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Wednesday, 29 November 2017
Page: 9249


Senator SIEWERT (Western AustraliaAustralian Greens Whip) (16:30): I present the report of the Community Affairs References Committee on the National Disability Strategy 2010-2020, together with the Hansard record of proceedings and documents presented to the committee.

Ordered that the report be printed.

Senator SIEWERT: I move:

That the Senate take note of the report.

This report has been the result of a lot of work by members of the community who have contributed very extensively to this inquiry. They gave us very extensive submissions. I thank them for the submissions they provided to the committee. I also thank the people who appeared before the committee. I also say thank you so much to the secretariat of the Community Affairs References Committee, who once again have gone above and beyond the call of duty to get this report tabled. This is about the National Disability Strategy. In fact, it's about one part of that—the accessibility and inclusiveness of our community.

First off, I want to talk about the issues around accessibility and why it's so important that we looked at this issue. For people with disability, the accessibility and inclusiveness of the community in which they reside fundamentally impacts upon the way they live their lives, work and socialise. A lack of accessibility creates external barriers that are not a function of a person's disability; they are a function of how well, or how poorly, the community interacts with and provides support for a person's life. Through our inquiry we found that there is general support for the National Disability Strategy. The National Disability Strategy was developed by COAG after a series of other reports and, in particular, some work done by the National People with Disabilities and Carer Council. They undertook extensive consultations that resulted in the report Shut out: the experience of people with disabilities and their families in Australia, which is commonly called the Shut out report. Subsequent to that, COAG developed the National Disability Strategy 2010-2020. One of the things the committee found is that, unfortunately, although the strategy is dated 2010, the implementation actually started significantly after that.

As I said, there was strong support for the National Disability Strategy. But one of the issues we very strongly came across straightaway was that it started at basically the same time that discussions on the NDIS started and the campaign for the NDIS started and the National Disability Insurance Scheme started rolling out. What has happened is that there's been a lot of focus, obviously, about getting the NDIS up and running. The National Disability Strategy was supposed to be complementing and working together with the NDIS. But the focus has been on the NDIS, and the National Disability Strategy hasn't been as carefully implemented and reviewed as would be ideal. In fact, a number of key reporting dates have been missed, and that was clearly pointed out.

What we did was to go through a large number of issues that had been raised to the committee. We looked at issues like universal barriers and a whole lot of other barriers to accessibility. But one of the issues that we clearly needed to articulate was the lack of understanding about accessibility. While physical accessibility is particularly important, there are also issues around accessibility, for example, in terms of electronic communications. I've spoken in this place many times around captions and audio description. So, it's the broader understanding of accessibility that we also need to be talking about.

There are social construct barriers as well. For example, we heard evidence from people with autism about overcoming inaccessibility by shops offering quiet shopping days. The lights are muted, sounds are muted, and people with autism feel more comfortable and not alienated by that particular environment. The committee looked at universal barriers in consultation. There was a great deal of criticism about the lack of consultation around implementation of the strategy and its coordination—remember, I'm talking just about one element of the National Disability Strategy—the lack of coordination was a really significant issue that people raised with us. The complaints system was another area that raised a great deal of concerns as well, particularly as people find it hard to raise individual complaints. I've already spoken about the focus on the NDIS.

The committee made seven recommendations, which I strongly urge the federal government and the state and territory governments to take on board. The first recommendation goes to coordination, which I talked about—that is, the committee recommends that the government takes to the Disability Reform Council for consideration a proposal to establish an office of disability strategy, or ODS, as a coordination agency for the National Disability Strategy. It would be under the oversight of the Disability Reform Council and for the revised National Disability Strategy after 2020. The committee believes that there absolutely needs to be something going on beyond 2020. But that office of disability strategy would ensure there was a coordination agency that was responsible for the coordination across the strategy, so that we could have a strategy being implemented in a strategic way.

The committee's No. 1 recommendation is that all Australian governments recommit to the Disability Strategy and to meeting associated domestic and international reporting obligations. As I said, people have a strong sense of ownership of the strategy. People weren't critical; they were supportive of the strategy. It's about the implementation of the strategy, the lack of coordination and the focus on the NDIS. People want the NDIS to be the best it can possibly be, but in order for the NDIS to be fully effective we need the National Disability Strategy. We need to ensure that it is strong, because the NDIS is not about providing those mainstream services that we expect to be available for people with disability.

It's also really important to remember that there are a lot of people with disability who will not be eligible for the NDIS. It's important they have those supports that are provided through mainstream services and that they are part of the National Disability Strategy. That is why it's so important that governments recommit to the National Disability Strategy and focus on making sure it's implemented and actually meeting the time lines.

We make a number of other recommendations, which I am sure my colleagues will also talk about in the chamber when they make their contributions on this particular report. We make recommendations around the need for consultation at every point and that we need guidelines for consultation to ensure that people are being properly consulted. We heard a number of examples where, for example, a council had gone ahead and put in what it thought was a great project for people with disability. It invited people with disability along to the launch, and there were problems. The project didn't meet their needs, and the first thing they really knew about it was when they were invited to the launch. That's not appropriate partnership; it's not appropriate consultation, and we talk about that in our report.

I'd also like to give a shout-out to my colleagues on the committee. This is a consensus report. The community affairs committee is very conscious of wanting, on these important issues, to take as strong a consensus approach as we can. We are very pleased that we have managed to achieve that in this instance, and I'll leave it up to my colleagues now to make their contributions.