Address to the National Disability Services CEO Conference
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Good morning; to Vicki O’Halloran, President, National Disability Services, ladies and gentlemen.
I am pleased to be able to be here this morning to represent the Prime Minister. He would like me to convey his regrets that he cannot join us today.
The Prime Minister’s commitment to Australians with disability is well known.
Indeed, the PM’s Pollie Pedal bike ride has raised more than 1.2 million dollars for Carers Australia.
I was pleased when the Prime Minister appointed me the Minister for Social Services and the Minister with overall policy responsibility for the National Disability Insurance Scheme.
I want this morning to reaffirm that the government fully supports the National Disability Insurance Scheme. Our record speaks for itself. The Prime Minister has said it. Mitch Fifield, the Assistant Minister for Social Services who has responsibility for disabilities has said it. And I say it again here and now. The government fully supports the NDIS and the implantation of what is an overdue and important policy with historic national significance.
We have been unwavering in our support for this scheme, and that is not about to change.
Based on its foundations of a rigorous Productivity Commission Inquiry, the NDIS attracted Coalition support from its outset.
This is hardly surprising as it is a scheme designed to put the individual at its centre and in control of being able to choose the supports best for them.
It sits easily with the philosophy of the Coalition.
The central belief of our philosophy of government is that government should only do for people what they cannot do for themselves.
The NDIS must not be accompanied by unrealistic expectations.
We all have a lot of work ahead of us to ensure that the scheme in its final form is sustainable and affordable.
That is why the experiences of the NDIS launch sites will be so important.
I see that your next session will be discussing lessons from the launch of the scheme.
We must not forget that we are embarking on a very big reform and one that is new to all of us.
The lessons we learn from the launch will be invaluable and we need to face them honestly and with cool heads.
For its part, the Government will be closely monitoring the launch sites to identify key trends and challenges.
With this in mind, I want to give you an update on the status of the NDIS with some fresh data coming out of the launch sites.
You may have seen the comments by the Assistant Minister for Social Services, Mitch Fifield, at the National Press Club a few weeks ago where he outlined that the average package costs for the NDIS were about 30 per cent higher than expected.
We expected a package cost of around about $35,000 per year. After three months of operation, NDIS package costs are averaging more than $46,000 per year.
We also expected more than 2,200 people to have completed plans with the National Disability Insurance Agency, but to date, less than a 1,000 have.
While these are the early figures and with that in mind they should be treated with a degree of caution, but as any responsible government would do we need to have an understanding of what is behind these figures.
I want to be clear that I am talking about the launch phase of the NDIS.
Some of these costs are being driven by people with severe and profound disability accessing NDIS supports during the launch phase rather than after the full roll-out of the scheme.
This means that while we are expecting increased costs during the launch phase, the factors affecting the cost of the scheme when it is fully operational will be different.
But this is not an excuse for complacency.
I want to reiterate that the Coalition has always fully supported the National Disability Insurance Scheme. We are fully committed to making the NDIS a reality.
As the Prime Minister has said, “the NDIS is an idea whose time has come”.
National Disability Strategy
But as we proceed, we need to be mindful that the NDIS cannot do it all.
In line with the National Disability Strategy it is this Government’s expectation that all Australian governments, non-government organisations, business and the wider community will have a role to play.
Disability is everyone’s responsibility. We have a social responsibility to ensure an inclusive Australian society that enables people with disability to fulfil their potential as equal citizens.
The NDIS is only one part of this, albeit a new, long overdue, and very important part.
But other systems have to play their part to ensure that people with disability enjoy the same standard of support as other Australians in every aspect of community life.
The NDIS will not be replacing the health or education or transport systems.
All governments need to maintain efforts outside of the NDIS to ensure people with disability enjoy access to and connection with their communities.
Disability Sector Challenges
We are transitioning to the NDIS on the understanding that both consumers and providers are on a trajectory of learning.
A significant number of providers for example have little or no experience with the individual support packages which are central to the NDIS.
The Government is working to ensure that the Sector Development Fund will prepare providers to deliver NDIS services, and build the capacity of consumers to navigate in the new market.
We want to work very closely with industry as we work our way through these changes and the expansion of the disability sector.
As we foreshadowed during the election campaign, we will be setting up an Industry Advisory Council for Disability and Carers.
The Council will be co-chaired by the Assistant Minister for Social Services and a respected industry expert.
As we move forward, National Disability Services will continue to provide advice to Government about the NDIS roll out and other issues under its funding arrangement with my Department.
Disability Workforce Issues
Another significant challenge that I know many of you have discussed at length is the size of the workforce we will need to ensure an efficient NDIS.
The workforce will need to double its size between now and full implementation in 2019-20.
That means we will need to increase the current level of 73,000 full time equivalent workers to an estimated 162,000.
A number of key factors will influence this.
The availability of workers will differ according to role and geographical region, with rural and remote areas likely to experience the highest levels of shortage.
The Government will need to coordinate workforce strategies with other sectors facing similar significant workforce expansion needs.
This will include aged care, which also expects to double its workforce by 2030 and which is now also part of the Social Services portfolio.
The Government has underway a number of actions in relation to the disability workforce challenge.
We are working with the National Disability Insurance Agency and other stakeholders to monitor workforce pressures in launch sites.
Your own report in relation to the National Disability Workforce Strategy will also help with future policies and programs.
Australian Disability Enterprises
Many existing organisations will continue to provide core services as we bring in the NDIS.
This includes of course supported employment services such as Australian Disability Enterprises.
The Government remains committed to making sure ADEs are an integral part of the suite of services available to people with disability.
They provide employment opportunities to people who may not be able to find work in the open labour market due to the nature of their disability, lack of work skills, or difficulty finding and maintaining work in the open labour market.
