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Senate Inquiry into Private VET Providers – IA submission

In Summary:

Inclusion Australia wants to ensure that youth with intellectual disability are treated with respect by the VET industry.

This requires that VET providers ensure that:

  • VET marketing strategies provide independent safeguards to ensure that students with intellectual disability make an informed decision and that the contract of service is valid.
  • Course offers and enrolment are relevant to the skills, competencies and preferences of students with intellectual disability;
  • Government funding is contingent on the achievement of outcomes; outcomes should include suitability, completion, and quality of training and assessment.
  • Marketing materials should include outcome indicator results including completion rates and graduate employment outcomes six months after training completion.


Committee Secretary
Senate Education and Employment Committees PO Box 6100
Parliament House
Canberra ACT 2600

Dear Committee Members

PO Box 771
Mawson ACT 2607
61 2 6296 4400

Inclusion Australia (formerly known as the National Council on Intellectual Disability) is the national peak organisation for people with intellectual disability and their families in Australia.

We would like to thank the Committee for the opportunity to provide a late brief submission to this inquiry into the operation, regulation and funding of private vocational education and training (VET) providers in Australia.

In our view, the current regulatory and funding framework is insufficient to protect the rights and needs of youth with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

We are increasingly receiving feedback about the behaviour of some VET providers who prey on the vulnerability of youth with intellectual disability to gain access to government VET funding in return for little, if any, benefit to the student.

As a result youth are presented with offers of training in which;

  • they have difficulty in understanding the nature and consequences of such an offer;
  • are inappropriate in meeting their training and employment needs, and;
  • burdens them with a lifelong debt that provides little or nothing in return or benefit.

We realise that the government acknowledges that there are serious problems with the behaviour of some VET providers and is trying to address this abuse of youth and taxpayers money. We believe more needs to be done.If we may borrow the words of the Prime Minister, some in the VET system are playing us for “mugs”.(1) Inclusion Australia is now of the view that the government must do something to stop the rorts, and stop the abuse of young vulnerable people.

People with disability currently experience high levels of unemployment and underemployment.(2) It is vitally important that the generous government funding provided for education, training and employment programs provides value for money by demonstrating outcomes and employment participation rates for people with disabilities.

The following is a cross section of the kinds of reports we have received. We have modified the reports to remove names of individuals, VET providers, and other people and organisations, and also the locations or any other information that may identify the individuals or organisations in the reports we have received.


“An individual recently told me that he has been enrolled into a Diploma of Business Administration through a VET provider and that they will be providing him with a “free laptop”. According to the individual they went door-to-door and sold him on the idea of doing the course. The client was made aware during their discussions that the course wouldn’t cost anything if he never earns over $52,000 per annum. I have tried discussing the suitability of the course, in hopes of having the individual withdraw from the course as I believe it to be unsuitable relative to his learning abilities at this time and irrelevant to his overall employment goals, sadly however, he is convinced and wishes to complete the course.”

Specialist disability provider


“We have spruikers for VET outside our building looking to pick up youth with significant intellectual disability and sign them up for very expensive and totally unachievable qualifications.”

Specialist disability provider


“Two individuals were signed up by VET spruikers – we believe they will be incapable of completing a Diploma and were enticed by the promise of laptops.”

Specialist disability provider


“A jobseeker came to us with the following tale of woe. He is 19 and has a diagnosis of Asperger’s syndrome and recently completed his mainstream schooling receiving an HSC.

He registered with a Disability Employment Service provider who referred him to a language, literacy and numeracy course; a full time course for a period of 10 weeks.

The provider claimed an educational outcome and got paid for an unnecessary course that involves the jobseeker doing nothing while sitting in a classroom for 5 days a week. He’s Australian from birth, and his literacy and numeracy skills are better than the instructor.”

Specialist disability provider

There are people walking the streets encouraging young people with disabilities to sign up for training programs with offers that include the provision of ‘free’ iPads or laptops if they will sign up.

If individuals are unfortunate to be beguiled into signing, they incur a debt that then attracts interest and, while the course is ‘free’, the debt is anything but, and it may never be repaid.

Abuses of training programs including the offer of inducements to sign up for unnecessary or inappropriate training is rife at the moment — these waste taxpayers money, saddle people with disability with debt they will never repay, do not contribute to employment that leads to economic independence, and tarnishes the reputation of education, training and employment programs.


