Acknowledgement & Introduction

To begin, I would like to acknowledge the Traditional Owners of the land on which we are meeting.  I pay my respects to their Elders, past and present, and the Elders from other communities who may be here today.

Thank you for inviting me to speak at the 6th National Disability Summit.

Policy work at the Commission

I’m pleased to be able to attend and speak here today.

I expect the information exchanges and the outcomes from this conference will take us forward towards our great shared objective. That is:
ensuring people with disability are included in every way in our society and economy and that equality of opportunity is available to all of them.

We are at a time in our nation’s history when disability issues, and people with disability, have never been so prominent in Australian discourse. This historic moment provides many opportunities, especially for those of us who have particular responsibilities in relation to the human rights of those with disability.

How do I approach my own work at this important time?

My role as Disability Discrimination Commissioner at the Australian Human Rights Commission requires me to keep a strong human rights focus on all disability issues. I do that in cooperation with my five commissioner colleagues and the President of the Commission. Just as key to my work is establishing partnerships and consultations with the many disability advocates and advocacy organisations we are fortunate to have working in disability rights.

Much of my work at the Commission focuses on addressing the discrimination that people with disability experience. The Disability Discrimination Act 1992 provides individuals with the opportunity to bring complaints where any discrimination covered by the Act has been experienced.

Complaints under this Act to the Commission are easily the highest number of complaints we get each year.

The good news is that many, up to half of those complaints are resolved satisfactorily through our Conciliation process.

So the Act does provide important protections but it does not comprise all of our work in support of people with disability. We also invest resources in supporting positive policy developments, proposing law reform where necessary and educating the general community, employer bodies and others – including, of course, the media.

When I was appointed as the Disability Discrimination Commissioner last year, I decided that consultation would be the key to my approach, and that the priorities of my work would be informed by people with disabilities themselves.

As soon as possible, I convened a National Disability Forum, which was crucial in informing me about the most urgent and important issues. The Forum was well attended by a range of people and organisations, and what I learned from them was supplemented by an online survey which was responded to by over 500 people. 

From this input I formed the view that the top priority in my work would be improving employment opportunities for people with disability.

Of course that objective necessarily involves improving access to education and training, accessible transport and breaking down negative attitudes by employers and the community generally.

More recently, at the end of last year, I went to Tasmania to meet stakeholders actively engaged in disability reform.

I was encouraged and impressed by the rollout of the NDIS in that state, and the positive feedback by the consumers on the rollout process.

I recognise that even though we’ve started on a positive journey in disability reform, many needs to remains to be addressed.

For too many years, people with disability were kept outside of policy development.

As a result, it has taken us a long time to be able to conceive a world leading scheme like the National Disability Insurance Scheme. 

The realisation of the NDIS is due in large part to the hard work of disability organisations, particularly representative organisations and advocates and I congratulate all of you involved in that work. 

Now is a time of opportunity

Now the NDIS is here. With its continued development and rollout, we will continue to experience challenges, but more importantly there will come opportunities.

Given the strong bipartisan support for the success of the disability reform in Australia these opportunities can be expected to continue well into the future.

We are in the strong position that we can take a long term view with this reform. All the elements of are supported across the Parliament. 

Disability reform, and in particular the establishment of a full NDIS is a long game, requiring support from both sides of politics.  Happily, this exists and I have no reason to think it will change.

We can harness this bipartisan support so that when challenges do arise we can act constructively.

The rollout of the NDIS presents us with an historic opportunity to bring a problem-solving approach to all issues, and work together as policy makers, service providers, carers, families, advocates and most importantly, people with disability themselves.

Collaboration of all stakeholders is crucial

The best way to ensure that public policy is effective and relevant is, within the capacity that we all have, to present options, solutions or proposals for policy makers to consider. 

No one person or organisation among us has all the answers; however working together we’re likely to come close to solutions that suit us all.

Over my long working life, I have learnt to value the power of consultation and collaboration, and understanding shared responsibility. We all have a responsibility to ensure the coverage of the scheme is a broad as possible.

For example, orienting the scheme so that people living in rural and remote areas will have adequate access to services they require, including choice in service provision, will be crucial.

Ensuring that people with intellectual disability connecting with the NDIS are provided with impartial assistance that promotes their independent decision making is important to respecting their human rights.

We know that indigenous people with disability experience particular challenges when it comes to accessing services. Developing a system of service provision that addresses these challenges, especially in remote areas of Australia is also ahead of us.

Respecting the rights of people from linguistically and culturally diverse backgrounds, and the sexual orientation, gender identity and intersex rights of people with disability is also a conversation we have to have during this time of reform to disability services in Australia

No one must be left out. This massive new scheme is for all people with disability and those of us who are advocates must continually monitor developments so this big promise is delivered. 

Part of making the scheme work is that when it doesn’t, there must be in place an effective complaints management process.

As I have already mentioned, at the Commission we have our own complaints system for dealing with disability discrimination issues. 

It is important that individuals bringing complaints in relation to the NDIS have an equally accessible and effective system for investigation and settlement.

I understand that the current mechanism is that the NDIS has an internal complaints system, with appeals to the AAT.

We are all keen to see how well this arrangement works and I am pleased to see that this is a topic for a later address at this conference.

I also recognise the consultation underway for an NDIS Quality and Safeguarding framework.

This framework needs to reflect the principles of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. 

Back to my own work, at the Commission, just last week, we received official confirmation that we will be conducting a National Inquiry into the employment related discrimination against older Australians and Australians with disability.

I welcome the decision of the Attorney general George Brandis to refer this inquiry to us.

This national inquiry is an opportunity to get a much stronger focus on workplace barriers that affect people with disability.

Given the anticipated increase in people with disability moving from disability support pensions into paid employment, understanding and addressing barriers to getting and keeping a job will be crucial.

In fact, I would say that the one can’t happen until the other is in place. People should not be moved off benefit until it is clear they are able to secure jobs, and keep them.

As we establish a consultation plan for this Inquiry, I hope that many of you present will make submissions to us, and help guide the Inquiry to the best possible findings and recommendations.

The importance of building our knowledge base on options for positive disability reforms was affirmed through a research roundtable that the Commission hosted last week.

This research roundtable was convened in conjunction with the University of Canberra, and looked at the current and future disability research agenda for Australia. 

Understanding what research we are currently doing, what the policy priorities are, where the research gaps are, and what we should be investing in for the future is important, particularly to inform policy reform.

While research has traditionally been viewed as a domain for academics and research institutions, the theme in the roundtable last week was predominately one of collaboration.

Collaboration among all stakeholders, including people with disability themselves and service providers yields the best outcomes for research and policy relevance.

The ability for all of us to be able to tap into the research that our academics are engaged with will be invaluable to inform service delivery.

Which brings me to the key partner in all this: the Service Providers.

The disability reforms and the new model of funding of the NDIS are challenging providers in ways that they may not have expected, and for which as yet they are not entirely prepared.

It is a great step forward for people with disability to have the choice of how to spend money that directly affects their participation, but we all know that consumer choice does come with challenges. I’m confident that service providers want to respond to these changes effectively and will be successful in working out how to do this. At the same time of course they need to ensure their business or organisation remains sustainable, and able to deliver ever higher quality.

Essentially now, providers will deliver what is needed, as opposed to what is available or easier to provide.

Consumer directed care is an approach that is firmly based in human rights. For this reason I support it totally and look forward to seeing it working in practice.

Given the breadth of knowledge, experience and commitment at this Summit, I’m confident you will have a productive two days and contribute positively to the dynamic changes underway in disability policy in Australia.

Thank you and I wish you well for the Summit.