Page 685 - Week 03 - Tuesday, 8 March 2005

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change is not progressing or working well for people with a disability. Particularly while the changes are taking place, robust and comprehensive oversighting mechanisms have to be established.

The commissioner needs to look at the totality of services and supports provided for individuals with a disability and make recommendations in areas where the problems are found. If the commissioner is limited to inquire into disability services, as proposed by government in August, the ability to safeguard the lives and wellbeing of people with a disability will progressively diminish over time. The other significant problem with the proposed model is the failure to establish any enforcement mechanism for the commissioner’s recommendations, that is, the commissioner has no teeth.

The government has, instead, proposed a shaming mechanism whereby the human rights and service review commission is given the power to publish the names of non-compliant organisations. While shaming can be useful in certain circumstances, it is not always effective, as the Community Advocate found when trying to highlight the situation with children in care. The commission or a complainant also needs to be able to apply to a tribunal to have recommendations enforced where they are not being implemented within a reasonable time period.

In establishing the disability commissioner, there is the opportunity to create a powerful mechanism to improve the life opportunities for people with a disability. Systems, bureaucracies and service providers are notorious for becoming inward looking and failing to respond to the needs of the people they are supposed to serve. The natural tendency of bureaucrats and services is to fear the appointment of strong independent commissioners with broad oversight and powers. Yet, as a community, we should welcome the opportunity that they provide for ongoing learning and improvement to our system of services and supports to vulnerable people.

If the government is serious about establishing commissioners to safeguard the lives and wellbeing of our most vulnerable community members, including young and old people, people with a disability, people from diverse cultures and so on, then it must give these commissioners the necessary jurisdiction to do their work well. It must also ensure that the work they do is effective and must provide a mechanism to make their recommendations enforceable.

I am sure the government is confident that it has a good, workable model, but I would be disappointed if it was not prepared to entertain some feedback and possible changes to the legislation that has been drafted. The right legislative framework for the commission is a critical part of the response to the Gallop report, to the Vardon report and for the wellbeing of all our community’s most vulnerable people.

MS MacDONALD (Brindabella) (11.22): I would like to make the following point: the government has actually carried out a fundamental shift in the approach to the provision of disability services in the ACT, an approach built on respect for the views of people with disabilities and a commitment to community partnership. I would also like to observe that some significant milestones have been reached in the areas of community input into planning, such as the release of the ACT framework for disability, Future directions: a framework for the ACT in 2004-2008, and the community-driven documents Challenge 2014 and the Vision and values statement. It was my great

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