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Wednesday, 29 November 2017
Page: 9252

Senator CAROL BROWN (Tasmania) (16:44): I also want to take a few moments to speak on the report of the Community Affairs References Committee on the inquiry into the delivery of outcomes under the National Disability Strategy 2010-2020 to build accessible and inclusive communities. And I want to put on record my appreciation of the senators who were part of the inquiry. I think we worked well together to put together a report that is quite significant in regard to the recommendations and I too hope that the government look at these recommendations and take them on board. I also would like to thank the secretariat, who did an amazing job with this report.

But it is clear from this report, the evidence that was presented to us as a committee at the public hearings we held and, of course, the submissions we received that the government, in regard to priority one under the NDS, has dropped the ball when it comes to the strategy. It's very unlikely that, without a change of mindset and approach, the strategy's vision of an inclusive Australian society that enables people with disability to fulfil their potential as equal citizens will be achieved.

I say at the outset just how important the strategy is to people with disability, carers and advocates. I want to thank them for their commitment, the submissions they made and the evidence they gave, because it is clear from the evidence we received and the submissions that were made that people support this strategy and want it implemented. It's also clear that there are many good initiatives that are happening around the country. In particular, I have to say we heard of a number of very good initiatives at the local level, but it's also clear that the problem with the implementation of the strategy is a lack of coordination at the national level. As a result, it is difficult to discover just how much good work is going on and to ensure that good work can be shared. And it's clear that the Turnbull government really has set and forgotten when it comes to the National Disability Strategy. Without genuine change and a recommitment to the National Disability Strategy, our community will not realise the potential benefits of the strategy. The National Disability Strategy and the National Disability Insurance Scheme go together.

I want to consider the recommendations in the report and, in doing so, touch on some of the evidence presented to us. Firstly I want to consider the question of commitment to the strategy. The strategy was developed under a Labor government, and I don't believe that anyone would doubt the commitment of senators to the rights of people with disability and to making genuine change in our society to ensure those rights are acknowledged and observed. But I have to say that the evidence strongly suggests that our commitment needs to be better. Whilst there was an acknowledgment of the work that's been done under the NDIS, that isn't a reason for not being able to take a proactive approach to the goals and objectives under the NDS.

The strategy indicated there would be a progress report tracking national progress for people with disability every two years. Here we are almost in 2018, and there's been only one progress report. The original timetable for the progress report was 2014, 2016, 2018 and 2020. To me, it's a very worrying sign if the government's attention is elsewhere. These reports need to be delivered. We've been told that the second progress report would be released this year, but as yet we haven't seen it. I get the feeling that this government is hoping it will be overlooked in the run-up to Christmas. There shouldn't be a delay in these reporting times. It's not only with the progress report that we've seen delays. There have been other reporting delays as well. The second implementation plan, the Australian government's action plan and the plan to improve outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have all been delayed or released after the periods in which the programs actually started.

I will now turn to the recommendations that have been made. Recommendation 1 is:

The Committee recommends that all Australian Governments recommit to the National Disability Strategy 2010-2020 and meeting associated domestic and international reporting obligations.

We must take this work very seriously and we must take the reporting obligations very seriously too. I hope that the government will take notice of this recommendation and agree to it and the other recommendations, which the committee's put forward as a consensus group of recommendations.

I'd like now to turn to the question of who is responsible for implementing and coordinating the strategy. I have to say that the evidence presented to the committee, both by witnesses and in submissions, again suggests a lack of commitment to the strategy. The evidence presented to us showed a lack of proactive coordination. The committee's second recommendation is:

The committee recommends that the government takes to the Disability Reform Council for consideration a proposal to establish an Office of Disability Strategy under the oversight of the Disability Reform Council, as a coordination agency for the National Disability Strategy 2010-2020 and for the revised National Disability Strategy after 2020.

As Senator Siewert mentioned in her contribution, we've made the assumption that there will be a strategy after 2020.

One key issue that was mentioned time and time again in both the written and the oral evidence was the poor quality of consultation with people with disabilities about the National Disability Strategy's implementation. That led the committee to make recommendation 3:

The committee recommends that if an Office of Disability Strategy is established, that people with disability are consulted at every stage of its development and implementation.

We cannot implement this strategy without real consultation with people living with disability. As the report notes, a great deal of evidence was presented that pointed to the lack of consultation that led to outcomes that were ineffective in resolving barriers to accessibility. The second implementation plan didn't provide any detail about what form consultation should take place; it just said it should take place. While individual agencies and local governments have paid attention to what consultation should look like, the consultation has been inconsistent, if it happens at all—and Senator Siewert, in her contribution, outlined the instance that we were alerted to. The committee also formulated a recommendation around the development of best-practice guidelines for detailed consultation with people with disability and their advocates under the National Disability Strategy. The evidence is in: if we don't get the consultation right, the outcomes will be haphazard and barriers to accessibility will remain or might even get worse.

There are a number of other recommendations that I did want to talk about in my contribution here today, but I am running out of time. I'm hopeful that the government will agree to all seven recommendations in this report. I seek leave to continue my remarks.

Leave granted; debate adjourned.