Q&A with the Office for Disability

This was the last session at the Advocacy Sector Conversations forum held on 24 November 2016 at the Investment Centre of Victoria. Other sessions at this forum included:


Felix Neighbour, the Acting Manager Strategic Engagement at the Office for Disability brought Martin Turnbull, Assistant Director, Diversity and Disability along to this Q&A session to fill us in on the boost to advocacy funding announced as part of the ‘Zero Tolerance’ initiative.  An update with the ongoing dialogue with NDAP and NDIS and the launch of the State Disability Plan to start in 2017 was also discussed.

At this forum, live streaming provided by VicDeaf was trialed for the first time and we are pleased to share the video from the proceedings.




Resources and related links:



I would now like to introduce you to … our speakers from the office of disability to do a question and answer session.

Hi, everybody.  Thank you very much for the invitation to come along.  It’s a question and answer session so I won’t take up any time before we start getting some questions from you.  We will do our best to answer them and if we can’t we will certainly take them on notice and arrange to get some responses for you.

Perhaps just to kick things off it might be worth saying it’s been a busy time and a particularly busy couple of weeks for the things that state government is doing in areas that will be of interest to you.  Yesterday we had the response to the parliamentary inquiry to abuse.  I think I saw in the entrance a handout.  Has everybody got that now?  Yes? So that’s a very important bundle of initiatives including some important focus on advocacy within that.

Yesterday also was the release of the state government’s 10-year response to the royal commission on family violence.  I know many of you will be interested in that.  Again, I hope you will agree quite an important focus on People with Disabilities.  And to diverse communities generally is reflected in that plan.  Quite a bit of investment in a whole range of initiatives attached to that response.

Then of course our office has been very busy not only with those things but importantly with the up coming release of the state disability plan.  So the next four-year plan which I know many of you have been involved with over a couple of years now, in shaping it, so we’re very excited that that’s coming to a conclusion and we think it’s pretty good.  It’s a pretty good plan with lots of really valuable commitments that will enable us to make some good progress over the coming years that we look forward to talking to you about after it’s released, which is planned for the 3rd of December.

We’ve been pretty busy on all those fronts and many others but we’re really here today I think to answer your questions.  We will throw it open, will we?

Do you have a question?  Please raise your hand and I will come over to you.

Hi, I’m from VCOSS.  I would invite you just to expand perhaps a little on some of the announcements made yesterday in particular the 1.5 million dollars fund which I understand is kind of a one-off capacity building innovation fund for disability advocacy services and give us a bit of an idea about how that might shape up in terms of what opportunities it’s looking to fund, how the sector might engage in the use of shaping the direction of that fund.  And what kind of timeframes you have got in mind for how and when that funding will flow.

Thanks for that question.  I think it was an expected one.  We will have much fuller details about this initiative available very, very shortly.  But I can tell you a few basic things about it today.

We’re very pleased that government has made available 1.5 million dollars.  It is  repurposed money in this financial year and it enables us to make a really good start with some of the findings that the review of the Victorian program has suggested to us about issues, gaps, areas of advocacy work and support that really need some attention.

So the idea of the fund is funding a bundle of initiatives in the form of, effectively, one-off grants.  Those grants will be on the basis of submissions from currently funded advocacy organisations within the Victorian program and the idea of the initiatives that we would be seeking, would be that they would be time limited or small projects over a few months or they might be work that you want to do over a slightly longer period, through to around the middle of 2018.  There is a capacity to do a bit of work over an extended period or something quite focused over a short period.

There are four main areas where we are thinking that work might focus.  The first,and all of these I might say, have really come very much out of the review.  So we hope they respond to things that are in your minds about what is needed.

So, the first broad area is about activity that might help all of you to better engage and support diverse communities, people who might be for one reason or another particularly isolated and a bit more difficult to reach.

The second area is around actually some fairly direct support for overcoming particular pressure points where there might be waiting lists, where there might be some gaps in what you have been able to provide to respond to demand, which people are expressing to you.

The third area would focus more on systemic advocacy around particular barriers, be it to social or economic participation, particular issues that require a bit of focused energy, a bit of perhaps research or, partnership development that you could do and hopefully have a fairly concrete result around.

And then the fourth main area we would like this fund to help with is around strengthening what you might call mainstream consumer protections.  So, really, that would probably involve partnerships with mainstream organisations so that you could bridge that gap between disability-specific concerns and the sorts of consumer protections that apply to the broad population.

So, that very broadly are the sorts of areas  we think this fund can help with.

We propose to get this going as quickly as we can.  That would involve essentially an expression of interest process invited from the organisations during December.  We really want to allow as much time as we can for you to have a think about what you might do, how you might use extra resources in that way. The submissions will be opened in December.  But we are looking to give until February so plenty of time to think about that and to talk to us about ideas you might have.

It will inevitably be a little bit of a competitive process depending on how many groups put their hand up and have some ideas about how they might use these resources.  We will do our best to make sure that there is a good spread of activity.  There will be certainly an expectation from the Minister that we support activities across Victoria, in metropolitan and regional areas.  And that we have a good spread in terms of different issues covered, different population groups.

