Disability Service Safeguards Bill 2018

Mr J. BULL (Sunbury) (17:53:33) — I am very pleased to have the opportunity to contribute to the debate this evening on the Disability Service Safeguards Bill 2018. Before I do can I acknowledge the passion, the commitment and the dedication of the members for Bendigo West and Wendouree for all of the work done in this space and for making this bill possible. The Andrews Labor government believes that every Victorian, regardless of their circumstance, is entitled to a fair go and a shot at a quality life. We believe in the best possible care for all Victorians, including of course those with a disability.

I have been fortunate enough to form some great friendships with some people who have disabilities. Mum worked for many years as an integration aide in Sunbury, and this is something that I have always been very thankful for. It is something that, as other members have mentioned this evening, opens your eyes. It opens your eyes in many ways. You learn of course that disabilities can make a person’s life very complex. You learn that people with disabilities are incredibly strong, incredibly proud and work so very hard each and every day at everything they do. You learn of course that what matters most is real support and genuine access to quality services when and where they are needed. That is what is required to ensure that a person can grow and learn and reach their full potential. You learn how important that quality care is.

This government believes that we are here and charged with supporting and caring for all Victorians who need us and who rely on us. I did hear members mention earlier in other contributions that those who work with disabilities do, on the whole, a terrific job. It is my belief that these people do not get enough praise and enough recognition within our community for the incredibly important work that they do. I would like to put on record my thanks and appreciation to the wonderful Victorians who of course work so very hard with people with disabilities to help make their lives better. It is not just in my community alone. I am sure other members would have very similar circumstances in meeting with many carers, workers and service providers who genuinely care and who try their very best to do an outstanding job. What is clear, however, and the purpose of the bill this evening, is that we know the system can of course be improved. That is the purpose of this bill.

Unfortunately we have seen cases of abuse and neglect, cases that break hearts and break minds and are of great concern for all involved, especially the individual and their family. This bill is about ensuring that people with a disability have the right, as we all do, to be free from harm and abuse. The bill captures and reflects what the Andrews Labor government are committed to doing, and that is protecting all Victorians both now and into the future.

The bill protects Victorians with disabilities by establishing a registration and accreditation scheme for the disability workforce and reforming rights for people in specialist disability accommodation. We heard earlier in relation to the 2016 Family and Community Development Committee inquiry into abuse in disability services that the committee recommended as part of a zero tolerance approach to abuse that the Victorian government adopt a workforce strategy for disability services, including screening and registration of workers — a fairer system and a better system.

Recognising that this government’s responsibility to people with disability does not end with the commencement of the national disability insurance scheme — which is a massive and long-overdue reform and which represents a significant change to the way things are managed within our communities — this bill provides the legislative framework to improve the standard of lifestyle for those who live with a disability and ensures that protections are in place, of course, if something goes wrong.

The key elements of the registration function to be administered by the board include legally protecting the titles of ‘registered disability practitioner’, ‘registered disability support worker’ and ‘registered disability worker’; establishing a public register of registered disability workers; giving the board the power to accredit disability qualifications; importantly, introducing mandatory reporting obligations for disability workers to report misconduct; and giving powers to the board to set standards and guidelines for the conduct of registered disability workers.

The bill as we have heard this evening makes amendments to the Residential Tenancies Act 1997 and makes consequential amendments to the Disability Act 2006 to give specialist disability accommodation residents funded through the national disability insurance scheme or the commonwealth’s Continuity of Support program the option to exercise their tenancy rights through either a specialist disability accommodation residency agreement or a general tenancy agreement. For the first time, people with a disability will have access to a verified, publicly available register of qualified workers using standardised titles.

The scheme not only provides benefits to people with a disability but also recognises the hardworking, qualified and capable workers in the disability sector. I again take the opportunity to acknowledge the incredibly important work that this sector does each and every day within our communities. I am sure that members from all sides of the chamber will agree that these people are genuinely special. They perform an incredibly important role in supporting individuals and families that are dealing with disabilities, making their lives the best they can be. But having a structured system, a better system, a system that ensures that there is a quality framework and safeguards in place to ensure the best possible care — that should be the focus of each and every member of Parliament.

This bill supports Victoria’s ongoing role in regulating accommodation rights, while safeguarding and protecting people with disability. We are ultimately delivering on choice, control and safety for those that live with disability. I am incredibly proud to know that this framework will make a difference. It will improve lives. It strives to end the abuse and neglect that can occur to those in often very vulnerable situations. Bills like this in many respects are not a joy to bring to this place but rather a necessity. It should always be a government’s focus to improve systems and frameworks around the way that a state cares for its people. We know of course that in a perfect world you would not need such oversight, but it is not a perfect world, and people with disability deserve the very best care.

This government stands with each and every Victorian. We stand to make Victoria a safer, stronger and better place for this generation and generations to come. The Andrews Labor government is a government committed to getting on with things and to delivering the infrastructure, the services and the funding right through each and every sector in our community. We are a government that puts people first, that listens to communities and acts to ensure that important pieces of legislation, like this piece of legislation, come before the house, are passed through the house and in essence make an individual’s life better. I commend the bill to the house.