Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2004-2005 Week 1 Hansard (7 December) . . Page.. 89..
DR FOSKEY (continuing):
providers. This role has been vital to ensure that people with a disability and other vulnerable people do not fall through the cracks of service provision.
People die, Mr Speaker, through a failure to recognise simple needs such as how to balance their diet and how to get enough appropriate exercise. It requires a commissioner to have the power to link seemingly unrelated events and information to identify the system failure and to bring pressure to bear to ensure that this is remedied. Often systems failure will reflect badly on a minister or a department, making them reluctant to facilitate the necessary all encompassing investigations.
The government's plans for the role and functions of the new ACT disability services commissioner are outlined in its response. They indicate that the commissioner will be limited to consideration of disability services issues. This would seem to prevent the commissioner from inquiring more broadly into system-wide issues of importance to people with a disability, if those issues are not directly connected to existing disability services. It would also seem to prevent the commissioner looking at all the circumstances in the life of an individual or lives of groups of individuals to be assured that they are appropriately supported and their needs are being met.
In other jurisdictions, the capacity of the commissioner to inquire into a pattern of complaints has proved particularly effective in identifying serious systemic issues in need of attention. Such a pattern of complaints may also fall outside the ambit of the commissioner's powers as currently envisaged.
In deciding upon the functions of the disability commissioner, the government received advice from the Disability Legislative Reform Working Group, which it established for the purpose. This group consisted of representatives from Disability ACT, the Human Rights Office, advocacy and service provider organisations, together with people with a disability and one father of a child with a disability.
The group, in its recommendations, which were put out for consultation in the sector, said that the functions of the disability commissioner should include, among other things, first, to inquire on his or her initiative into matters relating to any service that is provided in whole or in part because of a person's disability; secondly, to review the causes and patterns of complaints and identify ways in which those causes could be removed or minimised; thirdly, to review the situation of a person or persons with a disability; and, fourthly, to consider patterns in relation to the causes of deaths of people with a disability and to identify ways in which those deaths could be prevented or reduced.
Many of these functions are similar to those currently undertaken by the New South Wales Community Services Commissioner and were considered by the working group to be necessary for the commissioner to be a truly effective protector of the rights of people with a disability.
It is surprising then that the government has, as part of its response to the FEMAG review, chosen to reproduce and respond to most of the recommendations of the legislative reform working group, but has chosen not to reproduce or respond directly to the recommendations of the group in relation to the functions of the disability commissioner.