Capacity to provide valid consent

Many people with intellectual disability will find it difficult to understand the detail of complex contractual propositions without supported decision assistance.

Without independent safeguards this group of people will frequently acquiesce to the wishes of others particularly when subject to premeditated marketing techniques aimed to achieve a sale in the best interests of a business or service.

According to the specialist legal service, Intellectual Disability Rights Service (IDRS);

“People with intellectual disability may need support in entering into contracts; i.e. they may need help to understand the nature and effect of the specific contract at the time it is made. The more complex the transaction and the higher the value of the property, the greater the understanding and help required.”(3)

IDRS state that help for people with intellectual disability to understand a contract may include;

  • “having a support person present
  • making them feel comfortable and not vulnerable
  • having the contract read and explained in simple terms
  • asking them to explain in their own words what the contract means
  • asking questions that test their memory
  • testing their ability to understand their needs and how to meet them
  • asking questions that test if they understand when and how much to pay
  • avoiding the use of questions that only need a “yes’ or “no” answer
  • overcoming any speech problems
  • avoiding nodding” or “smiling” etc. to influence answers
  • checking for undue influence
  • allowing time to think, or change their mind, or get independent advice.”(4)

These kinds of help recognise the impact of intellectual impairment in making informed decisions without undue influence. If, after this help, a person with intellectual disability does not understand the general nature and effect of the contract, then they are said to ‘lack legal capacity.’ It is clear that VET providers, and their associated marketing personnel and organisations, do not regularly provide safeguards and protections of this nature – nor does it appear that they are required to provide these minimum types of help, before signing up youth with intellectual disability.

Inducements such as iPads and laptops should not be permitted and should be considered a major non-compliance of standards and breach of consumer protection laws.

The Senate committee should recommend a minimum set of safeguards that include independent support to assist youth with intellectual disability before an enrolment for a VET course is approved for government funding.

Whereas Inclusion Australia knows that this level of support is explicitly needed for youth with intellectual disability, we are of the opinion that these kinds of help would provide universal safeguards and protections for all youth being offered VET courses due to the general vulnerability of youth due to their inexperience.

VET courses offered to youth should be highly relevant to their needs

Education, training and employment programs should provide services that highly relevant to the needs of participants. To be relevant, a program must first clearly identify what needs a participant has, and what is most relevant to meeting those needs.

What is most alarming for Inclusion Australia is that some VET providers are signing up youth with intellectual disability for courses which are inappropriate to their ability and capacity to benefit.

As a result, many will struggle to complete the requirements of the course, most are likely to withdraw and fail to complete the course, and failure will exacerbate an already fragile sense of self-esteem about being able to succeed in the adult world of work.

The costs of such failure to the individual, their families, their community and the nation is enormous. We are currently in the midst of a paradigm change where we wish to support youth with intellectual disability to increase their social and economic participation as opposed to traditional experiences of lifelong dependence on the pension outside the labour force.

In this respect, training and employment programs, if they are to be value for money must be relevant to the needs of youth with intellectual disability to succeed and lead to participation in the workforce.

For people with significant intellectual disability (IQ≤60) there is little evidence of classroom based training leading to successful placement in jobs or careers in employment. This is directly related to the nature of intellectual impairment which includes a lack of ability to transfer and generalise learning from one environment to another. The evidence demonstrates the need for explicit on the job training. There is little evidence of a link between VET course completion and employment outcomes for this cohort of people.

Even for people with mild levels of intellectual disability, they will require substantial support in curriculum modification, multi-level teaching and explicit instruction techniques which take into account their literacy, numeracy and learning needs. This group will also need significant on-site workplace training.

We agree with the Consumer Action Law Centre’s recommendation that VET provider’s be required to conduct a suitability (or relevancy) assessment for each student prior to enrolment.

Whereas we welcome Standard 5.1 of the VET Standards, which which requires VET providers to provide advice to prospective learners about the training product appropriate to meeting the learner’s needs, ‘taking into account the individual’s existing skills and competencies’, this does not go far enough.

There should be a requirement of VET providers to demonstrate that the course offer and enrolment is an appropriate match with the individual’s current skills, career preferences, and that the provider has the competency to deliver this outcome for youth with intellectual disability.

Government funding should ensure value for money

It is a lucky country that can provide funding assistance to youth to give them the opportunity for education, training and employment support. This gives youth who would otherwise not be able to pay the cost of their chosen career pathway the capacity to do so.

