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Monday, 26 May 2003
Page: 14915

Ms JACKSON (5:44 PM) —Like previous speakers, I too am pleased to have the opportunity to speak in support of the motion put forward by the member for Canberra concerning disability services and business services in particular. As all members who have spoken to this motion have identified, for many years the supported employment sector has played a valuable role in providing paid work for people with disabilities. That is why it is of critical importance to ensure that changes introduced to the sector by government do not threaten the very existence of those services.

I recently participated in a forum on the government's so-called welfare reform agenda, which was sponsored by the Disability Coalition WA and well attended by people with disabilities and by service providers, including employment service providers. Ms Jenny Kitchen, the CEO of Essential Personnel and the current chair of ACROD, presented a keynote address. She gave a balanced overview of the impact on her service of both quality assurance and case based funding. Whilst she had many positive things to say about the introduction of quality assurance, her address was not a ringing endorsement of the changes that had been introduced by the government. Equally, Mr Joe Liparis from the Department of Family and Children's Services gave an informative presentation on the welfare reform process to date and the current and ongoing rounds of consultation.

I might say there were also presentations from political parties—at least from the Labor Party, the Greens and the Democrats—on their stance on the current welfare reform agenda and process. Both the Liberal Party and the National Party declined the invitation to participate. Frankly, considering some of their policies in this area and the philosophies behind them, I can understand why.

Following the formal presentations at the forum, the audience broke into small groups to consider a number of questions relevant to the reform process. Generally, those people who attended were very concerned about the future of business services, particularly as case based funding does not meet the needs of people with severe or profound disabilities. Business services were originally set up as sheltered workshops to meet the needs of people with high support needs, who were considered then to be unable to participate in open employment. The issue of profit for those sheltered workshops was not of major concern. Initially, the rights of employees, especially in relation to wages, were not of primary concern to people with disabilities and their families. They did not see sheltered workshops strictly as employers; they saw them more as service providers.

I share the general concern raised at the forum about the reforms having a potentially negative impact on the viability of many business services. Those concerns were echoed by employers, employees and their families, and they were certainly fearful and quite stressed that the reforms will result in the closure of some business services and in the loss of employment for some people with disabilities. It seems that the government also recognise that some services will close as a result of their so-called reforms. The question and answer section on the Department of Family and Children's Services web site in relation to Australians Working Together included the following:

What happens to consumers of services that fail to meet the Standards?

If a service has not been certified against the Disability Services Standards by the end of the phase-in period, it will not be eligible for funding. Funding continues to be made available to consumers through other eligible services in consultation with consumers and families.

Another indicator from the government which gives reason for concern is the outcome of the trials in relation to case based funding. The department's own Final Evaluation Report, the October 2002 report of the main findings of its trialon case based funding, reads:

Limited analysis of business service providers suggests that most providers are unlikely to be viable under current CBFT arrangements.

So the member for Dobell, the previous speaker, may have been able to point to one organisation in his electorate which is doing fine, but I wonder if he has visited that organisation and asked the people what it means for them now that they have seen the outcome of the case based funding trial.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Hawker)—Order! The time allotted for private members' business has expired. The debate is interrupted in accordance with standing order 104A. The debate is adjourned and the resumption of the debate will be made an order of the day for the next sitting. The honourable member for Hasluck will have leave to continue speaking when the debate is resumed.