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Thursday, 21 March 2002
Page: 1951

Mr ANTHONY (Minister for Children and Youth Affairs) (6:57 PM) —in reply—I would like to thank all speakers, particularly the previous speaker for her well thought out contribution, and I also thank the opposition for their support. The Disability Services Amendment (Improved Quality Assurance) Bill 2002 provides the legislative framework for an improved quality assurance system for disability employment and rehabilitation services. It marks an important step in the reform of specialist employment services for people with severe disabilities.

The government indicated its intention to develop a new quality assurance system when it first came to office. Over the years it has worked closely with people with disabilities and the disability sector to build a quality assurance system designed to improve the quality of support services and deliver better employment outcomes for people with disabilities. At each point in the process it has consulted widely and thoroughly. The national service providers—ACROD and ACE—support the legislation. ACROD has said in a recent statement that, because it believes that the new system will improve the quality of services and opportunities available to Australians with disabilities, it will support the passage of the bill. National consultations with consumers indicate strong support for the quality strategy.

The national consumer peak bodies also support the change, although they have raised concerns with a view of the key performance indicators. The key performance indicators are not part of this legislation: they will form part of the disallowable instrument that will be tabled in the parliament at a later stage. The proposed standards and key performance indicators are included in a quality assurance handbook that has been distributed to the disabilities sector and made publicly available—certainly on my department's web site.

Existing specialist employment and rehabilitation services have three full years to meet the requirements of the new QA system—from 1 January 2002 through to 31 December 2004. The system was introduced on a voluntary basis from 1 January 2002, and over 90 per cent of services have formally registered their intention to seek certification before December 2004. This is certainly a major vote of confidence from the sector for these reforms.

Under this legislation, the quality assurance system will be formally commenced on 1 July 2002, with all services to be certified by the end of December 2004. Essentially, only quality services will be funded from January 2005. This quality assurance system is firmly based on a system of accreditation and certification that is well established in Australian industry and is based on international standards of best practice. Independent, skilled auditors from accredited certified bodies will certify disability employment services against the disability services standards and related key performance indicators. Audit teams will include a person with a disability, who will have a critical role in ensuring that the views of the service consumers are fully considered.

The new quality assurance system has been based on significant research and on trials. An independent evaluation of a trial of the quality assurance system concluded that it provides a robust and credible system for measuring service quality. Not only is this proposal an effective system of quality assurance, but it is also cost effective and it uses an existing system as its base.

In the 2001-02 budget, the government provided $17 million over four years for this initiative. Funds will be used for the certification costs of service providers during the transition period. A study will be commissioned during this time to look at the ongoing funding options for services, and an independent complaints and referral system is under development so that we can have clear feedback and be in the loop for quality assurance and the continuous improvement of programs.

A key feature of the complaints system is the Disability Service Abuse and Neglect Hotline, which commenced in October last year. The broader complaints system will be implemented by July this year. I note that the shadow parliamentary secretary for family and community services, the member for Canberra, Ms Ellis, put out a media statement today supporting the government in this legislation.

In summary, this legislation provides a clear statement of this government's commitment to ensuring quality services for people with disabilities. It provides time for services to address deficiencies, with the support of the disability sector and the Commonwealth government, and from January 2005 if it is not an accredited quality service it will not be funded.

Question agreed to.

Bill read a second time.