National Disability Strategy 2021-31 explained

This session was part of the Advocacy Sector Conversations Forum series held on Zoom 2 March 2022.


On International Day of People with Disability 3 December 2021, Australia’s new Disability Strategy was released with an initial investment of $250 million over the life of the strategy.  The strategy sets out a plan through which governments at all levels, working with the community, business and people with disability, will focus on delivering services to meet the needs of all people with disability and create an inclusive Australian society that ensures people with disability can fulfil their potential, as equal members of the community.

Melissa Hale, the DARU Coordinator, hosted this session in conversation with Dr Ben Gauntlett, Disability Commissioner at the Australian Human Rights Commission. They discussed the scope of the strategy, how it works across all levels of government and how advocates can get involved through its implementation over the next 10 years.



Scroll down to the bottom of this post for links to resources.


Audio and transcript


Good morning everyone.  Welcome to the second session of the March 2022 advocacy sector conversation series.  My name is Melissa Hale and I’m the manager of the disability advocacy resource unit.

I would like to begin by acknowledging the Wurundjeri people of the Kulin Nation, the Traditional Custodians of the land on which I am coming to you from today and pay my respect to their elders past and present.  I extend that respect to all First Nations people here today.

I would also like to take a moment to extend my thoughts to those in Queensland and New South Wales at the moment, including our speaker today, who are going through some really tough times with some incredible weather events and hope that those who are on this call today are staying safe along with their families and loved ones.

I would also like to apologise to the Deaf people in our audience.  We don’t have Auslan interpreters today.  Unfortunately one of the interpreters has become unwell and a second interpreter was not able to be found in time for this session.  We do, however, have live captioning available in the link in the chat box, so please access this.  However I acknowledge this is not ideal and please accept our apologies.

We encourage your active participation today, so I will be facilitating a Q&A session with our presenter and I encourage you to please type your questions in the Q&A box, not the chat box, and at the end of the session we will bring them up on screen.

So the second session for this series is on the National Disability Strategy.  Australia’s disability strategy 2021 to 2031 is Australia’s national disability policy framework.  It sets out a plan for continuing to improve the lives of people with disabilities in Australia over the next 10 years.

The release of Australia’s new National Disability Strategy has been warmly welcomed by disability advocates who say the plan is truly representative of the voices of people with disability after two years of consultation with government, community members and the disability sector.

The strategy is a national disability policy framework to be used by all levels of government.  The strategy is a key mechanism to protect the rights of people with disability in Australia as outlined in the UN’s CRPD.  Federal Government has invested 250 million to support the rollout of the strategy which was divided up in several different ways.

So 76.8 million of this money was put towards action plans to address focus areas in the strategy such as employment, safety and community attitudes.  81.2 million to improve the disability gate way, 12.5 million to set up a National Disability Research Partnership and 9.9 million to improve individual advocacy services.

The strategy will be monitored by a government appointed advisory council which is led by Dr Ben Gauntlett who is also Australia’s Disability Discrimination Commissioner.  We are very fortunate to have Ben here with us today so please welcome Ben.  Hi Ben.

Hi Melissa.  Thanks for having me today.

Great to see you.  I think to just start, tell us a little bit about yourself and your role as the Commissioner.

I’ll probably just start off by firstly acknowledging the Traditional Owners of the land upon which I’m presenting to you from, being in Sydney, which is Gadigal land of the Eora Nation.  I pay my respects to any Aboriginal and Torres Strait members of the audience today and acknowledge any Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander leaders past, present and emerging.

My role as Disability Discrimination Commissioner means that I’m based in the Australian Human Rights Commission.  The role is provided for under the disability discrimination act and commissioners are appointed for five years.

What I have is a policy role to try and ensure that, to the fullest extent possible, the needs of people with disability are considered when policies are created or changed.  And that includes legislative policies, but also spending decisions etc.

I sit on a significant number of government committees to do that, but also on occasion give presentations or talks or develop projects.  We have two key projects, one relates to employment called includability, and we have a housing project relating to the need for accessible housing.

My background is I have a spinal cord injury from a rugby union accident when I was 16 at school.  I’m no longer 16. I initially started studying medicine but then I went into law, and I did a number of jobs in law, but ended up becoming a barrister in Melbourne and Perth.  And then I took on this role.  The best part of my role is chatting with people with disability so I’m really delighted to be here.

