Second Reading

Danny O’BRIEN (Gippsland South) (15:34): I am pleased to also rise to say a few words on the Disability and Social Services Regulation Amendment Bill 2023. I was not going to make it personal or about me, but the member for Yan Yean’s contribution reminded me of some of my own experiences. Indeed I do not want to make light of it for a second, member for Yan Yean, but the commentary about your brother’s phone just had me thinking of Love Actually and the American brother and sister in that situation, where the phone was a crucial link for the brother, who had mental health issues more than disability, but I understand the circumstance.

I think, if I am right, you mentioned that you had a nephew with Down syndrome. Mine is the reverse – I had an uncle with Down syndrome. I guess debating this bill is showing to some degree how far we have come. When my uncle was born in the early 1940s my grandmother was told that he would not survive beyond about 20 years of age and they probably should put him in a home. Nothing could have been further from their minds. They were determined to raise the youngest of six, my father’s younger brother. Brian became an absolutely crucial part not only of the family but of the entire community in far east Gippsland where they lived, as many people with Down syndrome do; they often are the heart and soul of communities because they get to know everyone and they love everyone. So I am pleased to follow the member for Yan Yean and her heartfelt comments on this bill, which, as the Shadow Minister for Disability, Ageing and Carers the member for Gippsland East indicated, we are not opposing. Indeed the bulk of the bill is something that we support, although we put the clarification in there that some of the things that are intended sound good in theory and sound good in a piece of legislation, but whether they work in practice is the question.

The bill will amend the Disability Act 2006 to clarify that the secretary is only responsible for services that the secretary funds – in other words, that are taxpayer funded. It clarifies the ability of the secretary to acquire, hold and dispose of land for the purposes of being a specialist disability accommodation provider, and I am going to come back to that in a moment on an issue in my electorate. It improves information-sharing arrangements and clarifies residential services rights for disability residents. It further aligns the restrictive practices to facilitate transition to the NDIS, and much of this legislation is about the continuing NDIS transition. It dissolves the Disability Services Board and expands the properties that community visitors can visit. It also then goes on to amend the Residential Tenancies Act 1997 in relation to SDA-enrolled dwellings and amends the Disability Service Safeguards Act 2018 in relation to registration requirements. The addition to this bill compared to the previous bill in 2021 is an amendment to the Social Services Regulation Act 2021, but essentially better aligning services and streamlining things is the intention of the bill, and that is why we support that intention. As I said, though, it is always a little bit of a concern as to whether these things will be delivered in practice, because certainly this is a complex area.

I would not for a second suggest that I fully understand the disability services sector at all. Indeed I am following the member for Gippsland East. He has got lived experience and long experience as the shadow minister so understands this area far better than most of us in this chamber. I do know, though, from feedback from families, from people needing access to disability services and from those working in the sector that it is complex, that it is confusing and that the transition to the NDIS has been difficult for some. I must say, having come into Parliament at about the time that the NDIS was coming into being, I did expect it to be far more complex. Maybe I just got lucky in Gippsland South, but I really have not had that many constituents coming to me with issues. Hopefully, perhaps, they are going to the federal members who are dealing with it, but I have been pleasantly surprised at how it has transitioned across.

Indeed the experience generally that I have had with constituents is that the NDIS packages have been a godsend for many. Problems, though, I am sure are out there. The federal minister indicated as much recently, and certainly the growth in the cost of the scheme is one thing that the current federal government will be grappling with over coming years, because it is certainly an issue. But I know one, and I will name her, because she is very famous in Mirboo North. Julie Trease is an NDIS client who is loved by everybody in Mirboo North and very well known as she wanders up and down the street, helps at the op shop and everything. I know her parents were very grateful for the package that was provided to them under the NDIS, and she now has a collection of girls, as she calls them, who assist with her package and take her out each day and take her to different activities. Julie is just a treasure in Mirboo North.

I did want to come back, as I said, to the issue of disability accommodation, an issue I want to raise in passing, because the bill does go to the issue of the secretary being able to acquire, hold and dispose of land for the purposes of being a specialist disability accommodation provider. I note the comments of my colleague the member for Gippsland East that those living with a disability deserve the highest levels of protection, and that is something that most of our disability providers do very well. The issue I wanted to mention in passing is with respect to Mirridong Services in Yarram, which has been a wonderful provider of disability services, particularly day services but now accommodation as well for some time. I was very frustrated to learn earlier this year that a problem that I thought we had solved a number of years ago continues to persist due to what I would call bureaucracy at its best. This is a situation where Mirridong has clients in a couple of units in Lawler Street in Yarram. They are built on council land. They were originally funded by a grant that was delivered way back in the 1980s – I think it was in fact 1988 – so these are 35-year-old units. The Wellington shire agreed to transfer these units to Mirridong because they were in need of an upgrade – 35 years old, they desperately needed an upgrade – and were prepared to do that for the sum of $1 because they know Mirridong provides these services. But because the department provided the grant way back, 35 years ago, the department would not agree to the transfer. Firstly, they wanted additional land in lieu from the shire, which the shire was not in a position to do, and then it put all sorts of restrictions on Mirridong in actually taking on this land. I thought we had dealt with it. Indeed the previous Minister for Housing had written to me with some changes, an agreement way back in 2020, and then earlier this year I find it still has not been transferred to Mirridong. It is that sort of bureaucracy that we are trying to address here, partly in this bill, but we need actually some common sense from our departments to ensure –

Tim Richardson interjected.

Danny O’BRIEN: Well, that is exactly right, member for Mordialloc. Sometimes you do say, ‘What is that?’ This is a situation where the property had never been part of the public housing suite. It had always been disability accommodation with Mirridong. There was zero loss to the taxpayer or to the Victorian government by transferring this because they did not use it for public housing at the time. It had never been, I think apart from the first year or two, anything other than disability accommodation. So transferring it across to Mirridong so that they could invest in it and actually make sure that it was appropriate for the current tenant – there is, I believe, a 25-year-old man in one of the units now, but it desperately needs an upgrade. I have written to the Minister for Housing again – the current minister – and I am hoping that that will be resolved soon.

This legislation has, as I said, a number of elements to it. I think the member for Gippsland East went into great detail on what those issues are. We are not opposing this legislation, and I look forward to it moving through the Parliament.

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