Disability services are now subject to much greater accountability and quality standards. Disability advocacy is extremely important for people trying to secure their rights.
Funding for specialist services, including advocacy for people with a wide range of disabilities, is provided under the National Disability Agreement (NDA) (an agreement between the Commonwealth and state governments as equal partners, which replaced the Commonwealth, States and Territories Disability Agreement on 1 January 2009), with reference to the DSA (Cth) and the Disability Act. However, continued future funding for such services is not guaranteed and is subject to legislative and policy change at both Commonwealth and state levels. Some services are provided by government, while others are provided by non-government organisations, usually funded by government.
The pilot of the NDIS in Victoria’s Barwon region has now been added to this mix, as has the roll-out of the new system to the whole state, and the rest of Australia. This roll-out began in July 2016 and is scheduled to be completed by July 2019.
The Disability Act is much broader in scope than the two Acts it replaced and provides for:
•the creation of a Disability Services Commissioner to accept and investigate complaints regarding disability services and supports (the Disability Services Commissioner will continue to provide a complaints mechanism for people living in the NDIS Barwon Region launch site during the pilot of the NDIS, and during the initial roll-out of the NDIS to the rest of Victoria, for complaints about service providers); and
•a Senior Practitioner (Disability) “generally responsible for ensuring that the rights of persons who are subject to restrictive interventions and compulsory treatment are protected and that appropriate standards in relation to restrictive interventions and compulsory treatment are complied with”.
The Disability Act also provides a statutory basis for the Victorian Disability Advisory Council, which advises the Minister, and it establishes a Disability Services Board. A Disability Services Commissioner and a Senior Practitioner were appointed in 2007. Disability services to be funded under the Disability Act and previously funded under the IDPSA and the DSA (Vic) were automatically registered as services under the new legislation. Services are now subject to much greater accountability and quality standards than previously.
Independent disability advocacy services are extremely important to people who have a disability and who are trying to get their rights. They are provided by several independent disability advocacy agencies federally funded by the Department of Social Services (DSS) (formerly called the Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs) under the National Disability Advocacy Program and also others that are state-funded. Disability Advocacy Victoria is the peak body representing independent disability advocacy agencies (for further information, see www.disabilityadvocacyvictoria.org.au). The recent Review of National Disability Advocacy Services recommended changes to the program, including service provision and eligibility, and full details of these changes are still being developed. The Australian Government has most recently guaranteed funding to disability advocacy services funded under the DSA (Cth) until 30 June 2017.
The Office of the Public Advocate (OPA) is established under the Guardianship and Administration Act 1986 (Vic) (“GAA”) and has responsibility for promoting the rights and independence of people who have a disability (defined as intellectual impairment, mental disorder, brain injury, physical disability or dementia) of all ages.
OPA can provide advice and assistance, can investigate and advocate on behalf of people with a disability (ss 15, 16 GAA). OPA advocates in “best interests”. It coordinates the Community Visitors Program (created under the MHA 2014, Disability Act and Health Services Act 1988 (Vic)), and the independent third person (ITP) program (created under Police Operating Procedures). For more information, see Disability: asserting your rights and Disability and criminal justice.
When people are unable, because of their disability, to make decisions for themselves, guardians and administrators may be appointed by the Guardianship List of the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT). A guardian makes “lifestyle” decisions, such as those relating to health, accommodation or access to services. An administrator makes financial and legal decisions. For more information, see Understanding guardianship.
The statutory basis for the Community Visitors Program lies within the Disability Act.