Thank you very much for that Ben.  So can you tell us a little bit about the strategy’s advisory council and how it all works?  I believe you’re the chair of the council?

So the strategy provides for an advisory council to be appointed in accordance with an engagement plan which is a publicly available document.  At present every member of the advisory council have lived experience of disability, and they range from some fantastic young people with disability such as Cindy Lou from Victoria to people who have been in the sector a long time such as Caroline from Women with Disabilities Australia.  And also we’ve got Jane who chairs the New South Wales Disability Advisory Council or its equivalent, and there are other very very well credentialled people on the committee as well such as Natalie, Liz…also on the committee.

But what the committee’s role is to do is to liaise with government to try and ensure that the policy creates, reflects the voice of people with disability.  It acknowledges the importance of lived experience having a seat at the policy table, but also hopefully will hold state, federal and Local Government to account in achieving certain outcomes provided for.  And when those outcomes aren’t achieved, to try and problem solve as to how to do it.  In a sense the council is still finding its operational mandate, just because of how recent the policy is, but I think what it will do is hopefully ensure that people with disability in Australia are confident that when disability ministers meetings are held and things of that nature, that the views of people with disability are provided in those meetings.

Sounds like you’ve got quite the job ahead of you.

So DARU had a chat to a number of different disability advocates, who are on this call today,  we’ve got quite a number of them on this call today,  and one of the sentiments they had was the previous strategy had run for 10 years and by the end the advocacy sector had kind of given up on it because it felt like it didn’t achieve anything.

So what do you think is, about this strategy, that’s going to be different?

I think when we think of the last strategy we have to perhaps realise also that the last strategy was created in 2010 and Australia, shortly before that, had signed and ratified the CRPD and the CRPD had only just been created before that. so our knowledge of what works in disability policy wasn’t that great, much like other countries, and so it is right that what had happened under the other strategy is that there had been some patchy implementation.

What people often forget is that the NDIS is actually an aspect of the National Disability Strategy and that is a fantastic achievement.  I know people can right fully sometimes point to where it could improve, but there’s also many good aspects about the NDIS.

The previous strategy, though, did not measure or report upon some of the aspects of policy which impact on a person with disability’s life, and what that meant was that sometimes those policy areas did not get appropriate focus from government.

So what this strategy has within it is an outcomes framework which partly picks up some sustainable development goals, convention on the rights of persons with disabilities indicators, and looks at the data that exists in Australia to report upon that.  It has an engagement plan with clear reporting timeframes and hopefully a better reporting framework.

Now, how the strategy works and whether it’s successful or not is something that ultimately requires the motivation of not only government but also the disability sector to try and engage with it.  But what I’m hopeful is that the present strategy is reflective of a more wellrounded view of what it takes to ensure that a person with disability in Australia lives a good life.

Yeah, it seems to require the engagement of so many people, including our own sector as well.  I’m glad you touched on outcomes frameworks because it seems to be structured around a number of different broad focus areas such as safety and justice, inclusive homes in communities, personal community support, which are quite broad areas, and it’s exciting to see the outcomes framework attached to that so we can measure them, measure the success of the strategy.

Can you walk me through how some of those outcomes relate to actual activities and what practical changes we might see as a result on the ground?

Sure.  What the outcomes framework has a series of measures within it.  Some are population measures, some are inperson measures, but a good example of an outcome under the framework which might change lives for people with disability is the percentage of people with disability who live in a home that is deemed suitable and accessible for them.

Now, accessible housing is a really important issue for people with disability.  It’s not just about people with a mobility disability, it’s also about people who are, for example, neuro diverse and need the appropriate lighting, it’s about people who might have low vision and need their house to be modified in a certain way.  But if we measure the amount of suitable and accessible housing we have, hopefully what will happen is more housing will come online.

Andone of the most important policies we have is to ensure that the national construction code has mandatory accessibility requirements, and we still need to get New South Wales, South Australia and Western Australia to agree to that.

But another area where this is important is they’re going to record and report upon the number of complaints under the disability discrimination Act.  We know that complaints under the disability discrimination act are the highest amount of complaints the Australian Human Rights Commission, it’s regularly over 40 per cent, and we need that to change.  We need to get to the bottom of why this is occurring.  So for that to occur you need to measure it, but you also need to record it.

