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Monday, 2 May 2016
Page: 4031

Mrs GRIGGS (Solomon) (18:04): I did not realise that the member for Jagajaga was a clairvoyant who can predict what is going to happen in tomorrow night's budget! Before I begin to focus on the legislation at hand, which is the National Disability Insurance Scheme Amendment Bill 2016, I want to provide the chamber with some background on the National Disability Insurance Scheme in the Northern Territory. To do this, I am quoting from the NDIS Barkly progress report from last October, which assesses the first year of the scheme's operation in the Northern Territory.

In his foreword to the progress report, National Disability Insurance Agency—or NDIA—Chairman Bruce Bonyhady recalls that:

When it was first decided to trial the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) in locations around Australia, we knew that trials in metropolitan sites would tell us very little about how the Scheme should work in rural, remote and very remote areas.

And so, in 2013, the Commonwealth and Northern Territory Governments agreed to trial the NDIS in one of the least densely populated regions in Australia, the Barkly region.

The Barkly Regional Council is the second largest local government area in Australia, an area 42 per cent larger than the state of Victoria.

While Victoria has a population density of 2,431 people per 100 square kilometres, the Barkly region contains two people in that same area. Centred around the junction of the Stuart and Barkly highways, the region stretches from the old telegraph station at Barrow Creek in the south to the historic droving township of Newcastle Waters in the north and 620 kilometres east to the Queensland border. The largest town in the region is Tennant Creek, which is approximately 1,000 kilometres south of Darwin and 500 kilometres north of Alice Springs.

The resident population of the Barkly region is estimated at approximately 8,100 people, which includes 3,560 people in Tennant Creek—the largest concentration of residents. The next largest urban area is the town of Elliott and its surrounding district, and then there is an assortment of communities and outstations, including Ali Curung and Canteen Creek. There are also 49 pastoral stations, mining operations and commercial properties in this district. You can see that the Barkly was an ideal place to trial the NDIS. As Bruce Bonyhady says, 'It provides an exciting opportunity for improving the lives of people with disabilities in remote parts of the Northern Territory.' Through the trial of NDIS in the Barkly region, the NDIA is learning a new way of working with remote and very remote communities and about the best ways to spread the NDIS through these communities.

During a trip to Tennant Creek last year with colleagues from the NDIA and the scheme's independent advisory committee, Mr Bonahady said he was once again struck by the size of the challenge and the opportunities it presented. The NDIA in Barkly is working with a range of groups, including disability organisations in the Northern Territory, to find the right solutions to the challenges of building the NDIS in remote and very remote areas. I will go into that in a bit more detail shortly.

They said in the progress report that they are taking a community development approach, building capacity directly with communities and working closely with Aboriginal corporations and service providers in health and other allied sectors. For example, they are partnering with the First Peoples Disability Network to establish local support groups and working closely with other government agencies and departments. The progress report focuses on what has been achieved in the Barkly region over the past year and what lessons have been learnt. And I can say it provides a very interesting snapshot of progress so far. As at 30 June 2015, 61 people with disability have approved plans in place; 24 providers have registered to deliver services as part of the NDIS in the Barkly; additional options for shared supported accommodation for people with disability have been delivered; and almost half of the NDIS staff on the ground in the Barkly trial site are Aboriginal people. Of the 61 people with approved plans, 44 per cent are female and 56 per cent are male. As of July last year, the total amount of support committed was $3,061,377. Sixty two per cent of participants have early intervention support in their plans. To summarise: people with disability in the Barkly region are receiving support such as new equipment, and providers new to the area are registered and are delivering support.

