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Joint Standing Committee on the National Disability Insurance Scheme

HOLLYWOOD, Ms Romola, Director, Policy and Advocacy, People with Disability Australia

Evidence was taken via teleconference—


CHAIR: Welcome. Thank you for appearing before the committee. Information on procedural rules governing public hearings have been provided to you and are also available from the secretariat. Would you like to make some opening comments?

Ms Hollywood : Yes, I will make some opening comments. Thank you to the members of the committee for having me here today. I would like to begin by acknowledging the traditional owners of the land on which we are undertaking our work today. For me it's the Darug and Gandangara people, from the Blue Mountains in New South Wales, and I pay my respects to elders past, present and emerging and to any Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who are here with us today in virtual land where we do things in COVID-19 settings.

People with Disability Australia is a leading disability rights, advocacy and representative organisation of and for all people with disability. We are the only national cross-disability organisation and we represent the interests of people with all kinds of disability. We are a not-for-profit and non-government organisation, and our primary membership is made up of people with disability and organisations primarily constituted by people with disability. We've also got a large associate membership of other individuals and organisations committed to the disability rights movement.

People with disability require the National Disability Insurance Scheme to ensure that our support needs are met at all times and in all locations across Australia. We also emphasise that the NDIS workforce should be considered in its entirety. It's fundamental that all aspects of the workforce come together to enable people with disability to realise our rights to live, work and participate as equal citizens in Australia. PWDA would like to highlight that the NDIS workforce is not just about disability support workers but also fundamentally includes workers in mainstream services such as education, health, housing transport and justice, particularly in those agencies that are run by state and territory governments. It also includes the partners in communities such as local area coordinators, NDIS staff and, in particular, planners. Support coordinators have a different function. Then we have the whole disability support workforce. Advocate also play a fundamental role; this includes staff who work in the area of supported decision-making, which we think needs a lot more focus in the new workforce strategy. Then we also have allied health professionals and also medical practitioners. So we have a really broad suite of workers who make up what we see as the NDIS workforce.

All of these workers have important roles and responsibilities that are key to meeting the objectives of the NDIS Act and ensuring the success of the scheme. All workers, regardless of where they come from, need adequate and quantifiable training and ongoing professional development to be able to realise the goals of the NDIS.

Our members and advocates tell us that there are a range of challenges that are fundamentally linked, we believe, to a lack of workforce planning and development. These challenges can include difficulties in accessing the scheme; a lack of understanding of, for example, disability and the enabling functions that people need to carry out for people to be able to access the scheme; complexities in the planning processes and inconsistencies from NDIA planners; breaks in disability supports; and difficulties that people with disability have in recruiting disability support workers for the long term, and this can be particularly the case in rural and regional areas—or areas for which the NDIS likes to use the term 'thin markets'; we would just say that there is a lack of supports and that we do need to address those gaps in supports across Australia. There can also be difficulties in accessing specialised supports, and we need to remember that the disability workforce is not one size fits all. People need to be supported to develop specialised skills for the variety of needs that the support workforce is trying to provide for people with disability as part of their plans. We also find that there can be, at times, limited choice in providers and that some providers are not actually able to cater for the diversity of people with disability and for different population groups. More troubling is that we also see—and there's good evidence of this—excessive use of restrictive practices, which, again, we think relates to a lack of workforce training rather than having the skills and supports to implement behaviour support plans.

So there are a range of issues, and you could really delve down into each one of those. But fundamentally—just to take it up to a slightly higher level—what we believe is missing is a coordinated and holistic workforce strategy that enables the NDIS to be implemented in a way that realises choice and control for all people with disability that are part of the scheme.

People with disability have a right to live in the community and participate in daily life just like everyone else, and this means building a workforce, in the broader sense, to support that. Without this workforce strategy, we've seen significant gaps in supports, particularly in rural and regional parts of Australia. We're seeing a lack of investment in training and support to ensure that people receive specialised supports where needed. We also see that there isn't a significant investment in qualifications and career paths, or a recognition of their value and benefit, while working in the NDIS. We also see that there's limited recognition of the important role that advocates can play in helping people with disability navigate the NDIS, as well as providing oversight and safeguarding the rights of people with disabilities. So we would recommend that a fundamental and comprehensive workforce strategy be developed through a co-design process with people with disability and their representative organisations.

