NATIONAL DISABILITY SERVICES CEO’S CONFERENCE

December 09, 2015


‘LEADING CHANGE AND CHANGING LIVES’

Thank you Joan [McKenna-Kerr, CEO Autism Association of Western Australia] for your introduction, and for the valuable advice you’ve given me over many years. 

I acknowledge the traditional owners of this land, its custodians for 50,000 years.

And in doing so I acknowledge that achieving full social justice for our first Australians cannot happen until we support, include and empower Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who live with disability.

And I acknowledge all of you –

The leaders and the change-makers.

Those at the frontier of the revolution that is the National Disability Insurance Scheme. 

I want to begin today by thanking you.

I know this is a working conference. I know the challenges facing the sector are myriad and complex.

So I know you have a lot of work to do.

But I do hope that during these sessions you also spend some time reflecting on, and celebrating, the incredible progress that has been made in disability services over the past few years.

As Bruce Bonyhady has said:

“…the NDIS is not just reforming the old system – it is replacing and transforming it.”

It is not an exaggeration to call it a revolution.

Revolutions require those on the frontline to think radically, take risks, and form new relationships.

The NDIS was forged from a coalition of groups who hadn’t always spoken with one voice.

Its foundational success was the coming together of people with disability and families, carers and service providers.

An alliance formed of people prepared to put aside differences, because all agreed that the status quo was intolerable. 

Each of us has heard thousands of stories of the broken system –

From people with disability who aren’t getting anywhere near the level of support they need.

From carers and families who are at breaking point.

From providers and support workers who are asked to do more and more each year, with fewer resources.

Now we are hearing new stories. And I want to share one with you.

A few weeks ago I was in Northern Tasmania, talking with people with disability, families and providers who are part of the launch site for young people in that state.

The CEO of a service provider in Devonport summed it up perfectly when he said:

“Now people with disability are getting what they want, not what other people say they can have.”

None of us could wipe the smiles of our faces as participants and parents, one-by-one, spoke about how their lives had changed in a few short years.

I was particularly captivated by a young woman named Caroline.

Caroline had recently moved out of her parents’ house and into her own home.

She spoke eloquently about how her life had improved under the NDIS – but then she said to me that it wasn’t all good.

She told me how annoying it was to have to pay rent and bills, and how she didn’t like doing household chores.

I’m not sure if this was Caroline’s intention, but I couldn’t help but laugh.

Because Caroline sounded exactly like my own grownup children. 

And I’m sure the parents here have heard the same things.

Caroline is now living the same experience as any other young adult in Australia.

She is learning to be independent, and finding her own way in the world –

With her own home and a good job.

This is happening all over the country.

I feel a fair amount of relief when I visit launch sites like Tassie and people say to me, “don’t worry Jenny, it’s working.”

And I know it isn’t luck. I know it isn’t happening by accident. I know that so much of it is because of the work of your organisations.

The theme for this conference is ‘lead the change’ – and that is what you are doing.

You are leading change, and changing lives.

I think our friends in other sectors, other circles, would do well to take a leaf or two out of your book.

‘Reform’ is a word that gets thrown around a lot – particularly recently.

You often hear it from politicians and business leaders, but seeing it is rare.

You are living the reform. You are leading it, and you are delivering it.

You are making the NDIS real.

So I thank you –

For your hard work; for your leadership; for your willingness to embrace confronting and difficult change.

****

Now to some priorities – and the first will come as no to surprise to any of you.

It is making sure the NDIS begins its transition to the full scheme on the 1st of July next year, and not a day later.

I do not support any delay to the rollout of the NDIS.

This is for one simple reason: people with disability have waited long enough. They should not have to wait any longer.

The transition over the next three-to-four years will be hard. Nobody can deny that.

I am conscious of the skill and toil that you’ve put into making the scheme a success thus far.

I know it will get more challenging as we ramp up, not less.

And of course haste should never come at the expense of quality.

But I believe that complacency is just as dangerous as haste.

Complacency says people with disability, their families and service providers, who have been waiting for this their whole lives, can wait longer.

But the truth is, if we had pressed pause on building the NDIS every time someone had urged us to, we would still be talking about it in the future tense.

Talking about what the NDIS could do, instead of what it is doing.

I’m very pleased that we now have bilateral agreements for the full scheme finalised in New South Wales, Victoria and Tasmania.

They were a long time coming, but it is great news for all those who have fought so hard to secure the future of the NDIS.