So to have these measures around to report back upon them will hopefully enable the effect of policy to be appropriately considered.

Yeah, and that was a promising commitment from the Federal Government around the progress on the strategy being reported and that the reports are made public.  So how often is the strategy reported upon and how can we measure the progress?  And is it clear who is responsible for progressing each outcome?

I think what’s clear is that there are some timeframes involved for reporting under the engagement plan, and realistically every two years a significant report of some kind will be provided.  I think under the strategy there is provision for two major reports, being every five years, and there are reports under the targeted action plans that have been created.

Who is responsible ultimately is state and Federal Government, being the disability ministers of each state.  That doesn’t mean that someone will have to take the lead on certain issues, and there is a definite issue of ensuring that the advisory council, but also disabled persons organisations and advocacy organisations are appropriately funded to give feedback in a timely manner where they can take the time to ask people with disability to give feedback in circumstances where that person with disability has the chance to really think about the issue that they’re being asked about.

Yeah, I think that is a key issue, making sure that there is enough time and enough resources to be able to give really detailed and really accurate feedback rather than the traditional way of scrambling through really tight timelines.  That’s really refreshing to hear.

So the framework has some targeted action plans in the five areas which were improving employment, community attitudes, early childhood, safety and emergency management, and these action plans will require buy in from state jurisdictions, government agencies, NDIA and other stakeholders outside of the Federal Government. So how does all this fit together?

Like I had a look at some of them, for example the emergency management one, and it requires extensive buy in from federal, State Government, NDIS as well as a number of other key stakeholders.  How did it go getting all that buy in or has that process just begun?

From my understanding, the targeted action plans have been agreed to at the relevant levels of government, and for a targeted action plan to be created the disability ministers who report into the disability ministers’ meeting have to do that.

That’s not to say there may not be some outstanding issues here and there in terms of how we report, etc.  But what its hoped for is that if we have multiple layers of reporting, we won’t get what happened under the previous strategy, which was we waited for the creation of a report periodically and then if the report did not state the relevant outcome or have the relevant issue considered, it just wasn’t considered.

So by having a lot more data points, by having a lot more specificity as to what we’re trying to do, I think hopefully we will get some really good policies.  And even now we’re learning that with the tragic floods that are occurring in Australia, how important emergency management systems are, and it’s something that hopefully we can improve on into the future.

I think we’ve seen every manner of emergency happen in the last two years.  I said there was a volcano we hadn’t had, but I think we’ve actually had one of those as well.

One of the roles of the strategy’s advisory council is to get feedback from people with disability around the monitoring progress and implementation, and I read that there’s a good practice guideline on engagement with people with disabilities coming out soon to formalise this work, and I’m really interested in that.  So could you give us a sneak peek into what these guidelines contain and when it will be available, if you know?

I think what has to happen with that project is there will need to be a consultation program as to what is good engagement with people with disability.  But the parameter upon which, or the foundation for the engagement, will be the convention on the rights of persons with disabilities.  So that people with disability are treated as equals, but also that we want people with disability to be supported to give their feedback on what works for them.

So that is going to take time and effort to get right.  I think the guideline will  particularly with COVID19 and now the floods that are occurring, and the election about to occur, is that it will take some time to be finalised.  But what it’s hoped for is for the next decade that would create a better system of engagement going forward that enables people with disability to be able to give their views, but also be able to give their views in a dignified manner where they feel respected.

I absolutely agree with that.  That’s why I’m so curious about this space, because it’s not just the importance to make sure people can give their views on the strategy, but to understand the importance of such a high level policy and how that applies to their everyday life -why should I care, why should I give my feedback – just trying to work out the best way to engage with people, and get them to engage with the strategy as well.  It would be a really interesting process to go through.

Another thing I was curious about was the federal and state lines.  For example education is a state responsibility, right?  So how does this national framework influence what happens in a staterun education system?

So by collecting data on certain issues, looking at outcomes and an outcomes framework, what’s hoped is what will occur is we’ll get to highlight the education issues that exist.

The strategy also acknowledges that the Disability Royal Commission will report shortly, and that will have undoubtedly clear findings relating to education and what’s needed.

When you said before in relation to the extent people understand the strategy or want to engage with it, what I would say to that is what we know is that people with disability are diverse, that disability itself is diverse too, and so there is a real important need to not stereotype and to acknowledge at all times we’re dealing with people.