Unfortunately, some VET providers have taken this good policy of government funding support as a signal to use youth as a commodity to raise funds for self interest.

Inclusion Australia has seen this kind of misuse of funds in related programs.(5) It seems that the opportunity to obtain funding without providing any positive outcome for the people it is intended to benefit is clearly too tempting for some providers.

As a result, government is often forced to implement greater controls and accountability. Unfortunately this results in greater red-tape and administration for the sector as a whole. It is as if the sector must cop greater scrutiny due to the poor behaviour of some. This is unfortunate but clearly the government must respond by ensuring that resources are actually used as intended.

It is our view that funding should have ‘strings’ attached. Why pay for something “not completed”, “inappropriate”, or delivered with “poor quality”.

We believe the government should consider an outcome based funding system – where a proportion of funding is withheld until certain requirements or milestones are met. Funding could be made contingent on meeting evidence requirements around performance indicators which are audited externally on a random basis, including;

  • suitability of course enrolments;
  • course completion,
  • course delivered with quality training and assessment
  • graduate employment outcomes six months after completion
  • outcome data provided by student characteristic including students by intellectual disability and other primary disability groupings.

Outcome indicators for VET providers should be made transparent and included in marketing materials as a part of statement of disclosure to prospective students.

In Summary

Inclusion Australia wants to ensure that youth with intellectual disability are treated with respect by the VET industry.

This requires that VET providers ensure that:

  • VET marketing strategies provide independent safeguards to ensure that students with intellectual disability make an informed decision and that the contract of service is valid.
  • Course offers and enrolment are relevant to the skills, competencies and preferences of students with intellectual disability;
  • Government funding is contingent on the achievement of outcomes; outcomes should include suitability, completion, and quality of training and assessment.
  • Marketing materials should include outcome indicator results including completion rates and graduate employment outcomes six months after training completion.

Any enquires about this report should be directed to Paul Cain, Director of Research and Strategy at or 0419 462 928.


1.  Prime Minister Statement on National Security, February 23, 2015

2.  8% of people with intellectual disability using disability support services report work in the open labour market. See —Australian Institute of Health and Welfare 2014. Disability support services: services provided under the National Disability Agreement.

3.  IDRS Factsheet: Consumer protection and people with intellectual disability. Source:
4.   IDRS Factsheet: Consumer protection and people with intellectual disability. Source:
5.  Department of Social Services. Evaluation of Disability Employment Services 2010-2013. Final Report. Chapter 6. School leaver pathways to employment through DES p. 102
employ arrow

Welfare reform will succeed with the right employment support

 Welfare reform will succeed with high expectations and the right employment support!

Minister Morrison makes three points we can agree with;

  • “the best form of welfare is a job
  • the biggest welfare savings are driven by getting people into work
  • the NZ investment model uses actuarial evaluations to identify which risk factors drive long term welfare dependency and outlays, and what are amenable to early effective intervention”

Getting a job is good. Good for the individual and the federal budget. Investment in support that works is value for money.

Inclusion Australia presented two case studies of evidence based practice to the consultation — Audrey and David. These show that with the right right support, it is possible to get a job and reduce reliance on the pension. (Inclusion Australia’s submission to McClure Review)

Audrey and David are, however unique. Their provider is the only evidence based transition and open employment provider for people with significant intellectual disability — operating in Sydney and part of Melbourne. Their jobs were created by combining their strengths with the needs of employers — i.e. not jobs advertised by employers.

Audrey and David save the Commonwealth $15,906 annually (Table 1). Put in context, only 2.5% of all DS Pensioners earn more than $250 per week. The potential annual savings of providing the right support to 100,000 DSP recipients with intellectual & learning disability is between $0 and $1.6 Billion.

The Productivity Commission noted that effective transition support could save the Commonwealth considerable funds currently spent on more expensive non-work and supported employment options.

The Centre for International Economics (Table 2) found that the annual cost to the taxpayer (after pension offsets) for evidence based open employment was $4,206 per annum and this was far cheaper than alternate supported employment ($12,908) and state government programs ($17,667 – $23,884).

Changing to an evidence based system of support will require investment to develop this capacity. Inclusion Australia will be presenting a report to the Government and the National Disability Insurance Agency on building a national sector of evidence based transition and open employment support for all people with intellectual disability.