The agreements mean that in these three states, as well as in the ACT, people with disability, their families and service providers now have some certainty about the nature of the rollout.

In other states and the Northern Territory, participants and providers do not yet know these important details.

The bilateral agreements with these remaining jurisdictions must be secured and signed as a matter of urgency.

Participants and families need this certainty, and they need this time to get ready for an entirely new approach to accessing care and support.

And I know you need this time too.

These months before the transition are critical for planning the structures, services and workforce you need do your jobs well.

Every day of delay in signing these agreements is one less day you have to prepare, and one more day of uncertainty over the future of the scheme.

The Prime Minister is meeting with Premiers and Chief Ministers here in Sydney on Friday.

And I don’t see any reason why they would leave that room without having the details of the full rollout finalised.

It can be done.

****

Briefly, while I’m on the subject of certainty, I want to express my gratitude to David Bowen and his team at the National Disability Insurance Agency, and to Bruce and his colleagues on the Board.

It is no small thing to start something so big from scratch.

As we move into this new phase, the make-up of the Board must have the right balance of renewal and continuity. 

There is not an organisation in this room that would contemplate chucking out their entire board in the middle of a major change project.

Nor would anyone in this room want their organisations run entirely by people who have zero real-world experience in disability.

The only people who can rightly call themselves experts on disability are those who live with it, those who love people who with live it, and those who have spent a long time working in the sector. 

This should always be reflected on the Board of the NDIA.

****

I know I don’t need to tell you that in order to manage this growth and minimize the risks, good preparation is essential.

In 2012, the Labor Government committed $122 million over four years to set up the Sector Development Fund.

We created this fund to support providers as they prepare for the NDIS.

To help you build your capacity as you adjust to this new way of delivering services.

The move from block funding to a fee-for-service model.

The new technological and infrastructure challenges.

The expansion of services, clients and workers.  

The changing relationship between governments and providers, and providers and participants. 

All of this represents a seismic, structural shift.

That’s why governments must do everything possible to support you in this task.

There is currently tens of millions of dollars in the Sector Development Fund that has not been utilized. 

And organisations have expressed concerns to me about the lengthy and complex process for accessing this funding.

If more can be done to help you get ready for the NDIS, then more must be done, and it must be done now.

This money is useless when it simply sits there. 

The funding needs to be fully delivered within the original timeframe – by July next year.

There should not be a drip-feeding of these funds simply to make them last as long as possible.

The focus for sector development also needs to move beyond the launch sites to a more national approach.

The launch sites have shown we can deliver the NDIS – but the same intensity we have brought to the task in these locations must now be replicated everywhere else.

I also believe there needs to be a stronger focus on workforce development as part of our investment in the sector.

Which brings me to another priority – jobs for people in the disability sector, and jobs for people with disability.

****

The workforce issue really shows the intersection of huge opportunities and huge challenges with the NDIS.

We are talking about more than doubling the workforce, and changing the nature of the workforce.

In an economic age where growth is unreliable and traditional jobs are disappearing, the disability sector offers new hope for employment in Australia.

But the risks loom as large as the benefits.

We simply cannot scale up the scheme if the workers aren’t there.  

We need to address skills shortages in certain parts of the country, particularly regional and remote Australia.

We need strong quality and safeguards structures, so that the new workforce is capable and sustainable.

The NDIA’s Market, Sector and Workforce Strategy, released earlier this year, proposed the development of different action plans, including one to help build this future workforce.

I hope that all governments can soon come to an agreement on making this happen.

We need to put plans into action now.

And I know that you want to see more people with disability getting the jobs of the future – both inside and outside the sector.

This is an ambition I share.

The NDIS will undoubtedly help remove barriers to employment for many people.

But this alone will not be enough. Indeed, the most recent Quarterly Report indicated that less than twenty per cent of participants had included supports for economic participation in their individual plans.

Where we can do more, we should do more.

We should do more to encourage businesses of all sizes to employ people with disability.

And we should do more help participants in the NDIS use this opportunity to unlock their productive potential.

****

If there is one thing that perfectly captures the systemic failure of the old system, it is housing.   

We see it in the concern on the faces of elderly parents, who spend sleepless nights worrying about what will happen to their adult sons and daughters when they are no longer around to house and care for them.

We see it in the travesty of young Australians being forced to live in aged care facilities.

And, tragically, we see it in the all-too-common reports of abuse and neglect of people with disability in accommodation that is inadequate and inappropriate.

It is not true to say, as some do, that the NDIS does not have a role in providing accommodation options.

