STANDING COMMITTEE ON SOCIAL ISSUES
Report: Inquiry into Services Provided or Funded by the Department of Ageing, Disability and Home Care
Debate resumed from 20 June 2011.
The Hon. HELEN WESTWOOD
[5.05 p.m.]: First, I acknowledge the chair of the Committee, the former member of this House Ian West, who did a sterling job of chairing the committee. Both the quality and the volume of submissions we received illustrated that this was an important inquiry into a matter that impacts on the lives of many people, not only those with disabilities but also their families and the services and organisations that provide services to and advocate on behalf of those in our community who have disabilities. One matter that was constantly raised in submissions and by various witnesses in the hearings was the lack of existing data and the reliability of existing data, although the existing data may not be adequate. There was a view that, although some data has been collected, it has not been particularly useful in helping the Department of Ageing, Disability and Home Care and various government and non-government agencies to plan the provision of services for people with disabilities in New South Wales.
Other matters that were strongly brought to the committee's attention related to supported accommodation, and respite and attendant care for those in the community who rely on care for their everyday needs. That care enables them to get up of a morning, to travel to work, often to do their shopping and to provide basic things for themselves such as meals. When the required care is unreliable, inadequate and lacks quality, that impacts upon the life of the person with the disability as well as upon his or her family and household.
My many years of experience in the provision of disability services did not inure me to the effect of watching one of the witnesses who participated in the inquiry cope with her child who has a disability. His disability caused him to constantly pull at her hair and cause her pain, but she did not even flinch. She continued to address the committee in spite of the distress and anxiety of her disabled child being manifested in his constantly pulling at his mother's hair. Without anything being said, each member of the committee realised just how difficult the lives of carers can be. Usually carers are family members and more often than not are the mothers of disabled people. It was one of the most difficult experiences to witness in a hearing and I was merely listening and watching—not dealing with this child's daily distress and behaviour.
I have absolute admiration for that witness. I am not sure whether I could really give the level of commitment and time required to care for a child that clearly has such high needs. I have raised a child who has a disability, but my daughter's disability does not create the same demands as the demands evinced by that child. I appreciate greatly the witness being willing to endure that behaviour while speaking to the committee about her needs, her son's needs and her family's needs. Much of her evidence concerned the need for respite and the need for parents, particularly as they age, to know that their children who have a disability will receive quality care, notwithstanding the changing needs of their children as they mature. The parents of children who have severe and profound disabilities face the distressing fact that, after they have passed on, their children will still require assistance and care in adulthood. As a society, we must try to find answers, support families and assure parents as they go to their graves that their adult children with a disability will be cared for and will have quality of life.
Most of us understand the issues associated with the quality and adequacy of service provision in the city, but many may not know that difficulties experienced in the city are magnified in regional and remote parts of the State. Submissions and testimony confirmed that fact. Clearly we must devise ways of providing quality services in remote and regional areas while recognising the understandable difficulties associated with achieving that aim. When very few people with precise and complex service requirements live in a designated area, it is difficult for agencies to provide appropriately qualified staff in the required numbers.
For example, when a worker who has been allocated service provision becomes unwell and is unable to attend to a person with a disability, an agency is required to find another worker to substitute and must ensure that the replacement worker has the adequate skills, knowledge and qualifications to provide the requisite care. That level of resources is not always available. It will take considerable effort of behalf of Ageing, Disability and Home Care to find appropriate solutions. Nevertheless, there is no doubt that solutions must be found. All members of the committee agreed that solutions must be found. People with disabilities rely for their quality of life upon quality services, qualified workers and carers who do care. That is the challenge facing Ageing, Disability and Home Care.
Most submissions and most witnesses involved in the inquiry acknowledged that a vast improvement in the provision of disability services has taken place. They were certainly very supportive of the Stronger Together Program phases one and two, and they were very complimentary of previous Ministers who drove the reform program and the huge increase in funding. John Della Bosca, who attended the DisabiliTea this morning in the Jubilee Room in Parliament House, originally drove the program. Ministers who succeeded him also ensured the delivery of essential services to people with a disability. I commend a former Minister for Disability Services, the Hon. Peter Primrose, who has been a very strong advocate for Stronger Together phase two and who ensured that it was funded at the appropriate level in the last budget of the previous Government for the delivery of quality services to people with disabilities. I am very pleased to support the committee's recommendations.
The committee also considered the issue of annually reporting to Parliament on expenditure and implementation of Stronger Together phase two. I look forward to the current Government and current Minister, the Hon. Andrew Constance, delivering to Parliament the annual report of Ageing, Disability and Home Care. It is important to deliver Stronger Together phase two as promised because that is the expectation of the community. I commend all members of the committee for their efforts and contributions to the inquiry. I also thank the staff for their commitment and hard work that has resulted in producing a really excellent report.
