Speech by The Hon Jenny Macklin MP

Address to CEOS, National Disability Services

Location: Canberra


I would first like to acknowledge the traditional owners of this land.

I am delighted to be here, particularly after COAG’s breakthrough announcement on disability at the weekend.

It’s a great opportunity to talk to you about this new package of measures that will reform the way we deliver services now and into the future.

As I’m sure you know from media reports, the Commonwealth is injecting more than $400 million in new funds for more services and much-needed reforms of the disability support system.

Something I think the 630 not-for-profit organisations that you represent would agree is long overdue.

A sentiment shared by the hundreds of thousands of people living with disability who want to live as independently as possible and participate in their community – free from the barriers of access, discrimination or exclusion.

This $408 million is on top of the $1.9 billion agreed by disability ministers in May to provide more than 24,000 supported accommodation, respite and in-home care places which has now been rolled into the new National Disability Agreement.

The new National Disability Agreement will see a Commonwealth investment of $5.3 billion over five years; $1.3 billion more than the old CSTDA.

It brings the Commonwealth’s contribution to State-run disability services to more than $1.25 billion a year by the time the Agreement ends in 2013.

This is a significant increase on the $620 million budgeted by the previous government in 2007.

It also reflects the highest level of indexation – more than six per cent – ever provided under a disability agreement and is higher than any state’s indexation.

These are much needed additional funds to help meet unmet need, and drive important reform.

The COAG outcome demonstrates that we are prepared to make the investment and drive the change that’s essential for real reform in the disability sector, including a $70 million sign-on bonus.

And I’d like to mention here what a great advocate my Parliamentary Secretary Bill Shorten has been for investment and reform within government – and on the ground in communities across Australia.

Bill has worked tirelessly to put disability on the mainstream political agenda.

Saturday’s COAG meeting means we now have common agreement across all jurisdictions on the urgent need for reform in disability services.

Over the years the disability service system has become highly complex and unwieldy, causing confusion and anxiety for people with disability and those who care for them.

They are often unaware of what support is available and how to access it.

This means people needing services only ask for help when all other arrangements have failed creating a crisis-driven service delivery response.

So we end up with clients needing urgent access to higher cost services because access to support at the lower level is inadequate.

This is obviously far from ideal.

To further complicate things, the quality and range of services differs from state to state, and sometimes between local government areas.

And, as people’s needs change, the co-ordination between services can be inadequate with carers and families finding themselves negotiating a bewildering bureaucracy.

We are determined to change this to make it as straightforward as possible for people to get the services they need by creating, single access points for services.

So that they aren’t sent from one government department to the next; so they don’t spend hours on the phone shunted from pillar to post.

We want to put an end to duplication by building responsive, integrated services to make it easier for people to get the help they need.

We want the emphasis to be on prompt, targeted services which take into account people’s very different and changing circumstances and needs.

And we are determined to deliver these reforms across the country with new benchmarks guiding what needs to be done.

Today I want to outline in detail the structure and rationale behind the COAG agreement and how it will work.

At the heart of the new National Disability Agreement reached at COAG, is an across the board commitment to improve and expand services for people with disability, their families and those who care for them.

We want to give people with disability the best chance we can to live independently and to be involved in their community.

This demands a significant financial investment.

But just as importantly, it requires the Commonwealth, State and Territory governments to drive an ambitious, ongoing reform process underpinned by performance measures.

Central to our reform agenda is the National Disability Agreement.

It’s the framework for the Commonwealth, state and territory governments to work with service providers and the people who use the services to construct a modern system that is effective, efficient and fair.

The National Disability Agreement clearly defines the roles and responsibilities of each level of government.

The Commonwealth will continue its strong role in disability and mental health policy through its oversight, policy leadership and the continuing disability reform agenda.

Under the new Agreement, the Commonwealth will continue to be responsible for income support. Currently, payments under the Disability Support Pension total $10 billion a year. Payments to carers are more than $3.2 billion a year.

