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Speech by Senator the Hon Kay Patterson

Challenge Armidale National Best Practice In Disability Conference

Location: University of New England, Armidale

E&OE

  • Professor Victor Minichiello-Executive Dean, University of New England
  • Warwick Olphert-President of Challenge Armidale Ltd.
  • Members of the Board of Directors of Challenge Armidale Ltd.
  • Ladies and gentlemen

Thank you Kevin (Mead, General Manager of Challenge Armidale Ltd.) for your introduction.

It is a pleasure to be here this afternoon at the end of the first day of Challenge Armidale’s National Best Practice in Disability Conference.

Congratulations to Challenge Armidale and the University of New England for organising this important event.

Also, happy 50th birthday to Challenge.

It is amazing to think that you first started in 1955 with only a handful of local people who were concerned about the lack of help for children with a disability.

Challenge now supports around 110 people with disabilities and offers a range of other services based on individual need, including day services and accommodation. To support Challenge in this work, they receive around $1 million each year from the Australian Government.

I am sure everyone living in the New England area really appreciates the magnificent job Challenge does to support people with disabilities.

Your conference theme of Inspiration, Innovation and Information certainly reflects the characteristics that I see in many organisations in the disability sector as I travel around the country in my role as the Australian Government Minister for Family and Community Services.

As many of you would know I have responsibility for a variety of disability and carer issues at the national level, and I want to give you a summary of some recent initiatives relating to these.

First, though, I want to mention how impressed I am with the Olphert Art Competition works, which I saw when I arrived. They are truly inspirational.

Increasingly, Australian artists with disabilities are playing a key role in raising community awareness about the abilities of people with disabilities, with their works exhibited in galleries across the country.

While I am pleased to say that the past few decades we have seen a marked shift in attitudes, we all need to keep working together – governments, businesses and communities – to promote the skills and achievements of people with disabilities.

Across the nation in three days time, communities will once again celebrate the abilities of people with disabilities on International Day of People with a DisAbility.

The Australian Government sponsors the international day and events like the Employer of the Year Awards to remind people of the enormous contribution that people with disabilities make to Australia’s work and community life.

Of course, the Australian Government’s role goes well beyond promoting the talents of people with disabilities.

Since coming to office, we have continued to increase financial and other support for people with disabilities and their carers.

Last year, the Australian Government paid out nearly $7.5 billion on disability support pensions.

On top of this, the Government spent just under $1.9 billion on income support for carers, as well as record amounts on accommodation and respite services; and for disability employment assistance and rehabilitation.

We have also introduced some important recent measures, which directly affect the lives of many people with disabilities.

These include increased assistance to business services, to improve their long-term viability.

In recent years, the Government has done a lot to support the business service sector, with:

  • the introduction of reforms, such as case-based funding
  • a four-year, $99 million Business Services Assistance Package, to improve the long-term viability of individual business services.

One key to survival in the contemporary business environment, of course, is to maintain and expand their market share.

Last month I launched a national web site called BizAbility.com.au.

The site will help business services from across the country expand their market share by promoting and selling their products and services online.

There is great potential for Internet marketing when you consider the size and capacity of the sector, with 230 business services, working out of 390 locations throughout Australia, which provide around 17,500 jobs for people with disabilities and generate about $250 million in sales each year.

The number of businesses using the Internet in Australia rose from 56 per cent in 1999-2000 to 74 per cent in 2003-04.

In 2001-02, one in five businesses placed orders via the Internet or web. By 2003-04, it was almost one in three!

And income from Internet orders grew by 37 per cent in just one year – from $24 billion in 2002-03 to $33 billion in 2003-04.

A national marketing and advertising campaign will promote and publicise the BizAbility.com, and encourage potential customers, especially government agencies, to support employees with disabilities and business services, by shopping and conducting their transactions with business services online.

Challenge is well on the way to conducting their business online. Setting up the New England North West Disability Services Group’s web site with other business services in the region has given them the edge, because it means the services now have a collective power to purchase and sell goods on the net.

Taking approaches like this, involving innovation, best practice, collaboration and economies of scale, is something other business services could aspire to, and today I am announcing grants of up to $75,000 to help business services build new alliances and relationships.

The grants will go to business services that:

  • create partnerships and joint activities with other business services or mainstream companies
  • promote cooperative ventures, for instance, in the areas of marketing, buying collectives, sales, training and administration, or
  • explore business arrangements that share ideas, which encourage new business models and promote best practice.

I recognise the particular challenges faced by small to medium sized business services operating in regional and remote areas.

For instance, the complexity of the current payment structure for rural and remote business services involves a lot of red tape and causes many headaches. It is an issue that has repeatedly been raised with me by services in rural and remote areas.

Reflecting a wider objective to cut bureaucratic red tape, which I’ll come to in a moment, I am also pleased to announce that before Christmas, the current rural and remote payment system will be replaced with a simplified five-band payment structure, called the Rural and Remote Service Supplement.

In practice, it will mean fewer headaches and less paperwork, and I’m pleased to say more funding overall, than the ARIA band payment model. Services will be eligible to receive between $9,000 and $60,000 more per year. The new funding provides for:

  • around $9,000 per annum more for services in ‘Accessible’ areas
  • around $25,000 p.a. more for services in ‘Moderately Accessible’ areas
  • $41,000 p.a. more for services in ‘Remote’ areas
  • $60,000 p.a. for services in ‘Very Remote’ areas

Services located in ‘Highly Accessible’ ARIA areas will also be eligible for additional funding if they are the sole provider in the region.