I know that was long, but I just also wanted to say that a key element of this workforce strategy should also be about supporting people with disability to actually be part of the NDIS workforce. We know that the rates of employment of people with disability are unacceptably low, and we feel that this inquiry looking at the workforce strategy is an important opportunity to make some recommendations around the NDIS workforce being part of the solution for people with disability to develop employment skills. Also, we feel there's a real opening for people with disabilities to be part of the training and workforce professional development area. If people with disability are part of being able to deliver, for example, disability rights and awareness training, that can start to strengthen the workforce overall and start to address discrimination and negative attitudes that can sometimes be encountered by people with disability—even within the NDIS workforce. I'll leave my comments there.

CHAIR: I think you might have been online and have heard the previous witnesses speaking about the increasing incidence of part-time workers and the casualisation of the workforce. Is that also your experience or observation? What is the impact of that in terms of people with disability?

Ms Hollywood : It is. I think the stats are really clear. We were hearing through the start of the COVID-19 pandemic that as much as 40 per cent of the disability support workforce—and remembering we need to keep broad as well—was casualised and working part time. The impacts of that, particularly, say, under the situation that we're experiencing at the moment with the COVID-19 pandemic, mean that supports can be quite fragmented in the way that they're delivered. It's actually been quite scary; many people have told us that it's been quite scary. through the COVID-19 pandemic to have multiple workers potentially coming in and out of their home. Whilst there are measures that can be taken to reduce the risks, people feel that they would like to be able to build up a consistent, ongoing and long-term relationship with their support workers. The casualisation and also the challenges in terms of the pricing structures within the NDIS are really mitigating against that.

CHAIR: Thank you. I'll go to Ms Coker.

Ms COKER: Our previous speakers mentioned that there could be a role for a national centre for mental health workforce development and that it could add value to the NDIS. Many of the speakers have spoken about the need for specific training, accreditation and less casualisation. From your perspective, do you think that there's merit in such a centre?

Ms Hollywood : I didn't hear the whole of that discussion, so I'm a little bit wary about making comments on the fly. I guess the concern that I would have is that that is really just focused on one element, and what we're really calling for in terms of workforce training and development is an approach that is holistic. While there may need to be specialisations, we would like to see the government develop—and it has been promised but not yet delivered—a full workforce strategy that sets short-term goals as well as longer-term goals so that we have a sustainable workforce. Whilst you were talking specifically about a centre for workforce development around mental health, we see something broader being valuable. I also would say, in relation to psychosocial disability, that it's really important that we start to broaden out our approach beyond a medical model of treatment and really embed an approach that is led by people with psychosocial disability.

Ms COKER: Some submitters have observed a gradual deskilling of the disability workforce with the rollout of the NDIS, with workers less able to effectively support people with disability. Has this been the experience of People with Disability Australia and its members? If so, what would you suggest can be done to redress this?

Ms Hollywood : You've phrased the question in an interesting way. I want to address that first up. It kind of implies that there's a nostalgia for the past and that the past was kind of better, and now we have the NDIS and that's not as good. I'm not quite sure whether that was the way evidence was presented by others, but what I would say is that the NDIS was needed. [Inaudible] people with disability were segregated from the community and had very little choice and control on who delivered supports, how they was delivered and where they was delivered. We're still, through the NDIS implementation, trying to unpick really quite damaging processes of segregation that have been built up over many years. In terms of the notion of deskilling, for me—and what we hear—the issue is that the workforce, as it is, needs to be properly supported and respected. That actually means realising that training and workforce development and qualifications and skills are part of the investment that needs to be made within the NDIS for it to function well. I would hazard and caution against the notion of looking backwards rather than looking forwards. That's why a full workforce strategy covering all of the areas that I mentioned in the opening statement in consultation not just with the workers but with people with disability is really important.

Ms COKER: I appreciate your perspective. Thank you.

CHAIR: As there are no more questions, thank you, Ms Hollywood, for coming online and discussing this important subject with us. We greatly appreciate it.

Ms Hollywood : I really appreciate the opportunity to put forward some comments, so thank you very much for having me here.