We will also maintain responsibility for employment services for people with disability – at a cost of around $500 million a year.

State and Territory governments will continue to take responsibility for the day to day provision support services for people with disability, supported by increasing Commonwealth investment.

The new Agreement begins the reform process to re-cast a system which has failed to respond to change over the last decade.

Planning ahead is critical if we are to meet future challenges associated with an ageing population.

As people with disability and their carers grow older services must adapt to their needs.

One area of concern is how we support carers as they age and their caring responsibilities become more demanding.

At the Penrith Community Cabinet in April, Catherine Murray spoke from the heart about the strain of caring full time for her 26-year-old profoundly disabled son Jonathon, as well as her endless worry about his future.

Her eloquent plea for help from government struck a chord with the Prime Minister and the whole Cabinet.

Of course we can’t plan properly for future demands unless we have an accurate demographic snapshot to underpin policy development and implementation.

This is why the Commonwealth, states and territories have signed off on nationally consistent methodology for estimating potential demand for disability services.

This is critical for future planning and it’s proposed to be in place by the middle of next year.

Compiling consistent and reliable data on the level, extent and severity of disability will form the basis of the development of a National Population Benchmarking Framework.

This Framework will focus on measuring service types and making sure the provision of services keeps pace with the number of people needing services.

It will also help government plan for the current needs for people with disability now and into the future with appropriate disability services and better targeted resources.

Initial benchmarking, based on existing information, will be implemented by the end of 2009.

I think all of us here would agree that we won’t get disability right unless we have skilled, quality people and enough of them.

With an ageing population, community and health services have been identified as requiring the fastest rate of workforce growth in the next five years.

Recruiting and retaining disability staff has unique challenges. Salaries need to be competitive and reflect that working with people with disability can be very demanding.

To build the workforce we need, we are working with the states and territories on a national strategy to get more people into the disability sector and provide incentives to keep them there.

This will involve developing a national training and employment framework and the introduction of a national skills accreditation system.

It will give each jurisdiction maximum flexibility to respond to their different requirements and take into consideration their resource capacity.

We are also working on a nationally consistent quality assurance system based on the existing Disability Services Standards.

These national systems have been in place for several years in aged care services – but not for disability and it’s long overdue.

The COAG reforms will introduce a nationally agreed approach to quality assurance to continually improve services provided under the National Disability Agreement.

Although we are still working with states on the detail, the system could include processes to independently check service quality.

Nationally consistent standards will also be introduced to make sure there’s better access to disability aids and equipment.

COAG also agreed that more work needs to be done on community based care.

The goals of such reforms will be to deliver more integrated and responsive services for individuals and families, to clarify accountabilities between governments and to improve performance of service systems.

Specific reform proposals will be brought back to COAG in the coming year.

We want to work with you as service providers to get these reforms right.

Ultimately, in both the aged care and disability service systems, we want a seamless end-to-end system of care that is easy to access and responds flexibly to clients’ changing needs.

Wherever an individual enters a service system – either disability or aged care – they need to be able to receive a complete range of services from home based care and support to residential and supported accommodation options.

And we’re determined to better integrate the transitions between these different services.

The agreement we reached at COAG on Saturday is just the start of ongoing, comprehensive reform which the disability sector has long been crying out for.

Reform which have a responsibility to deliver to people with disability.

All of us here in this room know the incredible improvements that can be made in people’s lives when they are supported with proper services.

Particularly in the area of early intervention.

Just over a year ago I saw this in the faces of two little girls in Burnie with an Autism Spectrum Disorder.

For the last two years their parents have been finding the money for early intervention treatment to give their girls the best start they can before they start school.

And you only had to meet these two wonderful children and talk to their parents to see the difference early intervention can make.

Now, with the Commonwealth Government’s $190 million national package of measures to support children with autism, they will continue to get the early intervention support to give them the best chance in life.

The same best chances that all people with disability deserve.

And which, working together, we can achieve.