So that’s in a nutshell.  Were there any other parts of your question we have not addressed?

Presumably it’s repurposed within the current year’s budget, that money will flow before 30 June?

We would hope that most if not all of the money would flow before then.  We would like to think we could do it in one round rather than have to put you through multiple processes.  Depending on the scale of the project and how organisations operate, we might need to flow the money in a number of parts and branches but, yes, essentially we would like to get the money expended as quickly as possible and let you get on with the work.

Any other questions?

Hi, it’s Robyn from AFDO, the Australian Federation of Disability Organisations.  With regard to that funding, is NDIS in or out of scope?

Can you say a little bit more about what the issue is?

If an organisation was going to apply for some funding in any one of those four categories, could it be inclusive of NDIS access issues or anything to do with the NDIS?

Look, I think the answer to that is possibly.  We obviously don’t want to duplicate work that is more appropriately supported by the NDIA itself.  Nor do we want to duplicate work that the NDIS transition support package which the state government has provided, and is designed to help with, but we do recognise that often the dividing line between when something is an NDIS access issue and when it’s a broader community services access issue won’t be clear-cut.  So trying to tease out some of those issues might very well be part of that initiative under this fund.  But I think as far as possible we see this fund as tackling broader issues than the NDIS.

I suppose, I’m kind of assuming you were here for an earlier discussion and I should not assume that. Earlier today there was a session around people who are ineligible for the NDIS and the kind of discussion that arose was around information and supporting people to know what their rights are with regard to where else they might be able to go to for supports.  That’s a really specific disability advocacy issue.  So I just thought, just planting some seeds for some people in the room about that — that it could potentially be something they might submit on

That’s a very good point.  Certainly as the NDIS rolls out, and there are people in that kind of situation we will need to pay a lot of attention to making sure that they have access to the advocacy they might need around which ever alternative or supplementary parts of the service system they might need to use.  Thank you for that.

Anyone else?  Nothing?

I have a stack of them… Just while others are thinking, I’m really interested in hearing a bit more about the government response in particular, the structural changes around critical incident reporting.  My understanding is that the Disability Services Commissioner will have an expanded role in the future and that the department will have some money to develop a critical incident management system. I’m just interested, I guess, in hearing a bit more about how that evolution and oversight and monitoring systems are planning to be evolved in the future

We will probably have to disappoint you in that we have not come equipped with that level of information given that our office does not have that core responsibility.  And I probably don’t want to step too much into the territory my colleagues are responsible for.  But I know that there will be quite a bit more information about that being shaped up in coming weeks and months.

Happy to convey your interest in getting some early information about that.  But clearly that’s an important part of the overall package.  It’s something that’s been on people’s minds for quite a while.  Again, I think it’s a clear indication that the state government and the department sees itself as having a very important role at that level of monitoring, responding to what happens pretty much on the ground even as the scheme rolls forward.

Kathy here.  I just wanted to ask:  I don’t know much about the work you do as the office of disability, but I know that education and employment are areas that your office was involved in.  I just wanted to know how you work with the Education Department and how you work with ECODEV and in particular the recent tender that went out that touched on employment.  And I guess poor results for employment for People with Disabilities and how you actually represent People with Disabilities in those departments.

The office of disability is a small group of people.  We have very much what you would call a policy coordination role and I guess a role that’s about initiating work that would then spin-off and expect others to pick up.

Work on employment participation is on our agenda. We are kicking off some new work in that area in very close partnership with the economic development and employment parts of government and with the public sector commission so  that we focus on what the public service and the public sector can both do.  Because it’s very important as a sector for employment, but also because we would expect that sector to play a lead in — a leading exemplar role, in supporting building employment.

There was some new investment in that area in the state budget earlier this year, which we are now moving to implement and the first stages in that is taking stock of kind of what works, what we think the most promising approaches are, and we would be moving pretty quickly in the new year to some activities both in the public sector and with industry.  The work in the public sector we think will be very much about seeing where we can put in place some slightly more targeted strategies than perhaps some of the more generic approaches we have seen tried in recent years, but also seeing where we can make sure that we embed that awareness of what employers need to do on a regular basis rather than seeing disability employment necessarily as some special program or strategy.

I think there’s a real opportunity there to get some more comprehensive action across the public sector.  The work with the private sector with ECODEV and others, we are  taking a bit of time to get the right model on.  But we envisage starting with some pilot strategies with four or five particular large, medium to large corporate employers, who will identify where they think they have some opportunity where there with can be a win-win situation in terms of targeting some opportunities for employment.  And it will work very much on what the employer needs to do to make the workplace and the jobs as suitable or as sustainable as possible for the people who pick them up.

So that in a broad sense is what we’re moving towards doing.  It is early stages of what we expect to be a strategy that we roll out over several years.  So, in the new year we will be in a stage of that where we will be keen to come and talk to people with experience and ideas so that we can make sure we take that into account as we roll that forward.

Do you want to add to that?