ADEs offer people with moderate to severe disability the opportunity to undertake training and skills enhancement, and for those wanting long term work within a supportive environment, sound employment opportunities.
We are keen to see ADEs maintain strong, viable and sustainable businesses that lead to durable employment opportunities for people with disability.
You may be interested in a piece of work that has just been completed and is available on the Department of Social Services website.
ConNetica was engaged by the Department to prepare a report about big business and government procurement, along with a training package for use by ADE staff.
ConNetica’s report has been based on consultations with many ADEs across the country, big business and various government departments.
The report will form the basis for the Department to undertake further work in the procurement area.
The training package is specifically tailored for ADEs to assist in developing staff understanding, skills and the knowledge needed for dealing with the complexities of goods and services provision and preparing tenders.
This package is in the form of a two day online course and is a valuable staff development tool in all areas of procurement.
I highly recommend reading the report and consider this training opportunity.
Red-tape reduction for ADEs
As you know, another major election commitment of the Coalition was to reduce red tape and we have begun to do so for ADEs.
We intend to revise the Disability Services Act 1986 Section 5 Guidelines which support fair, open and consistent decision making.
Currently the Guidelines are an administrative burden especially, for example, where two ADEs want to merge.
Under the new Guidelines the Department will no longer have to test the market if the merger obviously benefits people with disability.
Another measure is removing the duplication in Disability Services Standards.
For example Standard 9 which looks at Employment Conditions is being removed because industrial law now covers this issue.
The government is planning a review of the performance indicators that help ensure quality services for people with disability.
Disability Employment Services
As a Government, we want to drive the best possible employment outcomes for people with disability.
More than a million Australians with disabilities are in the workforce and enjoying the important social and economic benefits of work.
However far too many are missing out.
We are bringing Disability Employment Services into the Department of Social Services to inject fresh thinking to further enhance the programme.
We will be able to streamline processes and better co-ordinate with complementary disability participation and support programs such as the NDIS and ADEs.
As many of you know, DES Disability Management Service Contracts expire in 2015.
In making decisions about the future of DES, the Government is currently considering what is in the best interests of people with disability as well as their current and prospective employers.
These are all important elements of the programme and the lead up to 2015 is a great opportunity to consider their strengths and weaknesses, and identify areas that can be improved.
We need to look closely at our processes to ensure we are providing the best possible support to engage employers.
This means building on their awareness and confidence as well as promoting the many benefits of employing of people with disability.
The new Department of Social Services provides a tremendous opportunity.
The Government aims to build on the strong employment focus of DES, and increase the quality and responsiveness of the services and support we give to people with disability and their employers.
Disability Support Pension
The Government believes that it is important to maintain an adequate safety net for those who cannot provide for themselves.
The Disability Support Pension is a safety net for people with a permanent physical, intellectual or psychiatric impairment who are unable to fully support themselves through paid work.
Disability Support Pension recipients are the largest cohort of people of workforce age on income support.
The number of recipients has increased by 22 per cent over the last ten years to more than 820,000 people today.
However the Government knows that many people with disability want to work, and benefit from the independence, purpose, dignity and sense of achievement that work brings.
There is more that can be done to encourage and support labour market participation amongst people with disability, including Disability Support Pension recipients.
In this context, we are looking at our system of social security to ensure that there is a balance between the incentive to work and the well-being of the individual.
Ladies and gentlemen, the government is committed to empowering civil society.
Civil society delivers vital services to communities and strengthens the fabric of society.
And these organisations are subject to a range of regulations and reporting requirements.
But I know many of you find yourselves diverted from your core activities by too much unnecessary regulation.
One of the worst examples is where Australian government provisions duplicate State and Territory requirements.
The Coalition Government is dedicated to reducing red tape and freeing up organisations to deliver more services on the ground.
Over time we will move towards implementing one contract for each organisation which delivers services on the government’s behalf.
My Department will negotiate funding agreements with organisations to ensure we are achieving the best outcomes for clients.
There will be simplified auditing to one financial report from each agency annually; and there will be simplified reporting arrangements on a small number of key outcomes, with automated processes where possible.
We will also establish a new Centre for Excellence.
This Centre will support innovation and provide education, training and development opportunities to the sector.
The Centre will move the relationship from a compliance and regulatory focus to one that advocates for the sector.
Ownership of this Centre will ultimately be transferred to the sector.
We will re-establish the Prime Minister’s Community Business Partnership to encourage a culture of philanthropy and giving in Australia.
The Community Business Partnership will advise the Government on community business collaboration, philanthropy and corporate social responsibility.
It will encourage prominent Australians from the business and community sectors to work together for the benefit of the community.
The Government is examining longer-term funding agreements, which can deliver greater security and certainty to organisations, as well as the freedom to explore and deliver better, more effective and more cost-efficient models for service delivery.
To benefit civil society as a whole, the Government has committed to abolishing the Australian Charities and Not-for-Profits Commission, with repeal legislation to be introduced into Parliament next year. In the interim the government is considering what interim measures are available to it in order to begin winding down the Commission’s operations.
Until legislation is passed to that effect, the Government is assessing options for winding down the operations and work of the Commission.
We will continue to consult with the sector on these reforms, to ensure a smooth transition.
We are doing this because we believe the relationship between government and civil society that it funds is important and cannot be taken for granted.
I have explained it previously as a relationship that requires government to balance the need for accountability of public finance with the trust and confidence that the community holds for these organisations.
It is a relationship in which the government should seek to empower civil society, and not itself.
So civil society is free to get on doing what it does best, which is to respond to the issues of concern within our communities.
In conclusion, the prospects ahead for the disability sector are exciting.
There will be rewarding times and there will be challenging times.
But you can be assured that this Government is up for whatever the future holds.