Community engagement is a significant part of how the NDIS is increasing its profile in Tennant Creek and around the Barkly region. In July 2015 the NDIA joined locals in Tennant Creek to celebrate the 26th annual Desert Harmony Festival. With a $60,000 sponsorship from the NDIA the festival celebrated all people with disability, showcasing their strengths and talents. Staff attended events throughout the festival to talk to the community about the NDIS and what it means for people with disability in the remote Northern Territory. One of their ambassadors was three-time Australian Paralympic gold medallist Kurt Fearnley, who visited the local high school to talk about his experiences living with disability. Participants, families and carers were also invited as VIPs to the NDIS football match between local teams in partnership with the Barkly Australian Football League. The BAFL agreed to schedule a local game between the Sporties Spitfires and the Elliott Hawks, which was a 2014 grand final re-match to celebrate people with disability. NDIA representatives spoke directly to participants, families and carers about how the scheme is working for them and met people who may become part of the scheme in the future. NDIS General Manager Anne Skordis attended Desert Harmony and said the agency is completing more plans for people with disability every week. She said it is not just about what each person needs in their plan, but about how all of the pieces of a person's life work together. It is about how a person's plan works alongside school, community, family and other services that are already an important parts of people's lives.

One of the successful partnerships reached by NDIS is with the Barkly trial site local advisory group, which consists of representatives from local Aboriginal organisations, community representatives, participants and providers. The advisory group is providing the NDIA with local advice to ensure the NDIS is rolled out effectively in the Barkly region. As I mentioned earlier, the alliance with First Peoples Disability Network aims to support more effective and enduring engagement with local communities in the Barkly. Through this project, the First Peoples Disability Network is establishing strong relationships and networks with communities to raise awareness of the NDIS.

Through the NDIA's connection with Barkly Regional Arts, art is being used to build awareness of the NDIS and disability. The successful Story Plates project has encouraged five communities to explore what disability means to people living in the Barkly region and convey these discussions visually through creating painted ceramic plates. The Story Plates were exhibited at the National Rural Health Alliance Conference in Darwin in 2015 and at the Desert Harmony Festival.

The NDIA understands that developing the local workforce is critical to the delivery of the NDIS in the Barkly region. While this continues to be an area of development for the NDIA, progress is being made. A new service provider in the region, ITEC Health, recently trained 17 people as potential disability support workers for additional assisted living and supported accommodation services. Sixteen of these people are local Aboriginal people. The NDIA wants to see as many local Aboriginal people as possible delivering services to people with disability in the community. In response to the question 'What has been learnt?' the progress report states that 'service delivery requires agile, responsive, innovative and flexible solutions that are tailored to address community challenges and take account of cultural differences', and that 'developing trust with remote communities is key to the successful implementation of the NDIS'.

Strong partnerships with mainstream agencies that already have a presence in a community can help to develop innovative solutions and options for delivering supports. Ensuring sufficient time to build relationships with the communities is key to increasing awareness of disability services and the rights of people with disability.

We have also learnt that culturally skilled workforces will enhance the acceptance and involvement of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in using disability support services. A 'one size fits all' approach does not work in Aboriginal communities. What will work well in one community will definitely not work with all communities. A tailored approach is absolutely needed. As most Aboriginal languages in the Barkly do not have a word for 'disability', it is key that the NDIA works closely with communities to build an understanding of what the scheme is about and who it can assist. Additional effort is required to attract and retain providers in remote regions, acknowledging the challenges of workforce availability, service delivery costs and the need to ensure a reasonable level of support for participants.

So I am hopeful that the NDIS trial in Barkly is yielding positive results, and I can report that from July 2016 the NDIS will progressively roll out across the Northern Territory and that by July 2019 all eligible residents will be covered. To people with an interest in the NDIS rollout in Darwin and Palmerston, I say 'Watch this space.' As for the legislation at hand, this bill amends the National Disability Insurance Scheme Act 2013 to allow for up to 11 members to be appointed to the board of the National Disability Insurance Scheme Launch Transition Agency and to change the quorum arrangements for board meetings so it is clear that a quorum is the majority of members of the board. The Council of Australian Governments agreed in April 2015 that there was a need to strengthen the governance arrangements of the board of the agency. This was to ensure that the board was best equipped to administer the challenges associated with managing the transition of the National Disability Insurance Scheme to the full scheme.

When the trial site in Barkly was first announced, I was really delighted, because of Tennant Creek's remoteness. I thought that if the trial site was successful in Tennant Creek then it would highlight all the issues and that the scheme could be implemented right across Australia, and the lessons would be learnt. If anyone can do anything, it is we Territorians.