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Thursday, 12 March 2009
Page: 2603

Dr JENSEN (12:40 PM) —There has been much debate given to the rights of disabled workers, and I consider it an opportune and appropriate time to again raise the issue of the plight of the Disabled Workers Union of Western Australia. This organisation assists people with a variety of physical and mental disabilities—Down syndrome, brain injury and psychological problems, to name but a few. The Disabled Workers Union assists people with accommodation issues, legal issues and medical problems and in dealing with Centrelink, as well as with industrial issues. Prior to 1981, there was no representative body for disabled workers employed in sheltered workshops. When a disabled worker was having problems at work, he contacted a friend, Gloria Cassidy, who in turn contacted the Trades and Labour Council of Western Australia. Later that year, Gloria formed the disabled workers action group—rather appropriately, as I believe that 1981 was designated the International Year of Disabled Persons.

The registration of the DWU as a union was granted on 29 October 1986. Since then, Gloria Cassidy and her equally committed assistant, Naomi Wallace, have worked tirelessly to assist disabled workers. In recent years, the DWU has received funding, but last year the funding was abruptly halted. The WA section manager wrote to the DWU and said that the DWU had been assessed as not working to disability service standards. The only way in which the DWU could continue to receive federal funding ‘would be to engage another NDAP funded advocacy provider to oversee and manage the DWU’s advocacy until such time as it could be demonstrated that the DWU has the capacity to meet all of the standards in its own right’. This is bureaucracy gone crazy. The DWU has been operating properly for over 20 years and somehow, all of a sudden, it has ceased to operate properly? The DWU has filled in reams of forms—requests for information et cetera—and some of the bizarre reasons for it losing funding are as follows.

Standard 7.1a requires the agency to have written policies and procedures for consumer complaints and disputes. What is the department’s assessment of DWU policies? It states:

Points one to four contained in the Policy on Grievance are satisfactory, but the document itself is unprofessional and needs simplification. Procedures contained in this policy document are insufficient; lapse into the realm of the union and business services; and do not clearly outline the process involved in submitting, handling, resolving, reviewing and finalising a complaint.

Another reason was that was there was ‘no evidence that the policy received consumer consultation’. You would think this report was done by a forensic accountant investigating a billion-dollar embezzlement case. It is astounding that this sort of bureaucratic nitpicking and these pathetic excuses for cutting funding could ever be agreed to by any minister who genuinely cared for the disabled. The bureaucrats appear to have beaten these two wonderful women.

They are now using up their own meagre savings to keep this vital and worthy organisation going. Surely to goodness, if it is only for some minor, pettifogging procedural details, why on earth didn’t someone in the department help this organisation? Instead of gratitude and funding from the government for doing an amazing job with some of the most vulnerable members of our community, Gloria and Naomi are being drowned in unnecessary red tape about policy statements, consultation and such.

If the minister and his departmental officers could leave their ivory tower for a nanosecond and come and visit the DWU, they might just see an organisation that is actually doing some good. But apparently policy statements which are not user friendly in alternative formats or easily accessible to consumers are such an oversight, such a dreadful sin and so totally unacceptable that the DWU might have to close up shop. I implore the minister to have a good look at the devastation that this assessment will cause so many disabled people and to provide badly-needed funding and temporary secretarial assistance—if that is so important—to ensure the Disabled Workers Union can continue to do the marvellous job it has been doing with government funding for over two decades.