Overall this equates to $2.4 million for rural and remote business services over the next year, compared with only $700,000 in the past 18 months.

Furthermore, to support the marketing and business positioning activities of this group of business services, the Howard Government will be providing 50 payments of $2000 to help business services attend events like community and industry days and trade fairs.

The money will reimburse expenses like site rental, printing and registration costs.

I am pleased to be able to announce these further measures which amount to around $4 million of further funding over two years for disability business services in rural and remote Australia.

Information packs will be provided to you and my departmental officials in attendance here today will be able to provide further details to you.

In recognition of the vital job that carers play, once again in June this year, the Government paid bonuses of $1000 to eligible people on Carer Payment, and $600 to eligible people on Carer Allowance for each person they care for.

Because people with disability are living longer, there are a growing number of people in their 60s, 70s and even 80s, caring for adult sons and daughters, often with high-care needs.

We all recognise that these carers need a lot more respite.

Last financial year, the Australian Government offered the states and territories $72.5 million extra over four years for respite for this group of carers. The condition was that the state and territory governments would match the funding.

Under the new arrangements, up to four weeks respite care is available to parents aged over 70 years caring for a son or daughter with a disability, and up to two weeks respite care for parents aged 65 to 69 years who themselves need to spend time in hospital and who care for a son or daughter with a disability.

Apart from New South Wales and Queensland, all the other state and territory governments have finalised an agreement to match the funding and make the much-needed respite care services available.

Unfortunately the state and territory Ministers were not forthcoming when I asked them to work with me to develop options to help ageing carers plan for the future of their sons and daughters.

These carers seldom complain, but they worry about what will happen when they are too old to continue in their caring role.

Given state and territory Ministers were more interested in referring this issue to their officials, I decided to advance things at a national level by working on solutions in the areas that the Australian Government has jurisdiction.I am pleased to say that last month the Prime Minister and I announced a $200 million package of new initiatives to assist parents in planning for the future care and accommodation of their son or daughter with a sever disability.

Families that have the financial means will be able to establish a ‘trust’ to meet the ‘care needs’ of a child with a severe disability, without affecting their carer payments or pension or the child’s Disability Support Pension.

Making financial decisions like this can cause conflict within families. In situations like this, families will have access to family mediation and counselling services paid for by the Government.

An expert advisory group, including parents and family members of people with a severe disability, will be set up to advise me on how best to implement these new measures.

In looking to the future, we want to find out what more needs to be done about the future care of people with severe disabilities.

Starting in July next year a major research project will look at the needs of ageing carers and hold widespread consultations with carers, their families, the people they care for, and with organisations and services that support them.

Information packs are available for you to pick up following this session.

The area of ageing and disability is one I am passionate about – especially when it comes to the best way forward in supporting older people with disabilities. This is one of the big challenges for services providers and governments alike.

The issues are complex and effective solutions depend on a joint effort, with all levels of government, peak bodies, health professionals, service providers, indeed whole communities, working together.

For example, ‘Ageing in place’ relies on an appropriate, flexible and adequate mix of services to meet the individual needs of each person with disability.

The Australian Government, makes a significant funding contribution, through the Home and Community Care Program, towards services to help people with care needs to remain living in the community with their families and carers.

Under the current Commonwealth State Territory Disability Agreement, the Australian Government’s share is $2.8 billion over five years to state and territory governments to help them meet their agreed responsibilities.

While funding for service provision is important, we also need to make sure the money is used in effective and targeted ways.

And the best way to do that is to ensure that all levels of government work more effectively together, while recognising the roles they have agreed to play.

For example, we need to match accommodation places better, along with adequate support services in areas like attendant care, to ensure that people who are ageing with a disability do not end up being inappropriately or prematurely placed in residential aged care facilities.

The Australian Government is involved in a number of pilots or trials across the country, designed to help ageing people with a disability stay at home, rather than move in to aged care.

A number of these trials are being evaluated now, and the results will help point to how governments can work more effectively with each other and with the sector, to meet the needs of people with disability as they age.

Earlier I mentioned a commitment to cutting red tape. Last month I announced that my department – the Department of Family and Community Services – will work on ways to make it simpler for thousands of community services that deliver services on behalf of the Government. This includes many disability service providers.

The aim is make it easier for community organisations to do business with the department, leaving them more time to get on with the job they do best – helping and supporting vulnerable people in the community.

At any one time, a community organisation might apply to deliver one or a combination of our programs. For some, it can mean having to go through a number of bureaucratic processes and deal with several officials from different areas of the department.

I am confident that we can reduce the layers of different processes, unnecessary paperwork and red tape and still maintain an appropriate standard of accountability.

The new way of working could involve, for example, more consistent application forms, funding agreements and reporting requirements.

Community organisations have the experience and first-hand knowledge of both good and bad practice in dealing with government and I want to hear about both.

Round table discussions on reducing red tape will be held with a range of service providers, and I would encourage all service providers to put forwarded their views and ideas via my Department’s website. You will also be able to stay in touch with progress via the website as we work through these issues together.

Your conference program covers some of the most important issues confronting disability services in today’s Australia.

The further funding I have announced today will play an important part in helping disability business services in rural and remote areas continue to be viable in the unique conditions they operate in.

Information packs on the new measures I have announced today will also be available following this session.

I hope you leave this conference with valuable information about best practice from each other, and inspired to deliver even more innovative services to people with disabilities.

Thank you.