National Disability Services has welcomed the Victorian Government’s announcement that it will allocate more than $132M in new disability services funding in the State Budget. As a result of the 2016-17 Budget announcements, Victoria’s disability spending will rise by 9.7 per cent, to about $1.95 billion per year, putting the State on the right trajectory towards the $2.5 billon Victoria will need to invest by 2019-20 as part of its agreement to full implementation of the NDIS. In NDS’s State Budget submission, we called on the Victorian Government to invest in disability services and initiatives to improve access and inclusion opportunities for Victorians with disability in the lead up to the NDIS. NDS is therefore pleased the Government has taken steps to respond to this call and to several of our specific recommendations. Key announcements in the Budget package mirror several recommendations made by NDS in its State Budget submission. These include:
There are a number of positive elements in the Budget: NDS supports the Government’s funding of 400 new Individual Support Packages (ISPs), which will reduce the current waiting lists for services in Victoria. We are also pleased, with some reservations (see below), that the Government has allocated funding to Getting Victoria Ready for the NDIS, given that full-scheme NDIS roll-out will commence in the North East Melbourne Area on 1 July 2016. Some of this new funding will be used to support closure of Colanda Residential Services, build 10 new supported accommodation facilities and do maintenance work on another supported accommodation facility. The closure of Colanda will be an important milestone for Victoria, as it will be the last disability institution in this state to be closed.NDS strongly supports the Government’s announcement of funding for another 15 changing rooms for people with disability, adding to the 6 changing rooms funded in 2015. People with disability should have access to public spaces and venues which is dignified and equal to that available to everyone else in the Victorian community. The Government’s announcement of funding for a new State Disability Plan is an important development, given that no funding is attached to the current SDP. The new Plan, appropriately funded, will provide Government and the sector with an opportunity to realise the ambitions of the National Disability Strategy, positioning Victoria as the State which continues to lead the way on social inclusion.There are also several aspects of the State Budget about which NDS has concerns:NDS understands that funding for the ‘Getting Ready for the NDIS’ program will in part be relied upon by the Government to increase the number of public servants supporting NDIS transition in Victoria, specifically on research work into various NDIS ‘design’ elements, such as Victoria’s contribution to a National Quality Assurance and Safeguards Framework and ‘public service mutual’ models of service design and delivery.While NDS acknowledges that the Victorian Government has already made a significant contribution to NDIS sector transition through its $10M Sector Transition Fund, an announcement of further sector transition funding, covering the next 2 years of NDIS rollout to 2019-20, would have been very welcome, and provided our sector with confidence that the Government is committed to a ‘whole of Victoria’ approach to NDIS sector transition. NDS is also concerned that, while this Budget made provision for indexation of the price of HACC services, the Government chose not to index the rate for funded disability services to 3.5 per cent, which would have ensured appropriate funding for disability services during the NDIS transition period. As Members may recall, in 2015-16, NDS received funding for the national Zero Tolerance Framework, which offers a comprehensive approach to prevention of and responses to abuse and neglect. Unfortunately, in this Budget the Government has not provided any more funding for this important program. NDS will continue to engage with Government to explore alternative funding mechanisms to support the program’s expansion in 2016-17.