For people with intellectual disability, the best form of welfare is getting the right support to get a job.

Enquiries: Paul Cain,

0419 462 928,


MC report tables

Note Table 1: Figures based on DSP figures for adults 21 and over rates as at 20 September 2014.

Notes Table 2:

  1.  Most recent wages available for ADE are for 30/6/2008. Wage indexed to 30/6/2013 using minimum wage movements.

  2.  CBF funding and wage subsidy for 2012/13 year divided by the number of DES-ESS clients on 30/6/2013.

  3.  Pension offsets based on the March-June 2013 means test of $0.50 per dollar of earnings above $76 per week.

fair pay

Variation of Supported Employment Services Award — Update

United Voice, Health Services Union and National Peak Disability and Advocacy Organisations — Communique, Tuesday, 17 February 2015

Variation of Supported Employment Services Award — Update

On 23rd December 2013, United Voice and the Health Services Union made a joint application to the Fair Work Commission to vary the Supported Employment Services Award 2010.

This Award covers employees with disability working in Australian Disability Enterprises (ADEs, formerly known as Sheltered Workshops).

The application was made following the decision by the Full Federal Court in Nojin v Commonwealth which found that the Business Services Wage Assessment Tool used to determine wages unfairly discriminated against workers with intellectual disability.

The application also seeks to deal with the extent to which other Wage Assessment Tools listed in the Award are discriminatory against workers with disabilities.

On 20 June 2014 the full bench of the Fair Work Commission decided that in an effort to find a solution that there be a Conference of the parties led by Deputy President Booth.

There has been a series of meetings held at the Fair Work Commission since 1 September 2014. Conference proceedings are conducted as a confidential process and without prejudice basis.

On 16 February 2015 the parties agreed to conduct a study using the Supported Wage System with modification in a sample of ADEs. This will consider the impact of using historical productivity data on the productivity wage assessment rates of workers with disability. The parties will discuss the results of this study at the next scheduled meeting on Monday 27 April 2015.

For enquiries: Contact Leigh Svendsen, National Industrial Officer, Health Service Union, 02 8203 6066;


National Peak Disability and Advocacy Groups supporting the joint application and parties at the conference include — AED Legal Centre; Inclusion Australia (formerly the National Council on Intellectual Disability); and People with Disability Australia.


IA supports a national inquiry into abuse

We have to Do Something about Abuse. Now.

Inclusion Australia (formerly the National Council on Intellectual Disability) supports a national inquiry by the Australian Senate into abuse, violence and neglect against people with disability.

Inclusion Australia welcomes the moral leadership of Senator Siewert and the Australian Greens by calling for a national inquiry by the Commonwealth Parliament about the ongoing abuse of people with disability.

“Excuse me, just get off your backsides.
Do something about it.” (Craig McDonald, 4Corners).

Inclusion Australia president, Kevin Stone, publicly called for a national inquiry into the quality of disability services on September 13, 2012 following revelations of widespread abuse of people with disability on the ABC Lateline program.

Kevin Stone said, “People with intellectual disability are often fearful of challenging decisions or asserting themselves – often with good reason. They frequently experience a range of negative consequences for speaking up – ranging from paternalism and condescension to oppression and abuse.

A national inquiry will give all people with disability, their families, advocates and others the opportunity to have their say on how they are being treated and what should be done to address violence, abuse and neglect in the national disability service system, and in the wider community.”

“And it is still happening to other people –
and it should not be.” (Jules Anderson, 4Corners)

The ABC 4Corners report in late 2014 further revealed the vulnerability of people with disability to abuse and the inadequacy of State and Commonwealth disability service systems’ capacity to address serious breaches of basic human rights.

People with intellectual disability are our children, our sons and daughters, our brothers and sisters, our friends and colleagues. Violence, abuse and neglect are not acceptable under any circumstance.

Disability service providers and their staff should be exemplary in providing support which upholds the basic human dignity and rights of people with disability. This is not currently the case and we must work together to do something about it.

Inclusion Australia welcomes the investigation by the Victorian Ombudsman into how allegations of abuse in the disability sector are reported and investigated, and also the promised investigation by the Victorian government. We also welcome the initiative by the National Disability Insurance Agency to develop a strategy of safeguards for people with disability participating in the NDIS.