In fact, I know some participants in the launch sites have already used their plans to improve their housing situations, because I’ve met them and they’ve told me.

But I recognise that this is the small tip of a very large iceberg.

There are individuals in the launch sites who aren’t yet getting what they need.

And legions more around the country who will soon enter the scheme, but face continuing uncertainty over their future accommodation support.

I am as frustrated as you are at the lack of answers on accessible, appropriate and affordable housing under the NDIS.

Much like what we’ve seen with the Sector Development Fund, there is money available to start working on different accommodation options.

But it requires the people in charge to be proactive, innovative, and above all, to make some decisions.

We need a dedicated strategy from the Agency and from all governments that addresses this core issue.

Yes, it will take some time to get this right.

But it just gets longer, the longer we wait to get started. 

The NDIS will not be a total success if does not adequately address the barriers to reasonable and necessary housing support.

Housing best reflects the systemic failure of the current system. We can’t allow this failure to persist.   

****

I know you’ve just heard from Nance Haxton [ABC journalist], whose work has shone crucial light on a darkness we all must confront.

The historic and continued abuse of Australians with disability by people who are meant to care for them is a national shame, and it demands a national response.

Clearly there are significant, structural flaws in the systems designed to protect people from predators;

A failure of our legal systems to seek justice for victims;

And a failure of governments to ensure appropriate safeguards are in place.

This is why Labor supports a national investigation into any abuse, corruption or cover-ups.

This is not to malign the massive majority of decent people who support Australians living with disability.

It is to weed out the small number of criminals who prey on vulnerable people, so we can prevent further abuse from happening. 

The very least we can do is make sure these injustices cannot keep occurring in modern Australia.

And that needs to start with recognition that injustice begins when people with disability are deliberately silenced, or when we refuse to hear them.

The central philosophy of the NDIS is giving people more choice and control over their own lives.

And you can’t have choice and control if you don’t have a voice.

Independent advocacy is fundamental to making sure people with disability get a say – the biggest say – in the debates and decisions that affect their lives.

Last Thursday, on International Day of People with Disability, I announced that a future Labor Government would provide an additional $2 million a year to peak disability advocacy organisations.

Labor developed this policy after witnessing the damaging effects the current Government’s cuts have had on the work of disability advocates.

Our policy ensures peak bodies have secure funding into the future, so they and the people they serve have certainty.

It recognises the crucial role of advocacy services in the successful rollout of the NDIS.

And it recognises that as we tackle all of these broader issues – sector readiness, employment, housing – people with disability have the right to be part of these discussions and part of the solutions.

Under Labor, people with disability will have a strong voice – and their own voice – to make sure their interests are never sidelined, never ignored and never forgotten.

****

I have spoken at length today about the NDIS and some of its challenges.

This is because it is the biggest social reform in decades, and seeing it through to completion demands the full measure of our skill, toil and time.

But disability reform does not begin and end with the NDIS.

It is a big part of it – but it is just one part.

When we finalised the National Disability Strategy in 2011, the Productivity Commission hadn’t even handed down its report recommending an NDIS.

And while the NDIS will improve the lives of hundreds of thousands of Australians –

Many more people with disability will still need our support so they too can reach their potential.

We need to reinvigorate the National Disability Strategy.

To ensure its goals reflect the goals of Australians living with disability.

To ensure our efforts stretch across every area of policy making.

And to ensure we implement these strategies, and not just talk about them.

****

I want to conclude this morning with a message of encouragement.

It has been four years and four days since Julia Gillard and I committed the first lot of funding towards the design of the NDIS.

It seems like a lot longer than that.

It seems like a century’s worth of change has happened in the past few years. 

In 2016, Labor will keep contributing to the public discussion on the NDIS and on broader disability policy.

We will do what we can to ensure the NDIS delivers its core promise to the people who need it –

The promise of decency, security, independence and opportunity. 

And we will keep listening to you, and learning from you, as you help carry out this once-in-a-generation, transformational social change.

I know that building the NDIS thus far has been challenging, and I know it will get more challenging still. 

And I don’t think any of us could have expected it to be different.

After all, nobody has reached the end of a long reform road and remarked, “Gee, that was easy”.

But I’m reminded of the universal view of those people I spoke to in Northern Tasmania a few weeks ago:

That change has been hard – really hard – but absolutely worth it.

And building a scheme that is worth it –

Will continue to require the resourcefulness, resilience and resolve of the people in this room.

It will require you to keep leading this change.

To keep changing lives.

Thank you.

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