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Thursday, 23 August 2001
Page: 26441

Senator IAN CAMPBELL (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Communications, Information Technology and the Arts) (9:38 AM) —I table the explanatory memorandum relating to the bill and move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

I seek leave to have the second reading speech incorporated in Hansard.

Leave granted.

The speech read as follows—

Reform of specialist disability employment assistance and rehabilitation services is critical to meeting broader objectives for welfare reform. People with disabilities, including those with greater support needs, should benefit to the maximum extent possible from employment opportunities available to the wider community. The proposed new quality assurance system given effect by this bill is a key element of the Government's plan to improve employment outcomes for people with disabilities.

As part of the Australians Working Together package announced on Budget night, the Government is providing more than $17 million over four years for the new quality assurance system. This will provide the platform to enable disability employment assistance services and rehabilitation services to deliver quality outcomes. The new system will benefit people with disabilities, as consumers and their carers. It will also benefit Government (and, therefore, the Australian taxpayer), as a purchaser of these services.

The specialist disability employment assistance and rehabilitation programs addressed by this bill are just one part of a range of Commonwealth programs to help people with disabilities find and keep employment. Services are typically provided under contract by charitable, non-profit agencies with the exception of rehabilitation, which is provided by CRS Australia.

Currently, service quality is self-assessed annually by each agency and audited every five years by the Commonwealth Department of Family and Community Services. The current system was designed around an expectation that services would progress from minimum applicable standards to higher standards. This simply has not happened.

The current system was discussed in Assuring Quality, a 1997 report by the Disability Quality and Standards Working Party, which comprised key representatives of the disability sector. Of particular concern was the lack of a transparent and universally applied accreditation and certification system to provide an assurance of quality. The current system also lacks incentive for service improvement and transparent structure for complaints and referral system. The new quality assurance system responds to these concerns.

The new quality assurance system is the product of a great deal of time and energy committed by the disability sector and the Government. A consultation paper was widely distributed, public consultations held around the country and targeted consumer focus groups set up. The new system underwent a successful trial last year and enjoys support from the industry.

Under the new system, there will be a shift to a system that is industry owned and supported, that is outcome focused and that fosters a culture of continuous improvement. A key component is also the critical role people with disabilities will play as technical experts in the audit teams. The existing training and support for people with disabilities will be refocussed to support this role. The new system is based on a well-established system of accreditation and certification that uses international standards of best practice. Industry-based certification agencies will be accredited by an independent, internationally recognised accreditation authority. The skilled audit teams managed by those agencies will then certify disability employment services against the disability standards and associated key performance indicators.

Provision of rehabilitation programs by the Commonwealth will also be audited against the standards and associated key performance indicators and certified under the new system. All disability employment services and rehabilitation programs will be treated consistently.

After a three-year transition period beginning on 1 January 2002, only those existing disability employment services that fully meet the standards will attract Government funding and only those rehabilitation programs the provision of which meets the standards will be approved. However, there will be a range of incentives and support to help services make the transition to the new system and continue to improve.

Newly established employment services will have up to a year to reach full standards.

The new complaint and referral system will form the final component of the quality assurance system. Work is underway with the disability community to have it introduced from 1 July 2002.

This bill provides the formal structure to put the new system to work.

Ordered that further consideration of this bill be adjourned to the first day of the 2002 autumn sittings, in accordance with standing order 111.