We do need, however, a national response that can address the issues of violence, abuse and neglect that cut across State, Territory, and Commonwealth jurisdiction lines, disability service provision lines, and the Australian community at large.

A national inquiry will need to provide a new direction and address a range of much needed reform including;

  • Staff Screening, Training and Accreditation;
  • Service Standards and Monitoring;
  • Mandatory reporting of violence, abuse or neglect;
  • A skilled response by authorities to reports of violence, abuse and neglect; and,
  • Protections for service provider staff or whistleblowers who report abuse.

 Download media release

everyone matters

Our Voice Matters

Inclusion Australia responds to DSS $1.5m cut to support and services for people with intellectual Inclusion Australia - Logo Icondisability.  

Inclusion Australia (NCID) is the peak body for people with intellectual disability and their families. Inclusion Australia has represented people with intellectual disability for over 60 years with the support of thousands of people and organisations.

In December last year the Department of Social Services decided that the specific voice of people with intellectual disability and their families is not important. Rather, they have decided that people with intellectual disability and their families can be represented by people without disabilities or by people who have a physical or sensory disability. The Board of Inclusion Australia deplores this decision as we believe it will deny people with intellectual disability and their families the opportunity to inform and shape the direction of disability policy and supports, including the National Disability Insurance Scheme.

People with intellectual disability comprise 60-70% of NDIS participants and are the third largest group receiving the DSP. Recent reports have highlighted the need for NDIS to engage with people with intellectual disability and their families to better reflect their needs. As a result, NDIS has agreed to meet with Inclusion Australia on a regular basis to provide that engagement – a measure which is now in jeopardy due to the DSS decision. In the absence of Inclusion Australia, this decision has silenced the collective voice of people with intellectual disability – those most in need of representation at the highest level given their historical marginalisation.

By silencing the voice of the national peak body,the Department of Social Services is removing the opportunity for people with intellectual disability and their families to ensure their needs and interests are adequately considered and safeguarded,  Over many years, Inclusion Australia has effectively advocated on such issues as:

  • the need for increased funding
  • the need for increased employment support
  • the right to better pay and conditions for intellectual disability employees
  • the right to support for inclusive education
  • the need for adequate income support
  • the right to live in the community
  • the need for better housing and support
  • the right to self-management of funding
  • the need to end abuse and bullying, and
  • the need for the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS)

The Department’s decision to defund Inclusion Australia sits alongside their decision to abandon funding to all other peak disability population groups cutting services and support to people with disability by $1.5 million. With the Abbott Government’s ambitious welfare reform agenda and the rollout of the NDIS, now is not the time for the Department of Social Services to be silencing the very voices they need to be hearing from.

People with intellectual disability want to work, to get more money, to do things in their community. But, if we do not have our own say how can we be part of it? Why does the government not want to hear from us?” Judy Huett, Chairperson of Our Voice (self advocacy committee of Inclusion Australia’s Board)

Inclusion Australia calls on the Abbott Government to review this retrograde decision of the Department of Social Services that breaches the UN Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities. The Convention recognises people with intellectual disability as a distinct disability population and also stresses the obligation to involve people with a significant disability in the monitoring of the Convention and the development of government policy and its implementation.

”Inclusion Australia has been at the forefront of helping to define the need for the National Disability Strategy and the NDIS,” states Kevin Stone, Inclusion Australia President, ”The success of the NDIS for people with intellectual disability depends on us being there to shape the design and support the implementation. Without the strong representation of our national peak, the specific needs and interests of people with intellectual disability and their families will be overlooked, every time.’’

Show your support on: #ourvoicematters

Checking in ...

Grandstanding is not Advocacy

Grandstanding is not advocacy! Creating fear and uncertainty where certainty exists is not a responsible position by an advocacy organisation. Recently commentary on overseas travel by people on the DSP has been sensational instead of accurate.

Inclusion Australia and Minister Andrews went to considerable trouble last November to clarify the position of people with intellectual disability in relation to overseas travel. People who are on the DSP due to a ‘manifest’ condition are able to travel overseas for any period of time, they are not restricted to 4 weeks. People with intellectual disability (IQ score <70) have a ‘manifest’ condition.

The failure to clearly state the real position for all people with disability has created unnecessary confusion and anxiety for people with intellectual disability and their families. This is not acceptable.

