On Friday 29th September 2023, the Disability Royal Commission published their 12-volume final report, which contains an enormous 222 recommendations.
The final report seeks to translate human rights into practical and sustainable policies that promote the rights of people with disability to live free from violence, abuse, neglect and exploitation. There has been extraordinary effort going into both the sharing of personal and often traumatic experiences, as well as trying to synthesise this information into a meaningful way forward, but as one CEO that I spoke to said, “is it too aspirational to be useful?”
This article is not trying to regurgitate the information contained in the report, but rather provide a very simple high-level overview and some thought on how and why we need a $600 million process to report that we need to do better in building “An inclusive Australia is one that treats disability as a part of human diversity and understands disability itself as a diverse category”.
Whilst there are 222 individual detailed recommendations and without minimising the significance of all the detail within those recommendations, I believe the headline recommendations are:
Headline Recommendations From The Disability Royal Commission Report
- Reviewing Australia’s governance of disability, specifically including a Minister for Disability Inclusion, an Australian law to recognise the human rights of people with disability, a new National Disability Agreement and establishing a National Disability Commission by mid-2025.
- Having a dedicated focus on capacity building for people with disability, including improving accessible information and communications.
- A new supported decision-making framework which seeks to empower people with disability, including increased transparency for formal guardianship.
- Improving access, quality and funding of advocacy.
- Increasing and improving the data held by Australia on disability and its definition. As well as the real-life implications of Australia’s progress on meeting the UNCRPD.
- Improve the experience of people with disability when engaging with the health system, ensuring equitable service.
- Increase the focus on removing restrictive practices.
- Remove the barriers, forced separation and inequal experience of children with disability when receiving an education. There were differing views between Commissioners about the role of ‘non-mainstream’ schools.
- Increase the number of people with disability in fair and inclusive employment. The report then highlights that the Commissioners didn’t agree over the role of supported employment moving forward.
- Ensure people with disability have access to safe and reasonable housing. The commissioners also debated the long-term appropriateness of group homes.
- Review the way people with disability are treated within the justice system.
- Develop a more focused and tailored approach to supporting first nations people with disability.
- Improving the quality and independence of support coordination.
- Ensuring all NDIS Services are delivered in accordance with human rights. A telling quote was “Even disability service providers can lack rights awareness and a human rights-based understanding of disability”.
- Changes to registration as a support worker and payments under the SCHADS award.
- Improve the functioning of the NDIS Quality and Safeguard Commission, with the aim to have faster responses to critical issues and minimise the occurrence of said issues.
- Have more independence and oversight of complaints and safeguarding issues including a nationally implemented community visitor scheme, a disability death review scheme and a reportable conduct scheme.
It is concerning though that many of the recommendations are long-term approaches that require resourcing. There are significant dollars attached to many of these recommendations, for example:
- Increasing the minimum wage for people with disability in ADEs to at least 50% of minimum wage, which an increase to full wages by 2034.
- Increasing the Social, Community, Home Care and Disability Services (SCHADS) Industry Award 2010 by 15% to be comparable with the recent aged care increase.
- The establishment of a National Disability Commission by mid 2025. It is highlighted that this department should be independent of Australian Government disability departments and entities but should fall under the new Disability portfolio.
I fully support these recommendations and feel they are critical to changing the status quo, but with the increasing demand on NDIS resources, the estimated growth in the scheme and mounting costs of living prompting reductions in government spending, I am not sure these initiatives will achieve the bang for buck in the time frames required. In all likelihood they will result in more negative media attention about the cost of supporting disability in society.
Mainstream Australia opportunity for improvement
In my opinion, incentivising organisations to be more inclusive would yield bigger dividends through individual acts accumulating. The Royal Commission had a real opportunity to target mainstream organisations and early indicators with the letters to airline and airport CEO’s suggested that this might occur, have not resulted in clear direction. Instead, the Royal Commission has suggested simply that as major purchasers of goods and services, governments can exert market pressure through procurement policies and tendering arrangements. The Australian federal, state and territory governments should leverage this power to encourage inclusive employment practices in the private sector.
We already have that many procurement rules and areas of ‘encouraging’ that surely one focal area risks cancelling another. Where was the ‘encouragement’ that organisations need to invest in resources and training to encourage organisations to be more inclusive of people with disability. To change some of both the unconscious and conscious bias experienced. Not because they may want a government tender, but because it is the right thing to do and study after study, demonstrates that inclusive organisations are more innovative and profitable.
We recommend they adopt procurement policies that:
- Favour businesses and entities that are able to demonstrate they are providing employment opportunities for people with disability in open, inclusive and accessible settings.
- Require all information and communication technology purchases to comply with the current Australian information and communication technology accessibility standard.
Underpinning all the recommendation was the principle that people with disability should be supported to build on their skills to become more independent and that we needed to drive attitudinal change amongst all Australians by:
- Increasing the active presence of diverse people with disability across all life domains, such as inclusive schooling, employment and communities.
- Demonstrate people with disability in leadership positions, with a focus on highlighting the diverse contribution of people with disability.
- Targeting multiple levels and multiple types of policy and intervention in a holistic approach to system change.
- Measuring, monitoring and research to inform decision-making and accountability.
Review overkill and lack of linkages
I’m also disappointed that two major reviews (three if you add in the Productivity Commission) were all done at similar times and none are taking a fully holistic view of the intersectionality of disability, in all its forms and all aspects of society. The Disability Commission have highlighted a lot of areas where they are expecting the NDIS Review to answer. Specifically:
- The function of the NDIA and how it works with some of the most vulnerable people with disability.
- How to ensure the NDIS market and workforce is responsive and capable of supporting the delivery of quality and safe disability services.
- Reviewing the DSW Cost Model in the context of service providers covering the costs of non-client facing work.
- Considering the efficacy of existing systems to identify participants at risk of violence, abuse, neglect and exploitation.
- Improve communication and information sharing between the NDIA and NDIS Commission.
- Looking at improving the interaction between the NDIS and other significant related policies and systems, including mainstream services delivered by the Australian Government, the states and territories, local government, and the community sector.
Service providers actions
The report highlights the depth and breath of the pain and suffering experienced by people with disability, specifically in service providers that are registered and reputable should act as a major kick in the pants. Whilst the Royal commission began to highlight areas of improvement, once again, the impetuous and need for immediate drive seems to be lost. Service Providers should look in the mirror and review how they are:
- Recruiting and screening workers.
- Creating active mechanisms for monitoring performance and actual skills.
- Developing tools to monitor their organisational culture.
None of us want to believe that abuse or neglect would happen within our service, yet investigations and reviews repeatedly show that culture and the “this is how we do it here” are often at odds with the values and policy position advertised.
Providers should also actively seek to employ people with disability at all levels. If a provider wants to combat the bias that often exists within service delivery (e.g. staff toilet), then they need to show that disability is not a differentiator of a person’s worth and the opportunities available. The best way to do that is to give people with disability jobs and then just allow them to be successful. Afterall this is what good supervision should be.
Which then leads to the final point. How are your front-line leaders ensuring quality when they may not even know it themselves? The training and supervision that Service Providers give their support workers is fundamental to the delivery of safe, high-quality services.
The Government response to this report in March will be very telling, however I feel we will hear more of the usual political statement of “this is important and we need to do better” but without concrete resourcing, so it falls on you the service providers, mainstream Australian businesses and population to take on the mantle of improving the life of people with disability.
For information on the NDIS and many other aspects of the disability sector please reach out Contact – Supporting Potential