Now, within that acknowledgement, there is also  some people may not want to be outspoken on certain issues,  they might just want to live their life the way they choose, and others may wish to really give a lot of feedback.  But what we need to try and do is to have data indicators to ensure that no-one  falls through the cracks and that everyones needs are considered.

And the reason for the strategy and for having targeted action plans, is that what we hope with a much shorter timeframe implementation, is that we hope that we can over time pick up certain issues that enable each and every person with disability needs to be considered.

Absolutely.  Like we’ve just spoken about, data would have been a major consideration when developing this strategy given there’s generally not enough data around disability and it’s not measured regularly enough.

So did this strategy come with a data improvement plan?  What else could be, and should be, measured across different systems?

The strategy does come with an emphasis on data improvement. And one of the strategies that is  or one of the issues that’s interlinked with the strategy is the potential development of a national disability data asset.  There is also the need to emphasise what data we do have and to try and congregate in a clever manner and report upon it.

The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare collects data under the Disability and Aged Survey…periodically.  We need to use that data and those surveys as effectively as possible, but also we need to create new datasets.  And that’s what the national disability data asset may do, but it also may use existing information and link it so that we get better outcomes and a better understanding of the lives of people with disability.

Yeah, so I believe that you chair the national disability data asset group?  And so will this create the potential for useful data to be made available and for us in the advocacy sector to see which groups are accessing what services, and more importantly which groups are falling through the gaps?

I did chair the Disability Advisory Council and that has provided recommendations to government.  The actual group itself finished at the end of last year and disability ministers meeting have to sign off on some final aspects of the project, or agree to it, and that’s something for them to consider, but I’m hopeful they will take on all the recommendations made.

In terms of the use of the asset by the advocacy sector, I think at the end point what we hope is that it is an incredible piece of infrastructure for people with disability.  But it will take time, careful consideration of issues of concern, a need to consult particularly with people with disability and diverse groups within the disability community as to what data should be collected and why, and there needs to be safeguards in terms of what is collected.

But in time,  and I say this to really manage expectations,  this is more like a three to five year timeframe, not months.  Hopefully what will be created is an information source that makes invisible need visible.

Yeah, it’s going to take some time, but you have to start somewhere and we all have to stay the course.

So everybody watching today, I’ve got one more question left for Ben, so please send your questions through the question and answer box, and after my question I will go to your questions.

The last question from me, Ben, is advocacy work with individuals when their rights have been breached or denied, and this…overwhelmingly with their interaction with government systems.  The frustration for advocates is that this individual work doesn’t seem to translate into real change across the board.  Does the strategy address the disconnect between individual experience and systemic change?

There is a lot in that question in terms of issues, but maybe the best way to answer it is this.  The strategy reflects a lot of feedback from the disability community.  All strategies, particularly when they have to cross state, federal, Local Government divides, have strengths and weaknesses and there is always tradeoffs in making strategies acceptable.  That’s unfortunate that those tradeoffs often have to take place, and the reason why we have human rights is to understand that some tradeoffs are not acceptable.

But I think what advocates do by protecting the rights of individuals and then engaging with feedback mechanisms, is they hopefully create a cohort of individuals or circumstances which will influence policy going forward.  And if you look at aspects of, for example, the development or the legislative changes relating to the National Disability Insurance Scheme, what the advocacy sector has done is ensure certain changes will not take place and there is a need to emphasise co-design.

Now that is a systemic change.  It’s a good systemic change and it’s one that the advocacy community have played their part in.  What I really encourage the advocacy community to do is to protect your clients’ interests and to be really very forth right in doing so.  But if you do get the time, and I appreciate that sometimes time is precious and resources are precious, if there is an idea or a piece of constructive feedback that you think will influence policy, to try and put that feedback into a mechanism where it will hopefully be heard, so that systemic change can take place.

And to create systemic change sometimes it’s about telling personal stories as to what’s occurred.  But it’s also sometimes about demonstrating a repeat event that takes place across individuals and trying to work out why is that repeat event occurring, and let’s prevent it occurring in the future.

Yep.  I think sometimes advocates wish it was a little bit quicker than it actually is, because sometimes systemic change can take a decade for it to come to life.

I think before we go to questions from the floor  the virtual floor, the first thing I would like to highlight is that the recording of this session will be available after this on the DARU website as usual, and if you have any questions you would like to ask, please ask it in the Q&A box on your screen and I’ll pop them up now.  We’ll go to the first question.