The joint information sheet by Minister Andrews and Inclusion Australia can be read here

Inclusion Australia - Logo Icon

Inclusion Australia is here to stay …

Dear Members and Friends,

over the last couple of days there has been a lot of conjecture about the future of Inclusion Australia following our unsuccessful application for funding to the Abbott Government. Our application for funding to represent people with intellectual disability and their families to the Commonwealth Government was not successful – no applications on behalf of people with intellectual disability and their families were!

Minister Andrews, in his previous capacity as Minister for Social Services, decided that the voice of people with intellectual disability and their families has no value; despite people with intellectual disability being 70% of NDIS participants and the third largest group in receipt of the DSP. His decision is clearly at odds with the Prime Minister’s stated aim of including all Australians in the social and economic life of their communities; and importantly increasing the number of people on DSP in the workforce.

Inclusion Australia has always been a constructive partner in the development and implementation of Commonwealth policy and while this decision is disappointing it will not silence us from ‘having a say’ in the welfare reforms that will dominate 2015 and ongoing development of the NDIS.

Inclusion Australia has a strong membership base of over 5,000 and though the Commonwealth funding would enable us to have more constructive contact with them, we are not dependent on this funding and will continue to work with people with intellectual disability and their families and represent their best interests.

Kevin Stone – President

Mark Pattison – Executive Director

Read media release from Australian Federation of Disability Consumer Organisations (AFDO)

Old sheltered workshop

National Organisations applaud the Senate

National Peak Disability Consumer and Advocacy Organisations applaud the Senate vote to block the passing of the Business Services Wage Assessment Tool (BSWAT) Payment Scheme Bill 2014.

In blocking the Bill, the Senate has shown support for the human rights of people with disability to seek fair and full compensation for lost wages through the Federal Court.

We honour the courage of Michael Nojin, Gordon Prior, Tyson Duval-Comrie, with the support of their families, to stand up for their right as people with disability for just and equitable conditions of work.

Paul Cain of Inclusion Australia said “The Federal and High Courts of Australia determined that BSWAT discriminates against people with intellectual disability in the assessment of award wages”.

“Thousands of people with disability who work in Australian Disability Enterprises have been paid, and continue to be paid, wages less than they would be entitled to if they were paid under a fair and equitable award wage assessment system” said Samantha French of People with Disability Australia.

Kairsty Wilson of AED Legal Centre said “Rejection of the BSWAT Bill means that people with disability will maintain their right to legal redress for discrimination in employment and will have their full entitlement to back pay determined by the independence of the Federal Court”.

We are thankful for the political and moral leadership of the Hon. Jenny Macklin MP of the ALP; Senator Rachel Siewert and Adam Bandt MP of The Australian Greens, and Independent Senators Jacqui Lambie, Nick Xenophon, and John Madigan, as well as their advisors and staff who all saw the injustice and steadfastly voted against the Bill.

We acknowledge the work of the Joint Parliamentary Committee on Human Rights chaired by Senator Dean Smith, which found that the BSWAT Payment Scheme Bill was not a just remedy for the discrimination ruled by the courts.

The National Peak Disability Consumer and Advocacy Sector calls on the Commonwealth to:

With all deliberate speed, negotiate a fair compensation settlement for workers with disability, who experienced discrimination and lost wages as a result of BSWAT, in response to the representative action in the Federal Court.

Commit to abolishing BSWAT and transition to the Supported Wage System (SWS) for all employees with disability in ADEs to ensure fairness and equity in the determination of award wages; and,

Consult with people with disability and their representative organisations on the best way to proceed with this transition and a full and fair settlement.

Media: Paul Cain, Inclusion Australia 0419 462 928 or Kairsty Wilson, AED Legal Centre 0411 252 410

Download the media release

know your rights lg

A big day for the rights of people with intellectual disability – part 2

To Whom It Should Concern – Part 2

An alarming concern of individuals, families, advocates and support staff is that reported abuse is frequently not properly investigated and addressed by the current system. Many complaints of abuse have not been addressed due to authorities not taking such complaints seriously and undertaking a full investigation.

We acknowledge that such investigations present a range of difficulties for investigators, but this should never be used a reason for failing to investigate and determine the merits of abuse complaints.

There is little doubt that a national inquiry into the abuse of people with disability in institutional settings has merit. It presents an opportunity for this dark issue to be brought out into the light. Organisations responsible for standards of service and the well being of people with disability for which they receive tax payer’s dollars should be held accountable for abuse that happens as a result of their service.

