Disability Advocacy Services Funding

Concerned about the lack of long-term, secure funding for vital independent Disability Advocacy Services, today Abigail successfully moved a motion calling for the Government to support these essential services.

 

Ms ABIGAIL BOYD: I move:

That private members' business item No. 150 outside the order of precedence be considered in a short form format.

Motion agreed to.

Ms ABIGAIL BOYD (20:59): I move:

1.That this House notes that:

(a)independent disability advocacy, information and peak representative organisations play a critical role in upholding the rights of people with disability, including assisting people with disability to achieve full inclusion through individual advocacy and systemic advocacy work;

(b)without secure long-term funding commitments from the Government, people with disability will not have local advocates to turn to when they face issues of discrimination, exclusion or poor treatment, which can happen in any area of life: education, health justice, transport, employment, accessing infrastructure and community activities;

(c)the Government has indicated it will cease funding disability advocacy on 30 June 2020;

(d)the National Disability Insurance Scheme does not fund advocacy, either within an individual's funded plan, or through the Information, Linkages and Capacity Building [ILC] tier of the scheme; and

(e)the Ageing and Disability Commissioner Act 2019:

(i)legislates for the Ageing and Disability Commissioner and Community Visitors to make referrals to independent advocacy services, where appropriate;

(ii)requires a member of the Ageing and Disability Advisory Board to be a representative of independent specialist advocacy, information and representative organisations for people with disability in New South Wales; and

(iii)requires the Commissioner to prepare a report by 31 December 2019 in relation to the funding arrangements for independent specialist advocacy, information and representative organisations for people with disability in New South Wales in consultation with such organisations.

2.That this House:

(a)supports secure, long-term funding for independent disability advocacy, information and peak representative organisations in New South Wales;

(b)recognises that without Government commitment to continue funding arrangements beyond 30 June 2020, many independent disability advocacy, information and peak representative organisations in New South Wales will be forced to commence closure before 31 December 2019 (including laying off staff and giving up premises) and will be unable to adequately fulfil the functions ascribed to them under the Ageing and Disability Commissioner Act including contributing to consultation on the Commissioner's report into funding; and

(c)calls on the Government to ensure that secure, long-term funding for independent disability advocacy, information and peak representative organisations is provided as soon as possible.

During debate in this House on the Ageing and Disability Commissioner Bill, many members spoke about the funding of independent disability advocacy organisations. Many members—from the Government, the Opposition, the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers Party, and the Animal Justice Party, as well as The Greens—put on record their support for the continued funding of those essential organisations. The final version of the bill approved by both Houses contained a number of references to independent disability advocacy organisations, which is a reflection of the vital work that they do. Those references include section 29 (4), which requires the commissioner's advisory board to include a representative of independent specialist advocacy services for people in New South Wales; and sections 12 (1) (d) and 22 (1) (h), which legislate for the commissioner and for community visitors to refer people to those services where appropriate.

In the course of our debate on the bill and also during the course of the short inquiry on the bill, we heard that there is currently a funding gap. Independent disability advocacy organisations are not funded by the Federal Government through the NDIS, either within an individual's funded plan or through the Information, Linkages and Capacity Building tier of the scheme. Section 26 of the Ageing and Disability Commissioner Act requires the commissioner to: 

prepare a report in relation to the funding arrangements for independent specialist advocacy, information and representative organisations for people with disability in New South Wales … 

That report is to be provided by 31 December 2019 and the commissioner must: 

consult with independent specialist advocacy, information and representative organisations for people with disability in New South Wales in relation to the report …

Effectively, section 26 allowed the Government to defer the issue of funding for another six months, rather than dealing with it in the context of, or at the time of debate on the bill. The Government's willingness to legislate for the commissioner to inquire into the funding arrangements of advocacy organisations is welcomed. However, by refusing to guarantee funding in the meantime, the Government is frustrating the purposes of section 26 as well as, ultimately, frustrating the realisation of the objects of the Act, which are to protect and promote the rights of adults with disability and to protect them from abuse, neglect and exploitation—something that independent disability organisations have been working on for decades, which they will be unable to continue doing without immediate secure funding.

Independent disability advocacy organisations are closely watching as the hours tick by. The Government's funding will stop in less than 11 months. Without guaranteed funding past June 2020, many of those organisations will be forced to commence closure of their operations well before 31 December and well before they can be consulted for the purposes of the commissioner's report. Leases of premises will not be renewed, new staff will not be hired and existing staff will seek out other jobs with better long‑term prospects. In the event that the commissioner's report recommends guaranteed, secure long‑term funding for advocacy organisations—as, in our view, it likely will—it will be far too late for many of them to keep their doors open. 

For those able to continue operating, which have not yet lost staff and premises or which are able to re‑hire and enter into new arrangements for premises, the uncertainty of the funding will have cost the community dearly in respect of how much attention and resources will have been diverted away from advocating for people with a disability in the meantime. The result will be that the services provided by the committed and skilled people in advocacy organisations will be further limited. People with disability will not have local advocates to turn to when they face issues of discrimination, exclusion or poor treatment. They will not have anyone to champion their rights through individual and systemic advocacy work. It is unfortunate that the Government needs a reminder that the funding of independent disability advocacy services is so urgent and so vital for so many people.

Without guaranteed long‑term funding, some of the most vulnerable people in our State will be unable to access the support they so desperately need. Services will close down, skilled people will be out of work and people with disability will be left behind. We can do so much better. We can do so much better by those who have dedicated their lives to help others. We can do so much better for people with disability in New South Wales. I urge members of this House to support this motion calling on the Government to ensure that secure long‑term funding for independent disability advocacy, information and peak representative organisations in New South Wales is provided as soon as possible.

