Australians with a disability, families, carers and support workers.

1. Vaccine roll out

Some people with disability are at greater risk from becoming very sick if they catch COVID-19, but many feel left behind and forgotten in Australia’s vaccine roll out.

In Australia’s vaccine roll out schedule, people with disability in residential settings and support staff were prioritised for Phase 1A of Australia’s roll-out schedule, and adults with disability with underlying medical conditions or attending centre-based services eligible for vaccination as part of Phase 1B.  Under Australia’s COVID-19 vaccination policy, responsibility for this aspect of the rollout has resided with the Commonwealth.  Concerningly, we got to the end of March 2021 with residents and staff of just 50 residential disability facilities across Australia vaccinated. 

People with disability, their families and carers and those who support them want answers and timely access to vaccines.

2. NDIS reforms

The Commonwealth’s proposed changes to the NDIS have been a hot topic for many months. Over 100 allies across the sector, VCOSS and our members hold serious concerns about what the reforms could mean for people with disability – for example, the introduction of independent assessments and recently released information proposing a new way of funding support for children with autism. While we welcome news of a pause on the plan to roll out compulsory independent assessments, trust and confidence needs to be rebuilt.

The NDIA received over 760 submissions to its consultation process. Three days after submissions closed, the NDIA announced the organisations successful in their tenders to deliver independent assessments. High-level post-consultation summaries were released one month after submissions closed, yet as noted by Every Australian Counts, whose own submission contained 700 individual stories from individuals, “even the quickest scan makes their cherry-picking clear”.

Leaked draft changes to the NDIS Act also raised concerns among people with disability, advocates and State and Territory ministers alike.

When the Ministers last met, they talked about the importance of consultation between governments and people with disability about any changes to the NDIS – and we hope they talk about it again.

Victoria’s Minister for Disability, Ageing and Carers is one of many State Ministers who has urged the Commonwealth to go back to the drawing board and engage in meaningful consultation with people with disabilities.  People with disability want to be listened to and to see a meaningful co-design process to explore and address NDIS implementation challenges.

People with disability want to be listened to and to see a meaningful co-design process to explore and address NDIS implementation challenges.

3. Disability advocacy funding

Disability advocacy and self-advocacy organisations work alongside people with disability to understand, protect and exercise their rights. Disability advocacy has been consistently recognised by inquiries as an important safeguard to help prevent and report abuse, particularly for people who are afraid or unable to have their voices heard.

But despite the critical role disability advocates play, services are chronically under-funded and under pressure. Our members continue to report demand is outstripping supply, forcing organisations to maintain waiting lists.

For years, many disability advocacy organisations across the nation have been strung along on a series of short-term contracts that threaten their sustainability and make it difficult to retain skilled and experienced advocates.

Funding for disability advocacy is delivered through a combination of Commonwealth, State and Territory sources, however, funding has been a “constant battle” for many groups in recent years, with a lack of clarity around government roles and responsibilities for funding since the introduction of the NDIS. NSW organisations and Queensland organisations recently successfully campaigned for funding lifelines, however, we hear from our members in Victoria that funding for specific programs like the Commonwealth-funded NDIS Appeals program remains under a cloud.

A national project to assess demand and gaps in coverage for disability advocacy support has been on the table of the Disability Reform Ministers Meetings since December 2019 (PDF). We hope to see this project back on the agenda to drive certainty and stability for the disability advocacy sector, and in turn, people with disability across Australia.

We wish you well today.

We wish you every success.

The roughly four million Australians with disabilities are counting on it.

The Victorian Council of Social Service.