The media statement by the Disability Advocacy Network of Australia quite rightly emphasises the failure of mainstream governance and quality assurance mechanisms to protect the basic rights of people with significant disability. Governance processes, standards audits of services, internal complaint procedures, incident reports, and many other provider processes are important but clearly insufficient.

One of the most needed solutions is an abuse response system – external to disability service providers – that individuals, families, service staff, advocates or “whistleblowers” can bring complaints and concerns to, knowing that allegations of abuse WILL be investigated.

There needs to be confidence that someone with authority WILL actively investigate complaints of abuse.

Today’s refusal by the Federal Government to respond to calls from the community to hold a national inquiry into the abuse of people with disability – by relying on the Victorian government’s commitment to an inquiry – is a failure of national political leadership.

It begs the question as to how the federal government can expect organisations to provide support which prevents and eliminates abuse when the federal government shows a complete disregard for the urgency to act. This sends the wrong message to potential abusers.

What we need is a review of federal priorities. It only requires the change of one word . . “Stop the boats abuse”.

know your rights lg

A big day for the equal rights of people with intellectual disability – part 1

To Whom It Should Concern – Part 1

Monday 24th November 2014 has been a big day for standing up for the equal rights of people with intellectual disability.

First, the Senate rejected the Government’s bill to introduce the BSWAT Payment Scheme Bill. This Bill was an unjust remedy by the Government to address the discrimination in how the wages of thousands of people with intellectual disability in Australian Disability Enterprises (formerly sheltered workshops) are determined. A discrimination brought to light by two men with disability.

Second, the Australian Law Reform Commission proposed reform to Commonwealth and State laws to ensure that supported decision making is encouraged with the right support; and that representative decision-makers are appointed only as a last resort. The need to be supported in making decisions has never been more pertinent given the NDIS and the emphasis on choice and control.

Third, ABC 4 Corners exposed sexual abuses of people with disability by carers employed by Yooralla, and a governance culture that was inadequate to protect people with disability from this abuse.

The 4 Corners program highlight a number of characteristics of people with significant disability which are apparent. Characteristics that are under-recognised but common across the events of the day.

1. People with significant disability are vulnerable to abuse, neglect and discrimination . .  be it physical, sexual abuse or abuse of equal rights in employment.

2. People with significant disability are “easily led”. People with disability can be used and abused to meet the needs of others at the expense of their rights.

3. People with significant disability are sometimes unable to give valid consent – even after the best supported decision making support.

4. People with significant intellectual disability in segregated employment or accommodation services may have heightened vulnerability because “those who are watching” are just as vulnerable as the people targeted for abuse.

4. People with significant disability often have great difficulty in reporting abuse on their own.

When these “facts” or “characteristics” are considered carefully, there is a strong basis for accommodations and safeguards that are put in place rather than reliance on typical due processes or governance that may be acceptable in other circumstances.

For example, many employees with intellectual disability in ADEs are highly vulnerable to the interests of ADE staff and employers. Many employees in ADEs are easily led to vote for a certified agreement when valid consent is questionable.  It is not a coincidence that people with intellectual disability are subject to discriminatory employment practices in how award wages are assessed.

The Senate decision to reject the BSWAT Bill will ensure that the independence of the Federal Court will ensure that people with intellectual disability – discriminated by the Commonwealth and ADEs – are properly compensated. In other words, why would we let the “discriminator” determine the quantum of compensation and the process or redress. We must also note that some of the sexual abuse identified by 4 Corners involved employees in ADEs. This is not to suggest a juxtaposition between ADEs and abuse – but to point out that people with intellectual disability are vulnerable and this is vulnerability is heightened when grouped with others people with disability in segregated places.

We must also begin to recognise that Australia spends substantial amounts of money on disability support services – and this will only increase under the NDIS. As we saw in the 4 Corners report, there was evidence of “scamming” with clients that did not exist. I have also listened to families who are heavily marketed by disability services competing for the cash families bring to providers when they register for support. This means that – more than ever – advocacy and safeguards against abuse are important(!)

Unfortunately the “angelic” image of disability services is naive.

As 4 Corners point out, there are clearly service providers and staff who are impeccable in their competence and fidelity with the rights and dignity of people with intellectual disability. While addressing the very serious issues of abuse across all disability services we must support those services and staff who are doing ‘the right thing’.