Victoria in Focus by Sarah Fordyce, July 2022
Times continue to be challenging for disability services, as we all face the latest wave of COVID infections impacting our community, and the continuing workforce shortages. While we are experiencing a surge in case numbers and rising hospital admissions adding strain to a fatigued health system, governments are adopting a position of “personal responsibility”. After two-and-a-half years, we know the drill. However, the inequities that were exposed during the pandemic still exist, and there are significant risks to the disability sector.
We welcome the National Cabinet’s decision to continue support payments for casual workers. We call on the Victorian Government to maintain its focus on COVID management for people with disabilities, such as ready access to free RATs and accessible PCR testing, and by extending eligibility for grants for air filters to disability services.
NDS will maintain our targeted support to assist providers to respond to COVID as long as required.
On a different note, we have a new federal government and Bill Shorten as the new Minister for NDIS. Early signs indicate the Minister is listening to the sector. We understand he is moving fast in a range of areas. He has brought forward the review of the NDIS, set up monthly meetings of all disability ministers, and indicated he wants to develop a comprehensive NDIS workforce strategy. There is a sense that this is a time for review, and an opportunity for the broad sector to work together to improve the NDIS.
The sector has demonstrated how effective we can be in influencing policy when we work together. The various elements of the sector worked together effectively in saying No to independent assessments and collaborated again with the pre-election Defend the NDIS campaign. The sector now faces the challenge of working together to put forward a shared agenda for change to the new government.
NDS CEO Laurie Leigh recently held a round table of service providers, working with Professor Bruce Bonyhady AM, NDIS architect and head of the Melbourne Disability Institute to identify priority actions. This work will drive the development of a shared agenda to take to the new government.
New Victorian Minister for Disability
NDS welcomes Colin Brook as the new Victorian Minister for Disability, Ageing and Carers. NDS looks forward to working closely with Minister Brooks and thanks former Minister Anthony Carbines for his support. We are aware that bilateral negotiations between the states and the Australian Government are expected to occur in the coming year, and NDS is taking a lead on ensuring the sector contributes to the outcome of those negotiations.
We are currently participating in consultations with the Victorian Government on amendments to the Disability Act, a new Disability Inclusion Act, and Social Services regulation.
Providers under pressure
At NDS, we are very aware that Victorian providers are under real strain. The poll results at our webinars and communities of practice tell the story. Our regular polling results continue to show the top current priority issues to be workforce shortages, economic viability, NDIS prices and processes, and the mental health and wellbeing of staff. At NDS we continue to receive reports of intense workforce pressures.
COVID-19 support continues
NDS continues to provide critical support to the sector to navigate this next stage of COVID.
We run a COVID-19 Prevention, Vaccines and Outbreak Management Community of Practice as required. With the next meeting scheduled for Thursday, 28 July. Living with COVID sector meetings are run periodically to provide opportunities for providers to meet with State and NDIS representatives. Register for the next Community of Practice meeting to be held on Friday, 5 August.
Our COVID-19 Toolkit has been updated with a revised PPE supply calculator and RAT test resource with a reporting tool that can be used by providers for Winter COVID and influenza preparedness. The First 24 hours guide (Victoria) is still being used by providers and remains a useful tool.
The Federal Government has extended the eligibility for the fourth COVID-19 vaccine dose, also known as the Winter dose, and along with the Victorian Government, is recommending people have an influenza vaccination as well.
Upcoming key events
NDS has several key events I’d like to draw your attention to.
An online consultation meeting on Wednesday, 27 July provides an opportunity to provide feedback on Victorian Social Services Regulation Reform. The regulatory regime will include services providing disability supports to non-NDIS funded clients, including clients funded by DFFH and TAC. You can learn more and register for the consultation meeting to ensure disability service providers are heard in this reform.
Navigating Quality and Safeguarding for Victorian Disability Providers webinar on 2 August will invite disability service providers to consider challenges in providing high-quality supports, and opportunities for improving safeguards for the people they support. Speakers include the Victorian Senior Practitioner, Office of the Public Advocate, Victorian Disability Worker Commission, WorkSafe, National Disability Insurance Agency (NDIA) and NDIS Commission. Find out more and register here to join the discussion.
NDS CEO Laurie Leigh will held a Q and A with Minister for NDIS, Bill Shorten. NDS Members had the opportunity to ask questions directly to the Minister at a member-only online Q and A session on Wednesday, 20 July from 10am AEST.
In other news
The TAC Small Grants Program encourages innovative community-based projects that will make a positive change in the lives of TAC clients and Victorians with a disability. Grants of up to $50,000 are available. Grant applications close on 29 July 2022.
Inclusion Australia has made a new accessible film with Speak Out Advocacy in Tasmania about the COVID-19 Vaccine, boosters, the flu and wearing masks for people with an intellectual disability. Made by people with an intellectual disability, it has useful easy to understand information. #COVIDIsNotOver