Is this about how we maybe work more broadly with other government departments, interdepartmental committee or something like that?  So the office is the secretariat to the  committee of senior staff across government called the interdepartmental committee on disability, which talks about key issues across government.  A big part has been the state disability plan.

In addition to specific work with different departments we engage with other departments more broadly as an office just at a broad level as well.

On the employment strategy, we have recently employed Lucy McArly, some of you might know her, to lead that work.  It might be appropriate at a future meeting of this gathering to invite Lucy along and she can update you just where that work is up to in more detail.

Anyone else?

You are not going to let us off the hook

So many other questions to ask, Martin,  obviously this year both NDAP and OfD advocacy programs have been under review.  I’m really interested in what you can tell us even at a high level, the kinds of outcomes you might be looking for from those reviews and what the process for communicating the findings of those reviews might be or at least your own review to the sector when it’s available.

Sure.  So, the last part of that is the easy part.

I’m very pleased that I can report that there will be a short — hopefully pretty accessible statement — of the outcomes of our state program review coming out very, very shortly.  Exactly when? …Coming days.

So the minister has recently agreed to get that out.  I think that’s a very timely thing obviously to let you know.  And we really didn’t want that to hang there too long before getting that advice back to you.

While it has quite a lot of different elements, it will still be reasonably high level.  One thing we will say in that report and more publicly is that in addition to the innovation fund that we were speaking about a little bit earlier, we are also committing to do some fairly intense work with all of them you and others over the next six months or so to develop a longer term development, reform plan for advocacy in Victoria.  We think that is probably about the right timeframe that will also enable a bit of sorting out and clarity with how advocacy sits within the NDIS.  That’s obviously not 100 per cent clear yet.  And also obviously how the national program will realign itself.

We had some discussion just last week with the Commonwealth department about that issue.  They seem now much more keen to work with us and to see how we align the two programs.  I think there is a need for some sorting out so that it’s a bit clearer what the aims and objectives of each program is.  I think in time-, without wanting to preempt the outcomes of that work, the Victorian program clearly needs to play a very important role in making sure that different parts of the Victorian community and different parts of the service system that is funded, managed and supported by the Victorian government, is very much part of everything that is happening to support People with Disabilities.  So that will be a very clear focus that we want to retain.

We don’t think a national program will ever be equipped to pick up entirely.  But it is a little bit about aligning all of the pieces and making sure that nothing gets left out and we don’t leave important gaps.  Six months or so is probably about the right timeframe to aim to sort that out.

Any last questions?

Just one to finish off…  it leads on from the previous answer.

Obviously you guys have done a whole lot of really big pieces of work.  Looking forward, it kind of feels like we’re coming to the end of a whole lot of big pieces of policy work and planning work.  And looking forward into 2017, what do you think are the issues about all of the processes, or the processes where the disability advocacy sector can engage with you or the Victorian government more generally to really progress the rights of people with disability?

I do hope there will be many processes and I don’t think any one process could capture that adequately.  But certainly one of the important ones will be the one I was just alluding to in terms of how do we develop with you a much more forward-looking plan for how advocacy services are structured, what is the architecture, if you like, of the system across the state and that’s a bit of a bigger picture set of issues.  And we will need to find some ways, some quite structured ways, to engaged with you around that because they are quite complex issues.

We obviously have the Victorian disability advisory council, which Felix’s group looks after.  They have recently refreshed their membership with some new members.  A new chairperson will be announced very shortly.  We certainly would see that group as playing an important role in advising government on advocacy issues and in order to do that they obviously need ways to be out and about talking to you, getting intelligence from you.  So that’s a very important conduit as well.

Clearly in the area of the NDIS the government is continuing with a range of consultative structures.  The implementation Task Force, which I think meets again next week, will be an ongoing mechanism and they will be interested in these issues as well.  So, they are a few of the mechanisms.

In the context of the work we were mentioning about the economic participation strategy, that will inevitably require some focused consultation as well.  I think the other thing, while we’re talking about employment and the workplace, is that there are various engagement structures and advisory groups I think increasingly being used, certainly across public sector organisations, and I know several other government departments have formed various structures, sometimes they are framed a bit more broadly around diversity, and  people with disabilities are a focus in many of those structures.

We would be keen, through the interdepartmental structure that Felix was referring to earlier, to make sure there are ways in which the needs of people with disability  in employment situations can advocate for their needs to be met successfully as well.  So that’s just another type of engagement mechanism.

Any last questions before we close up?

Please, if there’s anyone else … have you ever wanted to ask the Australian Government about something?  Here is your chance.

There will be another opportunity.

Anyone?  Not tempted?

Thank you.

Thank you very much Martin and Felix.


Okay.  As usual all the resources from today will be available on the website as soon as possible, including the live-streamed videos if you want to watch the sessions back again.

I would like to say thank you all for coming.  Thank you to everyone watching online as well.  Thank you to all of the presenters and panellists.  Thank you to the Auslan interpreters and Vicdeaf for livestreaming.  And I hope you have a good one.  And don’t forget to fill out your evaluation form.

Thank you very much.

Friday 25th November, 2016

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