The Hon. DAMIEN TUDEHOPE (Minister for Finance and Small Business) (21:04): The Government opposes the motion. I must commence by saying that I have been a strong supporter of disability advocacy groups and, in fact, was instrumental in ensuring that there was funding guaranteed in the 2018‑19 budget for disability advocacy services. Against that background, I say that the Government made the first order of business for the new disability commissioner an inquiry into the levels of disability funding for disability advocacy groups. So what I would suggest to the honourable member is that while I recognise the sentiment behind ensuring that funding for disability advocacy groups is secured—and I can understand some of the rationale behind saying that leasing premises and employing staff requires with it some sort of planning and some sort of certainty—I must say that there is that opportunity to, in fact, engage in that process or sufficient time to engage in that process.

It seems what the honourable member is saying is, "We want it now and we do not want to have to wait until the disability commissioner has done the report." The report is due in December, which is in three months' time. I do not think, necessarily, that she has been able to indicate or identify a particular disability advocacy service which is in imminent danger of closing. She may be able to do that and I would not quibble with it. But I must say that perhaps she is a few months early in moving this motion.

I make further observations. In the other place the Minister for Families, Communities and Disability Services confirmed that the needs of advocacy groups would be heard. I must say that the suggestion today that the Government would be ceasing funding to advocacy services is a bit alarmist in view of the fact that the inquiry is going to take place. We have a big commitment in the disability commissioner and the Government has every confidence that the commissioner will conduct that inquiry into advocacy services with a level of transparency so that the member can have the confidence that those advocacy services will be properly listened to. The Government opposes the motion.

Mr DAVID SHOEBRIDGE (21:07): I endorse the work and the words of my colleague Ms Abigail Boyd. I listened to the Minister's contribution with care.

The Hon. Damien Tudehope: You did not.

Mr DAVID SHOEBRIDGE: I did. The remarkable point was that the Minister, who has the resources of the Government, said to The Greens, "Name a disability advocacy service that will be impacted." Every disability advocacy service in New South Wales will be impacted—every single one—because they do not get Federal funding. The way this works is if a not‑for‑profit organisation is surviving hand‑to‑mouth on grant funding, and if its funding has been terminated, and if a report will be delivered to the Government by 31 December which will then sit with the Minister for two or three or four months—or, in some cases with this Government, two years—then that organisation will start shedding staff. In fact, they are already shedding staff. 

Delaying the announcement until, at best, early 2020 will already be crippling every disability advocacy organisation. That is the substance of Ms Abigail Boyd's point: The decision already made to wait until December to provide a report—a decision on which will not be made for months after—is already crippling the disability advocacy organisations that are essential for people with disability in this State. That is the point of the motion. I call upon members to endorse it.

The Hon. MATTHEW MASON-COX (21:09): I reflect on some of the comments that have been made in this debate, particularly to some of the practical difficulties that The Greens members have alluded to, with respect to disability advocacy services. We are where we are because of what I would loosely call a political compromise in relation to the debate on the Ageing and Disability Commissioner Bill. That was not ideal. I do not think Ms Abigail Boyd, who moved this motion, thinks it was ideal, but we are where we are. The responsible Minister has made it clear that it is his intention to move as quickly as possible to determine a suitable level of funding for those disability advocacy organisations. 

An amendment to have the inquiry report by 30 December 2019 was introduced with good will, and that is an appropriate response in the context. I think we can take great confidence from the Minister's public comments that he will move quickly to deal with any issues that arise, and to settle the funding and ensure that there is certainty as soon as possible. We need to accept his word in that regard. The Government will continue to work with the Commonwealth Government in the disability reform area, NDIS funding and the like, which still needs to be settled. This also impacts on the disability advocacy funding.

There is some uncertainty at State and Commonwealth levels. The new Minister has the utmost good will to resolve the matter as quickly as possible. Let us give him the opportunity. I encourage organisations that are caught up in this—organisations that do not have the funding to provide certainty on premises, staff or other practical day-to-day issues—to contact the Minister and put their cases to him. If there is a compelling, dire need I am confident that the Minister would be realistic about supporting such an organisation. I am sympathetic with what the member has put forward but I think the response from the Government is balanced in light of the debate we have had. Hopefully the issue can be resolved as soon as possible and there will not be any unintended consequences for organisations that rely on this funding. 

Ms ABIGAIL BOYD (21:11): In reply: I thank the Hon. Damien Tudehope, Mr David Shoebridge and the Hon. Matthew Mason-Cox for their contributions. I will respond to the contribution of the Hon. Damien Tudehope. Those organisations are not saying, "We want this and we want it now." When we had a debate on this issue two months ago the organisations reminded us that they may have to close their doors. It is quite heartbreaking to think of the impact that will have on people with a disability in this State. If the review happens in December it will be too late. If the review is an honest attempt to ensure that these organisations have sufficient funding to continue long term, the very fact that it is not being held until 31 December completely frustrates its aim because it will simply be too late. 

I will not repeat the views I expressed a couple of months ago on the Ageing and Disability Commissioner. The Greens still have serious concerns about the ability of the commissioner to do the work that has been assigned to him within a budget of $3 million. I agree with the Hon. Matthew Mason-Cox that we do not want to be here. The discussions on funding a couple of months ago were not ideal, and they are not ideal now. We are here because the Minister has not come to the table with those disability organisations. They are in dire need. They have not been heard. That is why I have moved this motion today.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT (The Hon. Taylor Martin): The question is that the motion be agreed to. 

Motion agreed to.


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