How is the strategy planning to address improving the emergency preparedness of people living with disability?

There’s a targeted action plan relating to emergency management, but also the strategy is an evolving area and I think emergency preparedness would come under a number of limbs of the strategy.

For example, housing is one of those, to make sure people have appropriate housing includes their ability to live in their homes during adverse weather events or bushfires or things of that nature.  So I think what will probably happen is yes there is a targeted action plan, but given what’s occurred in relation to the floods there will probably be a need to check whether that’s enough and to actually reflect upon how things can be done better.

Yep.  Thank you Ben.  We’ll go to the next question.  I’m looking down so I can click answer live.  The next question please.

Why is the current government trying to push through new NDIS bills under participant service guarantee without adequate consultation with the disability community?

I can’t speak for the government because it’s not my role.  And I do encourage the government to consult to allow relevant committees to report to ensure that people with disability have the time to give feedback.  Because often when people with disability are seen as equals at the policy table, what will occur is a better policy that’s more  it’s often both more economical, but also more reflective of the needs of people with disability.

What I can say, is that it is important that the disability community maintains a sense of purpose to get the NDIS to be good for all individuals who may access it now or in the future.  But also to be very constructive in its feedback to sometimes where there is an aspect of the bill that is not acceptable, to give an alternative as to what would be acceptable in the circumstances.

Yep.  Great answer.  Next question.

During the introduction there was a mention of a commitment of individual advocacy funding.  Is this the same amount as what has been historically funded or an increase?  Advocates are so often at capacity, especially with NDIS appeals, and the need doesn’t seem to stop growing.

From my understanding the amount in question is greater than has previously been the case, but I’m not 100 per cent sure that’s correct.  That’s something you would have to check with maybe the peak advocacy organisations that exist, and there is a new model, I think, being looked on or developed which will hopefully be reflective of the needs of the disability community.

I know in my role that I very much appreciate the role of advocates and what people can overlook is the importance of advocates having the time to do their jobs well.  Disability is deeply personal and advocates need to be able to have sensitive conversations with their clients to ensure they appropriately represent them.

The issue of NDIS appeals is a particularly vexing one because it’s  any appeal under the NDIS can be deeply confronting for the participant.  It can relate to a significant sum of money relative to that person’s circumstances.  And I think what I encourage government to hopefully do is to really ask itself, “is this the best system to resolve these issues.?”  And if not can we come up with a system that is dignified and respectful of the needs of people with disability to ensure that what we have is a system going forward that enables the NDIS and its participants to thrive.

Yes.  Thank you for that.  Next question.

What do you think are the biggest challenges or risks to the strategy’s success?

That’s a good question.

The biggest challenge in disability is to get state Commonwealth and Local Government to agree upon how certain issues will be funded, and to have a consistency of commitment.  And the biggest challenge is that rather than focusing upon what’s a good policy for people with disability in Australia, is that we get into jurisdictional fights which are relating to things such as money or who will have control of a certain outcome.

And if you look at when the previous National Disability Strategy had some concerning outcomes, it was any time that Commonwealth, state issue were dealt with by the  in the one policy area.  we often had a situation where there was an inefficiency of outcome.

Education is a good example.  Housing.  That’s where we really do need  health is another good one, the criminal justice system.  We really do need to try and ensure that government understands the importance of ultimately looking out for the needs of people with disability and that good policy in the longterm is both reflective of human rights consideration, but also economically a good idea.

Basically in a nutshell we sort of just need politicians to stop playing politics with disability and just recognise us with the same human rights that everybody else has.

I would like to really thank you for your time today to take us through the strategy.  It’s an exciting time, and like you mentioned before, in the first strategy we sort of knew a lot less than what we know now.  Hopefully we can build on those great learnings and that great work and together as an advocacy community work towards achieving some really good outcomes.  So all the best and thank you very much.

Thanks for having me today, Melissa.

Thank you.

Everybody we’ve come to a close for our second session of the series.  I would like to thank Dr Ben Gauntlett for taking the time to talk about such an important strategy and I really hope it works out in the best way possible.

Thank you to our captioners for their hard work today and show division for bringing us the show today.  Have a wonderful day everyone and we’ll see you next time.

Wednesday 2nd March, 2022

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