The Hon. JAN BARHAM
[5.20 p.m.], in reply: In concluding discussion on this important report I thank the Hon. Marie Ficarra, Dr John Kaye and the Hon. Helen Westwood—who made an impressive contribution—not only for their contributions to the inquiry process but also for their speeches in this place, which drew attention to some of the important points that were made throughout the inquiry. I thank the Hon. Marie Ficarra for reminding the House of the heartbreaking number of carers that exist in our State. This inquiry brought to light the daily challenges faced by the legions of carers in New South Wales—nearly 750,000 that we know about. We also know that there are more who are not recognised or registered. We must never forget that for every person that requires assistance from Ageing, Disability and Home Care, there are also carers who face the bureaucratic obstacle course of ensuring that the basic needs of their loved ones are met. Many of those carers took the daunting step of presenting to the inquiry. I again thank them for their courage in doing so and for their unique insight, the words of wisdom that they offered throughout that process, and for the respect with which they were treated by committee members and staff.
The Hon. Marie Ficarra highlighted also the need for improved departmental communication to ensure that those with a disability have an increased awareness of their right to ask for help. This need for improved communication is reflected in recommendations 23, 24, 28 and 37 in the report, which I strongly commend to the House. My colleague Dr John Kaye referred to the need for a knowledge base and the imperative to make people aware of the options that are available to them. He spoke also about the ongoing issues of managing the transition from home to school or from school to work, from hospital to home and, in some cases, into group homes. Dr John Kaye has a keen interest in education and in managing those difficult transitions. Change is challenging at the best of times, but when dealing also with a disability change can be incredibly unsettling. Our system of care must acknowledge that and implement early planning mechanisms to ensure that transitions are made as soon and as smoothly as possible.
I thank Dr John Kaye for reminding the House what this report really boils down to; that is, respect for universal human rights and, in particular, the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. At all times that should be at the forefront of our planning processes. How do we provide services that do not just respect human rights but also exemplify and even enhance them? The Hon. Helen Westwood reminded us of the strength of character, commitment and love that are required in many circumstances for those who deal with the daily issues of persons with disability. That is why respite, which is such an important issue, must be addressed as a matter of urgency. This report and its accompanying 55 recommendations are a genuine attempt by all parties to improve our system of care so that these basic but essential human rights are respected at all times.
Many of the recommendations seek to cut through the seemingly endless amounts of red tape that in some cases needlessly exist in our current system. The recommendations attempt to introduce some consistency across services and to identify key strategies for improving the efficiency and usability of the system. They cover a broad range of areas that cover the spectrum of activities in the life of someone living with a disability—from individualised funding options to transport services, and from education to housing. They recognise also the needs and differences across the State. We are only too well aware of the importance of knowing the differences between rural and metropolitan areas. In light of recent media reports regarding the licensing of boarding houses across the State I eagerly await the implementation of recommendation 50, which states:
That the Minister for Disability Services ensure that people with disability who reside in boarding houses receive person-centred planning and that the services provided to people who reside in boarding houses comply with the New South Wales Disability Service Standards.
I take this opportunity to acknowledge that the Government is already taking steps to implement a person-centred service system under the Living Life My Way scheme. Yesterday Ageing, Disability and Home Care began carrying out consultations in an effort to obtain feedback from people with a disability, their families and carers, and members of the community in order to improve disability services. I wholeheartedly commend that important step. I note also recent statements from the Minister for Disability Services that the Government is committed to shaping a client-directed service system in order to ensure that people with a disability, their families and carers are front and centre of any decision-making process. I welcome those commitments as a great first step but there is still a long way to go. I am sure that many people are awaiting the Government's response to these recommendations.
I have previously raised another important issue relating to complaints handling. I refer to recommendations 46 and 47 of the report to which I referred some time ago in an adjournment speech. Recently we saw the successful implementation of national building standards for access—a step that took nearly a decade but that has finally happened, which is another great step forward. All 55 recommendations in this report seek to bring consistency, compassion and creativity to a system of care that has resulted in undue hardships being placed on the most vulnerable members of our community. The 55 recommendations are practical, measurable and compassionate and I look forward to their full implementation. Once again I thank all those who contributed to the inquiry—committee members, staff and the many people who made submissions. I thank in particular those brave people who live with these conditions every day and who gave evidence before the inquiry. I am honoured to commend this report to the House.
Question—That the House take note of the report—put and resolved in the affirmative.
Motion agreed to.